Saturday, March 31, 2018

Water's Wet, and Black Men Still Face Discrimination

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

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

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

Movie Reviews: Pyewacket

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

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

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

Bat Attack In Florida Road Rage Incident

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

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

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

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

Goose Attacks Soldiers

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

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

Alabama Sheriffs Steal Money Meant For Prisoners

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

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

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

The Resurgence of Nationalism

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

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


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


Thursday, March 29, 2018

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

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

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

I'm Off the Clock!

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

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

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

Monday, March 26, 2018

Twelve Stalker Songs

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

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


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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Book Reviews: Host

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

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

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

Saturday, March 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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


Barney Helps Women Get Their Groove Back

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

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

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

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


Movie Reviews: Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

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

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

Amy Wax and Black Inferiority

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


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

Veterinarian Sign


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

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Movie Reviews: Death Wish (2018), Midnighters

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

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Racist Fireman Attacks Black Child

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

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

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

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

Book Reviews: 11/22/63

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

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


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