Saturday, June 23, 2018

Black Doctor Prevented From Entering Her Own Neighborhood

I've written before about how one of the most persistent elements of American anti-Black racism is the idea that some non-Blacks have that a given Black person doesn't belong in a certain space and can or must be challenged. Racists of various nationalities or ethnicities often can't believe that anyone Black can legitimately own or enjoy nice things. These challenges can range from anything from hard stares, special charges, and slow service at an upscale restaurant to extra demands for id when writing a check or using a credit card, to mistaking a co-worker for a criminal or janitor all the way up to profane insults and physical attacks by the police or others. This all goes back to slavery and formalized Jim Crow. This suspicion of and contempt for Black people is passed down from generation to generation and even to people descended from groups that arrived in America after slavery or Jim Crow, who of course often have their own independent tradition of anti-Black animosity.

During slavery Black mobility was severely limited and had to be literally signed off on by a white of sufficient authority to grant it. Blacks, free or otherwise, who were caught in the wrong areas without some sort of pass could run into some serious trouble. This attitude has never really gone away. Most Black people can tell a story in which this racialised hostility is revealed either in a minor or major way. The other day it was a Black doctor's turn.

ATLANTA — A Black doctor is upset at a man who she says racially profiled her when he blocked her from entering the community that she has lived in for about eight years. A part of the nearly 30-minute exchange was captured on camera. A police report indicates that Nnenna Aguocha stated she was attempting to enter the Buckhead Townhome community after just coming off an overnight shift when another property owner stopped her at the gate entrance. 

She said he parked his car under the gate arm and refused to move forward to let her in, despite her repeated requests. "He got out of the car and threatened to call the police on me because I was trespassing," she said in the video recording taken at the scene. "This is racial profiling at its finest."

Movie Reviews: Gangster No. 1

Gangster No. 1
directed by Paul McGuigan
For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?
On one level this older film is the answer to the question of what would Alex from A Clockwork Orange be doing once he grew up. Malcolm McDowell, who gave such a frighteningly charismatic performance as Alex, is here a bit more muted, though just as nasty as the unnamed titular character, the undisputed boss of the London underworld. 

In the present day Gangster is in his late fifties and is apparently living it up. He enjoys fine dining and good food. At a boxing event with Gangster's cronies someone mentions that one Freddie Mays is finally getting out of prison after some thirty years. This news apparently upsets or confuses Gangster as he leaves the table and walks about thinking to himself. The director then takes on a flashback to the late sixties. At that time Young Gangster (Paul Bettany) is just a oddball enforcer with ambitions to rise in the gang led by Freddie Mays (David Thewlis), a dapper criminal who usually eschews personal violence though he has killed a cop and gotten away with it. 

The movie examines the events that have led up to the present day with Gangster firmly ensconced in the number one position. This film was based on a play. The director kept that theatrical feeling. There's a strong sense of deliberate performance that emanates from the actors and how the director sets up the camera and sound. It's all very stagey. This is a million miles away from work by Scorsese, Ritchie, or similar types. 

Kelly Cochran: Serial Killer

Have you ever eaten something you shouldn't have and suffered for it later? Well you probably have. Have you ever been around someone and had an epiphany that for whatever reason it wasn't good or even safe for you to be around this person? 
Some of us have likely had that experience as well. But unless you happen to be a friend or acquaintance of Kelly Cochran, you may not have been unfortunate enough to combine both of those experiences into one unsettling encounter. 

DETROIT — If you've ever seen the end of the movie "Fried Green Tomatoes," then you have an idea of what may have happened to a Michigan man in 2014. In a new television documentary, authorities allege that a serial killer and her husband chopped up and killed her former lover and then served his remains at a neighborhood barbecue in 2014, WJBK-TV, in Detroit, reported this week. 

Kelly Cochran later injected her husband with a lethal dose of heroin in February 2016 in Indiana. The docuseries on the Investigation Discovery channel called "Dead North" takes the viewer on a journey that might just leave a bad taste in their mouth. Cochran, 36, admitted in court that she and her husband lured her lover, Chris Regan, inside their home, shot and dismembered him in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Cochran said she and her husband made a pact that they would get rid of anyone "involved in their extramarital affairs."

Einstein, Politics, and Art

There have been many situations in which artists of varying talent levels have been accused of committing or proven to have committed nasty acts, often criminal, often against women. Others have been accused of saying or believing foul things about women or people of different races, religions or nationalities. Recently this has led to many people claiming that in order to show our disdain for the artist and his bad actions or thoughts and support for his alleged or actual victims we should remove the artist's works from our playlists, cd players, theater stages, movie and tv screens, galleries, or bookshelves. Other critics of an even more puritanical bent, or perhaps just jealous, have argued that the artist's work itself is hopelessly flawed because of his bad thoughts/actions and thus must be completely expunged from existence and memory. They have argued that by definition anyone who believes or behaves a certain way can not produce work that is worth anything.

I've written before on how I find these approaches short sighted and limiting. But it's of course ultimately a personal and rather arbitrary decision as to which art you patronize. There are artists whose works I don't appreciate because I was exposed to something ugly they said or did before I was exposed to their creative work. And there are artists whose work I appreciate even though were we ever to meet there would likely be nothing but mutual disdain if not hatred. So it goes. But even in the case where I dislike an artist for whatever non-art related reason I have, I still believe that the value of their work stands apart from my subjective response to them. A non-art example of this recently popped up with the reveal of Einstein's travel diaries.

