Saturday, June 24, 2017

Book Reviews: Sacculina, The Age Of Zeus

by Phillip Fracassi
The various life cycles of Earth's fauna are amazing, wonderful, disgusting and full of horror. It all depends on your point of view. Certainly if cattle, hogs and chickens had the ability to communicate as we do and write down their thoughts for posterity they would all agree that humans are the walking embodiment of evil. What sort of sick b******s raise living beings, nurture them, feed them, ensure that they don't get sick, pump them full of antibiotics and growth hormones and then shove them into the slaughterhouse where they're shot in the head and ripped apart. Hmm?

Caterpillars wouldn't have nice things to say about wasps, while bison and deer would express nothing but white hot hatred for wolves. And yet in a very real way, morals are not as important as continuing to live and to reproduce. We place our lives and those of our children or loved ones or other humans above lesser beings. If I find an insect or rodent nest in my home I eliminate it without considering the morality of slaughtering those creatures. If a dog bites someone we often put down the dog, even if the bitten human broke a rule that was obvious to any self respecting canine. As humans we get to set all the moral rules and make every other creature on the planet subject to them, even if we are the only ones who are aware of them. We can do that because we are the most advanced creatures with a consciousness and a morality. We can also do that because we're at the top of the food chain. 

Sacculina is a novella, really more of a long short story that considers what might occur when that last condition is no longer true. I was reminded of the Cronenberg film They Came From Within. Sacculina is a taut thriller that also puts one in mind of some of Stephen King's or Michael Crichton's early work. The difference is that the characters are not quite as fully developed. But this is not a character driven story. The plot is what matters. 

HBO Game of Thrones Season Seven Trailer (4)

My, my, my. What have we here. Yes, it's another HBO Game of Thrones Season Seven trailer. It looks like Daenerys has made it back to Westeros, but she might not be getting the welcome she assumed. And Littlefinger is still doing his skulking. I hope that Jon and Sansa learn who it was that betrayed Ned in King's Landing. Is Arya finally making it home to Winterfell? Can the Sand Snakes be make less annoying or hopefully written out of the story altogether?  Can Missandei and Grey Worm find happiness and sexual healing even though he's well..wormless? Who will be the Chosen One to defend the realms of men against the White Walkers? Jon? Tyrion? Daenerys? Hot Pie? We shall see.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Dems Stay Losing

So by now you've probably heard that the Democrats lost (again) in last night's special Congressional race between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Repulican Karen Handel.  Yes, the race was in Georgia, and yes, the district is one that Trump won in 2016.  Nevertheless, looking beyond Georgia, there is a pattern forming nationally where Democrats attempt to go after seats occupied by Republicans and voters time after time shoot them down.  To the Democrats' credit, the conventional wisdom does say that when you have a sitting president polling at a dismal 35% approval rating, and the opposing party controls a Congress that has an even lower approval rating, then your party should be a shoe-in.  But it's just not happening for the Dems.  They stay losing.  But why?

Chaldeans Blame Trump For Deportations

I don't have a tremendous amount of sympathy for resident adult non-citizens who break the law in any serious way and then receive a deportation order. I have even less pity for a group of people who voted for Trump and are shocked when he turns on them. It's who he is. It's what he does. Perhaps for the next election people might consider looking a little more deeply into a candidate's background and history or maybe even think about voting for something greater than their own narrow perceived self-interest. You can't or rather shouldn't identify as a "conservative" and then get p*****d off when someone enforces the law against you. If you can't do the time, don't do the crime. Stop resisting. Follow the rules and you'll have nothing to worry about. Obey the law. Isn't that what self-righteous conservatives tell blacks other people who complain about selective, harsh, or inflexible law enforcement? Well okay then. When he talked about immigrants who were breaking the law with impunity and causing havoc across the land President Trump apparently wasn't, despite what some Chaldean immigrants thought, only talking about Mexicans.

Standing in the living room of her brother's home in Sterling Heights, Lina Denha wipes away tears with a tissue as she recalls how federal agents arrested him early one Sunday morning this month. 
"To just come and grab him in front of his kids and family — that's not right," she said of the June 11 detention of Haydar Butris, 38, one of 114 Iraqi immigrants with criminal records arrested in Michigan.  "He's been here most of his life. He did a mistake. He paid for it. Now, he is a good father, has kids, a family. He works, pays taxes and everything. And you just come knock on the door, come out of nowhere and grab him? That's not right."

Denha's sadness turns to frustration as she expresses disappointment with President Donald Trump, whom she and some other Iraqi-American Christians in Michigan had supported. Denha's sense of betrayal is echoed across metro Detroit among some Iraqi-American Christians who voted for Trump because they hoped he would be sympathetic to their community abroad, where they are a religious minority, and in the U.S. 
"We voted for Trump," Denha said. "That's what we get from him? ... Obama is better than him, 100 times."

Jason Whitlock Reveals His Own Ignorance By Attacking LeBron James

You may have missed it but a few weeks back someone wrote racial slurs on Cleveland Cavaliers small forward LeBron James' offseason Brentwood home. As far as I know the perpetrator hasn't been identified. Thanks to a demanding Day Job I didn't have a chance to write on it when it occurred. As you might imagine, as anyone would have been, James was upset about the violation of his home.

