Saturday, August 11, 2018

Movie Reviews: Sunset Boulevard, Bad Samaritan

Sunset Boulevard
directed by Billy Wilder
All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my closeup.
This is a classic film noir which I hadn't seen in its entirety though I knew some popular lines. Sunset Boulevard leaves a cinematographic impression upon the viewer. It's filmed in glorious black and white. It uses shadow, smoke and music to create a setting that is alternately realistic and something that could have come from a dream or nightmare. 

The story and the character motives and fears displayed in this 1950 movie are relevant today. Men and women haven't changed that much. Watching movies like this, that if remade today would have been more graphic, always reminds me of how quality films can tell good stories without relying on blood and nudity. Sunset Boulevard is also an example of non-linear story telling; the film is told in flashback voiceover by a character who explains the events.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a Hollywood screenwriter of dubious morals, questionable talents and light wallet. Joe has tried selling a script to Paramount but Betty (Nancy Olson) a younger quality control script reader, didn't like it. Joe is behind on his car payments and other bills.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Movie Reviews: Traffik, Truth or Dare, Laws of Attraction

directed by Deon Taylor
It is ironic that a movie which wants to make some points about the modern sexualized abuse of women, and which makes some hamfisted allusions to historical American slavery, and which was produced by its Black female lead, also spends a lot of time showing off said female lead in a manner which invites the (male) viewer to do a lot of leering. 

Not that I'm complaining. Patton does look really good in Daisy Dukes and tight and/or low cut tops. There's no doubt about that. My problem was that the story's writing and some of its acting weren't enough to make this movie a real winner. All the closeups of Patton's legs or cleavage, wonderful as they are, don't change that. 

Traffik was an update of similar 1970s movies that starred such Black actresses as Tamara Dobson or Pam Grier. Like those cinematic forerunners Patton combines victimization with a willingness to fight back. I liked the grindhouse style/close up camera work. I liked the invocation of fear that many Black citizens can experience when they are surrounded by whites who have made it clear that Blacks aren't welcome in their neck of the woods.

Detroit Church Beset By Break-ins

In the movie Leaves of Grass a gentle religious character explains her belief that the world is broken, but that it's up to us to fix it. In his works The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion the devout Catholic J.R.R.Tolkien imagined that the force of evil had permanently marred the material world as far back as creation. 

In his Perelandra trilogy Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis similarly posited an evil force that dominated the planet, had perverted humanity, and if left unchallenged would ultimately destroy human kind. Theodicy is a question that has never been resolved as far as I can tell. Not only can we not agree on why evil exists, but we can't really agree on what to do about it.The Bible has contradictory advice. God told us that accounts would be and should be settled.
And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Jesus told us to resist not evil, turn the other cheek and don't attempt to get our stolen goods back.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 
But Jesus never lived in Detroit...

Book Reviews: The Summoning

The Summoning
by Bentley Little
I'm not really a big fan of the strain in vampire fiction that imagines vampires as tortured romantics who sparkle, bisexual goths, or private eye stand-ins who reluctantly protect humanity against even worse threats. To each their own but I prefer the concept of vampire as monster and/or parasite. That is why I started the reread of this older book which I picked up in a now closed bookstore all those years ago. I was looking for something with vampires with a little bite, so to speak. This book has a definite thematic resemblance to King's Salem's Lot.

In both stories, the vampire is attracted to a decaying town, a small ragtag group of believers try to do battle against the creature, and human vice is an important part of the story. But because this is Little, and not King, perversion and vice are dominant parts of the storyline to the point where they choke out other elements. YMMV on this. There's a thin line between pushing the envelope of horror imagery and creating things solely to disgust and shock. I think Little tends towards the latter. 

The Summoning is set in the town of Rio Verde, Arizona. Rio Verde has seen better days. Most of the town's young people leave for greener pastures upon graduating high school. With the closure of mines and rerouting of expressways there's less and less economic activity within the town. One person who notices this acutely is Sue Wing, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Sue's parents run a Chinese restaurant; Sue, her younger brother and her aged grandmother help. Sue's in her early twenties and drifting thru life. Sue didn't have the money to go to a first rate college. Her parents aren't poor, but they're far from rich. They don't have thousands and thousands of dollars at hand. Set in the early nineties, this book imagines that there are still a fair number of people who won't patronize the Wing restaurant for prejudiced reasons. 