The publication of Albert Einstein’s private diaries detailing his tour of Asia in the 1920s reveals the theoretical physicist and humanitarian icon’s racist attitudes to the people he met on his travels, particularly the Chinese.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Border Separation Debacle Unpacked

I've been silent for a long time because, quite frankly, there's been entirely too much nonsense to keep up with from this administration on a daily basis.  Every single day a new unforced error here, a new lie there.  It's exhausting.  Meanwhile the left and right can't even agree on what day it is and Congress is about as functional as the Gallagher family from Shameless. I used to enjoy movies like Idiocracy because they were far fetched it seems like it could be a legit documentary.  My point is, there doesn't seem to be any bottom to how low this President and his administration of "the best people" will sink, and this past week has held true to that theory.

By now you've seen or heard of the videos of thousands of children, some of them infants less than a year old, being stripped away from mothers and fathers who encounter border patrol agents along the US-Mexican border.   Many of these families are seeking asylum from harsh conditions which means that, as a matter of law, they are not crossing the border illegally because US asylum laws allow them to enter the country while their asylum application is being determined.  Predictably, the Trump administration, aided by Fox News and right-wing media, went to work attempting to spin their own version of reality by blaming the Democrats (who are not in power in any of the 3 branches of the federal government) for this new enforcement policy as if a new law had just been passed. 

I'm a lawyer so the first thing I did out of habit was to look to see if any new immigration law had been passed by Congress recently that would require border patrol agents to separate immigrant children from their parents. 

Nope.  No new law. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Movie Reviews: Gringo, Fourteen Hours

directed by Nash Edgerton
Uneven film with plenty of stereotypes. It has its moments but the cast was better than the writing.
I expected a little more from this film based on the cast. Most of the top listed cast actors/actresses have been a lead actor or actress in other successful films. So I knew they could act. I can't remember the exact quote which came to mind after I watched this movie. It could be apocryphal but I believe it was football star turned black action movie star Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, who in response to sixties and seventies Hollywood racial stereotypes insisted that if he were going to star in a film at least one of and preferably all of three things would have to happen. (1) He survives until the end (2) He wins the fights (3) He gets the girl. All of things are still uncommon for unambiguously Black male actors in large budget mainstream American films. Those plot points are the obvious indication that the lead actor is the hero, someone with whom the viewer should identify.

I'm not sure Gringo would satisfy all of Williamson's criteria. This is a very uneven sardonic black comedy showcasing people with few redeeming qualities. Maybe the better way to look at this film isn't necessarily through a lens of heroism but of confusion. Why, if there is a perfect, all knowing, and all powerful God, is there evil in the world? Why does it seem that many people who have the moral impulses of a hungry shark flourish in life while moral people suffer. People have asked these questions for years and do so explicitly in this film. Harold (David Oyelowo) is a devout Christian Nigerian immigrant to America. Harold wears his optimism and faith on his sleeve, something that makes people-particularly his bosses- think that he's not really that bright. 

Book Reviews: Agincourt

by Bernard Cornwall
Which one of you SOB's is ready to do some man's work today? Come and have a go if you think you're hard enough!
In 1066 when William of Normandy invaded England, defeated its Saxon king and took the English crown, subduing the Britons and Anglo-Saxons, he did not give up his lands in France, or more precisely Normandy. His descendants were just as aggressive, at one point ruling just over half of what is today modern day France, though technically they were still considered vassals of the French King. This Anglo-Norman presence grated on continental French sensibilities and noble interests. The French began a long campaign to reduce English suzerainty in France, peacefully if possible, violently if not. 

In the 14th century a particularly complex chain of events left the English King with arguably the best claim to the French throne. As a result, long simmering national and dynastic tensions boiled over into the bloody conflict we know as The Hundred Years War.

Although ultimately the French would triumph, ending English claims to French lands or thrones, the English won many of the war's best known battles. Perhaps it's because the English were more adept propagandists (The Battle of Agincourt was memorialized by Shakespeare in "Henry V") and because we speak English that we know more of the English victories and not their final defeat. Overall the Hundred Years War helped to speed the transition of England and France from feudal territories into nation states. It was also a precursor to the English War of Roses but that's another post.

The Battle of Agincourt was an English high point. An English army of  about 6000 sick and half starving men soundly thrashed a French army at least three times its size. Some people claimed the English were outnumbered by as many as five or six to one. Whatever the numbers were, contemporary chroniclers were shocked by the English victory. In this older book Bernard Cornwell takes the reader on an exciting and apparently realistic excursion into 15th century morals, ethics, hygiene, and warfare.

Italy Turns Away Migrant Ship

One of the hot button topics across what is referred to as the "West" is immigration, particularly illegal immigration and refugees. This issue was part of why Trump was elected. It was also behind the electoral success of some right-wing politicians across Europe, including, Italy. The new government in Italy made news recently when it refused to accept a French NGO ship crammed with apparent African and Arab refugees. France ostentatiously criticized Italy's decision but also refused to take in the migrants, something that caused the Italians to go off on the French hypocrisy and arrogance. The Spanish stepped up to take in the ship. Nationalists across Europe cheered Italy's decision.

PARIS — A boat crowded with hundreds of Africans sailing across the Mediterranean after being turned away by Italy this week has exposed anew the shaky fault lines in Europe’s approach to the migrant crisis. On Sunday, Italy’s new far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered the Aquarius, a rescue ship operated by humanitarian groups, to stop 35 nautical miles off the coast of Italy, refusing to let it dock.