On the eve of his seventh straight NBA Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers superstar LeBron James’ Los Angeles-area offseason home was vandalized with a racial slur, according to multiple reports. Los Angeles Police Department detectives are investigating an alleged hate crime after someone spray-painted the N-word on the front gate of James’ house in Brentwood, Calif. TMZ Sports first reported the incident, which has since been confirmed by the LAPD through the local NBC affiliate. Police were called to the home around 7 a.m. local time, and the racially charged graffiti was painted over within hours of its discovery, according to reports. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Michigan AG Charges Officials with Manslaughter over Flint Crisis

You may recall that the residents of Flint, Michigan suffered greatly because of the decision by the Republican installed Emergency Manager and crew to switch from Detroit supplied water to local water in order to save money. This proved to be not only a bad idea but also disastrous as neither the local infrastructure nor the local water was safe. As a result, residents of one of Michigan's most storied cities had to attempt to live in a stereotypical Third World manner with regards to water. The water was not safe to drink. It wasn't safe to use for bathing or showering. It wasn't safe for cooking. It wasn't safe to use for ice. It wasn't safe to use for washing your hands. It wasn't safe to use for anything at all. Some people abandoned their homes. Others tried to make the best of a bad situation and reduced their exposure to the dirty water. Other people relied on bottled water for everything, a response that can get pretty expensive when you think about how much water you use every day

Elevated lead levels were discovered in children. The state leadership attempted to ignore the issue and/or insist that there was not a problem long after evidence showed that there was. Despite the fact that Steve Harvey thought that this issue was far enough in the past to joke about, it's not completely solved. It's not a joking matter. One person who doesn't see the humor involved is Michigan Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette. AG Schuette has charged five state and local officials involved in the Flint debacle with involuntary manslaughter. Some of these people are still being praised by Governor Snyder for their role in the cleanup.

FLINT, MI - Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has charged five water officials -- including a member of Gov. Rick Snyder's cabinet and a former emergency manager -- with manslaughter related to their alleged failure to act in during the Flint Water Crisis.

Music Reviews: Sarah Shook

Sarah Shook and the Disarmers
I'm not a huge fan of most country music. Usually the rhythms and tones aren't really my thing. But that said, country music is one of the basic building blocks of American popular music, along with blues, gospel and jazz. Everything is related if you go back far enough. Country rhythms regularly pop up in Chuck Berry tunes. Ray Charles reworked country standards into soul ones. The father of country music, Jimmie Rogers, was influenced by blues artists. He was also known as a white bluesman. Rogers' yodeling later influenced blues titan Howling Wolf. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were influenced by black rock-n-roll and blues musicians. And Sarah Shook was in part influenced by gospel great Bessie Griffin. And on and on. The circle keeps turning. One thing that the best forms of music share regardless of genre is emotional honesty. I first heard about Sarah Shook in a recent NYT review. I was intrigued enough to give her music a listen. I was happy I did.

Now I must admit that her upstate New York by way of North Carolina warbly alto voice may not be to everyone's taste. But I like her voice for this music. Shook is an engaging singer. And she's not bad as a guitarist. The music she's creating doesn't usually require her or the other guitarists in her band to fly up and down the fingerboard constantly or show off everything that they know in under two minutes. Sometimes knowing what not to play and where to leave space for the vocals and other instruments is just as important as filling up the sonic voids. The guitar solos, when they occur, are usually short and to the point. And that is a welcome departure from a lot of guitar wanking.

Shook shines in songwriting and interpretation. She is an excellent example of someone who plays for the song. As a self-described left-wing bisexual vegan atheist civil rights activist working in a genre that has often been more associated with reactionary politics, Shook shows, as many musicians of all races, both genders and various sexualities have done before her, that what matters is the emotion that a person puts in their music, not the singer's politics or other personal characteristics.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Bernie Sanders Supporter Shoots Republican Representatives and Police

There is much that will come out on this story in the next few hours, let alone the next few days. Some details may change. Right now all we know is that a progressive Bernie Sanders supporter, James Hodgkinson, shot at Republican members of Congress and Capitol Hill Police. 

Hodgkinson allegedly asked whether the Representatives, who were preparing for a sporting event, were Democrats or Republicans before he started shooting. Hodgkinson was wounded in a shootout with police and has since died.

James T. Hodgkinson has been identified as the shooter who opened fire on Republican members of Congress Wednesday morning at a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, the Washington Post reports. Hodgkinson, 66, is from Belleville, Illinois, the newspaper reports. A motive for the shooting is not yet known, but Hodgkinson’s Facebook page shows someone who had a high interest in politics, who supported Bernie Sanders during the presidential election and expressed anger with President Donald Trump and Republican Congressmen.

The gunman was shot by two Capitol Hill Police officers who were at the scene as a security detail for Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Majority Whip, who was among those shot. The two police officers were also wounded, along with a staffer for Rep. Roger Williams of Texas and a lobbyist. Scalise and the officers are expected to survive.

Two Congressmen, Rep. Jeff Duncan and Rep. Ron DeSantis, described an encounter with a man who asked them if those practicing were “Republicans or Democrats” before the shooting. DeSantis, when shown a photo of Hodgkinson, confirmed he was the man who approached him, CNBC reports. Alexandria Police Chief Michael Brown said his officers and Capitol Police officers exchanged fire with the gunman.

The man suspected of opening fire on Republican members of the congressional baseball team early Wednesday morning was distraught over the election of President Trump and traveled to Washington in recent weeks to protest, his brother said on Wednesday. The suspect, James Thomas Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., died in a Washington hospital after a shootout with the police. “I know he wasn’t happy with the way things were going, the election results and stuff,” his brother, Michael Hodgkinson, said in a telephone interview shortly after he received the news on Wednesday. 

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Reviews: The Black Russian

The Black Russian
by Vladimir Alexandrov
Today Russia has a reputation, fair or not, as a xenophobic haven for Neo-Nazis and white supremacists and thus a hostile place for anyone of apparent African descent. But at the turn of the 20th century this wasn't the case. Frederick Bruce Thomas(FBT), an African-American, made and lost a fortune in Russia during the pre-Bolshevik years. He also repeated his success in Turkey. FBT's story is an example of what someone intelligent can do once liberated from the strictures of American racism. FBT's life is also an unfortunate example of how American racism can still reach out and touch people far from its shores. The Black Russian is lastly an intoxicating tale of the events around the time of the First World War and how they shaped the world we live in today. I knew that the Turks stole (conquered) Constantinople from the Byzantine Greeks in 1453, renaming it Istanbul. 

