Saturday, December 15, 2018

Movie Reviews: Asher, A Fare To Remember

Asher
directed by Michael Caton-Jones
There are only so many stories to tell. You've seen this story before. You've also heard the cliche that "this is different". I thought this movie was worthwhile.

I chose to watch this movie because it starred Ron Perlman. For my money Perlman is a rare actor who is just too cool for words. He just walks and talks cool, period. Perlman usually brings masculine gravitas and some hidden intelligence or sadness/sensitivity to his roles. Perhaps a definition of being an American is the unrelated quote by George Eliot that "It is never too late to be what you might have been". 

Although Eliot was not American, I have always found her quote to be relevant to how Americans view themselves. It mirrors similar statements by Norman Vincent Peale. That worldview is at the core of this movie. Although the hero is not a good man, he is something of an everyman. The protagonist is concerned about his career choices. He wonders if he's made the right decisions throughout the years. 

Asher, (the name is derived from the Hebrew word for happy, ironic given that the role is played by the hangdog looking Perlman), is an Israeli-American man transitioning from late middle age to old age. Asher is also a former soldier, former Mossad agent, and current contract killer for a Brooklyn based Jewish organized crime organization.  


Movie Reviews: Leviathan

Leviathan
directed by George Cosmatos
Saturday afternoon monster movie that had decent SFX but not much else.
I like watching some 80s sci-fi horror movies. Usually the computers and CGI weren't as dominant as they are now. So the special effects impressed me more. I didn't take them for granted. They differed dramatically from film to film and director to director. So I had  some occasional fun watching this movie, which was a mashup/kissing cousin/ knock-off of such similar films as Abyss, The Thing, Alien, and a few films that are best forgotten which I saw on Saturday afternoon television. You know the drill. A bunch of people are working in an environment which is 100% hostile to human life (underwater, outer space, alien planet, etc). Someone runs across something that shouldn't exist, gets infected and proceeds to willingly or not, infect his or her teammates. 

If there is a breach of some kind everyone dies. But maybe the breach is better than taking this virus/infection/parasite/alien back to civilization. The problem with many movies like this is that the black guy often dies first. To add insult to injury he often dies in some stupid sacrifice for the white hero/heroine. Well this film got rid of one of those problems. So I guess for the time that was progress.

This movie was pretty predictable. It did have some well known faces. Some of the actors and actresses went on to bigger and better things. Others pretty much stayed in this pocket for the rest of their careers. So it goes.

Michigan Republican Governor Weakens Minimum Wage/Paid Sick Leave

Apparently, many Republicans don't really believe in democracy if by democracy you mean that the people ultimately get the final say. What they do believe in though is using the process of democracy to thwart the will of the voters. Lose an election? Rewrite the laws and rules so that the incoming elected officials don't have the same power that you had when you were in office. 

Getting worried about ballot initiatives but don't want to be seen to oppose them before an election? Adopt them and then immediately gut them after the election.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed controversial bills to weaken minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives that had been headed toward the Nov. 6 ballot before intervention by the Republican-led Legislature.

The minimum wage law will raise Michigan’s rate from $9.25 to $12.05 per hour by 2030, instead of the $12 by 2022 proposed under the initiative. The minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers will rise to $4.58 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2024. The paid sick leave law now exempts more than 160,000 small businesses that have fewer than 50 employees each from a mandate that would have otherwise applied to every company in the state.

Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: Woman Attacks Man Over Parking Space

Run Up Get Done Up
Equal Rights Means Equal Lefts
Don't Start None, Won't Be None

There are men in this world who go about demanding to be killed. They argue in gambling games; they jump out of their cars in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender. These people wander through the streets calling out "Kill me, kill me."
-Mario Puzo:The Godfather

I've blogged before about physical altercations between men and women. I don't know if such fights are more common now or we just hear about them more often. I think the woman in this story might have watched Wonder Woman or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon a few too many times. Absent a direct and immediate need for self-defense, most women should avoid fights with most men. It's not fair but it is what it is. On average, women just aren't in the same weight/muscle/strength class as men. That's not saying anything negative about women. I would also do my best to avoid fights with Deontay Wilder or Brock Lesnar. The results wouldn't be pretty. 