Woman Falls Out of Moving Car Doing Dance Challenge

A body in motion stays in motion.
Stupidity is the basic building block of the universe.
Forget these natural laws and pay the price.

Trump and Impeachment

I haven't written much on Trump and impeachment because right now there is no chance of that happening. The endless media frenzy over this or that action, lie or statement taken or made by Trump and especially the hyperbolic hyperorgasmic hysteria and anticipation over every little piece of news from the Mueller investigation has exactly the wrong impact on anti-Trump partisans.

The Department of Justice is not going to indict Donald Trump while he is President. No one is going to burst into Mar-a-lago, drag Trump's obese behind outside at gunpoint and make him kneel on the curb with his hands up and fingers interlocked. No one will make President Trump do the perp walk in front of cameras before guiding him none too gently into the back seat of an unmarked government issue Mercury Grand Marquis. No one can call early elections to get rid of Trump. In our political system, absent sickness, death by natural causes, or some unforeseen and utterly out of character attack of conscience, Trump isn't going anywhere.

The only non-violent way to get rid of Trump is for the majority of the House to vote to impeach and for two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict. That's it. Democrats don't currently have the numbers to do that. And they likely won't get them in both the Senate and House. Only two Presidents were ever impeached; both were acquitted in the Senate.

Beethoven Pizza Delivery

What if Daniel Baremboim had to make ends meet by delivering pizzas? Well it might sound something like this. I hope the family gave him a big tip. It's always good to hear Beethoven.

Some pizza delivery guys don't just deliver pizzas.
A regular old Wednesday pizza delivery turned into a surprising performance for a Shelby Township family. Julie Varchetti posted on Facebook that a young pizza delivery man noticed the family's piano and asked if he could play it.
Bryce Dudal, 18, of Sterling Heights was delivering a pizza from Hungry Howie's when he spotted the piano. What happened next wowed the family.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Equalizer 2

The Equalizer 2
directed by Antoine Fuqua
This film is the first time that acting icon Denzel Washington has acted in a sequel. This sequel, like most sequels, wasn't as good as the preceding film. It was still enjoyable, just predictable. And when it wasn't predictable it was confusing. I think this was a function of the writing. If you intend to make someone's demise look like something that is unrelated to their family or work do you then subsequently attempt to murder their relatives or co-workers? No. You don't do that because even the slowest bear in the woods will realize that the previous incident was no accident. 

There are a few other head scratching moments like that throughout the film but as with most good action films the viewer can ignore these. This film has to do more heavy lifting than the first insofar as in the first movie, the viewer is surprised to see Denzel set his stopwatch to test his reflexes and skills before badly injuring or killing people who have chosen to harm innocents. In this movie all of that is already expected. It's baked into the cake. The director uses that technique a few times just to remind people of what a bada$$ Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is, but much of the film is really a detective movie.

Samantha Bee Spoofs Dana Loesch

The NRA has largely won the national debate on gun restrictions for now. Things have trended away from tighter restrictions since the House and Senate decided not to pursue another Federal Assault Weapons ban. Especially since the election of Trump and appointment of presumably Second Amendment friendly federal judges, the NRA has walked an unsteady line between gloating triumphalism and its more natural default state of paranoid fears of gun confiscation and Caucasian extermination. You can't really drive up financial support for your agenda if you admit you've gotten most of what you want. So, the NRA in the presence of one Dana Loesch, recently put out an ad that was simultaneously a cultural and literal call to arms, a grievances list, a threat, a warning, and a reason why you [stink] rant aimed at anyone to the left of say Tucker Carlson. The ad was as much hilarious as it was a disturbing insight into the minds of those who would find the ad emotionally validating and intellectually convincing. 

The NRA released this ad before it became widespread public knowledge that Russia was supposedly attempting to use the NRA and other right leaning or conservative groups to sway American political and cultural opinion, or at least American right wing political opinion in a direction more amenable to Russian interests. Some white racists have indeed responded favorably to these overtures. One Russian who allegedly accepted this task was Maria Butina.

Maria Butina, whose years-long mission to build ties between Russia, the National Rifle Association and the Republican Party led to her arrest this week, has ties to Russian intelligence, federal prosecutors alleged on Wednesday.