I had forgotten that in the aftermath of WWI the Greeks, with Allied assistance, attempted to partition Turkey, conquer (retake) the Greek founded city of Smyrna, and make Istanbul an international city, with the likely aim of eventually claiming it for Greece and of course changing the name back. The Greeks were unsuccessful, something that would have a deleterious effect on FBT's life and business interests. FBT was born in 1872 Mississippi, not an area that was very hospitable to black people, especially those who "didn't know their place". This designation fit both of FBT's parents, Lewis and Hannah, as well as his stepmother India, who helped to raise him after Hannah's death. Former slaves, Lewis and Hannah (and later India), had left sharecropping as early as 1869. Lewis and Hannah purchased their own farm.

The Thomas property grew to over 600 acres, a decent sized farm then or now for a single family. The Thomas family wealth allowed them to donate land for schools and churches. The family entered into business partnerships with white English immigrants and hired local black residents as workers and sharecroppers. White people noticed the economic power wielded by Lewis Thomas and his wife. This would prove to be the downfall of the Thomas family in Mississippi.

Movie Reviews: Office Christmas Party

Office Christmas Party
directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon
Good cast but mixed results in a comedy that felt rushed
This was a remarkably silly film that wasted a good cast and familiar story on over the top foolishness and crudity. There's a way to be funny and even hilarious without having to go for the grossout every chance that you get. Unfortunately every time that something which I thought was mildly humorous occurred in this movie the directors/writers apparently must have decided "We can't have that! Throw in some gay humor! Throw in some flatulence and incest jokes! Throw in a bipolar woman on her cycle jokes! Hey there's not enough male buttocks! Yeah that's better!" So for me the movie was at best uneven. It was a mashup of Office Space, DC Cab, Meet the Millers, A Christmas Carol, Major League and Horrible Bosses among others. Horrible Bosses veterans Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman basically reprise their roles from that film series. SNL star Kate McKinnon does okay with a role I think she could probably sleepwalk through. 

Courtney B. Vance seems to be having a good time playing the opposite of the serious sober types he normally plays. I will say though as I have mentioned before that if you are looking for someone to play the calm put upon everyman with a hidden snarky side then you should have Jason Bateman on speed dial. He really does that well. Of course I haven't seen him do too much besides that but why mess with what works?

CNN Fires Reza Aslan for Insulting President Trump

Once again, although we theoretically have free speech in this country it is important to remember that the concept really only limits the government and what it can do to you. Generally speaking the government can't imprison you for what you say nor can it prevent you from speaking because it doesn't like the content. Corporations are not governments. And although corporations can not put you in prison, they certainly can separate you from a stream of income. CNN just fired host Reza Aslan, who made profane statements in regards to President Trump citing his travel ban in regards to the recent terror attacks in Great Britain.

After Trump tweeted about his travel ban following the London terror attack, Aslan responded, “This piece of s*** is not just an embarrassment to America and a stain on the presidency. He’s an embarrassment to humankind.”
He later took down that tweet and apologized.
But there was still pressure for the network to drop Aslan. The Media Research Center in particular spearheaded some of those efforts:

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Judge Vonda Evans Lays Down The Law

One of my relatives sent me this video. One of his pet peeves is judges who lecture or insult people, usually defendants. I do have friends and relatives who are attorneys. Some of them spend or have spent time in trials. I would not have their patience in dealing with judges who are occasionally sanctimonious, patronizing, insulting, condescending and almost always bossy. I don't like bossy people or appreciate imperative tones. I don't like people who think they can speak to me any old way. But this is the way our justice system is set up. Could it be any other way. When someone has the power to find you guilty or not, to sentence you fairly or not, and to put you in jail for no other reason than you got on their nerves and showed them contempt, then the wisest move for you, whether you are defendant, attorney, court worker or court spectator, is to tread lightly and keep a civil tongue in your head. Telling the judge "F*** you!" is usually not going to improve your prospects, no matter which role you currently happen to be playing in the court. 

Judge Vonda Evans scolded a man charged in a criminal sexual conduct case who swore at her in a Detroit courtroom. Anthony Thornton yelled "f--- you" at Evans during the trial Friday, and she responded to the outburst during the proceedings. "Be quiet!" Evans said. "Take him back. Take him out! Take him out now! ... I’m not even going to dignify that comment!"

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Movie Reviews: Logan

directed by James Mangold
Masterful end to a series and reworked classic for modern eyes
Well. This is a different kind of Marvel Superhero film. The first thing you need to know about Logan is that it is rated R. And it is a hard R for violence and language. People are badly hurt and killed. And the camera doesn't shy away. Some of my younger relatives saw this film. I wouldn't have let them but I'm not their parent. But please don't hear "comic book movie" and think that Logan is in any way designed for children. It's not. Kids under 16 shouldn't see this film. This intense film fits with the subject matter. Wolverine was never a "good guy". As he said in the comics, "I'm the best there is at what I do. But what I do best isn't very nice." Wolverine was a killer, both on his own and in the service of governments. Occasionally he could go berserk. And when he did it was safest to be elsewhere. Wolverine was also melancholic, fully aware that no matter the reason, there is a moral and emotional cost to killing that he would have to pay every day of his abnormally extended life.  

This film returns the Wolverine character to those darker roots while imagining a dystopian future for mutants. Logan is simultaneously a reboot,  a franchise conclusion, and a stand alone film based loosely on a graphic novel that my brother, a comic book guru, hadn't gotten around to reading yet. In fact he didn't sound particularly interested in investigating the source material, feeling that there are too many alternate Marvel storylines. So if you've read the comics which inspired Logan, you may not like everything in Logan. For me though, ignorance was bliss. I wasn't irritated at this or that wrong interpretation or missing character or plot hole. 

Hillary Clinton: How Can We Miss You When You Won't Go Away?

