Monday, August 14, 2017

Charlottesville

An umbrella grouping of right wingers, including but not limited to college Republicans, neo-Nazis, Alt-Right supporters, neo-Confederates, white nationalists, and others descended on the University of Virginia campus at Charlottesville over the weekend to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, military leader of the most violent rebellion in U.S. history, and proud slave owner and white nationalist. This was part of their Unite the Right program, which as you might imagine is designed to rebuild the Right into more of a pure expression of white nationalism and separatism. Some would probably argue that the Right doesn't have too far to go in that regard anyway. Shouting such catchy slogans as "White Lives Matter" and "Jew will not replace us" along with all of the normal racist and anti-Semitic slurs which are common for them, the white nationalists scuffled with police. But of course the police were not the true target of their hatred.

The white nationalists had come ready for a fight, or had rather come ready to hurt people since almost none of them appeared interested in a fair fight. They assaulted counterprotesters of all colors with bats, sticks, fists, and poles, apparently particularly the black ones of course. In a move that was grabbed from the ISIS playbook one of the terrorists, James Alex Fields, also deliberately drove a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, wounding several and killing one Heather Heyer. Despite all of this violence coming from the right, President Trump could not and did not manage to specifically condemn the white supremacist violence. He only mumbled something about condemning the bigotry coming from all sides. 

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Eastwatch

Ok we're back. And in a development that should surprise absolutely no one both Bronn and Jaime are still alive. Bronn pulls Jaime out of the lake. Perhaps because he's a knight now or perhaps because he just has gotten comfortable with Jaime, Bronn has no qualms about calling Jaime's move of trying to charge Daenerys while she was protected by her dragon as the incredibly dumb move that it was. Bronn dismisses Jaime's feeble explanation of trying to end the war in one fell swoop. Bronn states that this is no developing bromance or heterosexual life partnership. He still thinks that Jaime owes him. So therefore until Bronn gets everything that's coming to him, he's not going to let anything or anyone kill Jaime. In what feels like some ham-fisted exposition the two men point out that Daenerys did what she did to their army with just one dragon. And they couldn't do anything to stop her. What happens when she wants to use all three? Jaime says he must warn Cersei.

Tyrion walks the battlefield, which is still smoldering from the dragonfire. For someone who had no qualms using wildfire against Stannis' forces in the Battle of the Blackwater, Tyrion seems both shocked and saddened by the sheer destructive power of dragonfire. Of course it was mostly Lannister troops doing the dying this time so that might add something to his perspective.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

President Trump. Kim Jong Un, North Korea and Nuclear War

As you may have noticed President Trump and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un have been trading insults and threats over the past few weeks about just how bad they're going to curb stomp the other country. Kim has made threats to attack Guam while Trump has said that any North Korean bad behavior will be met by fire and fury the likes of which the world hasn't seen. Trump says that the US military is locked, loaded and ready to go. Many people, both intelligent and not, attacked Trump's statements as unpresidential. They were. But at the same time if someone is threatening your country you're probably going to threaten them back. There tends to be an expectation among some experts that whatever Trump says will be wrong. That's usually a pretty good expectation. But in the case of the North Korean regime there has been a decades long bipartisan failure to prevent what the U.S. sees as bad behavior by North Korea. North Korea has nukes. North Korea isn't giving up its nukes. North Korea has been continuing to test missiles. Those missiles have been getting better and better. This is simply not a problem that Trump created though he is certainly capable of making things worse.

There may have been, sixty years ago, a small window to settle the North Korean question militarily on terms favorable to the United States, as Douglas MacArthur would have told you (and did tell other people), but in the current day with a nuclear armed Russia and China, that window has likely closed.

Michigan Apples

Depending on which survey you happen to believe Michigan is consistently the state with the second or third largest crop of apples each year. The crop is coming soon. I like apples but even more than apples I like what apples portend: cooler weather, women in sweaters, football and fall. Those all kind of go together in my head. Apples also mean that there will be lots of apple pies, apple fritters, apple sauces and all sorts of other treats derived from that fruit. There are thousands of different kinds of apples. They don't all exist in Michigan but there are enough different Michigan varieties to keep a fan of this fruit well satisfied for the next three months as fall arrives, with its lower temperatures and overcast skies. Apple lovers won't have to wait much longer to sink their teeth into their favorite fruit: This year's Michigan apple harvest is ahead of schedule, with certain varieties' predicted peak harvest dates falling anywhere from a few days to an entire week ahead of normal. 

According to Michigan State University Extension, data collected from around the state suggests the apple harvest will be significantly early for certain varieties in some parts of Michigan, but that the cropload will be 65 percent of normal due to frost damage earlier in the year.  "As always, the weather seems to be unusual each year and 2017 was no different," MSU Extension posted in an article predicting apple harvest dates late last month. 


MacIntosh apples, for example, are 10 to 11 days ahead of normal in some parts of the state, and, in general, a few days ahead of the 2016 harvest. Meanwhile, peak harvest for Red Delicious apples is predicted to range from one to eight days ahead of normal, depending on what region they are in.

LINK

Movie Reviews: Hacksaw Ridge

Hacksaw Ridge
directed by Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson may hold ugly opinions or beliefs that you don't like. He may occasionally make even uglier statements when he is drunk or upset. But since I don't know the man personally that doesn't impact my enjoyment of his film work. Maybe I would feel differently if I was the real life target of one of his volcanic bigoted tirades. But I haven't been. Sometimes people who have great skills aren't necessarily very nice people. Sometimes very nice people are utterly incompetent artists. It's just the way it is. This is a roundabout way of saying that I think this film serves as Gibson's re-entry into Hollywood royalty. It has A- list stars, excellent cinematography and impressive writing/storytelling. It helps that this is based on a true story, something of a tearjerker. Gibson pulls out all the stops to wring every bit of emotion out of the viewer. I think it works. He also brings his penchant for blood and martyrdom to the forefront but as this is a war movie, that makes sense. This is not a war movie like the old 50s and 60s war movies where someone would get hit and fall down. 