The ship is now on its way to Spain, which showed up its neighbors by solemnly announcing that it would “respect its international engagements” and accept the boat after Malta, too, refused it, and France stood idly by. Brussels, the seat of the European Union, looked on in relative silence. There was no common policy to receive the Aquarius and no authority to impose one if there were.

The Italian refusal to offer safe harbor to a ship loaded with what aid groups described as 629 migrants — including 123 minors, 11 small children and seven pregnant women — was intended to underscore a long-simmering grievance.

The Italians have bridled for years that they have been left alone by their European Union partners on the front line on the Mediterranean with an unmanageable burden of migration that Mr. Salvini pledged to reverse in his recent election campaign. But his refusal to accept the boat did more than pit humanitarian necessity against political expediency. It roiled tensions with European allies in ways that made President Trump’s performance at the G-7 summit last weekend look almost diplomatic by comparison.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Supreme Court Decision: Ohio Voting Rolls

If you live in Ohio, skip a few elections, and don't respond to state inquiries, you will be purged from the voting rolls. And the Supreme Court agreed that there's no problem with this.

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday upheld Ohio’s aggressive efforts to purge its voting rolls. The court ruled that a state may kick people off the rolls if they skip a few elections and fail to respond to a notice from state election officials. The vote was 5 to 4, with the more conservative justices in the majority. The case concerned Larry Harmon, a software engineer and Navy veteran who lives near Akron, Ohio. He voted in the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections but did not vote in 2012, saying he was unimpressed by the candidates. He also sat out the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014. 

But in 2015, Mr. Harmon did want to vote against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana and found that his name had been stricken from the voting rolls. Ohio is the only state that commences such a process based on the failure to vote in a single federal election cycle,” said a brief from the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice. “Literally every other state uses a different, and more voter-protective, practice.” The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of Mr. Harmon in 2016, saying that Ohio had violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by using the failure to vote as a “trigger” for sending the notices.

A Reuters study in 2016 found that at least 144,000 people were removed from the voting rolls in recent years in Ohio’s three largest counties, which are home to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Book Reviews: The Outsider

The Outsider
by Stephen King
King's most recent book shares a title with Camus' famous 1942 existentialist novel and makes a slight head fake at some of the ideas bandied about in that book. But this is King, not Camus, so you already know that concepts such as the human desire to express and receive love, and pity for those lacking such connections will eventually show up. And they do. I can't read as often as I used to but I can't think of too many modern novelists in any genre who can so quickly and seamlessly build true life characters as King. There have been King plots I didn't care for and occasionally some settings or themes I wasn't crazy about. But his characters have always leapt off the page, at least for me. And this book was no different.

Here, King moved the setting from his beloved Maine to small town Oklahoma and Texas. YMMV on this. King did the research. None of the characters employ Maine drawls or aphorisms. On the other hand, although the book is set in the present day, some of the adult characters, who are mostly in their thirties, forties or fifties, have memories of key life events that would really be more in line with momentous occurrences in the life of a seventy year old writer from Maine. A 45 year old in 2018 probably won't remember where they were or what they were doing when John Lennon was assassinated. You will notice this occasional dissonance.

Although I don't like it, physics shows us that matter, in the form of electrons, can be in two separate places at the same time. Even more weirdly, observing one electron can impact the behavior of its "twin", at a distance. Apparently this only happens at levels that are far too small for humans to perceive. In our reality I can't simultaneously be at home writing this blog post and also doing the same thing at work. 

Movie Reviews: Feral

directed by Mark Young
Unimaginative and boring even for the genre
How many times do we see people traipse off into the wilderness, discover they have no way of communicating with the outside world, encounter a challenge that will leave some of them dead, do stuff that's incredibly stupid, and reveal hidden capacities for leadership or endurance that will keep a few of them alive to tell the tale. Well pretty often. It's a big part of the Hero's Journey. This motif pops up not just in horror stories but in a great many other tales. It's part of human (mostly male) stories. So the problem with this movie wasn't that it used a common theme. The problem wasn't that it attempted to gender switch everything. The problem wasn't even that it was cheaply made with limited sets. No. 

All of those things are common in the horror genre. The problem was that the writing and characterization and yes even some of the acting was bad. I mean really bad. I mean this is akin to elementary school plays that you only attend because someone related to you is acting in them and your cousin, in-law, or sibling will be hurt if you don't show up for at least some of them.

There are ways to humorously and succinctly reveal that someone has hidden capabilities without ruining the storyline. In the Beverly Hills Cop movies the baby faced younger cop is shown to be a very well armed and eager gun nut, something which causes his partners some unease and promises of "We're gonna have to talk later". In The 13th Warrior, when the Vikings ask their Arab companion where he (suddenly) learned their language, he replies contemptuously "I listened!" And so on. I'm sure you can think of more cinematic or literary examples. But in this movie it's a bit much to swallow that certain characters suddenly have skill sets more commonly found among Army Rangers or Navy SEALs or that they got them from Girl Scouts. YMMV.

Miguel Cabrera and Child Support

You ought to marry the person who will help you promote your genes into the next generation. But many people aren't invested in the concept of "Until death do us part" or even marriage itself as a precursor to having children. Lust and love affect your judgment. What do you owe your children? Society has laws to ensure that non-custodial parents can't duck their financial responsibilities to their children who live with the custodial parent. Theoretically, this is good. But the devil is in the details. If a man is wealthy does it automatically follow that his children must live extravagantly? I would say no. I have known relatively impoverished people who spent every dime they could beg, borrow, or steal so their children could live high on the hog. I have also known millionaires who live frugally and send their children to public schools. These are parental decisions. But when the parents are not married, disagree with one another, and/or live apart, such decisions become public.