Anger is a dangerous emotion. It can be useful when you channel it towards something positive. Holding on to it can be as dangerous to yourself as the object of your ire. Two time failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is clearly still pretty angry about having lost the 2016 Presidential election to louche real estate tycoon Donald Trump. I don't blame her for being angry. I would be angry as well. There are few among us who can clearly see our own faults and move to correct them. That's why we have significant others, life coaches, friends, bosses, co-workers, siblings, consultants, and so on. But Clinton does herself and more importantly the Democratic Party no favors by blaming everyone except herself for losing an election which nearly everyone thought she was going to win.  In a remarkable interview Wednesday with the technology site Recode, Hillary Clinton went from wounded to whiny, from sympathetic loser to sore loser, as she delivered her accounting of all the things that led to Nov. 8:  Why did she lose? Let’s recap:

▪ It was the Democratic National Committee’s fault. “I get the nomination ... I inherit nothing from the Democratic party,” she said. “It was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong.”
▪ It was the media’s fault for turning her use of a personal email server “into the biggest scandal since who knows when.”
▪ It was the Russians’ fault for leaking emails detrimental to her campaign. “I believe that what was happening to me was unprecedented,” she said.
▪ It was, ahem, someone else’s fault for helping guide the Russians on how to best “weaponize” those leaks. Who gave them that guidance? “I’m leaning Trump,” Clinton said.

Kathy Griffin, President Trump, Ted Nugent, Free Speech and Double Standards

I never found Kathy Griffin to be very funny. But I'm not in her primary target audience. Everyone has their own sense of humor. So when I saw the photograph of her holding a replica of Donald Trump's severed head I didn't find it amusing. I thought that the picture from the video was in bad taste and not funny. I thought it was an excellent example of how the Trump Presidency has unhinged some people. I also thought that it wouldn't be long before there would be a backlash. The thing I've noticed about the Right after all these years is that they have no problem dishing it out. They're really good at that. But taking it? No that's not what they do. Suddenly they turn into sensitive little snowflakes. The very same people who were angered about the Griffin picture were evidently laughing it up when Ted Nugent told Obama to suck on his machine gun, called Hillary Clinton a "toxic c***" , called Obama a subhuman mongrel or said that if Obama were re-elected that he (Nugent) would be either dead or in jail (because you know what he'd have to do). Trump didn't have a problem with Nugent's statements. He invited him to the White House. Of course when you came to prominence peddling racist birther stories, why would you have a problem with a racist like Ted Nugent? Birds of a feather.

The same people bemoaning the ugliness shown to Trump apparently had no issue at all with President Obama being burned or hanged in effigy, being called every single sort of racial slur imaginable, being called a skinny ghetto crackhead, being threatened with assassination, having Senators pray for his death or obviously getting the monthly run of the mill monkey-ape-gorilla comparisons. That was all just fine with conservatives. They had no problem making incredibly ugly hateful and threatening statements about President Obama, his wife, his daughters, his mother, his father and anyone associated with him. But when someone of a different political faction plays in the same dirty sewer conservatives have a problem? What changed? I have little use for selective outrage. 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Pepperoni Pizza and Jelly Beans Lawsuits

I was raised never to tolerate disrespect in small things or large. I was taught to get what you pay for. I was instructed never to think that someone is doing me a favor by taking my money. I learned that if I ordered X to make sure I got X, not Y.

I would have a bigger problem with my parents than anyone else if I meekly accepted shoddy treatment or crappy goods from a business. And I wasn't the only one. Just recently I watched as an elderly irate profane gentleman explained to a local grocery story clerk that the store had sold him a rotten onion. And even though he had to make a 10 mile round trip he wasn't going to let anyone sell him a rotten f***** onion and get away with it, by God. 

So I appreciate an assertive customer. However the proper resolution of a problem with a store is usually for the business to apologize, refund your money, or give you the good or service you initially purchased, perhaps at a discounted price or for free. I'm not sure that the wronged customer needs to file a $100 million lawsuit.
A Muslim man is suing Little Caesars for $100 million after he says he was served and then accidentally ate pepperoni made with pork, a food prohibited by Islamic law. The complaint says Mohamad Bazzi of Dearborn ordered halal pizza twice from the shop on Schaefer in Dearborn. The boxes were labeled "halal," but the pies inside were topped with regular pepperoni. 

Book Reviews: Last Don Standing-The Secret Life of Mob Boss Ralph Natale

Last Don Standing-The Secret Life of Mob Boss Ralph Natale
by Larry McShane and Dan Pearson
Many people have written books about the Philadelphia Mob of the last forty years. That organization has been in near constant chaos since the 1980 murder of boss Angelo Bruno, known somewhat inaccurately as the "Gentle Don". This latest foray into that milieu details the story of Bruno loyalist and enforcer, later boss and government witness, Ralph Natale. Natale was imprisoned during many key events in the modern Philly mob's timeline. Natale describes many happenings he heard about or confirmed via other mobsters. Presumably, the authors have researched and verified Natale's stories. Something that the book emphasizes is that despite their evil, many mobsters, like anyone else, love their families. Mobsters want their families provided for during their incarceration. As most hoodlums can't qualify for or use unemployment insurance for this purpose, they often rely on their mob partners and/or bosses to do this. 

Theoretically it's a best business practice for a Mafia Family to support the relatives of incarcerated members. People who know that their families are safe and financially stable are less likely to take rash steps like starting mob wars from behind bars or worse, begin blabbing to the FBI.

In fiction, for example, the Corleone and Prizzi bosses paid the wives or mothers of imprisoned employees the same income the men earned when free. And upon a gangster's release from prison, a high level family leader, perhaps even the boss, would stop by the man's house to drop off some bonus cash and to congratulate him for keeping his mouth shut. These actions kept morale high and discouraged informing. Some real life bosses understood the benefit of having engaged loyal employees. But in real life this all for one, one for all plan rarely worked out. Mobsters are far too selfish. In real life only the meanest bosses and/or the most savage killers could ensure that their income stream would be uninterrupted by prison terms. 