Maybe in the late 60s or 70s we'd see a splash of red. Gibson made other choices for this movie. This is a post-Saving Private Ryan war movie. Gibson does his best, and his best is pretty damn good, to bring across the horror, carnage and randomness of war.  There is the danger of become too inured to such graphic violence but of course no matter how horrible these images are they are nothing compared to the reality of war. I don't think that you can watch this film and come away thinking that war is anything less than an obscenity to be avoided at almost any cost.

Michigan Trump Supporter, Foreigners and Housing Discrimination

The libertarian or traditionalist conservative would say that this is a white man's country that a man ought to have the right to do as he pleases with his own property. Although that is indeed an important value there are other values and goals which society has decided are equally important or even more important than the right to control your own property in every aspect. One of those values is anti-discrimination. 

There are limits on how the state or even private entities can treat you based on immutable characteristics such as your race, age, sex, nationality and occasionally even religion or sexuality or sexual identity. The law has been trending that way for at least the past seventy years or so. Why? Because there are unfortunately a lot of people who, given half a chance, would indeed discriminate against their fellow Americans or others based on some or all of the traits I just mentioned. One such man is Iraq war vet and former shady used car dealer, James Prater, a Mason, Michigan resident who has decided to put his house up for sale. There's just one caveat. Mr. Prater doesn't want to sell to anyone who is not a true blue American. Apparently he has a special dislike for people of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent. But rather than leave it up to the individual to figure out if they were sufficiently non-Middle Eastern/South Asian Prater decided to make it easy for everyone by stating "No foreigners". Nice and simple.


Book Reviews: Someone is Bleeding

Someone is Bleeding
by Richard Matheson
This is Richard Matheson's earliest story. It is very different from his sci-fi or horror work. It's a short story that I read in the "Noir" collection. I'm not sure if this was ever an American film but it's something that screams out to be made into a movie. The characters aren't super strong but there is a constant feeling that something isn't quite right. I guess you could call this American noir writing. Though the story is only 154 pages Matheson takes his sweet time developing the plot and themes. He spends a lot of time on description and dialogue. He doesn't explain every little thing. Although the story takes place in sunny California a lot of the action takes place at night. Given some of the dark deeds and aberrant sexuality this contrast between light and darkness works. There's a very strong Chinatown vibe to this story, if that comparison works for you. This story is the spiritual Godfather to works such as Chinatown and Blue Velvet. A psychologically and/or morally damaged hero risks it all to save a strange beautiful woman who may not be worth the effort. In post WW2 California a veteran, journalism grad and writer named David Newton is taking in the sun on the beach when he meets a remarkably curvy blonde woman named Peggy Ann Lister. Well David is not the sort of fellow to let good things get away from him if he can help it. Despite the fact that Peggy initially seems only marginally interested in David, David holds up his side of the conversation well enough to pique what seems to be something close to attraction in Peggy.

It's hard to tell what Peggy really thinks though because for reasons which don't need to be disclosed here Peggy has a profound distrust of the entire male gender. And once she knows David a little better she's not averse to telling him that even he is not really within her circle of trust. David flips back and forth between wanting to tell Peggy off and storm away from her and persist to break through her defenses to show her that he is that one in a million good guy who will never hurt her or make her do anything she doesn't want to do.

EMU Football Poster

Sometimes ideas are better in the concept phase then they are in the execution and delivery phase. It happens. No big deal. You can't necessarily figure out ahead of time how everyone will react and respond to your idea, particularly if you are trying to sell something. Everyone has different initial reactions to ideas and visual displays. If you are a member of the Eastern Michigan Hurons football team posing for a poster touting your upcoming fall schedule you probably want to channel the pride and fury of such former EMU (and NFL) football players such as John Banaszak, Charlie Batch, Vashone Adams, T.J. Lang,  and Darius Jackson among others. You want to impress and excite with your passion and strength. You want to get everyone fired up for the season! You want people to come see you do your thing on the field as you layeth the smackdown on your opponents.
Well.

Trans Community, Consent and Scapegoating

Recently a comedian named Lil Duval appeared on a radio show and made a clearly hyberbolic/comedic threat of violence against any transperson who tricked him into sex/intimacy. There was an immediate backlash from some members of the trans community as well as from some liberal people who often appear to have a stick up their behind concerning heterosexuality, which they never tire of labeling as hegemonic or toxic or problematic or any of the other popular academic circle insults. I wouldn't really care at all about what amounts to a catfight but for the fact that both NBC news and the New York Times seized this opportunity to insult the black community, or to be precise, black heterosexual men, as violence prone, hypermasculine, and backwards when it comes to trans issues.

NBC, the New York Times and a fair number of people yelling at Lil Duval used black brute stereotypes straight from Birth of A Nation. They just repurposed them for a liberal agenda.
But when DJ Envy asked Lil Duval what he would do if a woman he had sex with later said she was transgender, he responded, “This might sound messed up and I don’t care: She dying.” The hosts quickly told him that killing a transgender person was a hate crime and that he could not do that. But Lil Duval continued to make jokes and said it was about manipulation and taking away his choice. Charlamagne Tha God, the show’s most popular host, agreed with that point, saying that by not disclosing she is transgender, a woman is “taking away a person’s power of choice,” and he added that “you should go to jail or something.” In a statement to The New York Times released through his publicist on Saturday, Charlamagne Tha God denounced all prejudice and hate crimes, emphasizing that he wholeheartedly believed that violence against transgender people was wrong. 
“Nobody should be killed just for existing,” he said. What needed to be discussed further, he added, was whether transgender people should disclose their gender identities to sexual partners. “To me, anytime you take away someone’s power of choice, it’s criminal,” he said. “Let me decide for myself if this is what I want. But if a trans person doesn’t disclose until after sexual acts have occurred, they shouldn’t be killed for it.”

Monday, August 7, 2017

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Spoils of War

Well that was pretty good. Or as my brother said, this show should win awards for this episode alone if nothing else. It was a little higher on action than normal, but the story also moved forward with the "talky" portions. There were few wasted words in this episode. There were a number of reunions. The Lannisters (and evidently some remains of the Bolton forces) are marching to King's Landing from Highgarden, having looted it. Jaime's intention is to use the booty to pay off the Lannister debt to the Iron Bank. Bronn can tell that something is bothering Jaime but as Jaime is not really a sensitive new age type of guy he declines to share Olenna Tyrell's last words with his employee. Flipping the script, Jaime notices that even when he gives Bronn a generous portion of the gold Bronn is not super happy. Care to share. Well Bronn is not sensitive and talky either but he is quite the honest mercenary. He wants a castle. He was promised a castle. He thinks Highgarden looks appropriate. Jaime chides him for being greedy but says that after the war is won Bronn will have his pick of castles, though probably not Highgarden. Randyll Tarly and his son Dickon report. They need some help "convincing" people of the Reach to turn over their harvests. Jaime volunteers Bronn to help in that endeavor.