Belkis Rodriguez is the ex-mistress of Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera. She has two children by Cabrera. Both Belkis and Cabrera were married to other people when they started their relationship. Cabrera has been paying Belkis between $12,000 and $15,000 per month in child support not including other payments. Cabrera was paying more in child support than the judge had ordered. Well no good deed goes unpunished. Belkis is suing Cabrera for $100,000/month in child support.

Miguel Cabrera has a delicate balancing act on his hands: He's trying to appease one woman while pleasing another. One is his wife and high school sweetheart; the other an ex-mistress. Caught in the cross hairs are five innocent children — three from his marriage, two from the affair. For the $30-million-a-year baseball superstar embroiled in a legal fiasco that has so far been about money, a bigger perhaps more important issue remains: Can he be a good father to all five children, and does the law require that?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Movie Reviews: In Darkness

In Darkness
directed by Anthony Byrne
Margaery Tyrell and Daario Naharis team up in London
In Darkness is a slow burning British thriller that has multiple twists, none of which will be revealed here. It might be a just a bit too smug and smart for the target audience. It has some similarities to the classic movie Wait Until Dark. If you like this sort of mystery thriller it's probably a movie worth watching more than once to see the things that you missed. The movie makes no concession to listeners not native to the UK who will hear some occasionally very strong British accents. Either the viewer/listener will get it or s/he won't. Things are made worse on this front by dialogue that's intermittently drowned out by action or soundtrack. But although the audio is sometimes a bit iffy the visuals are lush and rich. 

This film looks really good, even the portions which are shot in low light or darkness.The colors and sets are lavish.  Byrne co-wrote this film with its star, his girlfriend Natalie Dormer, who also produced. The film's first half is crammed full of the sort of visual and auditory techniques which bring unease to the viewer without revealing very much in terms of story. I loved this. The second half shows us more even as the action ramps up. But the director hides things in plain sight. Like an elaborate con this movie has a lot of hidden layers and unanswered questions. This is a movie that with a few violent or sexual scenes excised would have worked well as a film noir in the forties or fifties. 

Sofia (Natalie Dormer-Margaery Tyrell from HBO's Game of Thrones) is a blind British classical pianist and London resident. Sofia lives in an apartment building with plenty of character. Sofia earns her living by working with an orchestra creating movie soundtracks.

Book Reviews: Rising Sun

Rising Sun
by Robert Conroy
I hadn't read any books by this late writer of alternate history for a long time. I decided to cross Rising Sun off the list of books I hadn't read yet. The prose is very short, punchy, and for lack of a better descriptor, male. This is something Mickey Spillane would have felt at ease reading and possibly even writing. There are no flowery long examinations of how someone felt or what did someone really mean when they said so-and-so. Conroy doesn't provide a lot of examination or deconstruction of character motivations. Character doesn't drive this book. Plot does.

Although the US victory at 1942 Battle of Midway was in hindsight a foregone conclusion given that the US had cracked the Japanese naval communications code and had a pretty good idea of where and when the Japanese hammer would fall, allowing the Americans to prepare countermeasures and ambushes, in real life the Americans also benefited from luck. The Japanese commanders, unaware of the true American strength and torn between searching for more American ships and launching attacks on American ground bases, were atypically indecisive. Repeated contradictory orders about whether to load aircraft with bombs (ground attack) or torpedoes (ship attack) left the Japanese carrier task force with carrier decks crowded with armed and fueled planes, while the small number of fighter planes were chasing off American torpedo bombers at sea level. 

The Japanese fleet was therefore a sitting duck for bombing attacks launched from American carriers the Japanese hadn't even known were in the area. Four Japanese carriers were sunk. Over 3000 Japanese sailors or soldiers were killed. The Japanese lost the strategic offensive against the Americans. 

Staying Awake At The Office

I think that some people can probably relate to the below video. Whether it's due to an over heated or under heated room, profoundly boring speakers or discussion topics, too much or too little to eat at lunch, advancing age, lack of sleep, or just generalized frustration that their life is slowly being wasted on tedium, I have over the years seen more than a few people struggle to stay awake in corporate meetings. This has of course never ever ever happened to me because I am an enthusiastic corporate drone. Or something.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Handouts for Billionaires: Dan Gilbert's $600 Million Deal

Some people make a strong argument for government intervention, whether in the form of tax breaks, incentives, subsidies, or outright cash transfers to help poor or middle class people get on their feet, get job training, start a business, get an education, buy a house or (ahem) get some health care. 

The devil is in the details of course but if you're living paycheck to paycheck and/or can't immediately put your hands on $1 million in cash, then I won't begrudge you some form of government assistance. There but for the grace of God go I and yada yada yada. If you are a rich person with regards to income or more importantly in regards to wealth (the top 1% households had a little over $10 million in net worth in 2016then I will suggest that you don't need much assistance from any level of government. You likely work for yourself but even if you don't it's rare that the loss of your job will have you sweating and panicking over a missed paycheck in two weeks. There are some people for whom $10 million is nothing special. They might drop that much on weekend gambling ventures, jewelry for their wife or mistress, rare cars, vacation homes or child support.

A billion is one thousand million. That's ONE THOUSAND MILLION. If you are worth one billion then you or yours don't want for much. Dan Gilbert owns Quicken Loans, Rock Financial, a few casinos and of course the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dan Gilbert is Michigan's richest resident, and likely Ohio's as well when he's in that state. In 2017 Gilbert was number 91 on the Forbes 400 list. Only a few Americans have more money than Gilbert. Dan Gilbert's net worth is approximately 6.3 Billion dollars or to put it another way, 6300 million. There's little that Gilbert couldn't buy or invest in if he so chose. Money is not a limiting factor for Gilbert. So I'm having trouble understanding why the State of Michigan has decided to give a $600 million subsidy to Gilbert for a real estate deal.

