Saturday, April 14, 2018

President Trump Attacks Syria Again

In response to what he claimed were chemical weapon attacks against Syrian rebels, President Trump ordered missile attacks against targets in Syria. These bombings were done in concert with France and the UK on Friday night. The number of casualties and other damage is at this time unclear.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced Friday. Pentagon officials said the attacks targeted the heart of Assad's programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as Trump spoke from the White House. Syrian television reported that Syria's air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault.

Trump said the U.S. is prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. "The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead," Trump said. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump's second order to attack Syria. He authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians. The strikes that hit early Saturday in Syria came hours before inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were set to arrive to inspect the site of the apparent attack. 

Movie Reviews: The Spinning Man

The Spinning Man
directed by Simon Kaijser
Temptation, frustration/so bad it makes him cry/Wet bus stop/she's waiting/his car is warm and dry
This is a competent thriller film that makes more than a few nods to Memento and Gone Girl. There was nothing that was remarkably original in this movie but it will keep you guessing which is I suppose worth something. This film might be a good example of there only being a few stories that are retold over and over again. Humans are after motivated by many of the same things no matter if we are separated by time, space, age and sex. 
The two film leads did yeoman work but I couldn't help but feel that there were a few motivations cut out of this movie that might have been better left in the finished product. The film works as an intellectual exercise in whodunnint, which is perhaps purposely ironic considering that the primary protagonist is a philosophy professor. But I didn't really have any emotional investment in whether or not this fellow was guilty of a crime.

Evan Birch (Guy Pearce) is an up and coming college philosophy professor who is trying to turn over a new leaf. To use a line from the movie Clue, you know that thing that professors aren't supposed to do with their students? Well Evan did. Having either left or been forced out of his previous position, Evan and his wife Ellen (Minnie Driver) and their young children have settled in at a university with slightly less prestige. But a job is a job. And a man is a man. Evan very soon finds himself in a flirtatious (and perhaps more?) relationship with one of his students, the almost worshipful Anna (Alexandra Shipp). Evan probably should stop making goo-goo eyes at women who are not his wife but Evan has a very flexible definition of morality and truth. And judging by his internal fantasies, Evan has a surfeit of testosterone. 

Rochester Hills White Homeowner shoots at Black Teen for asking directions

I've written previously about how racial stereotypes and assumptions can be hurtful or irritating and harmful to your career or health. However, when the people who make snap judgments are armed and fearful, such assumptions can be dangerous to your life. We see white cops do this with black people on a regular basis. But police are not separate from their community, but a part of it. The ultimate problem is not with the police but with people in all job categories who see black skin and immediately assume the worst.

Police just happen to be the most likely to get away with acting on racist assumptions. Fourteen year old Rochester Hills, Michigan high school student Brennan Walker missed the bus to school. He had to walk. He didn't know the route as well as he thought he did. So he knocked on a door in the neighborhood to ask directions. Well the woman of the house thought that he was trying to break in. She screamed. And the man of the house grabbed his shotgun and shot at young Master Walker. Rochester Hills is about 25 miles north of Detroit and like many southeastern Michigan communities is filled with the kinds of people who aren't too happy about black people breathing the same air they do. Walker is lucky to be alive. I am trying to imagine asking for help and being shot at. That will leave an emotional scar on the young man. People saw him and for no other reason than his race and gender assumed he was a deadly threat at the tender age of fourteen. How will his parents explain that to him? Being Black means you will never get the benefit of the doubt. Period.

The walk to school turned terrifying for a Rochester teen who says he was shot at after he stopped to ask for directions. Fourteen-year-old Brennan Walker missed the bus and tried to walk to school, but got lost after he couldn't remember the route.The freshman wasn't hit, as the shot missed him as he ran away.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Judge Vonda Evans And Short Workdays

I work in a professional white collar environment. Usually (90% of the time) the work is constant and frantic. People have little time to do anything but their paid work. On other occasions work slows down and you see/hear people doing things like checking Facebook, buying things on Amazon, playing Sudoku, discussing sports, gossiping, talking to loved ones on the phone, complaining about spouses, or (ahem) writing blog posts. Some of the higher-ups don't like this very much but most people are professional. Work comes first. Unless your boss really doesn't like you or you go out of your way to embarrass your boss by ostentatiously slacking off, he or she probably won't demand that you account for every last minute of your work day. Everything generally should come out even in the end. I remember that once a boss questioned a co-worker who was leaving a few hours early. Without missing a beat the co-worker asked our mutual boss if he had heard of casual overtime. The boss replied that of course he had. The co-worker responded that then the boss could consider the early departure time casual undertime. 

Every company or organization has a different culture.The trick is to know your organization's written and unwritten rules. However, wherever you work, regularly getting to work two or three hours after the normal start time and consistently leaving two or three hours before the normal leave time is going to attract negative attention from co-workers and more importantly, bosses. Doing something like that makes it very obvious that you're not doing the work that you agreed to do. Your boss can't ignore this because if she doesn't correct it other workers will start to do the same thing. Your boss might see your actions as a direct challenge to her authority. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans, a judge with a certain reputation for a short fuse and sharp tongue, has apparently decided that she will keep her own hours thank you very much. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Snowman

The Snowman
directed by Tomas Alfredson
This is a detective crime thriller based in Norway. Unfortunately I found it way too derivative of many other films, primarily Insomnia and Seven. But if being derivative was a bad thing hardly any movies would be made or watched. Worse than being derivative I simply couldn't relate to or sympathize with any of the characters. I wonder if this movie would have been better if it was made with Norwegian actors speaking their native tongue and subtitled in English. The film definitely got across that it was set somewhere besides New York or London. But even though it was shot in Norway with beautiful sets and locations, I never believed that the primary actors were Norwegian.