Another Black Man Dead: Florida's Stand Your Ground Law

I don't have a problem with people using deadly violence to defend themselves anywhere from the threat or reality of deadly violence. Whether you are in your home, car, or walking the street I don't think that you must let someone initiate and continue felony violence on you and wait and see what their intentions are. I have little sympathy for the carjacker who gets shot in the face by his would be victim, for the rapist who gets stabbed in the yarbles by a woman armed with a knife, for the burglar who gets ripped to pieces by the homeowner's trained Rottweilers, for the mugger who makes the mistake of trying to assault an unassuming kung fu expert. Those criminals knew the risks of their trade; they paid the price. So it goes.

But "Stand your ground laws", at least in the case of Florida, seem to be something different. Self-defense should be about using defense proportionate to the attack AND making sure that there is an attack. If someone steps on my shoe, depending on both our moods that day, I may just keep moving and say nothing. I may say something. The offender and I both may end up yelling obscenities at each other or worse. Stuff happens. But whatever happens most people would agree that even if the person deliberately stepped on my shoe I would be (no pun intended) jumping the gun to pull out my firearm and shoot him dead. 

Even if I thought that this person might be a later threat at the time that I used deadly force against him he was no threat. So self-defense doesn't apply. Also I shouldn't be able to go around deliberately stepping on people's shoes and shooting the first person who responds physically, claiming I was standing my ground. In practice however, Florida's stand your ground law gives the benefit of the doubt to the shooter, regardless of the circumstances, especially if the shooter is white and the decedent is black.

LARGO — Prominent civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump stood in front of the Pinellas County Justice Center on Thursday and demanded justice for the family of Markeis McGlockton.
Flanked by the slain man’s parents and girlfriend, Crump told reporters that McGlockton’s shooting death last week was "cold-blooded murder ... by the self-appointed, wannabe cop Michael Drejka."

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Movie Reviews: A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place
directed by John Krasinski
A Quiet Place is a thriller/sci-fi movie starring a real life husband and wife. This is an intelligent, well acted, empathetic film that makes judicious and limited use of special effects. This is the type of scary yet dramatic film that showcases the best that Hollywood can do when good writing, directing, and acting all come together. Most stories explain or question who we are, why we exist and how will we survive. A Quiet Place does that. 

Another thing which A Quiet Place does which is rather unusual in today's zeitgeist is to show equal respect for the different and complementary traditional family roles played by men and women even as the film winks at us by having both men and women step into the other's role during emergencies. A father is no less manly for nurturing his children while a mother protecting her family can be just as dangerous as any man and yet still feminine. The film focuses on a small number of characters in a limited environment, but the viewer never feels bored. This works because this isn't just a monster movie. This is a a drama about a family. The quirk was that a family that has a tremendous amount of pain, love, and other primal emotions to share can't speak to each other. Now for someone like me who tends to think that most people talk way too much anyway, this would initially sound like a pretty good idea. 

Police Officer Sexually Assaults Black Man in Washington D.C.

What exactly is the proper protocol to use when someone attempts to sexually assault you? Well there isn't any one correct response for every situation. Some victims may fight back; others may try to escape or run away. Still others may freeze and just attempt to survive. 
It all depends on the victim's perception of his or her circumstances. It's all very easy to say what someone should have done if you're not that person, weren't in their situation, and have never been so violated. Sheep can talk a lot of nonsense about what they would do to the wolves right up until the time that the wolves show up. 
Stop fingering me though, bruh!” That’s what one Washington, D.C., man told a metro police officer during a body cavity search on Sept. 27, 2017, according to the ACLU. Now the civil rights group is helping him sue the police department, calling video of the incident “shocking and unjustified.”
The lawsuit says it began when officers drove up to 39-year-old M.B. Cottingham and friends as they sat on folding chairs on a public sidewalk. There was an open bottle of alcohol nearby, and they were celebrating Cottingham’s birthday, according to the lawsuit.

Officers pulled up and asked whether the group had weapons, and they said they did not. The lawsuit says it was not clear why the officers pulled up in the first place, as the open bottle of alcohol was “was on the ground at the curb behind a parked car” and not visible from the middle of the street.

