Monday, March 31, 2014

Are Rap Music Lyrics Criminal Confessions?

Did you know that there is an increasingly frequent prosecutorial tactic of using rap music lyrics, or at least rap music lyrics written by black musicians, as evidence of criminal activity or conspiracy or as crimes in and of themselves? It's something that doesn't make a lot of sense to me but there are a lot of things in this world that don't make a lot of sense to me. In order to make these kinds of arguments you would think that prosecutors would have to do violence to all sorts of standards of evidence as well as the first amendment and basic logic but I'm not a prosecutor. I thought that you might have some sort of right to free speech and the ability to create fiction, even disturbing fiction, without having it be seized upon as a criminal confession but apparently I was wrong.
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — The case had gone cold. Four years after the 2007 murders of Christopher Horton, 16, and Brian Dean, 20, detectives here had little to go on. No suspects. No sign of the gun used to shoot the men. No witnesses to the shooting outside a house where officers found Mr. Horton sprawled next to a trash can and Mr. Dean on the front porch.  But in 2011, the case was reassigned to a detective who later came across what he considered a compelling piece of evidence: a YouTube video of Antwain Steward, a local rapper with the stage name Twain Gotti, performing his song “Ride Out.” “But nobody saw when I [expletive] smoked him,” Mr. Steward sang on the video. “Roped him, sharpened up the shank, then I poked him, 357 Smith & Wesson beam scoped him.” Mr. Steward denies any role in the killings, but the authorities took the lyrics to be a boast that he was responsible and, based largely on the song, charged him last July with the crimes. 
Today, his case is one of more than three dozen prosecutions in the past two years in which rap lyrics have played prominent roles. The proliferation of cases has alarmed many scholars and defense lawyers, who say that independent of a defendant’s guilt or innocence, the lyrics are being unfairly used to prejudice judges and juries who have little understanding that, for all its glorification of violence, gangsta rappers are often people who have assumed over-the-top and fictional personas. In some of the cases, the police say the lyrics represent confessions. More often, the lyrics are used to paint an unsavory picture of a defendant to help establish motive and intent. And, increasingly, the act of writing the lyrics themselves is being prosecuted — not because they are viewed as corroborating an incident, but because prosecutors contend that the words themselves amount to a criminal threat.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Movie Reviews: Better Living Through Chemistry, Homefront

Better Living Through Chemistry
directed by Geoff Moore and David Posamentier
Why are there so many movies about a nebbish who is getting pushed around by life, meets a woman who is a little kooky and slowly transforms himself with the woman's enthusiastic help into a more aggressive, confident, sexually alluring and downright dominant man? Are there movies when it is the woman who makes the transformation? I'm sure there must be although off the top of my head I can think of only one recent such film, The English Teacher, at this time. Anyway this is an old story and one that is done just well enough to make this movie worth a look see. Ultimately the movie wasn't quite daring enough. It got just close enough to the ledge to tease you that it was something truly out there but went for a more or less conventional ending. So this was an okay movie but probably not something that is a 100% must see film. It was enjoyable and occasionally laugh out loud funny but not something that you haven't seen before. As with a lot of stories like this the question is not so much is the story new and exciting but rather is the story well directed, produced and acted. Did you find the characters believable and/or sympathetic. I think the answer in the case would be mostly yes. Of course if you aren't old enough to have had a few regrets, have wondered if your life is offtrack or to have occasionally had the strange feeling that on life's expressway you missed your exit about 20 miles back and are now lost and low on gas, some of this movie's humor might appear a bit forced. YMMV.

This is a directorial debut. Douglas Varney (Sam Rockwell-who is perfect for this role) is a pharmacist who is on the verge of taking over the family business. Unfortunately it's not strictly speaking his family's business. No you see Doug married into this business. His bossy domineering father-in-law Walter Bishop (Ken Howard) is finally retiring as the owner and operator of the town's pharmacy. Walter has transferred the ownership of the pharmacy to Doug. However, Walter being the man he is, simply can't imagine that Doug really knows what he's doing. So Walter remains full of unwanted advice and irritating actions, like ensuring that the store's sign still reads "Bishop's" instead of "Varney's".