And that's because by and large they weren't. Alfredson directed the hit Swedish horror thriller Let The Right One In. It felt like The Snowman was an attempt to capitalize on his previous success as well as that of other set in Scandinavia films such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. There's something that can be spooky about settings in the far north with people who are either gloomily introverted or dangerously drunk but this movie didn't reach those heights. This was a movie that was made for background watching. And no movie should be made for just having on while you do something else.

The convoluted plot tried to say something about men, women and responsibility but it missed the mark. If the writers and actors give the strong impression of not caring about the story then why should the viewer. Don't get me wrong. A film can have an insane, contradictory and downright confusing storyline and still be a masterpiece; witness The Big Sleep. That story was so up in the air and all over the place that when the director and screenwriters sent a message to the novelist asking him if a particular character in his book had committed a crime, the novelist had to respond that he didn't know either. So complex stories can be good. 

Former Caretaker Visits Rescue Dogs

Dogs are the most wonderful pets in the world. Absent allergies or other medical issues, I don't understand how anyone can't be a dog person. But it takes all kinds I guess. The below video shows how happy dogs can be to see someone they remember who treated them kindly.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, ‘dogs have no concept of time’. Some people believe that a dog can’t discern a minute from an hour, but this just isn’t true. Dogs simply remember differently than humans. If you’ve been gone for more than a day, expect a much happier reunion, than if you’d just stepped out for a couple hours.

Dogs are gifted creatures, able to catalog a myriad of scents and recognize faces. Imagine a situation where a former employee stops over for a visit at the Dogs Deserve Better rehab center. Upon his return, his dogs greet him as though he was absent for ages. This affection is a testament to the dogs’ incredible ability to recognize their master. Thanks to these canines’ olfactory memory, they remember scents long after they have been exposed to them, so they are able to associate him with his smell.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Fort Worth Cop Assaults Black Hospital Patient

Imagine that you have just spent two days in the hospital. Maybe you had surgery. Maybe you ate crappy hospital food. Maybe you're tired of the smell of disease and Lysol. Maybe you've had tubes, needles, monitors, and drugs inserted into intimate places. But you're better now. The hospital discharged you. You're waiting in the hospital lobby for your ride home. You're looking forward to sleeping in your own bed and enjoying home cooking. A hospital security guard approaches you. He asks you what you're doing. You look at him askance. Either he is really stupid or he thinks you are. You reply that you're waiting for your ride. But the security guard won't go away. He starts asking who your ride is, if they know where the hospital is, if you're in the right hospital, and other questions that show that he is suspicious of and hostile to your presence. 

Becoming apprehensive you call your relative and tell them to hurry up. You also tell the security guard that yes you and your ride know which hospital you're in so please leave you alone. Suddenly, a large police officer confronts you. He pushes you in the chest. He tells you to shut up and get off the phone. When you express amazement at his aggression and attitude, the police officer punches you in the face and places you in a chokehold. Other security guards and/or police officers join the assault. They also punch you while they are piled on top of you. The police officer arrests you for the crimes of trespassing and resisting arrest.

You are physically hurt, frightened, and humiliated. You could have been killed. If you are a Black man in Texas named Henry Newson, you don't have to imagine this. It's reality. Newson didn't have any patriarchal privilege to protect himself.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Water's Wet, and Black Men Still Face Discrimination

Finished school / Qualified
On the job / Still denied
It's so hard to win in the skin I'm in
The Skin I'm In
Chairmen of the Board
You may recall a few months back a writer at The Root wrote a pandering fact free poorly argued and reasoned article that claimed that Black men, no excuse me, heterosexual Black men (have to hit ever last intersectionality bonus point) were "the white people of black America." By this the writer apparently meant that Black heterosexual men wielded unearned and unfair privilege over everyone black who didn't fall into those categories. According to the writer Black women did all the work for life's picnic while Black men just showed up at the last minute, took all the credit, and the biggest piece of chicken. Even for that writer, that piece stood out for its complete lack of cited empirical data to support the author's contention. I wasn't the only person who pointed out that the piece was making a conclusion that not only wasn't supported by the available data but also that was bluntly contradicted by said data. 

Well time moves on and glory be there is yet another study that confirms that Black American men (the authors didn't bother to try to qualify sexuality) are getting it in the neck. Black American men aren't the "white people" of any group. Black American men aren't wielding privilege over anyone, least of all Black women. You should read the article and the study for yourself of course. 

Black boys raised in America, even in the wealthiest families and living in some of the most well-to-do neighborhoods, still earn less in adulthood than white boys with similar backgrounds, according to a sweeping new study that traced the lives of millions of children.

Movie Reviews: Pyewacket

directed by Adam MacDonald
This well made creepy little horror movie was reminiscent of Rob Zombie's Lords of Salem insofar as it included witchcraft and books with secrets better left alone. But the main reason it reminded me of that film was that Pyewacket was original and personal. This wasn't a big budget horror movie with stereotypical characters.