Waitress Body Slams Groping Customer

Don't hand me no lines and keep your hands to yourself!
-The Georgia Satellites
One Mr. Ryan Cherwinski was evidently so infatuated with the backside of one Miss Emelia Holden, a waitress at a restaurant that he was patronizing, that he decided to reach out and touch it. Well that turned out to be a very bad idea, not only morally but consequentially. Holden reached out, grabbed Cherwinski, and body slammed him before giving him a piece of her mind. Cherwinski was later arrested and charged with sexual battery. Now, not only will Cherwinski get his fifteen minutes of fame as a man who's unable to keep his hands to himself, but he will also be known as a man who got his butt kicked by a woman. Watching Cherwinski flail about helplessly as Holden seemingly effortlessly handles him is a reminder that very often bullies are at the end of the day, cowards. 

Emelia Holden, 21, didn’t hesitate to take matters into her own hands when a man groped her during her shift at Vinnie Van Go-Go’s in Savannah, Georgia on June 30.
In surveillance footage of the incident, 31-year-old Ryan Cherwinski is shown grabbing Holden’s backside as he walks behind her. Holden immediately turns around and grabs him by his collar and slams him into a counter.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Sickly Newark Grandmother Dies When Power Company Shuts Off Electricity

In the movie Goodfellas mobster Henry Hill, as played by Ray Liotta, explains in voiceover that the animating ethos of the Mafia, as exemplified by local Mob boss Paul Vario (Paul Sorvino) is "F*** you, pay me!!. The Mob exists to extract profit from its clients victims. There is no other reason. Utility companies on the other hand are not just only supposed to make money from customers. These companies actually do have a charge to help people and provide a public service. Profit should not be the only or highest purpose. When the Mafia deliberately kills someone or is indifferent to a person's death as a cost of business no one is surprised. That organization is working as designed. It is after all a criminal enterprise.You don't blame the shark for biting you. You blame yourself for swimming with the sharks. When a utility company does the same, though, it is not acting in concert with its charter. 

NEWARK — Linda Daniels had fallen behind on her electricity bills, her meter run up by medical equipment going around the clock and increasingly hot weather. But on July 3, her family said, they pulled together $500 to pay down her debts, believing it would maintain her service. Two days later, her electricity was shut off. It was a sweltering day and temperatures in Newark soared into the 90s. Ms. Daniels’s house was stifling, the air so stuffy that her daughter said it was difficult to breathe. Even more serious: Ms. Daniels relied on an oxygen machine, and it required electricity. 

Ms. Daniels, 68, had various ailments, including congestive heart failure, her relatives said, and in recent months she had been placed in hospice care as her health declined. Her doctors had not given her any indication of how long she had to live, relatives said, but her family wanted her to be comfortable and to be at home. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Movie Reviews: High Noon

High Noon
directed by Fred Zinneman
It's ironic that this film's title for a time became short hand for the sort of high handed right wing shoot first ask questions later macho cowboy vigilantism which some people argued that animated such politicians as Ronald Reagan and inspired or infused such film series as Death Wish or Dirty Harry. At the time of its release many people who saw it understood High Noon as a left wing allegory about McCarthyism and blacklisting. Right wing iconic actor John Wayne, who was in favor of blacklisting, if not necessarily black people, hated High Noon, calling it unAmerican. 

Wayne boasted about helping to run High Noon's writer, Carl Foreman, out of the country. Wayne declined to act in the lead role. 

High Noon bothered Wayne so much that he went so far as to help make an answer movie to High Noon, Rio Bravo. In Wayne's mind Rio Bravo "fixed" a lot of the problems with High Noon. Some people consider Rio Bravo to be at least as good as High Noon while others say High Noon is in a class by itself. Well you've have to watch both movies to make that call but I think, politics aside High Noon remains one of the best Westerns ever made. It's also a matter of some irony that the film's lead actor, who was in his own right a icon of American masculinity, Gary Cooper, was also quite conservative in his personal life and a friend to John Wayne,. It just goes to show that art can make strange bedfellows.

Although this film was directed by Fred Zinnerman it was produced by legendary filmmaker Stanley Kramer who was famous for such social message films as The Defiant Ones, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Inherit the Wind and of course the slapstick It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World

What is Obama's Legacy?