Dan Gilbert, the billionaire who has overhauled downtown Detroit by resurrecting historic buildings, sealed one of his biggest Motor City deals yet by getting final approval Tuesday for a $618 million tax incentive plan.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Roseanne Barr Goes Full Racist: ABC Cancels Her Show

On twitter, actress Roseanne Barr compared former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape. She then gave an half-hearted apology and deleted her tweet, saying she was leaving twitter. White racists have always made comparisons of black people to apes. "Planet of the Apes" is a particularly popular metaphor when used to refer to black people. 

I've seen that one used by numerous bigots over the years. The thing about the phrase is that the person using it is basically waving a flag saying "I'm a racist!". It expresses the essence of white supremacy, the belief and practice that the black person isn't fully human. This is what allows people to justify slavery, police brutality, segregation, exploitation, and murder. If Black people are not human but instead a subhuman primate of some kind then obviously normal human morality does not apply to whites' interactions with Blacks.

Roseanne Barr, one of ABC's biggest stars, apologized after a bizarre, racist Twitter rant Tuesday morning, and then announced she's "now leaving Twitter."

Following the rant, one of the show's consulting producers, Wanda Sykes, said she's done with the show. "I will not be returning to @RoseanneOnABC," Sykes tweeted.

Barr is notorious for tweeting about pro-Trump conspiracy theories and other controversial topics. This week she repeatedly attacked prominent Democrats.

In one of the tweets, she wrote, "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj."
Barr was responding to a comment about Valerie Jarrett, a top former aide to President Obama. CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski responded to Roseanne on Twitter about the Jarrett comment, which she replied was "a joke."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Anger is the only thing they left me. Anger is my refuge, it's my shield. Anger is my birthright!
This is a remake of the Israeli movie The 92 minutes of Mr. Baum. It has a perhaps unintentionally elegiac feel to it as it was one of Robin Williams' final film roles. It was released the year of his death via suicide. Watching it you can't help but wonder how much art was imitating life in this film. The film tries to be a black comedy. It doesn't quite make it or rather I should write that it wasn't as funny as it thought it was. Williams is convincing as the titular character, a Jewish real estate/estate planning lawyer named Henry Altman whose moods range from acerbic to choleric to furious. Henry is never in a good mood, not really. Even if he's quiet it's usually because he's seething about something and planning a nasty response. Henry has his reasons. 

Despite his wealth and success Henry doesn't think that life has been good to him. It is an easy thing to say that the essence of life and love ought to be to treat others as you would wish to be treated and enjoy the short time you have on this earth. That's advice which is saccharine, simplistic and often found in greeting cards. However, such bromides also happen to be true. If you've lost someone you loved chances are good that you didn't get to say everything to them or do everything with them that you wanted to say or do. If you're fortunate enough not to have had that experience yet just wait a few years. It happens to everyone. And perhaps some day people will in turn mourn our passing. As a passage from the Book of Common Prayer reads:

"Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.

He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower; 
he fleeth as it were a shadow, and ne'er continueth in one stay."

Friday, May 25, 2018

Mother of Mercy is this the end of Harvey Weinstein?

Over the last year to eighteen months or so we have seen many (mostly) women and men make accusations of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and  generally inappropriate behavior against (mostly) men in primarily the media, arts and entertainment industries. With the possible exception of Bill Cosby, no man was more closely associated with such alleged bad behavior than Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. 

Weinstein allegedly harassed, assaulted, or raped dozens of actual or would be Hollywood starlets. Weinstein had enough power and friends in the industry and out of it that he could allegedly harm the careers of women who didn't want to play ball with him. Weinstein allegedly hired Israeli private intelligence firms made up of former or current IDF and Mossad personnel to dig up dirt on accusers, handle hostile media and generally raise the cost incurred, legal or otherwise, to anyone inclined to mumble a bad word about his extra-curricular activities. Well nothing lasts forever. Weinstein was just formally arrested by the NYPD. 

Harvey Weinstein turned himself in to New York City detectives and was arrested on Friday on charges that he raped one woman and forced another to perform oral sex, a watershed in a months long sex crimes investigation and in the #MeToo movement. Around 7:30 a.m., Mr. Weinstein walked into a police station house in Lower Manhattan, flanked by several sex crimes detectives. Toting three large books under his right arm, he looked up without saying a word as a crush of reporters and onlookers yelled, “Harvey!” 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Movie Reviews: 12 Strong

12 Strong
directed by Nicolai Fuglsig
Competent but not compelling war movie where Thor has a carbine instead of a hammer.
Some war movies purport to tell it it like it is without taking sides, whether or not they also indulge in the post Saving Private Ryan level of explicit carnage. Other war movies have a high degree of cynicism and anger towards war in general and US foreign policy in particular. In these movies the real bad guys are the high ranking officers who withhold resources and information from brave combat soldiers, greedy corporate managers who couldn't care less how many American soldiers die to make a 3rd world country safe for business, or white supremacists who salivate at the possibility of being able to terrorize, rape or kill non-whites with the legal imprimatur of the United States government. Still other war movies are more interested in the impact of war on the minds and souls of the men who are engaged in it. Other war movies are just excuses to show gore as much as possible.