This was a throwback to older horror movies of the sixties and seventies. Instead of frenetic camera work and sensory overload this film takes its time drawing in the viewer. This allows dread and suspense to build, something that too many horror directors skip for mammary glands and immediate gore. Pyewacket, the term comes from the Salem Witch Trials, is a film that doesn't appeal to the lowest common denominator, or when it does, at least does so in an intelligent and offbeat manner. 

Pyewacket makes a strong nod to H.P. Lovecraft's warning from his story The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, "Do not call up that which you can't put down". People can get themselves and others in a lot of trouble when they employ tools or devices that are beyond their ability to control. 

Bat Attack In Florida Road Rage Incident

What happens when we drive that makes some of us take personal offense to every little thing? Why is that rather than continue on their daily schedule after a mistake or affront by another driver, some drivers will decide that they need to hurl insults at or engage in fisticuffs with the object of their ire? Why is it, to paraphrase Mario Puzo's Don Corleone , some (wo)men feel a need to attack and fight people whose capacities they do not know? I don't know the answer to these questions. But I do know that people who behave like that, who run around telling the world, kill me if you can, sometimes run into people who will happily take them up on their offer. Florida is a stand your ground state. If the attacked woman had pulled out her licensed weapon and defended herself I would have voted to acquit were I on the jury. In any event, this is an example of why leaving your car is never a good idea.

Mikaela Barboza was headed down 441 on her way to a meeting when she cut another driver off. That, Barboza said, is was what spurred the driver and her sister to follow the 26-year-old to a parking lot and beat her with baseball bats.The attack — caught on camera by Barboza and a bystander — left her with a broken nose, seven staples in the back of her head and seven stitches in the front.

“My nose is the worst of it,” she said Sunday, days after the Thursday afternoon beating. “I can’t even breathe out of it.” When she cut the driver off on the road, Barboza said the woman started yelling at her, along with another driver who said “you cut off my sister. That’s disrespectful.”

Worried for her safety, Barboza pulled into a nearby parking lot, but the women followed. She said they blocked her in — one car behind her and one car in front. Barboza, of Plantation, called the police, then stepped out of her car holding her cell phone to record video. “I don’t got time for this. I got a kid, bruh,” Barboza said as the camera swings up to reveal a woman in a floral dress opening her trunk.

Goose Attacks Soldiers

I have a soft spot for many animals but the Canadian Goose doesn't make the cut as far as I am concerned. As I've written before they are nasty aggressive bullies, who if left unchecked, can make their surroundings unlivable for anyone who would rather not step in or inhale goose waste. I will grudgingly admit though that one of their saving graces is an ability to stand up to most other creatures in defense of their nests, mates, eggs or young. In Oklahoma, at the U.S. Army Base Fort Sill, a goose named Steve apparently thought that some soldiers were getting a little too close to his nest. And Steve shared his displeasure with the soldiers. I guess he showed them.

A security camera at Oklahoma's Fort Sill captured the moment a group of soldiers found themselves under attack from a territorial goose. Personnel at the U.S. Army post said a pair of geese nicknamed Steve and Brenda have been living outside a building at the facility for some time.

Alabama Sheriffs Steal Money Meant For Prisoners

We should expect people to do the right thing, even when the law doesn't explicitly spell out the right thing. If the executor of an estate takes money for himself, even if that action isn't specifically banned under the state's relevant laws, most people would consider that not only theft but also especially foul theft given the circumstances. Similarly when society allocates money for the feeding and care of those who are incarcerated, most of us would think it particularly wicked for someone to steal that money for his own use. In Alabama, however they do things differently. It's considered smart, not corrupt, for sheriffs to take state, federal and municipal tax funds meant to feed prisoners and use the money for their personal purposes. Sheriff Todd Entrekin of Etowah County, Alabama, of whom it must be said does not look as if he has missed too many meals, argues that Alabama law allowed him over the past three years to pocket more than $750,000 in tax dollars earmarked for prisoner food and instead use the money to eat millions of barbecued pigs feet to purchase numerous homes for his wife and himself.

In September, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin and his wife Karen purchased an orange four-bedroom house with an in-ground pool and canal access in an upscale section of Orange Beach for $740,000.
To finance the purchase, Entrekin got a $592,000 mortgage from Peoples Bank of Alabama, according to public real estate records. The home is one of several properties with a total assessed value of more than $1.7 million that the couple own together or separately in Etowah and Baldwin counties.

Some Etowah County residents question how a county sheriff making a five-figure annual salary can afford to own multiple houses, including one worth nearly three-quarters of a million dollars.

The Resurgence of Nationalism

Politics is not a field where predictions are easy to make. We learned that from the 2016 election. People are complex. They want different, oft contradictory things. Although the Right is currently ascendant in American politics, Republican Representatives and Senators are not always unified. 

Without the spectre of President Obama to scare their base, Republicans don't have as much in common as they thought they did. They failed to deliver a legislative replacement to the PPACA. Trump signed a budget that was widely seen as a loss for conservatives. Republicans disagree on immigration levels. The Right's overreach and the disdain that many on the Left hold for Trump means that the Left could make strides in Congress in 2018 and possibly even win the White House in 2020. Who knows? But that's all movement on the political surface. 