In King's Landing, the Iron Bank representative, Tycho, is meeting with Cersei. He is both pleased and a little irritated that Cersei intends to pay the debt back in full in one payment. The Iron Bank likes interest payments because that's where the profit is. Still they want their money back. They will be be pleased to work with Cersei on all sorts of future projects just as soon as they have their money back. Cersei has sent Qyburn to inquire about hiring the Golden Company, a famous mercenary group with former links to Westeros.

Movie Reviews: Detroit

Detroit
directed by Kathyrn Bigelow
The 1967 Detroit riot or rebellion started less than a mile from where I would later grow up. In separate incidents during this time both of my parents were shot at by police, soldiers and/or rioters. My mother, a paternal uncle and my paternal grandfather were nearly killed by police shooting at the car my grandfather was driving while he was trying to get my mother safely home. A bullet missed my mother and left a scar on my uncle's shin. Another paternal aunt would later regale me with stories of the National Guardsmen/Army troops riding in armored vehicles shouting racial slurs at black teens and threatening to shoot them. And of course many older uncles and second cousins would from time to time over the years mention the repressive and disgusting behavior of the police back in what I came to think of as the bad old days. I mention all this to say that although I wasn't on the scene or even yet thought of when the riot took place I feel as if I had a very personal stake in what was going on. Some of the buildings that were part of my panorama growing up were the same buildings that were seen on the newsreels of the events in 1967. People died in part so that I could walk freely in my city and succeed to the best of my God given abilities instead of being assaulted by police or trapped in a dead end racially segregated job. So I was intrigued to see what a strong talented director like Bigelow would do with this story. Would she mess it up? Would she get down to the nitty gritty? Would she confirm ugly stereotypes about whites working with "black" stories and themes?

Unfortunately I would have to say that as a storyteller Bigelow missed the boat here. Technically the movie is superb. The camera work, lighting, cinematography, settings and look of the film are all top notch, with one or two minor complaints I'll mention in a moment. Bigelow is a master (mistress?) of her craft and shows it here. But the narrative is too sharply focused on the incidents at the Algiers Motel. The Algiers Motel (which has since been torn down) was a place that was a sort of no-tell motel. People often went there to commit adultery. Some prostitutes worked that area. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Chicago High School Graduation Requirements

In a decision which didn't attract much attention outside of Chicago, perhaps because people don't think it will make that much difference, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago School Board recently changed the law regarding high school graduation. Starting in 2020 in order to receive a high school diploma, a student not only must successfully complete the coursework but also demonstrate to the school's satisfaction that he or she has a plan for post-graduation success. Approved plans include college admission, military admission, a job or an apprentice program. In other words the government must approve of your plans post-high school. If the government doesn't approve then you don't get your diploma.

THE JOB of K-12 education traditionally has been considered complete when students walk across the stage to get their diploma. That is about to change in Chicago with an ambitious, and controversial, initiative requiring public school students to have a post-graduation plan to earn a diploma. Chicago leaders are right to make official what long has been recognized — the need for more than a high school diploma to succeed in today’s economy — and, more importantly, to accept responsibility for helping students meet that challenge.

Starting in 2020, under a plan championed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) and unanimously approved by the school board, diplomas will be tied to students devising post-secondary plans. High school seniors must show they’ve been accepted into college, or the military, or into a trade or “gap-year” program, or have secured a job. The idea is to raise expectations and thus produce better outcomes for students.



Book Reviews: The Last Mile

The Last Mile 
by David Baldacci
This book is second in a series but you shouldn't let that put you off from reading it first. I picked it up on sale. I was happy that I did. I didn't feel as if there was anything I missed by not reading the previous story. The Last Mile was a stand alone book. There was just enough description and back story given to get the reader up to speed. The book is also atypical in that the protagonist is a severely out of shape middle aged man. He's trying to get back into a fit condition but it's a challenge. If this book is ever made into a film Hollywood shouldn't cast the normal type of leading man as the protagonist. The Last Mile is a little more than 400 pages but it rarely dragged. Baldacci pulls the reader in with meaningful action and brain teasers. Some of the characters are a little bit more strongly drawn than the others, but the villains are delicious.

Amos Decker is a genius bruiser. A former college football star at Ohio State, Decker made to the NFL for all of one game before he was hit so hard that he was knocked out of the league. Decker's concussion left him with some mild brain damage which fortunately for Decker was expressed in increased abilities in both deductive and inductive reasoning, an inability to ever forget anything down to the smallest detail (hyperthymesia), and the tendency to think in colors (synesthesia) when faced with certain emotional stimuli. All of these things made Decker a perfect fit for post NFL jobs as a police detective and later private detective. Decker's family has been murdered. It's not easy for him to make new friends although I think that Decker was blunt, socially inept and generally tactless even before his tragedy.  Being able to remember ever detail of the the slaughter of his loved ones is something Decker would rather do without. As some people seek solace in alcohol or drugs, Decker patches his emotional wounds with food, the starchier and sweeter the better. He's not initially pleased when he's forced to go on a diet or start to exercise. And because Decker was already not the nicest person to be around, a truly grumpy Decker can occasionally be insufferable.

HBO's Confederate Show

As you may have heard the creators and show runners of HBO's smash hit series Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B Weiss, have decided to create and produce another show for HBO. Tentatively titled Confederate this show will imagine a modern day world in which the slave owning South won the Civil War as well as subsequent conflicts with the North. Slavery is still legal in the South but not the North. A black husband and wife couple, Malcolm and Nichelle Spellman, will also write for and produce the show. No scripts have yet been created. No storyline or theme has been divulged. And that is all anyone who is not named David Benioff, D.B Weiss, Malcolm or Nichelle Spellman, or who is not within the small group of HBO executives who greenlit the show or who is not married to or related to the show creators knows about Confederate at this time. 