And then of course there are war movies that uncritically accept American versions of the conflict and rather reactionary right wing versions at that. Most war movies tend towards one of these polarities, even if most also have varying mixes of these styles contained within. 12 Strong is a movie that likes to think it's telling it like it was, with a healthy helping of good old fashioned American heroism, patriotism and masculinity. There aren't any conflicted heroes here or shadowy civilian "agents" with hidden agendas.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

The Matt Patricia Situation

First impressions can often be lasting ones. New NFL Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia, who has barely been on the job for three months, is battling to make sure that his public persona remains the bearded wunderkind coaching phenom rarely found without a pencil behind his ear and not the fraternity guy who skated on rape charges two decades ago.

Patricia, who left the New England Patriots to take the Detroit Lions job, found himself having to explain his 1996 indictment on rape charges and why he had never communicated that to his employers in New England or Detroit. The Detroit News did some digging into Patricia's past and discovered this information.

She told police they met on a Texas beach, fellow college students visiting South Padre Island during spring break 1996. She was a 21-year-old college student at a large university; they were two football players and Theta Chi fraternity brothers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. On the evening of March 15, 1996, the woman told police that two men burst into the upscale hotel room where she was sleeping and took turns violently sexually assaulting her, according to court records and a news account at the time. 

They were arrested, charged and later indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault — but they never stood trial and were not convicted.  One of the indicted men was 21-year-old Matt Patricia, who was hired as the head coach of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions in February. 

Book Reviews: The Wolves

The Wolves
by Alex Berenson
This older book which I picked up on sale is, given President Trump's recent decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal at both the behest and joy of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, still a timely and very entertaining read. The book can be enjoyed strictly as a modern spy thriller or as a brief against excessive foreign entanglements.  I thought that the bad guy was very well characterized; the good guy was a bit less compelling. This is an installment in a series.

I was unfamiliar with the author before but I will be reading his other works. Don't worry. This book is virtually stand alone. The reader can follow the story without having read previous installments. The author does short judicious information dumps along the way to get the reader up to date and hopefully whet his appetite to read earlier books. So don't think that you can't read this book unless you've read the others. That is so not necessary. 

John Wells is an ex-CIA agent who is still in the game. A storm is on the way. Previously John Wells provided proof that the United States was being manipulated into war with Iran by rabid Zionist, casino billionaire mogul, dual Israeli-American citizen, and Presidential financial backer Aaron Duberman (think a barely fictionalized Sheldon Adelson). 

Wells and a few CIA agents barely prevented a war against Iran based on lies enthusiastically created and spread by Duberman. Duberman viewed Iran as an intolerable threat to Israel. He wanted the United States to attack and invade Iran. Duberman didn't care how many people died in this false flag operation. He thought the cost in lives would have been worth it. Wells went after Duberman but wasn't able to get him. Duberman fled to Israel where he feels he's untouchable. 

Joy Reid and the Big Lie

MSNBC host Joy Reid was recently at the center of a minor brouhaha which was indicative of why many people hold the establishment media in low esteem. Before Reid was the eye rolling Madame Defarge of the anti-Trump Resistance she was a radio talk show host, political columnist and a blogger. Few people paid attention to everything that Reid was writing on her blog from 2006 to 2010. Reid wasn't big time then. Her blog was aimed at a different audience than she reaches with her 2018 television show. The political and cultural environment was different a decade ago. President Obama was elected in 2008 claiming opposition to same sex marriage. Likely, some assumed that it wasn't a very strident opposition, that Obama was lying, or that he was just cautious about coming out in favor of gay marriage. 

But even then it was at the very least bad form, rude and callous if not "homophobic" for a straight person to publicly question people's sexuality, mock people by calling them gay, or claim ostentatious disgust at the idea of gay intimacy. Reid did all of that. People found Reid's old blog posts, many of which claimed that then Florida Republican governor Charlie Crist was gay. Reid apologized and said she was a different person back then. This was no big deal to me. The rain falls on good and evil alike. Many people have made nasty statements about those they consider other. 

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Can Trump Voters Be Reached?

Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election for a million different reasons. And she will explain in detail to you that almost none of them were her fault. But a major reason for the shocking Clinton loss was that voters in the upper Midwest and interior east didn't vote for Clinton. States such as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that had given their electoral votes to Obama in 2012 switched to Trump in 2016. These states are less diverse than the U.S. as a whole, certainly less cosmopolitan than California or New York. There were enough white voters who had voted for Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 to put Trump over the top. Some of these voters are having second thoughts about their 2016 decision; others are not.

RITTMAN, Ohio — In the daily race that is her life, Sharla Baker does not think about politics very much. She rises early, drives to the gas station to buy coffee, feeds her baby, dresses her two other children, ages 3 and 2, and hustles them all off to day care. By 9:30 a.m. she pulls into a hair salon 45 minutes away, where she is training to be a cosmetologist. She waxes and cuts all day long, making only the money she earns in tips, which on a recent day last month was $8.41.

But Ms. Baker does vote. She picked Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. He seemed sincere and looked like a happy family man. But most important, he was a Democrat. Her great-grandmother, who grew up poor in Pennsylvania, always said that Democrats look out for the poor people. In 2016, though, she voted for Donald J. Trump. Yes, he was rich and seemed mean on his TV show, “The Apprentice.” But she liked how he talked about jobs and wages and people being left out of the economy.