I'm more interested in the underground political resentments that helped to get Trump elected in the U.S., made Brexit a winning policy in the UK, put a scare in the French establishment which has President Macron sounding like Marine LePen, caused Italy to shift policy on immigrationsaw the rise of anti-immigrant and racist parties in Italy's most recent election, brought the virulently anti-immigrant German party Alternative for Germany to Parliament for the first time, made Hungary and Poland turn to the right, just brought another anti-immigrant party to power in Austria, and has seen the Czech Republic refuse to take in any more refugees.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Daniels, McDougal and Trump: The Hype That Wasn't

Stephanie Clifford, an adult film star and stripper with the stage name of Stormy Daniels, alleged that she had at least one sexual encounter with President Donald Trump twelve years ago. Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate and Trump voter, said that she had a longer running affair with Trump roughly around the same time. To great hype Daniels told her story on the CBS show 60 Minutes this past weekend. Other than noticing that Daniels had apparently taken some sort of substance which dilated her pupils, learning that in certain circumstances Trump doesn't mind being spanked with rolled up magazines, and thinks comparing his younger paramours to his daughter Ivanka is a high compliment, I didn't think there was much surprising, interesting or newsworthy in Daniels' revelations.

And the same is true of any information revealed with McDougal's CNN interview. Trump allegedly tried to give McDougal money after they had done the do. She refused it but apparently took some money as part of a non-disclosure agreement. Daniels also took money, at least $130,000, as part of a non-disclosure agreement set up and executed by one of Trump's lawyers, Michael Cohen. Some people claim that the payment of such money may have violated campaign finance laws but who knows?

I'm Off the Clock!

I previously wrote this post about among other things, how this movie scene resonated with me. I work in a financial sector of the IT arena. Way back in the day I was part of the on call rotation for an accounting system. If anything went wrong with the system after hours your pager would go off. If you didn't respond in a timely manner then you'd get a phone call. 

If the production support person hadn't heard from you in fifteen minutes they would contact the backup on call person and/or your boss. One big problem I had with this entire initiative was that initially our team didn't have the budget to fix the processes that were most likely to cause problems. Because our portfolio of responsibilities was huge, usually when someone was on call he or she would only know his or her given area of expertise. So when a particular accounting update process went bad the person on call might only know the reporting piece. 

So s/he would end up calling the accounting update specialist, who wasn't on call and wasn't going to be happy to be contacted at 2:30 AM. The most critical jobs always ran late at night. Eventually, via cross training and a boss that obtained enough funds to code fixes and upgrade databases, we reduced the frequency and intensity of problems. But it still was unpleasant to be on call. We were on salary so we didn't get any extra money if we had to tune a database or restart a reporting job at 2 AM. Perhaps if the company had to pay us more to be on call our previous boss would have pulled her head from her posterior and taken earlier steps to solve issues. I was reminded of all this history because in New York City there is a proposal to restrict the ability of employers to require workers to do work or answer emails from home after business hours.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Twelve Stalker Songs

A Facebook friend recently posted something along the lines of how she wanted a man who was rough enough to put her in her place and yet kind enough to treat her like a queen. This statement led to some robust offline conversations among some of my friends and relatives about how both men and women often want impossible and truly contradictory things from each other. The difference between romantic persistence and creepy criminal stalking can often be if someone likes the attention or not. Colin Firth's wife Livia Giuggoli accused the journalist Marco Brancaccia of stalking her. Well maybe he did, maybe he didn't. 

But what Mrs. Firth apparently left out of her original accusation was that she had had an 11 month adulterous relationship with Mr. Brancaccia, who was eager to point out the consensual and evidently voluntary nature of their relationship, if somewhat embarrassed at some of his post-breakup actions. All of this reminded me of how much of the culture, in this instance music, seems to glorify behaviors that we all say we don't like and which all of us know are neither healthy nor moral. Some of the songs I really like or at least am very familiar with are pretty much stalker anthems. And this isn't just an indictment of my musical tastes, many of these songs were quite popular in their day. I don't listen to a lot of current popular music but I would bet that the emotions and needs discussed, referenced or parodied in these songs are still expressed in many current day popular songs. Humans don't change that much or that quickly over the years.

Some of these songs are clearly not meant to be taken seriously. Others though definitely seem to be asking for a little sympathy for the stalker. Interesting stuff. I wonder sometimes why anyone would be idiotic or immoral enough to become a stalker. Some of the motivation is baked into the culture. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Reviews: Host

written by Robin Cook, M.D.
Dr. Cook is a Navy veteran, surgeon, opthamologist, real estate guru, teacher and of course a writer. Most of his books are thrillers based around a medical ethics issue of one kind or another. Dr. Cook has stated that it's of more use to write a mystery to get people interested in the challenges of morality in medicine in a rapidly changing world than to write a long dry paper explaining the same issues. I picked up the hardcover for a bargain price, but I believe that the paperback is available now. Host is about 400 pages in hardcover.  I liked the story but thought that the characters weren't engaging enough. 

I happened to read a lot of this while I was visiting a loved one in hospitals so the theme was either a weird bit of serendipity or foreshadowing depending on how you look at it. As we age it is almost certain that we will spend more time and money in hospitals, whether it's on our own behalf or for those we love. Although we can try to put this off via healthy eating and living, as we are not jellyfish, sooner or later we will break down and die. It's just part of being human. When this happens in our eighties, nineties or beyond, those we love can be philosophical and accepting about everything. Even the person who knows that death is approaching more quickly can surrender life with a smile on his face. 