We are justified when we use violence to defend ourselves. Sometimes, rarely, a desperate vicious smaller aggressive person with better training, more speed or some other advantage can carry the day against a larger individual. But we have weight classes in combat sports for a reason. It's the same reason we don't encourage women to fight men and scorn men who attack women. We shouldn't encourage anyone, male or female, big or small, to initiate violence. That's not self-defense. The woman who punches out the man who grabs her fundament is justified. The woman who hits a man who has not hit her is not. A recent San Antonio story illustrated these truths.

Armored Truck Loses Cash: Do You Keep It?

How moral or self-interested are you? If the grocery clerk accidentally gives you a $20 bill when she should have given you a $10 bill will you point out the mistake? If you are at a self-serve grocery kiosk and you notice that the man ahead of you is in such a rush that he has left his change behind, will you alert him to his mistake and/or run after him to give him his money? 

Does it make a difference if it's just a small amount or a few $20 bills? Does it make a difference if anyone notices you? If it's too late to catch the guy do you hand the money to the clerk? Or do you swipe the cash and congratulate the universe for finally doing you a solid for once?  Things could get well, interesting, if the fellow realizes he left his money in the kiosk and comes back to ask you where it is. Recently some people in New Jersey had to ask themselves some similar questions, when the door latch on an armored truck malfunctioned, spilling cash on the expressway. The driver was trying to gather up the cash and put it back in the truck. Other people had different ideas.


An armored truck spilled cash on a New Jersey highway Thursday, leading to two crashes as drivers “went a little bit crazy,” stopping their cars and scrambling to grab the swirling money. The frenzy happened during morning rush hour in East Rutherford, near MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play. In online videos, a man in uniform is seen running through traffic trying to collect money, while others exited their cars to do the same.


H1-B Visa Worker Assaults Woman on Spirit Airlines

Supposedly India is the most dangerous nation in the world for women. It's difficult to compare sexual assault statistics between the US and India because of different definitions of rape and dissimilar cultural expectations about reporting and blame. The official statistics show that there are more rapes per 100,000 in the US than in India. 

I don't know about that. I do know that one Prabhu Ramamoorthy, an Indian national, assaulted a woman on an airplane. Fortunately the woman immediately identified Ramamoorthy as the attacker.

With his wife crying in the courtroom, a Rochester Hills man was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting a sleeping woman on an airplane, sticking his hands down her pants and penetrating her genitalia while his wife sat next to him. As prosecutors put it, Prabhu Ramamoorthy "committed one of the most brazen airplane sexual assaults ever prosecuted in this district" when he knowingly took advantage of a sleeping, intoxicated woman who could not fight back.

The 35-year-old defendant, who chose not to speak at his sentencing hearing or address the victim, will be deported to India when he gets out of prison. He will never be allowed back into the United States. U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg said that he was "concerned" that the defendant offered no expression of remorse, but that he wouldn't hold it against him, noting defendants have a right to remain silent and can't be forced into saying anything.



Saturday, December 8, 2018

Book Reviews: Elevation, Legend

Elevation
by Stephen King
This is a very short novel that might more properly be called a short story or novella. It's something that could be read in a few days or even a few hours. It's a mug's game trying to determine authorial intent or meaning in fiction but this is probably the third King book in a row where King seems to be going out of his way to emphasize how important it is to be nice to each other as well as pointing out the fact that life is short. So take that for what you will. It's set in Castle Rock, Maine. There are some tongue in cheek references to other King works. 

This is not, repeat not a horror novel. There are no things that go bump in the night, sadistic demons who appear as clowns, malign intelligent eyes growing on characters' chests (or other body parts) or psychopathic child killers who serve other dimensional entities. So if you're looking for those things you won't find them here. On the other hand if you have been wary of reading King because of his general propensity to write scary stories or for that matter long stories then this could be an enjoyable venture into the short end of the pool. The story is occasionally a bit didactic but I think that most people of King's age have earned the right to share whatever wisdom they've gained during their time here. 