Though the proposed show Confederate hasn't been viewed by a single mumbling soul many people immediately came out against the show. These reasons ranged from personal taste to fears that it would embolden the right-wing to concerns that whites would mess up the story to worries that it would by definition bolster lies about black inferiority to somewhat presumptuous fears that the American populace just didn't need to see this to accusations of cultural appropriation and imperialism. 

Monday, July 31, 2017

Colorado landlord has sex in tenants' bed

I'm pretty particular about some things. I know that we all have immune systems for a reason, as I once explained to an even more germophobic relative, but all the same I'd rather not test my immune system needlessly. Unless we're intimate you can keep your germs and bacteria to yourself, thank you very much!! I don't need them. I don't want them. I can't use them. I can't win with them. If a grocery clerk coughs or sneezes while they are ringing up my order I may at least give some thought to getting another item which doesn't have any bonus phlegm on it. I'm much better than I used to be about this sort of thing, believe me. Life is short. Nobody gets out clean.That said though there is a difference between relaxing unrealistic standards which are too high and letting go of standards all together and permitting someone else to deliberately befoul your environment. The first may be a deliberate choice but the second is pathetic surrender. I heard about this story on the morning commute and could not believe it.

A Colorado landlord who was caught on home surveillance cameras having sex in his tenants' bed pleaded guilty to trespassing last week. Carlos Quijada-Lara was filmed breaking in to the $1,100-a-month apartment of married couple Logan Pierce and Mikaela DiGiulio in Colorado Springs last November to have sex on their bed with another man. He was unaware that the couple had installed a surveillance camera in their bedroom which recorded the romp. 

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Queen's Justice

Tonight's episode opened at Dragonstone, where Jon and Davos have arrived with a small honor guard of Northern men. Jon and Tyrion trade memories and ritual insults. Tyrion wonders if Sansa ever talks about him. Tyrion wants to make sure Jon knows that Tyrion didn't consummate the marriage with Sansa. Like most normal brothers, Jon doesn't want to know the details of his sister's private life. And to Tyrion's question, Sansa doesn't mention Tyrion. Davos and Jon are a little worried by the immediate Dothraki confiscation of their boat and their weapons. Tyrion is also curious about what it feels like to be the Stark King in the North. In a not really inside joke, Jon replies that he's not a Stark. Dragons swoop overheard as Jon walks up to meet Daenerys. Melisandre didn't go down to meet Jon and Davos, something that Varys can't help but notice and gloat over. Melisandre admits that she didn't leave on good terms with Jon or Davos and intends to leave for Volantis. But she cautions Varys not to smirk too much about her travel plans or threaten her about returning. She intends to return for she forsees that her fate is to die in Westeros, as is Varys'. She has brought fire and ice together. Her work is complete for now.

Jon and Davos enter the throne room at Dragonstone. Missandei announces Daenerys with a comically long list of titles and accomplishments. Davos responds gruffly that this is Jon Snow and that he is King in the North. Pointedly referring to Jon as a Lord and not a King, Daenerys invites and then orders Jon to bend the knee and accept her as suzerain.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Trump, Priebus and Scaramucci

Donald Trump, despite his immense wealth, success, and power is a profoundly insecure man. Perhaps this goes back to bad experiences during his toilet training phase. Maybe he knows that he's not really a self-made man in the true sense of the word. Maybe he struggles to comprehend how being President can be so tough if the black guy did it. I don't know. I do know that he's a bully who has so far not shown any ability either to run the executive branch effectively or failing that, empower people who really do know how to administer the executive branch. Maybe this will change. But really how many people change in their seventies? You pretty much are who you are at that point. Trump mistakes conflict and brashness for strength. This "state of nature" approach trickles down to everyone who works for Trump. We saw this this week where Trump's new White House Communications Director and would be mini-me Anthony Scaramucci, gave a rather odd interview in which he profanely boasted of being willing to fire everyone, accused White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus of leaking information, and charged White House Advisor Steve Bannon of being so enamored of himself that he tried to commit oral sex upon himself.
Scaramucci also told me that, unlike other senior officials, he had no interest in media attention. “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own ****,” he said, speaking of Trump’s chief strategist. “I’m not trying to build my own brand off the f****** strength of the President. I’m here to serve the country.” (Bannon declined to comment.) He reiterated that Priebus would resign soon, and he noted that he told Trump that he expected Priebus to launch a campaign against him.
Now politics is a contact sport. But even by those standards going on the record with such filth was pretty low indeed. But Scaramucci did not apologize in any meaningful way. And apparently Trump wasn't bothered as much by Scaramucci's language and public criticism of other Administration members as he was by Priebus' lack of public response. 


Movie Reviews: John Wick Chapter 2

John Wick Chapter 2
directed by Chad Stahelski

Rinse, Wash, Repeat. 

There is a line in Tolkien's Silmarillion in which Feanor, among the greatest and most tragic of the elven heroes, insults Melkor, the Big Bad (Satan analogue) of Tolkien's Universe. Then hate overcame Feanor's fear, and he cursed Melkor and bade him be gone, saying "Get thee gone from my gate, thou jail-crow of Mandos!" And he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Arda. Insulting the Devil to his face isn't really a wise thing to do. Feanor finds this out the hard way though since he is a total jerk he didn't see the error of his ways even when he died. The point is that when you insult or attack people whose capacities and capabilities you do not know, you might run across people you really should have left the f*** alone. That truism made the first John Wick movie an entertaining spectacle. The title character, a feared and skilled retired assassin, was processing his wife's death when an idiot made the mistake of stealing his car and killing his dog. The running joke throughout the film was that everyone was incredulous that anyone would willingly get on John Wick's bad side. As one criminal said we aren't scared of him because he's the Boogeyman. We're scared of him because that's who we send to kill the Boogeyman! 