But we also feel, rightly or wrongly, that there is a time for sickness and death. And that time is old age. We often get really upset when someone kills a child not just for the harm to innocence but because the child presumably had so many more decades of life ahead. When someone dies in the hospital at ninety we can feel differently than if they did so at thirteen.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

CIA, Torture, Trump, Obama and Hypocrisy: Gina Haspel

Jeb Bush called Donald Trump a chaos candidate. Trump has been a chaos President with his public attacks on his hires and resulting constant personnel turnover. People like Trump thrive within organizational disorder.

Trump's recent firing of Secretary of Stae Rex Tillerson (did Tillerson think he'd get away with calling his boss a f***** moron) and possible reassignment of CIA Director Mike Pompeo to Secretary of State made some people point out Trump's crappy managerial style. Trump may nominate CIA deputy director Gina Haspel to replace Pompeo as CIA head. Haspel evidently oversaw and directed some torture. She destroyed the records of torture at CIA "black sites" during the George W. Bush administration. 

Gina Haspel is set to become the first female director in the 70-year history of the CIA. But smashing that glass ceiling will depend on offering the US Senate a convincing explanation about her dark past. More than a decade ago Haspel reportedly oversaw an infamous secret CIA prison in Thailand where a terrorism suspect, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded, a process that simulates drowning. She is also said to have drafted orders to destroy video evidence of such torture, which prompted a lengthy justice department investigation that ended without charges

Some Trump opponents believe that Trump's endorsement of Haspel is horrible, wicked, evil and very bad. They claim that Trump's selection means that America now endorses torture. Bad Trump. There's at least one problem with this argument. When President Obama took office he could have turned Federal government machinery against the torturers. That move would have been moral if politically and perhaps even personally dangerous. President Obama and Attorney General Holder decided against that. As Adam Serwer points out:

Barney Helps Women Get Their Groove Back

Remember Barney, the beatific purple dinosaur from the PBS kids show? Well for a little piece of change he'll do something strange with you, if you happen to be a woman that is. Barney does have standards you know. Like Marvin Gaye, Barney is providing some sexual healing to women in need, but for a fee.

The actor who starred as the cuddly T-Rex host of Nineties children's TV show Barney and Friends is now working as a Los Angeles tantric therapist, it has been revealed. American actor David Joyner, 52, told Vice that his decade-long stint playing a dancing purple dinosaur was helpful for his current career.

“The energy I brought up [while] in the costume is based on the foundation of tantra, which is love,” Joyner said. “Everything stems, grows, and evolves from love." Joyner only accepts female clients for his services, and charges $350 for a four-hour session. On his website, Joyner, a former software analyst offers clients the chance to reach "a higher and more blissful state of awareness [of their] sexuality."

According to Vice, Joyner believes this "blissful state" is best achieved through unprotected penetrative sex, and claims that condoms "block the energy". Still, the power dynamic at play here between practitioner and client, healer and student, is hard to square for some. 

Movie Reviews: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)
directed by Kenneth Branagh
This is another interpretation of the mystery novel of the same name by author Agatha Christie. I don't think I ever finished reading the book but I think I remember seeing the 1974 movie version on the local ABC 4:30 movie show sometime during the seventies. Or maybe it was on a Sunday night. It was a long time ago. In any event the 1974 movie featured a number of movie stars including but not limited to Lauren Bacall, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Ingrid Bergman, Albert Finney and Anthony Perkins. Because movie stars weren't as over exposed in the media then as they are today I seem to remember being a little more able to disappear into the 1974 film, to go back in time to a day when travel by train could be a serious luxury. The 2017 film can also be considered to have an all star cast but for me it wasn't quite the same. Of course that just may be silly nostalgia on my part. I can barely remember most of the 1974 film. I certainly didn't recall any important plot points or spoilers which is why I was interested in seeing the 2017 version. 

After watching it I felt even more nostalgic for the 1974 version. The new version was good. It was crisp. I enjoyed the sets, the cinematography, the lighting and occasionally the accents. But I wasn't obsessed in finding out who committed the titular crime or why they had done it. I thought that Branagh, who plays the obsessive compulsive world's greatest detective Hercule Poirot, put too much emphasis on Poirot. It would have helped the storyline and paranoia if we saw things from other passengers' point of view. 

Amy Wax and Black Inferiority

It is darkly ironic that University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax, whose heritage is such that were she unfortunate enough to have been in Eastern Europe during WW2, would have found herself deemed as Untermensch, or subhuman, and thus promptly slotted for efficient extermination, has spent a great deal of her professional life arguing that Black and Brown people (though most of her disdain seems reserved for Blacks) are inferior to whites mentally, culturally, and morally. I don't expect that slavery or racial extermination will be on the American agenda anytime soon but if those things did make their return and you happen to be Black or Brown, don't try to hide at Professor Wax's house. Because she would certainly turn you in. We do have free speech in this country. You can be as racist and as hateful as you want to be. And Wax has been. The limit apparently is when you step beyond your opinions and make a statement of fact that isn't true. Wax may have done that with her latest comments, which is what allowed her employer to rein her in a bit. 

University of Pennsylvania professor has been stripped of all of the first year law classes she has been teaching after it was revealed that she feels black students are inferior to other students, the HuffPost is reporting. According to the report, professor Amy Wax, who teaches at the prestigious university, was engaging in an interview with Brown University professor Glenn Loury, when she made her controversial comments.