In the days of Pharaohs, Kings, Sultans, and Emperors, occasionally a new ruler would take the throne who had a bug up his or her butt about some previous ruler. Maybe the new tyrant had some unresolved Daddy issues. Maybe the fellow had seized power through a violent coup and wanted to demonstrate his utter disdain for the former ruler. Maybe the new ruler had a well reasoned long standing political or religious grudge against the previous line of rulers and wished to convert the population to an entirely new way of thinking. Whatever the case, throughout history there have been autocrats who have gone far out of their way to downplay, deny and even delete any records of their predecessor's accomplishments. 

Sometimes loyalists to the previous regime who were brave enough to continue to speak the truth as they saw it found themselves exiled or like Trotsky, facing the business end of an icepick.

As far as we know President Trump hasn't started issuing kill lists for American citizens who cherish President Obama's legacy. Not yet anyway. But President Trump has been on a significant rampage to wipe away most of President Obama's initiatives or accomplishments. 

Black Men Don't Belong Here!!!

I don't know if these sorts of incidents are actually happening more frequently or if we are just hearing about them more often but they give the lie to the bromides that (1) people don't notice race or (2) that Black American men get any sort of benefits from patriarchy. In both cases referenced in this post the unfounded fears or aggression of white women led them to confront and invoke the threat of state violence against Black men. 

Fortunately for the men involved they managed to avoid being shot or assaulted but it could have just as easily gone the other way. It is impossible for me to imagine social sanction for a Black woman claiming to be in fear of her life by the mere presence of a white man or seeking to bully him out of the public space if all he was doing was minding his own business. In both instances white women made automatic assumptions that blackness was not allowed in their surroundings and needed to be expelled. 

There are of course younger Black people who look back at the responses of Black Americans to state sponsored segregation and violence before 1970 or so and find them lacking. If these sorts of incidents continue to occur we'll find out who really is ready to stand up to the Beast, so to speak, and who was just flapping their gums. If you're Black in America, particularly a Black man, you have to be ready for this sort of thing. It can happen any time any where. We've seen a white woman in South Carolina assault Black boys at a pool, a white man in North Carolina demand to see a Black family's pool id, a white woman in Tennessee try to kick a Black family out of the pool, a white woman in Yale call the police on the fellow black student taking a nap, and too many more incidents to mention. Clearly most whites do understand just whose side the police are likely to take. I do think that Trump's election has given permission to certain people to share their true feelings. 

(FOX 11) - A man told his story about an experience he described as racial profiling in a neighborhood where he was parked in his car. Ezekiel Phillips said if he weren’t black, a white woman would have never felt threatened by his presence. “You don’t have to call 911 on me. Talk to me. Ask me my name,” Phillips said.

Married Woman and Alleged Lover Die in Carbon Monoxide Accident

I imagine a spouse would have a number of emotions upon learning that their better half was cheating on them but had also just passed away. I mean how do you process that sort of information? 

A woman who died inside her Newark garage had reportedly been having sex in a running car with her mechanic lover when her body was found by her husband on Monday night. Law enforcement sources told NBC the woman, 39-year-old Tameka Hargrave and a 56-year-old man believed to be her mechanic, had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The sources said they believed Hargrave had been paying the man to fix her car by having sex with him. Her husband, Kahali Johnson, told ABC he found their bodies inside the garage, along with had been left running in a closed garage, and called police just before 9pm.

Johnson said he went to investigate after a strong gas odour entered his apartment before 9pm on Monday, and found the pair 'laid out'. He claimed when he found them, they were both outside the car, which had been left running.

'As I tried to open the last garage door, I see the mechanic, he's laid out,' Johnson said.'She's just a few feet away, she's laid out. And pretty much I had to call 911, because at this time, with that level of emissions, I knew that they were gone.' 

Lions Kill Poachers

Poachers are horrible human beings who kill rare animals, often driving them to extinction in order to sate the Western appetite for trophies, or the Chinese and African appetite for medicines or foods of dubious medicinal or nutritional value. Poachers thus add to the destruction of African wildlife and ultimately impoverish that continent in ways that are becoming increasingly obvious. So when I read these stories I wasn't exactly saddened. I was wondering though if the stories were really true. Both stories seemed like something out of a Kipling story. But some fact checking verified that although the events in one story had actually taken place in February, not June, everything else happened more or less as described.