Now, more than a year later, she is wavering. “I voted for Trump because I wanted some change going on,” said Ms. Baker, 28. “But then again, maybe he’s going to do the wrong change.” The swing of Obama voters to Mr. Trump proved a decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election. Of the more than 650 counties that chose Mr. Obama twice, about a third flipped to Mr. Trump. Many were in states critical to Mr. Trump’s win, like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Movie Reviews: 10 x10

10 x 10
directed by Suzi Ewing
This was an effective little thriller that plays around with the viewer's expectations. You initially think it's another generic woman in peril film but it's not. Unfortunately it does use some cliches during the later portion of the movie while leaving more questions unanswered but overall this movie was worthwhile. The lead actor and actress are well known but I wouldn't call them superstars. I found it easy to fall into the film and flow into the world it created. At times the film might have stalled a little too long or been a little too cute in its bait and switch but no one is perfect. This was a good not great film. It's not something that you're going to remember for a long time. I thought the director missed the opportunity to really make you care about the two lead characters. This was not anything bad that the actors did. They were good.

Part of this was inherent in the setup. It's essential that the viewer not know certain things at the beginning. But later, I thought the director could have done a little more table setting, put things more in context so that the "good" and "evil" characters were a little better defined. But at just over ninety minutes this film didn't overstay its welcome. And Ewing and the screenwriter Noel Clarke do an excellent job of building tension and teasing viewer interest in the first part of the movie.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Commuter, Paterno

The Commuter
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Occasionally certain actors and directors just seem to work really well together regardless of the material. Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel Jackson. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro. And Liam Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra. 

The Commuter is somewhat similar to Neeson's previous film Non-Stop and for that matter Murder on the Orient Express but it's much more engaging than the latter film mentioned. This film largely takes place on public transportation, in the New York City metro area, to be specific.  The film went over the top with some seemingly impossible coincidences and contraptions but it never failed to entertain.

Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is a sixty year old Irish immigrant. Having previously worked as a police officer and found that the money wasn't enough to make it in the NYC area or perhaps having become disgusted with departmental politics, Michael has switched careers. For the past decade he's worked as a life insurance salesman. He's able to provide for his wife and son but he's not really rich. Similar to many high income house poor people, Michael is rarely more than a few paychecks away from disaster.  He lost almost everything in the 2008 financial meltdown. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Movie Coming Attractions: The Equalizer 2

Well as much as I enjoyed the first film I'm betting I'm going to like this one as well. This looks like something worth seeing in theaters when it's released in July. Of course if you have no tolerance for filmic mayhem then you won't want to see this.

Music Reviews: Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer is a retired mathematician, satirist, parodist, writer, comedian, Army veteran, NSA worker, pianist and inventor of the Jello shot. Among other things, he also wrote music for the PBS show The Electric Company. Lehrer has a certain gift for finding absurdity in everyday life and a knack for writing songs with "blue" material but without any banned words. 

I first heard him on the Dr. Demento radio show, which I used to fall asleep listening to back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. At the time I shared a bedroom with my younger brother who said then and maintains to this day that as oldest I got away with things which my parents would have shut down instantly had they known about, one of those things most definitely being the Dr. Demento show. Of course (1) you really shouldn't give credence to everything said by resentful younger siblings with questionable memories and (2) by today's standards the Dr. Demento show of the seventies and eighties was quite tame. And even back then Tom Lehrer was already something of an old fogie. He's been around a while. 

I enjoy Lehrer's musical and lyrical humor. Lehrer can occasionally evince something of a dirty mind (listen to I got it from Agnes and then listen to it again until you understand why Lehrer initially couldn't perform the song outside of adult nightclubs despite not using a single bad word). Lehrer usually expresses himself in a classy way with lots of did I really hear what I thought I heard plausible deniability.

I also like Lehrer's song The Elements, which lists all of the elements of the periodic table to the melody from Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major-General Song from The Pirates of Penzance. Some might say that you have to be slightly bent in your worldview to enjoy Lehrer's humor. I don't deny that he can appeal to the absurd, dark, cynical, and satyric that lurks within us but he also appeals to anyone who enjoys puns, wordplay and lyrical witticisms. He has obvious influence from people like Cole Porter and Stephen Sondheim. The important thing about Lehrer's humor is that it is not meant to be taken seriously.  Just listen and (hopefully) laugh.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Music Reviews: Nikki Giovanni, Camille Yarbrough, Sarah Shook

Nikki Giovanni
Truth Is On The Way/Like A Ripple On A Pond
Nikki Giovanni is a poet, writer, professor and activist among other things. Her list of awards, works and accomplishments are far too long to list here. I think she's one of the greatest living poets. She was one of the first poets I remember reading. My maternal aunt gave me Giovanni's collection of poems titled Ego Tripping and other poems for young people all those years ago. Giovanni is often described as radical or militant or other such words but I think that those terms are limiting. Her politics and approaches to life have varied over the years, as with anyone else. 

If there is one theme in her work that hasn't varied it is that black people (especially black women) are human and beautiful. In the early seventies as now such a message may be thought of as militant or threatening but I never saw it as such. One thing that was current in the early seventies is that the music produced by black entertainers and musicians wasn't solely concerned with the lowest common denominator of sex and violence. There were actually still some themes of love and sacrifice. It seems like that's been lost in a lot of the music that is popular today but I could be wrong as I don't listen to much pop music. 

Hmm. Anyway, esteemed musicologists can argue over when and where rap begun. Some people confidently point to the late seventies South Bronx. Others will go back further in time and farther afield to Caribbean/Jamaican toasts or West African chants. Others will claim it was all started by spoken word performers/rappers like the Watts Prophets, Last Poets, Wanda Robinson, and Gil Scott Heron. Some will point to scat singers like Eddie Jefferson or Ella Fitzgerald, or rock-n-roll founders like Bo Diddley. Wherever you start the discussion of rap's creation and growth, certainly the spoken word albums that Giovanni created in the early seventies deserve some consideration. 