We saw in great detail why upsetting John Wick was a very bad idea. Reeves is a minimalist actor, so the role of a quiet man struggling with grief and anger in equal measure was almost tailor made for him. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Stormborn

Well THAT escalated quickly. There was a lot of action in tonight's episode as well as some unexpected tenderness. Both Jon and Daenerys learned again that just because you call yourself a ruler doesn't mean that everyone will automatically do what you say. The best leaders get their followers to buy into their agenda, even if they don't always agree with it or understand it. There's a fine line between saying I'm the boss and so we're going to do things my way or else and being able to listen to people and moderate your views without seeming to be weak or easily swayed. At Dragonstone Daenerys is questioning Varys' loyalty. She notices that no matter who is on the Iron Throne Varys seems to prosper and do well. She points out that although Robert gave the order to murder her it would have been Varys who made the arrangements. Tyrion tries to defend Varys by pointing out that everyone on Daenerys' team once had different loyalties but Daenerys isn't having it. She points out that not only did Varys try to kill her but that he also was previously supportive of her insane older brother and assisted in having her sold to Khal Drogo. 

Varys retorts that he serves the people no matter which king or queen is on the throne. And Varys came up just as hard as Daenerys did. More so since he had no family name or wealth to protect him from the rougher side of life. He was castrated so as far as he is concerned Danerys can miss him with her whole "I'm just a poor girl" sob story. He's not there to offer blind loyalty. So Daenerys can kill him now or get the f*** out of his face. Amused, but not really Daenerys says that she accepts him in her council for now but that if Varys ever thinks she's out of pocket he needs to tell her to her face, not conspire to have her replaced. Otherwise she will turn him into burnt crispy eunuch treats.



Saturday, July 22, 2017

Justine Damond Shooting

One of the most predictable occurrences in life is that many people simply do not understand or empathize with certain situations until they experience them. People who privately sneer at interracial children may change their tune when their child marries someone of a different race and they receive mixed grandchildren. People who make gay jokes often stop when their brother or sister comes out to them over Thanksgiving dinner. And people who support lifetime limits on insurance or medical settlements start singing a different tune when a drunk driver leaves them either paralyzed or in unending pain for the rest of their life, but the insurance company only provides a piddling payout that will be spent in less than a year. When people who look a certain way have problems with heroin or prescription pill addiction the media depicts them as sympathetic fellow citizens who need help and understanding. They certainly aren't subhuman inner city junkies who need to be locked up en masse. This is unfortunately the way that some people are built. Many of us can't empathize with those in pain unless those people look like us or are us. The latest example of this is taking place in the media reactions to the Justine Damond shooting. Justine Damond was a Caucasian Australian woman who called the Minneapolis Police Department to report what she thought was a possible sexual assault in the area.

As Damond was either talking to or approaching the police, possibly leaning through the driver's window or close to the driver's window, the passenger in the police car, Officer Mohammad Noor, a Somali-American, shot her through the driver's door, killing her. Supposedly both police officers had their body cameras off, which was against policy. More information is coming out on Noor and some previous complaints about him or issues that he has.

Movie Reviews: Austin Found, Incarnate

Austin Found
directed by Will Raee
This movie is being marketed as a comedy. Well it has comedic elements but it's really not slapstick or anything that would make you constantly laugh out loud. It's more of a satire/slice of life story. It's uneven to say the least but the ending which I obviously won't discuss made the film worthwhile as far as I was concerned. At just over an hour and a half this film doesn't overstay its welcome. This movie works the same side of the street as such films as Fargo, To Die For, Little Miss Sunshine, and Living Dolls. We all have a self-image. Whether we want to or not we often measure that internal portrait against the reality of who we are and where we are in life. I'm not just talking about money or material success although that is the most obvious metric which comes first to many people's minds. Health, fame, power, status, moral standing, intimate and familial relationships, and many other things are also important to people.

Austin, Texas hair stylist Leanne (Linda Cardellini) is a woman who doesn't like where she is in life. Leanne is a former high school cheerleader and beauty queen/prom queen who's now in her late thirties. Leanne often dresses as if she is much younger and still single. She married for money but her decent computer sales husband Don (Jon Daly) won't inherit what Leanne thought he was going to inherit. Additionally, because of career downturns Don isn't earning the big bucks that he used to bring home. At all. Money is tight. Bank accounts are low. Credit cards are maxed out. Leanne is channeling all of her ambition into her and Don's eleven-year old daughter Patty (Ursula Parker) by forcing Patty's participation in various talent shows and beauty contests as well as the required or suggested prep classes for those activities. 

Ypsilanti Turkey Memorial

There was a local wild turkey that became a bit of a celebrity. This turkey, for reasons that shall forever be unknown, decided to hang around a busy intersection and hassle drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. This went on for quite some time. Animal control personnel attempted to remove the turkey but failed. Perhaps they didn't try hard enough. The turkey got so comfortable with people and cars that it actually started walking in traffic, causing slowdowns and delays. Lots of people thought this was cute. They uploaded videos, started Facebook groups, and twitter accounts. Well the reason that we attempt to keep animals and children away from traffic is that they are often too stupid to recognize the danger that massive swiftly moving hunks of metal pose to living creatures. The turkey was no different. It was recently hit by a car and later euthanized.

People had a memorial ceremony for the turkey.

Jimmy Fallon and Celine Dion Do Musical Impressions

I don't watch a lot of television. And I'm not really a Fallon or Dion fan. So even though this was an old bit it was new to me when I ran across it on Facebook a few weeks back. I thought it was funny enough. It's amusing to see how professional singers interpret other professionals' signature cadences and moves. I don't follow Cher or Rihanna but it seems to me that Dion did a passable imitation of them both.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Republicans Fail to Repeal or Replace ObamaCare

The Republicans control the House, the Senate and the Presidency. Democrats can use procedural tricks,Senate tradition and appeals to the judiciary branch to slow down portions of the Republican agenda, but by and large Democrats can't stop anything that Republicans are bound and determined to get. The PPACA was passed without any Republican votes. Republicans swore that once they had the power to repeal it, the PPACA or ObamaCare was dead meat. During the Obama Administration, the Republicans voted time and time and time again to kill ObamaCare. Some said they would replace it with something better but just about all of them agreed that ObamaCare had to go. Like yesterday if not before. But a funny thing happened over the years that ObamaCare was the law. A noticeable portion of the Republican constituency found that even as they hated ObamaCare and of course Obama, they loved the PPACA. Many of these people were so stupid that they didn't realize that the PPACA and ObamaCare were the same thing. 