Veterinarian Sign

I guess this local vet's sign is equally good advice for over excited puppies or older men suffering from prostate issues. In either event, though, I don't want to be the one tasked with clean up.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Movie Reviews: Death Wish (2018), Midnighters

Death Wish
directed by Eli Roth
This is a remake of the iconic 1974 Charles Bronson movie. Some people who share some of my political affinities often sneer at vigilante films, thinking them by definition fascist, racist, authoritarian, gun-crazed, misogynist, sexist, and any sort of other "bad thought" insult they can hurl. I don't see things that way. I think that everyone has the natural right to defend themselves by any means necessary. The attack on Rosa Parks showed us there are people out there who will hurt anyone. I think that we all must build a world in which fewer people think that crime pays. I also know that we only have one life. We don't owe anyone that life. We need not apologize in defending ourselves from criminals no matter their race, ethnicity or nationality. 

So I have no particular brief against vigilante films. I think that most people can differentiate between entertainment and reality. Unfortunately, this film didn't touch the same nerve endings the original movie did. Crime in 2018 is not as high as it was in 1974. The original film was more explicit depicting the horrors visited upon the Kersey women. That's, perhaps thankfully, missing here. So there's not really the same visceral fist pumping reaction when the Kersey patriarch starts shooting down bad guys.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Racist Fireman Attacks Black Child

Racism is a moral sickness. But I feel no pity for those who suffer from it. They are too busy trying to make my life and the lives of those who look like me, hell. I believe that you have the right to think or believe whatever you want. But when those thoughts or beliefs become insults or physical assaults then I also believe that it's incumbent on everyone else to teach you or as some would say "learn you" a sharp lesson of the type Tywin Lannister might impart.

A White firefighter from Kansas recently decided that it was the correct thing to do to shout racial slurs at a lost Black toddler and spit at him.
I think actions like this show that racism isn't going away with the younger generation. It's not based on "economic anxiety". It's based on pure hatred. 

Police say a racial slur was hurled at a child at a Hooters off Metcalf Avenue.
KCTV5 News spoke to a witness who was at the restaurant and he said he was dumbfounded by a statement the firefighter made to police. “He basically said get that little ‘blank’ up off the floor,” the witness recounted. “The n-word started to get thrown around.”

The comment left the witness speechless. He said he was about 5 feet away from the altercation inside Hooters on Monday around 8:15 p.m. He said he saw a child wander away from his family and, when the family member came to retrieve the preschool-aged kid, is when another customer used a racial slur and spat at the child. He thought a physical altercation would follow, but instead police were called to the restaurant.

Book Reviews: 11/22/63

by Stephen King
This 2011 novel by Stephen King is a very long book. 11/22/63 is just short of 1100 pages. The novel wasn't exactly a chore to read, King is simply too good of a writer for that, but it was a serious investment of time. 11/22/63 isn't a horror novel; it's not full of creepy crawlies or things that go bump in the night. It is speculative fiction. King, as he is prone to do, leaves all sorts of Easter egg hints to his other works throughout 11/22/63. The referenced King novels which were obvious to me were Christine, The Dead Zone, Insomnia, and IT though I'm sure I missed others.  

John Fogerty wrote the lyrics in his song Proud Mary "And I never lost one minute of sleeping/Worrying about the way things might have been".  In Candide, Voltaire created a pompous philosopher Pangloss who dismissed complaints by saying "This is the best of all possible worlds". In The Silmarillion J.R.R. Tolkien's God stand-in tells the Satan analogue that there is nothing that Satan can ever do that God hasn't already anticipated and will use to bring some greater good which Satan never could have conceived of bringing about. Omar Khayam wrote that "The moving finger writes and having writ moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit shall lure it back to cancel half a line, nor all thy years wash out a word of it." 

Many self-help gurus and life coaches urge us to look forward, not backwards. How many people enjoy spending time, romantic or otherwise, with someone who's always complaining about the people who did him/her wrong back in sixth grade or how they didn't get this job 15 years ago and thus all the bad fortune they've had since is not their fault. It's annoying, no? Despite what some physics may prove and some religions may claim, humans only experience time in one direction. We can't stop it. We can't rewind it.  We can't transmit information back in time to ourselves. And we can't even be certain events in our life impacted us the way that we think they did. So we have no choice but to look forward.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Movie Reviews: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Roman J. Israel, Esq.
directed by Dan Gilroy

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a poignant slice of life legal drama overseen by the Nightcrawler director. The title character (Denzel Washington) is the secondary partner/employee in a two person law firm. Israel is either extremely socially inept or a high functioning autistic. Israel's knowledge of and passion for the law and justice is inversely related to his ability to interact with people. Israel processes information and stimuli differently than most people do. So Israel is not a deal maker or outgoing trial attorney. As he ruefully admits, "Public speaking is usually something I'm encouraged to avoid." Israel has a very strong, even rigid, belief in right and wrong. 

Israel hasn't become wealthy or even moderately well off in his chosen field. But material wealth isn't important to Israel. As long as Israel can eat his peanut butter sandwiches, fight the power in occasionally quixotic fashion, listen to old school jazz and soul music, and stay out of the limelight he's a content man, if one without a car.