Book Reviews: Gwendy's Button Box

Gwendy's Button Box
by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar
When some people see the King name they immediately think that there will be heavy horror with all sorts of grossouts interspersed throughout the doorstopper text. Well that is not this book. And that's not necessarily King either though that's a different discussion. This is a short novella that can quickly be read while you're waiting for someone at the hospital or doing anything else that requires you to burn some time. I couldn't tell which author wrote which parts. The story felt seamless. You can complete this book in less than two hours. I didn't think it was among King's best work, but it is a good story. I enjoyed it. It left questions unanswered. But "Gwendy's Button Box" should feel very familiar to the reader, particularly if they have read Jerome Bixby's "It's a Good Life" or seen the classic Twilight Zone adaptation of same.

In 1974 twelve year-old Castle Rock Resident Gwendy Peterson, a tall athletic girl inclined to fleshiness (the local bully calls her Goodyear, after the Blimp), meets a strange man dressed in all black, except for his white shirt. He knows her name and knows things about her family. This man's name is Richard Farris, a name that serious King fans should recognize. He gives Gwendy a box with several colored buttons and levers on it. This box dispenses special chocolates and old coins. The chocolates satisfy all of Gwendy's hunger. The man informs Gwendy that some of the buttons are associated with various continents while other buttons have different purposes. He's giving this box to Gwendy because he has a special feeling about her. When Gwendy asks what the other buttons do the man smiles unpleasantly and advises her to not ask questions to which she already knows the answer.

Over the next decade Gwendy will undergo some changes, mostly for the better. She becomes beautiful and popular. And both Gwendy and the reader will ask themselves what would they do if their creative and destructive powers were greatly enhanced. As Peter Parker learned, with great power comes great responsibility. I thought that this book was also an extended metaphor on writing. The story was mostly non-violent with one or two exceptions.

Movie Reviews: Allied, The Bye Bye Man

directed by Robert Zemeckis
Prizzi's Honor set in World War Two. Reminiscent of classic films.
In the film Prizzi's Honor, Charlie Partanna, the melancholic underboss and top hitman for the Prizzi Family, makes the mistake of falling in love with a woman who is like him, a thief and murderer. They get married. But the Family discovers that its interests and the wife's interests do not coincide. The Family boss and his oldest friend, Charlie's father, order Charlie to do the unthinkable. Similar to that movie, Allied imagines that two WW2 undercover operatives marry but find that the affairs of the heart are subordinated to state affairs. With the exception of a blink and you'll miss it side glance of a Cotillard breast and a brief showing of Pitt's bottom, this movie would have fit well in smoothly with 40s and 50s classic Hollywood films. Everyone, most especially Pitt and Cotillard, is dressed to impress. The dialogue is rich if not especially snappy. Cotillard has the meatier role. Pitt, while not exactly the film's straight man, is in a position where he has to react more to events than actually be the hero who makes things happen. No knock on Pitt. It's just that the story requires that he's usually one step behind things. This movie is not too violent but the violence that does take place is emotionally real. 

Allied is worlds apart from Pitt's over the top performance in Inglorious Basterds but here, as there, familiarity with language or customs that only a native speaker possesses can be the difference between life and death.  A non-American might not know or care about the differences among US accents and cadences. However, if you claim to be from Peoria but speak English with a Charleston, South Carolina accent, an American will notice immediately. If you lie about your origins what other deception might you attempt? 

Miss Black Texas and Racist Road Rage

There's so much shit in Texas, I'm bound to step in some
Goin' back to Dallas, take my razor and my gun
If there are people lookin' for trouble, sure gonna give 'em some
I load up my revolver, sharpen up my knife
Some redneck messin' with me man, I'm bound to have his life
Down to Dallas, take my razor and my gun
Man, people there lookin' for trouble, sure gonna give 'em some

"Dallas" Johnny Winter
American segregation wasn't just the attempted physical separation of blacks from whites. It was the zealously enforced rule that black people were inferior and had no right to contradict whites, talk back to whites, displease whites, complain about being cheated by whites, testify against whites or do anything that would set their will against any white person, regardless of age, gender, status, right or wrong.To do otherwise would be to be considered "uppity". And to be considered uppity meant that a black person ran the high risk of assault or worse by local outraged whites, often with the tacit assistance or open cooperation of law enforcement. Supposedly the changes which took place in the 1950s and 1960s put an end to that sort of foolishness. But unfortunately racism doesn't just go away because the law changes. There are still a lot of white people who really do hate black people. 

And when that hate is combined with a badge and a gun, bad things can happen. Recently in Texas (and why am I not surprised about this) a white police chief and his friends behaved as if this were 1917 and not 2017. 

HBO Game of Thrones Season Seven Trailer (3)

HBO has released some more images and the first proper trailer for the shortened Season Seven of Game of Thrones, due to start on July 16th. Things are finally drawing to a close, as this trailer seems to indicate. There are only seven episodes this year.There's a lot happening in this trailer. Despite being banished from the North it looks as if Melisandre will still have a role to play in the overall story. Did Jon get hip to Littlefinger's duplicitous nature? I love "The King in the North" shout. I hope it ends better for Jon Snow than it did for Robb Stark. Considering that most of those people didn't answer Jon and Sansa's call in their time of need I think that the Starks might not want to put too much trust in the Northern lords. I hope that Littlefinger comes to an unpleasant and painful end. There's no one I'm really rooting for anymore but I certainly am rooting against Littlefinger.