Once Trump won the White House and had Republican majorities in the House and Senate ObamaCare should have been easy to repeal. But we saw this week that when it really came down to it Republicans, at least in the Senate, were people who, as James Brown might have said, just liked talking loud while saying nothing.  At this time the Senate could not bring itself to modify the PPACA or to remove it.

Monday, July 17, 2017

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Dragonstone

Well Game of Thrones is back. Did you miss it. There are only seven episodes this season, the penultimate. I'm glad to see some storylines ending and eager to learn if some of my theories pan out. Walder Frey is at the Twins. He has ordered yet another feast. All of the important Freys are there, the ones who helped to plan or carry out the massacre of the Starks and Tullys at the Red Wedding. Is this a flashback or something? Walder is his normal officious odious self. He has ordered very special wine for everyone and gloats over the horrific events which took place at the Red Wedding. But Walder himself does not drink and prevents his wife (?) from drinking. Walder's tone changes from celebratory to accusatory and sarcastic as he reminds the assembled Freys of their "bravery" in killing pregnant women and unarmed people who trusted them. He urges his kinsmen to drink deeply. People are starting to look at Walder strangely. Walder smiles evilly. Freys start to drop dead. The wine is poisoned. Walder remarks that as evil and thorough as the Freys were they made a mistake in not killing all of the Starks. Because as Walder matter of factly states, as long as one wolf is still alive none of the sheep are safe. "Walder" pulls off his face to reveal that "he" is actually Arya Stark. As the last Frey man keels over dead, Arya tells the shocked Frey women to tell everyone who asks that the North remembers, that winter came this day for House Frey.


Up North we see the Night King and his army of White Walkers and reanimated dead, including giants, heading South. Bran and an exhausted Meera show up at Castle Black where Edd lets them in once Bran proves his identity by revealing he knows things he shouldn't know. At Winterfell Jon and Sansa are presiding over a war council. Jon is very comfortable leading. He's no dictator but he is a leader and king. He explains to everyone that dragonglass (obsidian) kills White Walkers so if anybody has some that would be a good thing. Over some objections he determines that the North should ensure that everyone from ten to sixty gets some sort of military training. And when Jon says everyone he includes women and girls as well. Some traditionalists are a bit taken aback by this but little Lyanna Mormont glowers at them and they back down. Jon also asks Tormund and the remaining Free Folk to man Castle Eastwatch. People who used to fight the Night's Watch have become the Night's Watch, something that amuses Tormund. A more serious dispute arises when Jon, being pragmatic, merciful and likely tired of killing and vindictiveness refuses to punish the remaining Umbers and Karstarks, now led by children, for their families' treason against the North. Some of the other Northern lords don't like this. Sansa is very much against Jon's decision. She says the lands and castles of the Umbers and Karstarks should be given to more loyal families. Jon disagrees but Sansa continues to publicly question and almost berate him on this. Losing patience Jon whips out the I'm the big brother and you will do what I say I'm the king and you will do what I say card and Sansa finally zips it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Book Reviews: Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor-a visual history commemorating the date that will live in infamy
by Randy Roberts and David Welky
On December 7th, 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. Japan destroyed the best part of the U.S. fleet, the battleships and killed over 2000 U.S. military personnel. It was an almost perfectly executed surprise attack. The Japanese military then went on a rampage against U.S. and European colonial territories throughout the Pacific, curbstomping Dutch, Australians, Brits, Americans, and anyone else who wanted to get some. The Japanese military simultaneously put an end to the idea of Caucasian military invincibility while creating its own shameful reputation for brutality, criminality and rape. The Allies were reeling from the Japanese blows. The strains faced by the Allies in the Pacific theater would hasten post-war decolonization. It was difficult to talk of European superiority when an Asian power long thought to be second rate had so thoroughly demolished European armies and navies. 

That said, though in attacking the U.S., Japan showed that it had literally gotten too big for its britches. There's a saying that "You [mess] with the bull, you get the horns". There was tremendous anger in the U.S. establishment and populace about the sneak attack. This song, which would be considered racist now, was an excellent example of the feelings raised. Ultimately Japan had to learn the hard way that it was no match for the U.S. when it came to a fight. The late comedian Richard Pryor had a bit where he opined that that the Japanese elite were only familiar with Americans from laid back California, snooty Harvard or officious Washington D.C. Pryor said that if the Japanese only knew Americans like that then yes maybe it made sense that the Japanese would think they could beat them. Pryor said that the Japanese hadn't been to places like Texas, Alabama or Mississippi where there were white folks so dangerous that people had to keep them on leashes. Once those folks got into the game it was lights out for the Japanese. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Donald Trump Jr. and Fredo Corleone


You may have heard that Donald Trump's oldest son, Donald Jr. has changed his story multiple times about meeting with a Kremlin linked Russian lawyer to discuss damaging negative information on Hillary Clinton and how best the Trump Campaign could use it. This contradicts both President Trump's statements about possible collusion between his campaign and Russians as well as other definitive statements made by various Trump surrogates. As previously stated though, it is up to the Republican House and Senate whether to impeach and convict President Trump. To say the least that seems extremely unlikely. Even so, it's probably a pretty fair bet that other powerful people within the Trump Administration/Organization aren't too happy with Donald Jr. right about now. With apologies to Francis Ford Coppola perhaps the discussion among the Trump siblings went a little something like this.
Donald Jr. : “I didn’t know the media and DOJ would use this info about my Russia meeting to hurt Dad. I swear to God I didn’t know. Believe me.”
Ivanka: “Just tell us what happened, Donnie.”
Donald Jr. : “I ran into Natalia on a hunting trip in South Africa. She said that Dad was having some trouble with Hillary, that Hillary was being really tough, that Dad might need some help in the general election. She said I could help out Dad and that there might be something in it for me. On my own. And it would be good for the entire family.”
Eric: “And you believed that?”

Monday, July 10, 2017

Black Woman Tourist Thrown Down Steps In Amsterdam

People place different values on time and its importance. One person may get very upset if a friend or family member who promised to pick them up from the airport is ten minutes late. Another person may not understand why their boss is seething when they consistently arrive to work two hours after what the manager considers to be an acceptable starting time. Sometimes these differences may be culturally or environmentally based, but even among people who share the exact same cultural and familial background there may be very disparate attitudes towards time. Of course time is money. 