It's worth noting that (1) quality writing is quality writing regardless of the subject and (2) over the years King has written quite a few stories that either lacked supernatural elements or had them in only very modest amounts. So this isn't his first time at the rodeo.

Scott Carey is a divorced web designer. He makes a good living for himself; he is able to work from home for the most part. His life hasn't been great, but it hasn't been that bad either. Scott has one big problem however.

Who Peed In Your Corn Flakes?

Well I guess we know the answer to that question now. If your cornflakes are a little soggy or your rice krispies don't go snap, crackle and pop, the fault probably lies with one Gregory Stanton.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A Tennessee man faces up to three years in prison for urinating on a Kellogg's cereal conveyor belt at a Memphis facility.
News outlets report 49-year-old Gregory Stanton pleaded guilty last month to tampering with consumer products. He was indicted by a grand jury in September. Stanton worked for the plant in 2014 and posted a video online in 2016 of him urinating on the conveyor belt. The video led the company to alert law enforcement and launched an investigation that involved the Food & Drug Administration.

Cyber Flashing: Sexual Harrassment on Your Phone

So you're out and about minding your own business and suddenly out of the blue you get a phone message. Oh boy! A message, a message! Well who could it be? Does your spouse or special rider need to speak to you? Maybe your kid's in some sort of trouble? Perhaps a sibling or friend has sent you a joke? 

Maybe a hospitalized elderly relative you just visited needs you to do something? Maybe a parent is sending you a reminder of something you just spoke about, as parents are often prone to do. So you look down at your phone to see what the message is and who sent it. Well, no it's nothing like that. Some anonymous idiot calling himself something stupid has sent you an unsolicited pic of a body part you really don't care to see at the moment or maybe not ever.

Rebecca Odorisio was traveling home on a crowded A train on Tuesday when a photo suddenly appeared on her phone from someone identifying himself as “The Enterprise.” It was a picture of an erect penis, sent to her over AirDrop, an iPhone feature that allows users to send photos and documents to anyone within 30 feet who has left that feature open. Disgusted, she quickly rejected it. “I felt like I had been punched in the gut,” Ms. Odorisio, 31, a Brooklyn-based actress and singer, said Wednesday. She said it was not the first time something like that had happened to her, adding, “It was extremely violating.” 

Kathe Hannauer, 58, had a similar experience last month, as she traveled from Brooklyn to Manhattan on a crowded train during the evening rush. When an image of male genitalia suddenly appeared on her screen, she said she felt more surprised than flustered. “It was kind of like, ‘At my age?’” she said. “No one has harassed me in the longest time.” 


Thursday, December 6, 2018

French Fuel Tax Protests

"Let me tell you how it will be/It's one for you and nineteen for me. Because I'm the taxman." 
-Taxman
The Beatles
It's very hard to determine ahead of time when people have had enough. Often the fuse is lit but no one knows when the bomb will explode. Governments and dissidents alike would love to have the answer to that question. It would make their work a lot easier. If you're a repressive but smart government official you might want to keep the proverbial pot warmed just enough so that the frog doesn't realize he's being cooked.

If you're a dashing would be freedom fighter you don't want to waste your time, good looks, energy, youth and life trying to rally apathetic people to the barricades who would rather be home watching sports or downloading NSFW material. In France recently we had a reminder of what happens when governments get a little too far ahead of what populations will accept. After three weeks of protests and riots which saw three people die as French police and civilians attacked each other with hammers, tear gas and water cannon, the French President Macron initially announced that there would be a six month suspension of a 25 cent gasoline tax increase. Later on the government said the tax was cancelled. This tax was sold in part as a green initiative required by the Paris Climate Accords but because Macron has cut taxes on the rich this tax wasn't exactly popular with people of more modest income or wealth or those who live in rural areas and have less access to public transportation. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Movie Reviews: Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley
directed by Edmund Goulding
This is one of the better noir films I've seen. He's probably too old to do a remake of this but I couldn't help but think that George Clooney would have done well being cast as the lead in a remake. Or maybe Ben Affleck or Michael B. Jordan. It would have to be someone who could almost effortlessly embody the mix of danger, good looks and loose morals that Hollywood sharp dressed leading man Tyrone Power did in this film, which was quite different from his normal fare. This movie wasn't a hit when it first came out, likely because the material could be construed as downbeat. Nevertheless Power's physicality and grace are essential to the film's story and looks.