Lots of people have been rooting for Daenerys and her girlpower tour but what if she's just another Cersei in training. What if she turns out to be a worse tyrant than her father, the Mad King? She does have a tendency to want to burn people who upset or annoy her. So far most of those people have been bad people. But what if they're not. What will Daenerys do if she discovers that people in Westeros don't care about her claim to the Iron Throne? What is Theon looking at? The Unsullied are fighting against a Lannister army. Is that at Casterly Rock or King's Landing. I think it's Casterly Rock. It looks like Grey Worm is about to get lucky. But how can a man with no "grey worm" get anything? Maybe there's hope for you too, Theon. Arya is heading home. The Mountain (undead version) remains a power. Cersei remains evil and seems to enjoy being that way. I am still feeling some sort of way that the HBO show will detail the ending of the story before the books but such is life. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Nolan Bruder Rapes His Teen Sister: Judge Gives Him Probation and 120 Days

There have been oodles of studies that show that black people accused of or convicted of crimes received harsher treatment at every level of the justice system, up to and including sentencing. The flip side of that harsher treatment for blacks is more lenient treatment for whites. Regardless of race I tend to take the approach that if you can't do the time, don't do the crime: especially when it comes to crimes like rape or murder, when something is done that can't be undone. But Judge William H. Follett apparently doesn't believe in punishment, at least when it comes to white male rapists.

A judge in Northern California apparently thought the "stigma" of being a registered sex offender was punishment enough for a man convicted of drugging and raping his sister when she was 16 and he was 19. On May 17, Judge William H. Follett chose to sentence the now-20-year-old man to the lowest possible sentencing option — three years in prison — and granted him probation. Follett also sentenced him to 240 days in county jail at half time for the crimes of rape by use of drugs or intoxicating substances and incest. District Attorney Dale Trigg said the sentencing will likely mean the convicted rapist serves just 120 days in jail — and no time in prison.

Trigg told CNN that Follett, a justice in the Del Norte Superior Court, not only referenced during the proceedings the stigma the convicted rapist would face as a sex offender but also discussed the fact that the girl was not unconscious during the assault and had removed her own clothing during the assault. Trigg said those comments were "out of line" and blamed the victim.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Vezmar Date Lawsuit

Despite all of the changes that have taken place concerning the dance of life between men and women, one thing that hasn't changed is the general expectation that the man is supposed to pay for the date, at least at first. A man who doesn't do that or tries to split costs before the woman is convinced that he's even worth any of her time or money is often derided as cheap or a loser. Good, bad or indifferent that's just how things are. Even many staunch feminists suddenly become Victorian England style ladies when faced with the idea of spending their money to meet men. If the man and woman don't like each other's company or independently decide that they'd be better off elsewhere or conclude that the date was a serious waste of time, money and resources then the man just has to eat the loss of whatever money he shelled out. And though it ought to go without saying, taking someone on a date doesn't guarantee anyone anything. Not one doggone thing. There is nothing implied other than the opportunity to determine if you like someone's company or not. If you spend $17 on a date but discover that someone is not up to your standards most people (men) would count that as the cost of dating and write it off to the game.

But 37 yr old Brandon Vezmar is not most men. Brandon went out on a date with a 35 yr old lady. Things didn't go well.

June Chu and Debbie Massey: Foul Behavior or Free Speech???

Many people across the political spectrum dislike the free speech concept. They claim that some speech, which is always speech they oppose, is not so much speech as it is weaponized hate or discrimination, which is unprotected by the First Amendment. Others even drop that fig leaf and argue that "hate speech" in any form can be banned, even if it has no provable impact on anyone. Although the most vocal advocates of this approach are currently on the left, witness the brouhahas over right-wing intellectuals speaking at colleges, arguably many of the most powerful advocates of this approach are on the right. There is a right-wing movement to criminalize advocacy of BDS (Boycott/Divest/Sanction the state of Israel) in America. So it goes. Humans being human, we will always be tempted to outlaw viewpoints we don't like. 

Limits on institutional ability to criminalize, punish, prohibit or restrain speech usually are only binding on government institutions. Private institutions can set their own rules. And they often do. The government can't jail me for writing something nasty about my employer. But my private employer, upon reading my screed, might decide that it wanted to fire me. Right now. And there's not too much I could do about that. Two recent events illustrated how someone's honest opinions got them in trouble. Well it might not be their honest opinions but rather the disdain that lay beneath them.😒 Both people paid a price for their statements. I see why many either refrain from sharing thoughts online or use pseudonyms. I have relatives and friends who refuse to use social media for precisely these reasons.

Music Reviews: Smith Connection - I've Been A Winner

(I've Been A Winner, I've Been A Loser) I've Been In Love
Smith Connection
I was listening to the Invictus box set again and ran across this song which for whatever reason I hadn't paid attention to before. It's funny how that works. You can have something for years and discover new treasures. The Smith Connection was made up of a trio of brothers who hailed from St. Louis, not Detroit. But it's a good thing that they came to the attention of the Detroit based Invictus label owned by famed producers/songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland (HDH). In the early seventies H-D-H were doing their best to compete with their former employer Berry Gordy and his iconic company Motown. This song was very similar to contemporaneous work coming from Philadelphia groups like the Delfonics or Chicago groups like the Chi-lites. But the deep bass and scratch guitar mark it indelibly as a Detroit based production. I like the voices and harmony, which are very masculine albeit in the higher range. The song is not blues, but it is bluesy. There's no guitar or horn solo. All the focus is on the vocals. Michael Smith, who I believe is the lead singer here, later went on to modest acclaim as a songwriter, producer and solo artist with Motown. The plaintive lyrics express sadness, love, maturity, regret and hope all at the same time, which I think is a pretty neat trick. I also enjoy that there's a lot of space in the recording. No one instrument dominates. Nothing is too loud. There's something to be said for the old maxim of keep it simple, stupid.

Confederacy Redux

Recently, in the South people have begun removing some noted Confederate monuments from places of honor.  There are so many of these though that it would take forever to do it. Some US federal institutions are named after Confederates. It's important to remember that the Civil War was started by Southern white supremacists who feared that Northern whites were insufficiently dedicated to the twin causes of black slavery and white supremacy. So the South tried to break apart from the United States. The South started the bloodiest war ever experienced by the United States. Ironically, in their desire to defend and expand their right to own, whip, rape, exploit and murder black people, the Confederacy ineptly but fortunately brought about slavery's demise earlier than otherwise would have been the case. 