So although I am not exactly esctatic that the poachers are dead sometimes that's the only way to stop bad people from doing worse things. The poachers knew the risks and paid the price. Perhaps if more things like this happened humans wouldn't be needlessly killing so many animals. Although there is a certain grim reciprocity in poachers being killed by lions ultimately the only fix is to convince people that killing animals for medicines that don't work or stupid religious reasons is not a good thing to do. And that understanding can't be imposed from the outside of a particular culture. It has to come from within. Otherwise the resentment at THEM telling US what to do is going to outweigh any arguments about the correctness of the actions. And obviously people have to believe that the benefit from poaching isn't worth the cost. That's going to take a while. But until then perhaps poachers should tread a bit more lightly. The Lion isn't sleeping tonight. Lions 2 Poachers 0.

A suspected big cat poacher has been eaten by lions near the Kruger National Park in South Africa, police say. The animals left little behind, but some body parts were found over the weekend at a game park near Hoedspruit.

"It seems the victim was poaching in the game park when he was attacked and killed by lions," Limpopo police spokesman Moatshe Ngoepe told AFP. "They ate his body, nearly all of it, and just left his head and some remains."

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book Reviews: Blood Song

Blood Song
by Anthony Ryan
This older novel was the author's debut into a pretty crowded field and the first in a trilogy. I think it's unfortunate that so many publishers and authors shoehorn stories into a trilogy format when so many of them could be told in one stand alone book. However, Blood Song left me wanting more, which I suppose is all a reader can ask. The  story themes will be familiar to anyone who has read high fantasy; there's not too much that's new here. The book's enjoyment comes not from brand new ideas but in how the author weaves together some classic tropes and storylines.

The author sets the story in a world much like our own High Middle Ages. Countries that are fantastic versions of England, France, Wales, The Ottoman Empire, Songhai, and other Eurasian or West African nation states vie for economic and political primacy. Ryan uses a framing technique in which the person we believe to be the protagonist tells the story of his life to an enemy who will shortly it is believed, oversee his execution.

The protagonist is Vaelin Al Sorna, Sword of the Realm to King Janus of The United Realm, aka Darkblade, Young Hawk, and Hope Killer. Vaelin has been captured by his enemies in the Alpiran Empire and is going to be executed, or so everyone believes. Curious about the life of Vaelin and how he became one of the greatest warriors of the Sixth Order, the battle caste created to defend and expand the Faith, the Alpirian Imperial Chronicler decides to take down Vaelin's story. Vaelin's story starts when he is just ten years old and is abandoned by his father, the former Battle Lord to King Janus, at the gates of the Sixth Order castle. 

Modern Day Loansharking and Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner

Mister Banker Mister please, how much does money mean
Won't you reconsider Mister Won't you do this thing for me
Mr. Banker 

-Lynyrd Skynyrd
I've written before that if you were a criminally minded sort in today's environment you'd be a fool to join the Mafia or other illicit organizations. These days, the benefit is no longer worth the cost. Working outside the law you have to worry about informants, violent paranoid co-workers, electronic surveillance up the wazoo, and long prison terms. That's no good. If you have wicked urges be smart and work inside the law. For example, if you want to assault or kill people, become a cop. You will be virtually untouchable.

If you want to help people gamble away their cash so that you can make a profit, open a liquor store and run the state sponsored lottery. People will give you money for nothing and thank you for the opportunity. And if you want to loan money at extortionate rates, interpreting contract terms to your benefit while emptying your client's sucker's pockets, then do what former Obama Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner did and open up/run a finance company that markets predatory loans to impoverished and/or desperate people.

The check arrived out of the blue, issued in his name for $1,200, a mailing from a consumer finance company. Stephen Huggins eyed it carefully. A loan, it said. Smaller type said the interest rate would be 33 percent.

Way too high, Huggins thought. He put it aside.
A week later, though, his 2005 Chevy pickup was in the shop, and he didn’t have enough to pay for the repairs. He needed the truck to get to work, to get the kids to school. So Huggins, a 56-year-old heavy equipment operator in Nashville, fished the check out that day in April 2017 and cashed it.