Many people have some inconsistencies between their ideals and reality. Even the most outspoken prideful employee might not curse out his boss and so lose his job if the worker has children in an expensive private school. A writer might sell her novel to a film studio for an adaptation and silently fume as the film producer and director change the race of the main characters to attract more viewers. A musician could believe that people should hear and appreciate his music solely on its merits before realizing that payola and sex appeal are often necessary compromises for success. And so on.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Movie Reviews: Black Panther

Black Panther
directed by Ryan Coogler
I didn't know if this film would be good or not before deciding to see it. I was interested in seeing it in part because black heroes in mainstream movies are rare. It's also rare for a studio to take a financial risk on a big budget movie with a predominantly black cast. The writer, musicologist, musician, civil rights activist, and photographer Julius Lester recently passed away. Lester moved around the political and religious spectrum quite a bit in his life, from Christian integrationist to black nationalist to Judaism convert and later vociferous Zionist. That's neither here nor there. As a child I remember reading a story in one of Lester's collection of Black folk tales. I can't remember the exact story name, but at the end of the story a newly freed Black man (can't remember if he bought his freedom, physically defeated his previous slave owner or heard about the end of the Civil War) decided to leave the plantation and walk down the road to seek his fortune as a free man. His previous master, mistress and their children watched in seething impotent rage. Unable to hinder his progress they started yelling to the black man to remember that no matter what, he was still a n*****. I mention all of that because that's what a lot of the initial conservative response to this movie's concept felt like. Many conservatives racists were offended by the very idea of Black excellence or Black people being happy. That's some really sick s***. The movie could be good or bad but being upset that black people are excited to see heroes and heroines who look like them shows just how invested some people are not just in hating black people but demanding that black people hate themselves. Twisted.

Fortunately I can say that the movie was good. Not great but very good indeed. It also had a very strong Lord of Rings/Hobbit vibe not just because of the inclusion of two key actors from that franchise and similar framing of battles but because like those movies Black Panther engages the question of whether using the enemy's methods to defeat the enemy is possible or for that matter, morally desirable. Can you take up Sauron's ring?

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Hitman's Bodyguard

The Hitman's Bodyguard
directed by Patrick Hughes
This movie is a generic action flick of the buddy film variety. Two bada$$es with utterly different professional and personal styles (and occasionally moralities) are against their will thrown together to battle against the world. One's country; the other one's a little bit rock-n-roll. One never loses his temper; the other one has no constraints on his id. One is quiet and exacting; the other one is a hyperactive extroverted motormouth. One's a slob; the other spends all of his money on exquisitely tailored British and Italian suits, when he's not getting a pedicure, that is. One is weak in an area where the other is strong and vice versa. One's an experienced ladies man or successful husband; the other is too scared to approach the woman of his dreams. One's... well you get the idea. There are far too many movies to mention which use these themes:Tango and Cash, Rush Hour, Bad Boys, 48 hrs, Midnight Run, yada, yada, yada. 

The not so dynamic duo may squabble with each other throughout the film. They will almost certainly fight each other. Usually the fight is a draw or is interrupted somehow. But when the chips are down the two men discover that they aren't so different after all and team up to take down the Big Bad who made the unfortunate mistake of trying to harm one or both of the men and/or their love interests. 

Black Children Threatened at Michigan School

Parents complain that authorities aren't doing enough to find the sender of a racist, threatening email to six black students at the Washtenaw International Middle Academy in Ypsilanti that included the words "Go Trump."

The recent message also has the n-word and ends with seven skulls and crossbones.

Students interviewed tell Andrea Isom of WXYZ that they're scared.
"They did inform us that the email did come from the school, around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29. The student whose name is in the email, has been back into the school community,” says parent Ronald Ellerson, who feels authorities aren't responding properly. The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department tells the station it takes this matter seriously. Spokesperson Derrick Jackson issues this statement: 

I want to ensure all involved that we take incidents such as this very seriously and that deputies have been working to identify who the sender of this email was. Several students have been questioned as part of the investigation and deputies will continue to gather the facts. Once the investigation has concluded we will then forward our report to the prosecutor.

One would hope that the recent events in Parkland, Florida would serve as a horrible reminder of the cost of silence and inaction. One would hope that school administrators and legal authorities would be doing their best to determine who sent the threatening email. It's important to know if this email, as seems likely, was actually created by someone inside of the school. This is of course the same school which recently saw a bomb threat made. Students should not be going to a school where they have good reason to feel unsafe.

Worms as Food Source

It is interesting to me what different cultures consider okay to eat and what they might consider disgusting to consume. Sometimes the foods we consider good or bad are thought to be so because of completely arbitrary reasons. Maybe a long time ago a certain food was more closely associated with THOSE people and therefore the "good decent" people (snicker) decided that those "nasty" foods were forbidden. Or because people developed in different areas they grew to consider the foods they had around them to be fine and good while looking askance at foods found in other lands. Religious texts often have rules about which animals may be consumed and which ones can't. I can only imagine the horror felt by a devout South Asian Hindu watching a conquering South Asian Muslim walk up to a cow and slaughter it for food. 

Of course cultures change internally as well. The lobster has a slight resemblance to a cockroach and allegedly some of the same bad habits. It wasn't until the late 19th thru the mid 20th century in North America that lobster was considered a delicacy enjoyed on special occasions or only consumed by the rich. Before then people thought lobster was nasty food fit only for poor people, enslaved people or prisoners. In certain nations in Africa and Asia insects are considered okay to consume. China is notorious for having a national palate that includes almost everything. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Detroit Grocery Sells Expired Food

I don't want it sold to children! That's an infamia. In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the coloreds. They're animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.-The Godfather
Until very recently there haven't been many large chain groceries located within Detroit. The majority of Detroit liquor stores aka "party stores", food wholesalers, and small to mid size grocery stores happen to be owned by people of Middle Eastern descent. Some of these businessmen and businesswomen have a reputation for a certain disdain for their predominantly black and often impoverished clientele. 