Carny barker Stan Carlisle (Power) is a smooth man who employs his verbal adeptness  to drum up interest in the traveling carnival in which he works.  Stan is both fascinated and disgusted by his fellow carnival workers, particularly the lowly geek (the man who bites the heads off chickens). Stan can't imagine how anyone can fall so low. Stan doesn't intend for that to happen to him. No sir.  Stan has big plans for himself.  He is chummy with older fellow carny worker Mademoiselle Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith). 

Zeena and Pete used to be big time. They worked a mind-reading hustle before Pete's drinking habits ruined it. The couple used a secret code to tip each other off to the correct questions and answers. But Zeena doesn't want to share that code with Stan. She's saving it for a rainy day when she can hopefully get the drunk Pete some help. And she won't give it up for money or even that other currency that men and women use with each other.

The Border Fracas

TIJUANA, Mexico — A peaceful march by Central American migrants waiting at the southwestern United States border veered out of control on Sunday afternoon, as hundreds of people tried to evade a Mexican police blockade and run toward a giant border crossing that leads into San Diego. 

In response, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency shut down the border crossing in both directions and fired tear gas to push back migrants from the border fence. The border was reopened later Sunday evening. The episode comes at a time of growing tension on both sides of the border and promised to become the newest flash point in the story of a caravan that was the target of President Trump’s anti-immigrant rallying cry during the midterm elections. LINK

I don't have much to say about this that I haven't said before. It's important to understand that there are few if any sovereign nations that will routinely let masses of people enter without permission. The US isn't one of them, strictly speaking. If you zerg rush a border there are basically three choices that the authorities have. (1) The authorities can back down and let you in. (2) The authorities can use non-lethal force to prevent your entry. (3) The authorities can use lethal force to prevent your entry. If the authorities make the first choice they will invite more people to do the same thing.

A border is force made visible. It tells everyone else that this section of the planet is ours. You can't enter or stay without our permission. Consent is everything here. It's the difference between extending an invitation to someone to visit my home and someone entering my home without my permission. It's the same action in each instance but I will have utterly different reactions. Consent matters.

WNBA Players Opt Out Of Collective Bargaining Agreement

The iconic American retailer Sears has declared bankruptcy. Sears has limited time to liquidate or find a new owner. Many Sears stores will close. Many Sears employees will lose their jobs.

Sears was a victim of poor management and ruthless competition from brick and mortar companies like Target, Lowes, Home Depot, and Macy's as well as online behemoths like Amazon. This is a good time to visit your local Sears outlet and buy something on sale. It is a bad time for a Sears employee to demand better pay or conditions or threaten to quit. Sears workers lack leverage. Sears is looking to shed workers and cut costs. It probably won't survive. It would be laughable for Sears workers to say they deserve more money because they work at a historic American company. That's not how business works.

Unfortunately the WNBA players union isn't run by people who understand business, demand, profit and loss, leverage, or who pay any attention to money losing enterprises. The WNBA players, apparently miffed that they neither earn the money that the NBA players earn or share the same revenue percentage that NBA players share, decided in early November to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement, presumably of course, hoping to make more money. 

Birds Use Quantum Physics to Navigate

It is difficult for me to accept and believe that at some levels physics is a list of possibilities AND that particles can be at two places at once or even not "decide" where they are until they are observed. So in a very real way we can make our own reality. 

Spooky action at a distance is what Einstein called it. But apparently this is what mathematics and physics tells us. What is more interesting to me though is not the insights humans gain from supercollider experiments but the apparent fact that birds, who by most standards, weren't considered to be the Einsteins of the animal world, use quantum physics/biology to navigate. And that would mean that a bird's perception of and experience of reality is EXTREMELY different from our own.