With the exception of the honest white supremacist, many present day defenders of Confederate monuments, flags and namesakes do not like to admit what it is they are actually defending. The United States is not a white man's country. Black people actually do have rights that white men and women must respect. And despite Kris Kobach's best efforts Black people get to vote. How about that? All of this was anathema to Confederates, then and now. For Confederates blacks were slaves. Period. End of story. There was a Supreme Court decision which established that blacks had no rights whites needed to respect. How much more clear does someone need to be. At its core the Civil War wasn't about tariffs or balance of powers between the Federal government and states. It was about enslavement and exclusion. This isn't a modern revisionist idea.

Blissfully unencumbered by any political niceties, after all they were about to start shooting people, Confederate politicians detailed for posterity their purpose in seceding. If we weren't living in a post-truth society this evidence would prevent particularly malevolent or obtuse people from arguing that the Civil War from the South's POV wasn't about slavery and white supremacy.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Turks Attack Washington D.C. Protesters

Generally speaking, and all the lawyers who are qualified to speak on it can chime in if they wish, if you are are an official representative of one country doing official business in another, you have diplomatic immunity. Unless your home country decides for its own reasons to waive such immunity you usually aren't subject to prosecution by your host nation. All they can do is expel you. Consider this a form of guest right, if you will. No one kills, arrests, or otherwise harms the messenger. It's bad form. It would open up your diplomats and representatives to similar treatment if you went around, justifiably or not, arresting or abusing foreign diplomats. But the deal in having diplomatic immunity is that the foreign diplomat or other representative is supposed to live by the laws of the host nation. Some diplomats or other representatives have a problem doing this. 

The latest example of this, and it's by no means limited to Turks, occurred recently in Washington D.C. where members of the Turkish President's security team and apparent Turkish embassy staff, charged through a line of D.C. police officers to kick, punch and pummel a group of mostly Armenian-American and Kurdish-American protesters. For whatever reason the D.C. police did not use deadly force. Arguably they should have done so. American citizens have been killed by police for far less. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017


Just in case you were enjoying your life on a tropical island somewhere without a TV or internet service, let's catch you up: 
  • On March 20, 2017, FBI Director James Comey announces that the FBI is investigating the connection between the Trump Campaign and Russia. You remember James Comey don't you?  He was he guy who, days before the election, felt compelled to remind American voters that Hillary Clinton was still under investigation for email-gate (which turned out to be nothing more than Anthony Weiner up to his usual shenanigans).
  • Fast forward to last week, Director Comey requests additional funding from Congress for more prosecutors and agents to accelerate the investigation between Trump and Russia
  • On Tuesday, May 9, 2017, President Trump fires Director Comey.  Interestingly, Trump states in his letter: "While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to lead the Bureau.” We'll come back to this part later.
  • On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, Trump administration surrogates like Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway take to the cable news shows to explain why Trump fired the FBI Director.  The answer given: because Comey reminded American voters days before the election that Hillary Clinton was still under investigation for email-gate.  (wait, didn't that actually help Trump get elected?)  Another important talking point that is advanced is that Trump "had no choice" but to fire Director Comey because it was the recommendation of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions who, by the way, had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation due to his own connections with Russia.  Indeed, Trump's surrogates cite to, and Kellyanne Conway on several news shows even went so far as to literally read from, the letter written by Rosenstein as evidence that the recommendation came straight from Rosenstein and that Trump was merely acting on that recommendation. Got that part? OK good because...
  • On Thursday, May 11, 2017, Donald Trump himself sits down for an interview with Lester Holt on national television and literally says "I was going to fire [Comey] regardless of recommendation. He [Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein] made a recommendation . . . But regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire him."  What's more, Trump also revealed during the interview that he invited Director Comey to dinner on more than one occasion to specifically ask Comey -- who at that time was leading the FBI investigation into Trump's ties with Russia -- whether or not Trump was under investigation for his ties with Russia.  According to Comey, he refused to comment on an ongoing investigation. According to Trump, Comey told him flat out that he was not under investigation - a fact which, if true, actually amounts to Presidential interference with a federal investigation.
  • Oh and to add insult to injury, also on Wednesday, in the middle of all this Russia business, Trump actually invites Russian officials into the Oval Office for a meeting.  American press was banned from the meeting, but Russian press was allowed and, as it turns out, leaked the photos of the meeting. 
To recap, the Trump administration is under investigation by the FBI for its ties with Russia, President Trump fired the head of the FBI who was leading the investigation into himself, and then he invites the Russians to the White House for a secret photo op. 

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Trumplandia. 

Bates Motel Series Finale

What better time to discuss the Bates Motel finale than Mother's Day Weekend? Snicker. This A&E series lasted for five years. It didn't overstay its welcome. It featured very intense story lines and acting by the two leads (Farmiga, Highmore). But every recurring character in this story was well written. Even the minor characters fit well into the story. This series may have started out as a prequel to the Psycho film but the producers and writers made it clear that Bates Motel was much much ambitious than a prequel. It was something that may have been inspired by Psycho but was not tied down by that film. It was a re-interpretation and reworking of the Psycho movie. Although there was the obvious bad guy the viewers also came to understand that the man, prissy Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) was not in control of himself. He was a very disturbed individual. He was capable of great kindness upon occasion. He ran into more attractive women than you would expect a weird loner to find. But Norman was never going to enjoy happiness for long because he was frequently divorced from reality. 