Carjacker Learns That You Don't Mess With Texas

Unfortunately the world is full of people, who as the character Blade opined, are always trying to iceskate uphill. There is not really a way to reason with such people. They don't understand reason and/or don't respect it. All you can do with such folks is attempt to avoid them. And if you can't avoid them then you must use force to stop them from hurting you or yours. 

This is ugly. But this is life. There is a saying that you don't mess with Texas. A would be carjacker named Rickey Wright found this out the hard way, when a mother, unable to convince Mr. Wright not to steal her SUV with her children inside, used a more persuasive argument that ended the confrontation.

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A suspected carjacker is in the hospital after a North Texas woman shot him as he tried to take off in her SUV with her two children in the backseat.
The incident happened just after 10:00 p.m. Wednesday, when Dallas police say the woman stopped for gasoline at a Shell station on Camp Wisdom Road.

The mother, who does not want to be identified, left her children in the SUV while she ran inside the convenience store. Before she returned a man jumped into her vehicle and tried to drive away, but the woman saw what was happening and jumped in the back seat.

Music Reviews: I Gotcha and Baby It's Cold Outside

I really like most of Joe Tex's work. I also like the Ray Charles-Betty Carter version of the standard "Baby It's Cold Outside". Recently on Facebook a relative posted the Joe Tex song "I Gotcha!" which Joe Tex performed on Soul Train, well rather danced and lip synced, with Damita Jo. I love this song and had never had a problem with it. The character Joe Tex is singing about is horny and wants to get down to business. There's no doubt about that. But is he a threat? Is he a would be rapist? Some women I know said they found this song distasteful or even intimidating and offensive. I was surprised. I never heard the song that way. But everyone has different perspectives and responses. There's no accounting for taste. There is no right or wrong when it comes to the music you like or do not like.

I always thought that the song "Baby It's Cold Outside", particularly as sung by Carter and Charles, was about two sophisticated adults who were doing the dance that almost every man and woman have done at some point in their life with someone they like. I didn't see any coercion or threat. Unlike with "I Gotcha" I was aware that some people thought that "Baby It's Cold Outside" was a misogynist's how-to guide for date rape, but some of the people who think that also seem to be hostile to any hint of male heterosexuality so I didn't pay them too much mind. 

In any event by today's pop music standards lyrically both "I Gotcha" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" are quaint and almost innocent bedtime lullabies. So it's difficult for me to see how anyone could see these songs as menacing or intimidating. For me that's a reach, but I could be wrong. I'm not a woman. So there's that. We all process art through our own filters of lived experience.

What's your call? Are these songs harmless ditties or sexist threats?

Unpublished Letters From Nelson Mandela

In the below video former political prisoners read unpublished letters from South African freedom fighter and later President, Nelson Mandela. It's important to remember that no matter what life throws at you, you can't let it break you.

Woman Bites Off Ear At Chinese Restaurant

Over the years I've had waiters, clerks, or fast food workers occasionally get my food orders wrong. Usually it's a no harm-no foul sort of deal. Sometimes though, you run into unreasonable aggressive insulting people who will not take responsibility for mistakes or who won't refund your money or make your order correctly. And on the flipside, although we say that the customer is always right, customers exist who go out of their way to cheat, insult, harass and even assault the people who make their food. People of all types can have quick tempers and resort to violence for no good reason. 

I don't know the truth of what took place at the China 1 restaurant at Mt. Clemens. I do know that language barriers combined with poor service mixed with impatient, angry or demanding customers can cause tempers to flare. The question that must be answered is who threw the first punch. Or more precisely, who bit whom first?

MT. CLEMENS, Mich. (WXYZ) - A woman was arrested for allegedly biting off part of a man's ear during a fight with the man at a Macomb County Chinese restaurant on Thursday night. According to deputies, they were called to China 1 Restaurant in Mt. Clemens around 9:40 p.m. When they arrived, they found a man with his ear partially bitten off and a woman with a large bump on her forehead. 

Deputies say 24-year-old Jade Anderson walked into the restaurant complaining about her order. She was complaining to the owners, who are also the victims in the assault. Due to a language barrier, the victim's son translated what Anderson was saying to his parents. That's when Anderson allegedly pushed the son and threw her food onto the floor. She then started assaulting the female victim, and the male victim stepped in to protect his wife.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Book Reviews: Black Detroit

Black Detroit: A People's History of Self-Determination
by Herb Boyd
Herb Boyd is a journalist and historian. This book is a sober overview of African-American history in Detroit from its founding to current day, a personal narrative (thauthor is a Detroit native), and an impassioned love letter to all those various Black people, men, women, and children, famous and anonymous, who made Detroit ground zero for Black resistance to racism in all of its forms from slavery to segregation and beyond. 