This distaste can be expressed in any number of ways. I don't live in Detroit any more so there's no reason for me to shop at such stores. Even when I did live in Detroit I rarely shopped at those stores as I was taught never to spend money with people who have nothing but contempt for you. Unfortunately some consumers in Detroit evidently feel that they have no choice but to spend money on inferior goods and services. More's the pity.

Disgraceful. The Kit Kat Grocery store on Harper near Van Dyke on Detroit's east side, which has a history of health code violations, sells packaged food with expiration dates as far back as 2015, Hank Winchester of WDIV discovers. Winchester of "Help Me Hank," a consumer advocate feature on WDIV, finds Sister Schubert rolls that expired in April 2015, Jimmy Dean sausage with a use-by date of September 2016 and bologna that expired on Aug. 29, 2017. The hamburger meat had freezer burns. A box of Betty Crocker potatoes was sealed with Scotch tape and had a best if used by date of November 2017. 

Movie Reviews: The Foreigner, Devil's Gate

The Foreigner
directed by Martin Campbell
Ever notice how you come across somebody once in a while you shouldn't have f***** with? … That's me.

There are several older man takes revenge flicks, some good, some not so good. Years ago Liam Neeson reinvigorated the genre with Taken. In that movie we saw Neeson's secret agent with a very particular set of skills open up a can of whup-a$$ on people foolish enough to kidnap and threaten his daughter. Denzel Washington riffed on this theme in Man on Fire and The Equalizer. Michael Caine did the same in Harry Brown. Gran Torino (quoted abovesaw Clint Eastwood deconstruct this trope. Mel Gibson explored this genre with Blood Father and Edge of Darkness. You could even argue that no matter what role he's playing Bruce Willis is never too far from this trope. 

There is an ongoing cinematic desire for patriarchal protection and revenge, regardless of real life society moving away from that. People often like to think that they are worthy of such protection or alternately that they are capable of providing protection or revenge for those they love. The Foreigner is a worthy entry into this crowded field. It's not the best. It's not the worst. It is different for at least two reasons.

The first is that The Foreigner is a dramatic turn by actor and martial artist Jackie Chan. Chan is not making any jokes in this drama. Chan has no reason to laugh. The second reason that this movie is different is that it partially steps away from the cardboard cutout bad guys who usually provide the cannon fodder for the vengeful father as he fights his way up the ladder to the Big Bad. It's not just a mindless action film, not that there's anything wrong with a mindless action film, thank you very much.  It's just that this is not that. If you would otherwise avoid action films you might want to give this one a look see. It skillfully uses tension and release to maintain viewer interest in the story. Brosnan and Chan played well off of each other.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Retail Racism in West Des Moines Old Navy

Well meaning people often try to comfort themselves by thinking that racism is something that is only found in a few backwater states or among low class low iq people or a problem that can be dodged by wealth, correct diction and classy style of dress or something which will be reduced if not eliminated by the vigorous application of free market principles. Unfortunately none of those statements are true. Racism is worldwide. There's no place in the U.S. which is certifiably racism free. Something as innocuous as attempting to purchase goods or services can be dangerous to your emotional and physical well being. Maybe it's waiting for a restaurant table longer than everyone else or being refused entry into a nightclub. Maybe it's being followed around a store because the employees automatically assume you're a thief. Maybe it's a clerk who wants two pieces of ID when you pay with a check or credit card when you just saw her decline to demand the same of the white customer in front of you. Maybe the landlord who agreed over the phone to rent to you has just rented the unit when he sees you in person. 

Whatever it may be, spending money with people who dislike or distrust you isn't a good idea. Often their animus can be far greater than their desire for your money. And many people who think this way won't shy away from letting black people know how they feel in word and deed. A recent example of this caught my eye.

Movie Reviews: Acts of Violence

Acts of Violence
directed by Brett Donowho
I try to handle it without violence being involved but sometimes that's the only way these problems are solved -2 Black 2 Strong MMG
Acts of Violence is a low budget mashup of any number of classic thriller and action movies, including but not limited to Death Wish, The Searchers, The Sons of Katie Elder, Four Brothers, and almost every seventies or eighties Golan-Globus production. The film lacks glossy production values, though as it's set in Cleveland, that's probably on purpose to try to increase the verisimilitude.

Acts of Violence has a strong made-for-tv/direct to video feel. Certain themes repeat themselves throughout human stories and history. Men of a different tribe kidnap a woman, presumably for nefarious purposes. The husband, relatives and other friends of the kidnapped woman decide that they aren't going to take that kind of thing lying down and rustle up a posse/army to go rescue the kidnapped maiden or failing that, deliver some righteous vengeance. This stuff is at least as old as The Iliad, which describes the war between the Greeks and Trojans caused by the Trojan prince's kidnap, or was it seduction, of a Greek Queen. And likely 3000 years from now there will still be humans telling stories that use this trope.
In The Iliad, the Greeks' greatest warrior Achilles, sulks in his tent and refuses to fight because the Greek high king Agamemnon, forced to return a female hostage/slave, took Achilles' female captive for his own. Without Achilles the Greeks come close to losing the war. It's only when Achilles' best friend (?)/cousin (?)/lover(?) Patroclus is killed that Achilles is inspired to return to the battlefield and do what he does best.