At the end of Season Four a depressed and angry Norman decided to kill his mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) and himself in a murder-suicide. But his mother died; Norman didn't. In a stroke of luck for Norman the authorities, with Norman's connivance, assumed that the breakup note that Norma wrote for her husband Sheriff Alex Romero (Nestor Carbonell ) was actually a suicide note. So everyone believes that Norma was actually the crazy one who tried to kill her son via gas poisoning. Well that is everyone except Alex. He knows how dangerous Norman is. He blames Norman for his wife's death. And he intends to do something about it. He's put people in the ground before. Unfortunately for Alex, before he could make his move, the DEA gets some evidence of his corruption. Alex is arrested and later convicted.

Democrats: What Now?

I recently read that the NY Attorney General plans to sue if House healthcare legislation becomes law. There are some things to consider about the current state of American politics. These ideas apply equally to people across the political spectrum but given the way power works it's usually the people out of power who have cause to take them to heart.

Legislatures decide policy, not constitutionality. The courts decide whether something is constitutional or not. Courts (usually) do not pick among different policy choices. Just because someone is pursuing a policy preference you truly despise doesn't automatically mean it's unconstitutional. The courts can't and shouldn't rule on the political merits of a given policy. There is a whole universe of policy initiatives that I don't like but which are not unconstitutional. Suing your way to your preferred policy outcomes won't work in most cases. In short, the courts will not save you from all of the effects of a Trump Presidency and Republican control of both chambers of Congress. Only the people can do that. Like it or not Trump won. Right now the only people who can legally remove him from office are other Republicans. That's because, drunk on moral certainty, starting around 2010 Democrats forgot how to win seats. 

On policy questions, no political party or movement can accomplish much without winning over voters. Obtaining voter support doesn't mean that you must agree with every "deplorable" voter stance. It does mean though that you must visit the voters, listen to them, be seen to work on their issues, and build both a logical and emotional argument on why you and your policy are their best options. Hectoring them and lecturing them don't work.

Book Reviews: Dracula vs. Hitler

Dracula vs. Hitler
by Patrick Sheane Duncan
As filmmakers use the found footage trope to introduce movies, authors can use the found diary or found documents trope. In real life Duncan is an HBO producer, author and director of the documentary series Medal of Honor. Duncan writes that he found these strange documents when he was researching female spies and partisans in World War Two. These documents were so strange and important that Duncan felt that they deserved to be shared. Sometimes a book's title tells you the exact story. This is one such title. Romania originally joined the German side during World War Two.

Romania only switched sides after it had become clear the Nazis were going to lose. Like F. Paul Wilson's book The Keep, Dracula vs. Hitler asks the reader to imagine what would happen if the upstart Nazis ran across an older entity that views them as trespassers.

This book starts in 1896. Professor Abraham Van Helsing, with the help of Quincy Morris and Jonathan Harker, has defeated Prince, not Count, Dracula. But Stoker's story was wrong. Dracula is only immobilized, not destroyed. Van Helsing tells himself that it's because of scientific curiosity that he decided against destroying Dracula. By 1941 Van Helsing is an old man who has settled in Romania. He has a beautiful young adult daughter Lucille or Lucy upon whom he dotes. Lucy is no shrinking violet. She's a well traveled fiery feminist insistent upon proving she's just as good if not better than a man in every endeavor. Lucy's a skilled saboteur, spy, linguist and would be artist. Lucy and her father are leading Resistance members. Initially they run circles around the incompetent German and Romanian soldiers. They make such an impression upon the British that Great Britain, desperate to put mud in the German eye, sends over British special forces agents to deliver supplies, coordinate attacks and gather intelligence. 

The British leader is the grandson of the original Harker, also named Jonathan. Jonathan volunteered for this assignment. Having been unable to learn about Dracula from his grandfather, Jonathan is eager to meet Van Helsing and get the real story.

Bear Demands Brownies

In literature the cute bears Paddington and Winnie the Pooh are always on the lookout for marmalade sandwiches and honey pots, respectively. Neither one is rude or capable of doing harm to anyone. The harshest thing that Paddington will do to you if you get on his nerves is give you a hard stare. But in real life bears are not small, cute and cuddly. They don't ask politely for what they want. And what they want apparently isn't marmalade but brownies. A woman in Connecticut was baking brownies when one of the local fauna apparently caught the scent of the chocolate goodness and decided it wanted some.  AVON, CT (WFSB) -
Avon residents called police after a bear tried to get into a home this weekend and one neighbor got the whole incident on camera. Neighbors talking to 911 dispatch stated that the bear was trying to gain access into a home on Stagecoach Road. "My neighbor across the street just came over in a panic. She's a little old lady, screaming that a bear got on the back porch and is slamming on her glass door," one call to 911 stated.

Members of Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were not called to the scene. They said a bear "spent considerable time on a deck and was reluctant to leave." This incident was especially terrifying for the female homeowner who was baking brownies as the bear pressed up against her glass door.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Elderly Woman Body Slammed At Pool Party

You must be able to get along with other people. You don't have to like them but you must live with them. Our actions continually impact other people. When you are neighbors with someone you recognize this. You and your neighbor can't solve every dispute by shouting and fisticuffs. When you are neighbors with someone there's a good chance that neither of you is going anywhere anytime soon. You and your neighbor may need each other's help someday, whether it's something as prosaic as your neighbor plowing your driveway during the Winter Deathstorm of 2017 or you being willing to let the police know the license plate of the van that was parked outside your neighbor's house while it was burglarized. 

So when your neighbor asks you to turn your music down you might be annoyed. But if you are normal you'd remember the time that your neighbor helped you to change a flat. You'd probably turn down the music. Even if you didn't know your neighbor from Adam, you might consider granting their request because, as mentioned, reciprocity often works. You and your neighbor will be in a position to help and hurt each other for a while. 

But people who aren't neighbors and who aren't normal may not recognize the benefits of relationship reciprocity, as 68 year old North Lauderdale, Florida resident Nancy James discovered when she asked a group of teens to turn down their music at a pool party. The teens, many of whom did not live in the complex, didn't appreciate her request.