Although the South was notorious and in some aspects unique in its racial segregation and state and individual terror utilized to enforce white supremacy, the North, including Michigan and Detroit, saw non-Blacks express just as much racial hostility towards Blacks. Blacks had to deal with housing segregation,  public and private establishments that excluded Blacks, sundown towns or neighborhoods where Black presence was only barely tolerated during the day as domestic labor, police contempt for and violence against Blacks, and of course ubiquitous employment discrimination in every single trade or career.

Despite all of that or perhaps because of all of that Black Detroiters, their backs against the wall, had no choice but to come out swinging. Because of its proximity to Canada, Detroit was one of the key hubs of the Underground Railroad. Boyd examines this theme of resistance from antebellum days through the present day. I learned that the author is related to one of my high school classmates. That classmates's family was active in the movement during the sixties and seventies. Boyd details their tragic encounter with the Detroit Police STRESS unit which was notorious for harassing, beating and murdering Black citizens. It is indeed a small world. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy Retiring

Anthony Kennedy, who often served as a swing vote on what otherwise would have been a solidly right-wing Supreme Court, is retiring. President Trump will get to make a second nomination to the Supreme Court. Both Kennedy and Roberts have occasionally fallen short of doctrinaire right-wing positions, so expect that conservatives will pressure Trump to select a replacement who is someone more trusted to vote as conservatives might expect a conservative justice to vote.  If Kennedy's replacement is in his or her forties or fifties then they could conceivably serve on the Supreme Court for another thirty or forty years.

Democrats will make a fuss about this but right now they lack the muscle to stop it. The real shift in the court may come about if Trump is able to replace someone like Ginsburg or Sotomayor. It is a testament to how far the judiciary has shifted to the right that some liberals will be sad to see Kennedy depart. 

WASHINGTON — Justice Anthony M. Kennedy announced on Wednesday that he would retire, setting the stage for a furious fight over the future direction of the Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy, 81, has long been the decisive vote in many closely divided cases. His retirement gives President Trump the opportunity to fundamentally change the course of the Supreme Court. A Trump appointee would very likely create a solid five-member conservative majority that could imperil abortion rights and expand gun rights. Justice Kennedy’s voting record was moderately conservative. 

He wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, which allowed unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions, and he joined the majority in Bush v. Gore, which handed the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. He also voted with the court’s conservatives in cases on the Second Amendment and voting rights. But Justice Kennedy was the court’s leading champion of gay rights, and he joined the court’s liberals in cases on abortion, affirmative action and the death penalty.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Supreme Court Upholds Trump's Travel Ban

As I long suspected and as this blog's legal expert predicted :" However, as it stands, the courts have basically taken the position that Presidents can freely use Section 212(f) as they see fit, so it is unlikely that Trump will lose this battle on the merits in the long run." the Supreme Court upheld Trump's travel ban. So that is that. 

WASHINGTON — President Trump acted lawfully in imposing limits on travel from several predominantly Muslim nations, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday. The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s conservatives in the majority. The court’s decision, a major statement on presidential power, marked the conclusion of a long-running dispute over Mr. Trump’s authority to make good on his campaign promises to secure the nation’s borders. 

Just a week after he took office, Mr. Trump issued his first travel ban, causing chaos at the nation’s airports and starting a cascade of lawsuits and appeals. The first ban, drafted in haste, was promptly blocked by courts around the nation. A second version, issued two months later, fared little better, although the Supreme Court allowed part of it go into effect last June when it agreed to hear the Trump administration’s appeals from court decisions blocking it. But the Supreme Court dismissed those appeals in October after the second ban expired.

The Supreme Court may have gotten this wrong, though I don't think they did. I am no lawyer or legal expert. But to paraphrase a saying the Court is not supreme because it is always right; it's supreme because it's final. If Congress wishes to do so it can write a law to remove such authority from the current President and all future ones. We should remember that Trump, like Obama before him, will not be the United States' last President. 

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.