As little as a decade ago, scientists were sure that the chemistry of life and the weird chemistry of the quantum world were completely separate things. Quantum effects were usually observed only on the nanometer scale, surrounded by hard vacuum, ultra-low temperatures, and a tightly controlled laboratory environment. Biology, however, is a macroscopic world that is warm, messy, and anything but controlled. It seemed elementary that a quantum phenomenon such as 'coherence', in which the wave patterns of every part of a system stay in step, wouldn't last a microsecond in the tumultuous realm of the cell. It would be simply unthinkable.

Or so we thought…



NYPD Cops Caught Planting Evidence

As we've discussed many times before the problem with police is not just a question of individual personal bigotry. It's that police are systemically directed and employed disproportionately against Black men. The NYPD still has arrest and ticket quotas to meet. If a cop doesn't meet these quotas he doesn't get promoted. He doesn't get plum assignments or overtime. There are a million and one ways that the command structure can mess with a cop thought to be insufficiently productive or aggressive, 

The problem is that judges and prosecutors, when faced with evidence of police misconduct and lies, will do their best to turn a blind eye to such crimes, even if they have to protect the police from themselves by halting a trial or hearing. And obviously when police investigate themselves it's quite rare that they ever find that they did wrong. Although this incident could have been much worse, it's important to remember that it's still pretty bad. A young man spent two weeks in Rikers for a crime he didn't commit, while a cop willing to commit perjury and plant evidence is still on the street along with his buddies who will insist they didn't see anything funny.


The New York Times has obtained body-camera recordings that document one arrest earlier this year on Staten Island. The videos offer a rare look at a type of encounter the public seldom sees, and show how aggressively the police will pursue a minor marijuana case, in some circumstances, and the subtle social dynamics that shape policing in New York. 
But the videos also raise questions about how far the police will go to make an arrest. Lawyers for the defendant, Lasou Kuyateh, argue that the recordings contain possible proof that one of the police officers planted a marijuana cigarette in Mr. Kuyateh’s car. The officer and the Police Department deny the allegation. 

Music Reviews: I Don't Want Nobody: Eddie Harris

I can't remember when I first heard this song. It might have been from my father's collection. But it is also likely that I heard it when I was visiting or hanging out with one of my various uncles. My father might have found some of Harris' work too avant-garde. I know he had some of his music though. One uncle is adamant that it was from his collection and that the other uncle in question never ever ever had the piece. It doesn't matter. 

I not so recently picked up a cd with Eddie Harris and David Newman on it: separate albums. The Eddie Harris portion was his album release titled I Need Some Money. I must have had this cd for a year or so and just got around to listening to it completely, which is when I remembered the song "I Don't Want Nobody". It's funny how music can jog memories and take you back to better places in your life. 

As mentioned before, Eddie Harris was one of those magical musicians who was equally at home in virtually all facets of music, particularly the various strains of African American music. This release and this song straddled the lines among gospel, blues, jazz, soul, rock, classical and more while being all of them simultaneously. In this song Eddie Harris weds the old to the new. He opens up by utilizing electronics to sing falsetto through his saxophone while laying down a gospel groove on organ. 

You Found $7.5 Million: Now What???

There are many movies or books that start with the premise of some everyman (everywoman) finding or coming into the possession of an item and then discovering that said item is either worth a bajillion dollars or has cash close to that amount hidden inside.

Often, heck inevitably, this item or cash belongs or used to belong to some truly sadistic organized crime figures, selfish evil business executives, or perhaps to a shadowy government agency that can with the push of a button make someone's entire family disappear in a black site forever. Whoever the previous owners are, they are serious people who will not shrink from torture, beatings, or worse in order to recover "their" property.


Well there's no story if the everyman just rolls over and gives them what they want is there? Maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Maybe he's a loser who's tired of being pushed around. Maybe he's an ideologue who has been waiting for just this opportunity to expose malfeasance. Maybe he's a qualified man supported by his own dangerous familial or business networks and can back up a pugnacious stance of "finders keepers, losers weepers". Or maybe he's been waiting for an opportunity to quit his job, get a facelift, and disappear overseas with various buxom supermodels. The entertainment possibilities are endless.


Real life is different from fictional events on screen or in print.