Many people who evince cavalier attitudes towards other people's expectations of punctuality will often take a different viewpoint if their employer or customer decides to pay them late or less than what was agreed. So it goes. Ideally expectations about time and money should be worked out before you enter into a formal contract with someone. Because when there is a disagreement or misunderstanding about time and money more serious unpleasantness can arise. All sorts of prejudices and hatreds can come to the forefront. This shocking footage shows the moment a tourist was brutally pushed down a flight of stairs by an AirBnB landlord who could be facing charges of attempted murder. The push was the culmination of an argument that took place on Saturday afternoon in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam between four tourists who had rented the flat and the landlord.

According to local media, the tourists should have left the house at 11am but at 1pm, they were still not ready to leave. The impatient landlord then became angry at the group and decided to take matters into his own hands. The footage shows the man shouting 'out, out' as he chucks the clothes and suitcases of the women out of the flat and down the stairs. One woman is heard saying 'don't be emotional' as she complains about the landlord chucking her stuff out the flat unceremoniously.



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Movie Reviews: Life, The Belko Experiment

Life
directed by Daniel Espinosa
Good B-movie that doesn't quite live up to its cast
This film is not in the same league as Alien or The Thing but that doesn't mean it's not a worthwhile Saturday afternoon B-movie which draws from the same Lovecraftian inspirations as the aforementioned movies. It also shows its debt to 40s noir and 50s monster films. If you go into this movie nitpicking every little thing then you're missing the point. Yes, there are a few pointy headed scientists who lack common sense. Yes, sometimes the movie's physics are dead on accurate; other times they are completely made up. And supposedly trained scientists and engineers at the top of their professions make horrible mistakes when faced with a crisis. But that last is human nature. Unless you train continually, chances are good that when faced with an emergency you may make sub-optimal decisions. Playing a video driving simulation game is different from racing the Daytona 500. No plan survives contact with the enemy. 

The scientist who is convinced that he alone can bridge the gap between humanity and a possibly hostile life form is a pretty old trope. So basically movies like Life aren't meant for deep analysis. They are effectively haunted house movies without the supernatural elements. You're supposed to enjoy the thrills and imagine what you would do in that situation.

Fox News and Sexual Harassment: Charles Payne Suspended

Sexual harassment is wrong. Adultery is also wrong. But in the Hughes-Payne affair we only know for sure that one of those things took place. This incident shows why it's usually a good idea to keep your work life and your sex life separate. Because if things go sideways there are any number of ways that a scorned lover can make your life miserable, mess with your money and perhaps even derail your career. Of course sex is one of the strongest urges known to men and women so it's not surprising that people constantly ignore basic common sense for a little slice of heaven. Sin in haste. Repent at leisure. It's just part of human nature. Making honey can get in the way of making money.

The analyst whose accusations of sexual harassment have led to Fox Business Network's Charles Payne being suspended has been identified as Scottie Nell Hughes. It emerged Thursday that Payne, who hosts Making Money, had been accused of having a three-year affair with a married political analyst who had worked for CNN. 

That woman was Hughes and their relationship was well-known within Fox News circles, ten sources told the Huffington Post. Hughes is best known for her pro-Trump appearances on CNN during last year, when she made a string of gaffes, including referring to Molotov cocktails as 'Mazel Tov cocktails'. But she also worked as an unpaid guest commentator on Fox from 2013-2016 - during which time she struck up an affair with the married father, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Reviews: The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear

The 13 and 1/2 lives of Captain Bluebear
by Walter Moers
I am almost at a loss to describe this book. I liked it a lot. Truly did. But the combination of not wanting to divulge spoilers and not having a tremendous amount of time to ramble on about the book means that I will have to share the essentials of the book in just a few short sentences. Read this book. It is a wonderful fantastical tale that takes place in an Earth that perhaps never was but certainly should have been. If you are tired of fantasies that are all about grim dark violence interspersed with dark grim bloodshed then you should probably put this book on your list. Give it a shot. Enter its world. I can't guarantee that you would like the story but I can say that it almost completely lacks the utterly dismal outlook which has become popular in many fantasy stories of late. This fantasy is more Moomintroll Valley, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Phantom Tollbooth, or Through the Looking Glass than A Storm of Swords.

Captain Bluebear, the name is evidently some sort of pun in the author's native German, is well, a bluebear who lives in and around the fictional continent of Zamonia. The book's title comes from the fact that bluebears are said to have three times as many lives as cats. So Captain Bluebear describes the first half of his life. He wants some privacy so he's not telling you about the others. In addition to the fantasy stories I already mentioned there is a strong resemblance to some of Charles Dickens' work. I think it's probably deliberate. Captain Bluebear's lives do not terminate in his actual demise. "Lives" here mostly mean a period before he transitions to something else. Occasionally one gets the very strong feeling that the good captain may not be the smartest bear in the woods.

Michigan Mother Brooke Lajiness Pleads Guilty to Sex Offenses

Is it just me or does it seem as if there are more and more women getting busted for molesting or raping young boys? Perhaps I had a slightly sheltered childhood all those years ago when dinosaurs roamed the Earth but I don't seem to remember so many cases where adult women were seeking sex with underage males. The most recent one took place in SE Michigan. The age of consent in Michigan is 16, which is probably too young, but even that tender age was just too old for a 38-year-old married woman of Lima Township, Michigan named Brooke Lajiness. Perhaps, as some have said, this crime is about power more than it is about the sex. Either way although people have pretty routinely made jokes or songs about doing stuff with someone who is 16 or 17, there's nothing to joke about when it comes to 15,14 or 11. That kind of thing is pretty despicable no matter which state or subculture you come from.

ANN ARBOR, MI - A 38-year-old Lima Township mother has pleaded guilty to having sex with a 14-year-old boy and a 15-year-old boy. Brooke L. Lajiness admitted on Monday, June 26 during a pretrial in front of Washtenaw County Trial Court Judge David S. Swartz to having intercourse and oral sex with the minors.

She pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal sexual conduct for oral sex with a 15-year-old, two counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct for intercourse with a 14-year-old, one count of accosting a child for immoral purposes and one count of furnishing obscenity to children for sending nude photographs of herself to a minor. Through a plea agreement, 10 other counts of third-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person between 13 and 15 years old will be dismissed at sentencing, Assistant Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney John Vella said.


Don't Mess With North Carolina Women

I haven't been to Asheville, North Carolina, or spoken to maternal relatives in a while. I wonder what they would think of this story. I will check over the weekend. I think that although the woman's actions may have been a little over the top I would also bet that the thief will think twice before doing something like that again. If I were in charge of justice in this case I would probably just put the woman on a very short probation period. I would want to make sure that she understands when she can use that kind of force and when she can't. I think the thief already understands that if he wants to mess with his fellow mountain folk then he has to accept the risks of things like what took place. That had to hurt.  A pregnant woman was arrested in North Carolina on Wednesday after she reportedly mowed down an alleged thief with her SUV in a Wal-Mart parking lot, police said. After an investigation, police said that Christine Braswell, 26, of Canton, was returning to her parked car outside a Wal-Mart in Asheville on Wednesday afternoon when she saw a man enter her unattended, unsecured vehicle and rummage through her purse. 

When she confronted the man, he dropped the purse and ran across the parking lot in an attempt to flee, according to the Asheville Police Department. 

The Highwayman

The Highwayman
by Alfred Noyes
"The Highwayman" is a romantic poem created by the English writer, poet and playwright Alfred Noyes. I first encountered it as a young child in the Childcraft set gifted to me lo these many years ago by one of my great aunts. "Great" in that she was my father's aunt, not "great" in that she was a wonderful person, though indeed she was. Considering the subject matter it's unlikely that people would now consider the poem suitable for today's hypersensitive generation but kids were made of sterner stuff back in the day. And I think my aunt might have already known that I liked to read. Anyway the poem did leave an impact on me I think. I have saved and kept that Childcraft book which had the poem. I ran across it the other day while looking for something else. It's interesting what things from our childhood we keep.

The poem has a serious blues narrative. I suppose you could argue that things don't end well for the poem's doomed lovers. But you could just as easily say that the poem shows that true love will conquer all though death and hell stand in the way. The poem details the love between the titular character and Bess, the innkeeper's daughter. However jealousy and murderous soldiers end their love in this life, though perhaps not in the next. There's a balance between grim reality and romantic escape in this poem, which is echoed in many other works ranging from Tolkien's Beren and Luthien saga to the Gallows Pole traditional song made famous by Leadbelly and Led Zeppelin and even the infamous ending to Arthur Penn's Bonnie and Clyde. This poem lets everyone know that true love will conquer all. There's not a drop of cynicism to be found within. 

The poem is too long to reproduce in its entirety not that I want to do that here anyway but you can read selected portions below. Notice the poem's rhythm especially in the last two lines of each stanza. That's probably why many people have adapted the words to music and created songs based off of this work. The poem is written in hexameter (six beats per line) but goes back and forth between iambic and anapestic. Read it aloud to yourself. It really does sound like a story told around campfires late at night.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Trump and Mika Brzezinski

If I were a foreign agent or diplomat observing the President of the United States I would certainly be taking copious notes on how easily the President can be baited into saying or doing something silly or nasty. Over and over again the President finds it necessary to engage in puerile insults or get into back-and-forth with media personalities. He also has a two-year-old's attention span and need for validation. And he has extreme sensitivity to anything that hints that he's not the most virile and ahem..largest man ever. Not for Trump anything that implies that he's not always right, not always heh-heh, ready to go, and not necessarily swinging the biggest bat in town. This is information which could be of interest and use to foreign decision makers at some point down the line, if it hasn't been already. 

For someone who claims to disdain the mainstream media Trump seems remarkably well informed of what they are saying about him. It's apparent, that far from dismissing the media and so-called intelligentsia, Trump desperately craves their approval and adulation. He needs it. He must have it. And when he doesn't get it, like the two-year-old he resembles he throws temper tantrums.

A segment on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" in which co-host Mika Brzezinski said President Donald Trump was "destroying the country" might have been what led Trump to attack her viciously on Twitter on Thursday morning. The segment took aim at a fake Time magazine cover featuring Trump that reportedly hangs at a number of Trump's golf clubs and properties, according to The Washington Post.
"Nothing makes a man feel better than making a fake cover of a magazine about himself, lying every day, and destroying the country," Brzezinski said. Brzezinski also noted that on the fake Time cover, Trump was covering his hands "because they're teensy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

John McEnroe and Serena Williams

Today, for whatever strange reason, many people consider it a hateful statement when someone says that A is not B. The retired professional tennis player John McEnroe provided a recent example of this in an interview with NPR reporter Lulu Garcia-Navarro in which after having praised current professional tennis player Serena Williams to the high heavens, he made the "mistake" of responding honestly to a question by Garcia-Navarro which in today's political climate could only be considered trollish. 


Garcia-Navarro: We’re talking about male players but there is of course wonderful female players. Let’s talk about Serena Williams. You say she is the best female player in the world in the book.

McEnroe: Best female player ever — no question.
Garcia-Navarro: Some wouldn’t qualify it, some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?
McEnroe: Oh! Uh, she’s not, you mean, the best player in the world, period?
Garcia-Navarro: Yeah, the best tennis player in the world. You know, why say female player?
McEnroe: Well because if she was in, if she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.
Garcia-Navarro: You think so?
McEnroe: Yeah. That doesn't mean I don't think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen would be I think something that perhaps it'd be a little higher, perhaps it'd be a little lower. And on a given day, Serena could beat some players. I believe because she's so incredibly strong mentally that she could overcome some situations where players would choke 'cause she's been in it so many times, so many situations at Wimbledon, The U.S. Open, etc. But if she had to just play the circuit — the men's circuit — that would be an entirely different story.

For making this accurate assessment of Williams' abilities vis-a-vis professional male tennis players, McEnroe was immediately attacked as a hater and as racist and sexist. He was also badgered to apologize, which he has refreshingly refused to do, and had a request by Williams to keep her name out of his mouthWell. If you don't like the peaches, don't shake the tree.