Night Sky Over Tahquamenon Falls

We are currently in International Dark Sky Week, if you didn't know. The idea is to enjoy the night sky free from the increasing light pollution which humans are producing. I live in a subdivision that is right on the edge of rapidly declining open land and farmland. In another decade or so it's likely that almost everything will be paved over. It is amazing that people have so many lights on at night that it's becoming almost indistinguishable from day. Stepping out of the subdivision puts you into a semi-rural community or rather what's left of one. But doing that you immediately notice the difference in lighting at night. Without the super bright porch lights and street lamps you actually know what darkness is. More importantly, you can see the stars, which is the main benefit of having things be dark at night.

People tell me that my father and maternal grandfather took me on a fishing trip to Lake Superior when I was young but I don't remember. In the years since I haven't been back to the Upper Peninsula. It is a place I would like to visit and perhaps retire some day. For now I can just enjoy the pictures of the changing night sky over Tahquamenon Falls near Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There is a lot of natural beauty in this world if you just look around.

Monkeys Bathe In Hot Springs

What else can monkeys learn to do by watching humans? Monkey see, monkey do I guess.

Demise of the Nation State?

The British Indian novelist and essayist Rana Dasgupta recently wrote a very long earnest piece about the alleged demise of the nation-state. You should read it. Dasgupta makes a few good points. It is true that many rights which we don't normally allow governments to violate (at least in theory or without a really good reason established via due process) are "violated" every single day by corporations. Corporations have become powerful enough to begin to unfetter themselves from meaningful oversight or control by some of the nations where they do business. It's true that for some countries that globalization has caused greater diversity and in others raised average incomes. Dasgupta badly missteps when he argues that globalization in its current form is inevitable or that the increasing nationalism in some countries is merely a reactionary last gasp against needed permanent change to political, economic and cultural systems. Dasgupta tips his hand near the end of this piece. Dasgupta doesn't evince much interest in independently occurring nationalist, sectarian, ethnic or racial feelings outside the West, though their intensity can rival anything in today's West. 

No the main point that Dasgupta wants you to take away from this 6000 word essay is something that he initially obfuscates but ultimately just can't resist bluntly stating. He thinks that citizenship itself is manifestly unfair. To be precise, Dasgupta thinks that citizenship in the West and especially citizenship in the United States is unfair. And he wants to end it, primarily to make people in the Third World wealthier.
The history of the nation state is one of perennial tax innovation, and the next such innovation is transnational: we must build systems to track transnational money flows, and to transfer a portion of them into public channels. Without this, our political infrastructure will continue to become more and more superfluous to actual material life. In the process we must also think more seriously about global redistribution: not aid, which is exceptional, but the systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor for the improved security of all, as happens in national societies.

Black Men Arrested At Starbucks Speak Out

You may have heard about the Black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while they were waiting to have a business meeting with a possible partner. Charges were dropped. The white female manager who called the police within two minutes of the men's arrival allegedly did so because the men hadn't purchased anything and had asked (and been denied) a chance to use the bathroom. Supposedly the manager, one Holly Hylton, was known within the company to have an active dislike for black co-workers and customers. There have been other incidents at other Starbucks locations but this is emphatically not solely a Starbucks problem. This is a white racism problem or to be more precise as some of the people behaving in this manner towards Black people are not white, it's an anti-Black racism problem, particularly an anti-Black male attitude. Again, incidents like this are why I am so dismissive of anyone who argues that Black men in toto are oppressive patriarchs. You can say a lot of things about patriarchs but they don't get arrested and perp-walked out of an establishment for the crime of annoying or scaring someone who isn't Black. 

We see again that the mere presence of Black masculinity in a public space badly scares some people and/or angers them. Just as in Fort Worth, or in Rochester Hills, being Black in public causes some non-Blacks to either wet their pants in fear or feel that they must immediately show the n****s who is the boss. What sort of citizen are you if you can literally be arrested because someone thinks that you didn't order coffee fast enough? You're certainly not a first class citizen. The men speak about their experiences below:

Brooklyn Museum Hiring Fracas

The Brooklyn Museum recently hired a white woman to be its curator of African Art. Some people didn't like this hiring decision, to put it mildly. 

A recent decision by the Brooklyn Museum to hire a white person as an African art consulting curator has prompted opposition on social media and from an anti-gentrification activist group that argues the selection perpetuated “ongoing legacies of oppression.” In response to a letter from the group that stated its concerns, Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, said in a statement on Friday that the museum “unequivocally” stood by its selection of Kristen Windmuller-Luna for the position. “We were deeply dismayed when the conversation about this appointment turned to personal attacks on this individual,” Ms. Pasternak said. 

She also extolled the expertise of Dr. Windmuller-Luna, calling her an “extraordinary candidate with stellar qualifications.” Dr. Windmuller-Luna, 31, has Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from Princeton, and a bachelor’s degree in the history of art from Yale. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum and the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y. Her appointment to the Brooklyn Museum was announced late last month.

In its letter earlier this week, the activist group Decolonize This Place called the museum’s selection of Dr. Windmuller-Luna “tone-deaf” and said that “no matter how one parses it, the appointment is simply not a good look in this day and age.”

“Seriously, @brooklynmuseum? There goes the neighborhood for good,” opined Philadelphia journalist Ernest Owens on Twitter.