Friday, March 28, 2014

Federal Judge Richard Kopf Supports Professional Dress For Women: Called Sexist

This issue of professional dress never really goes away because humans are animals when you get down to it. I enjoy writing about it because it amuses me. A long time ago when I was working in a different industry and for a different company than I do now, I and a few of my fellow plebes were leaving for the day and happened to share a elevator ride down to the lobby with a firm partner. This man was known to be chronically irascible. I think we all hoped to just spend the 20-30 seconds needed to reach the lobby in silence. No such luck. The partner noticed that one of us, fortunately not me, was dressed in what he considered to be a cheap and unimpressive suit. As the firm's business model involved sending people worldwide selling or producing quite expensive accounting, financial and information technology solutions, the partner was concerned that my co-worker was not representing the firm professionally. The partner told the employee that "We pay you too much to dress as s**** as you do." He asked him where he got that suit and told him to take it back. We reached the lobby. Everyone else scattered but the partner and my hapless co-worker remained behind. The partner wasn't finished with his lecture. I learned the next day that after the partner had finished tearing this guy a new one, he arranged for his own tailor to create a group of new suits for the employee.

For certain businesses and at certain levels within those companies, how you dress is almost as or equally as important as what you know or how well you do your job. This has changed somewhat in America as casual workplaces have become more common but certain industries haven't really budged all that much. There are expectations of a professional demeanor and style. This is true for both men and women. I no longer am required to wear a suit every day but the managers two and definitely three levels above me are always in suits.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Kobe Bryant Disses the Miami Heat Tribute to Trayvon Martin

In the March 31st issue of the New Yorker there is an interesting profile of NBA star Kobe Bryant in which he discusses his life, career and of course Trayvon Martin. But before I get to that I'd like to tell a quick story about Kobe.

Kobe's family is from West Philly, where I am also from. His parents, and uncle were close friends with my parents and uncle back in the day. Kobe's uncle John Cox was actually one of my teachers in (summer -- don't ask) High School.

When Kobe's father "Jellybean" Bryant left the NBA he moved his family to Italy, where Kobe essentially grew up -- but when they would visit Philadelphia from time to time, Kobe's mom would come to my mother's hair salon for her new hairdo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Guest Post: Are We Banning the Wrong B Word?

Today's guest post comes to us from a fellow attorney and good friend of mine who I've known since law school, and she blogs under the moniker "Long Island Sweet Tea."  Please share your thoughts on her post in the comments section.


If you haven’t already heard, Sheryl Sandberg and a few celebrities, well-known politicians (Condoleezza Rice, BeyoncĂ© and Jennifer Garner to name a few) and organizations (Girls Scouts) are campaigning to ban the word bossy from our vocabulary. Sandberg, author of the book Lean In, which I’ve blogged about a few times, believes that girls are mislabeled bossy when they assert themselves as leaders. Whereas, boys who demonstrate bossy characteristics are heralded for their assertiveness.  The ban bossy website states that “by middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys — a trend that continues into adulthood.”  Are Sandberg and her supporters right?  Should we ban the usage of the word bossy?

Before I began penning this post, I vacillated on my position to this question. Were girls growing up to become women who hesitate in asserting themselves for fear of reprisal — being called bossy?  Even if that were true, banning the word isn’t the solution. Rather, we need to learn the true definition of the word bossy and teach others to use it in context. Whether you use the term, bossy, pushy, bully, overly aggressive, abrasive, etc., it all means the same thing.  I don’t think Sandberg is prepared to go on a crusade to overhaul Webster’s Dictionary.

Bossy became a word in the late 1800s as a derivation of the word boss. Let’s face it, we all know some bossy bosses who are male and female.  A bossy person is someone who orders others around with very little empathy toward those on the receiving end.  Whereas, a leader is someone who has mastered the fine art of asking others to do things, using a non-forceful or menacing tone.  This, in its simplest terms, is the distinction between being a leader and being bossy.  So what our children really need to learn is this distinction; no one likes a bossy person, irrespective of their gender.  Bossy people may get farther than those with demure personalities. However, an individual with great leadership skills will always get the farthest.  As parents, it is important to not limit your daughter’s assertiveness as long as she is being kind.  Oftentimes that tone is mimicked by what she hears from her parents. Similarly, boys should be scolded, rather than praised, when their tone becomes despotic. Children will understand the subtlety more easily if it is demonstrated by their parents.  The intonation that parents use with one another could eradicate bossy behavior while keeping the word in our lexicon to remind us how not to behave.  In other words, the manner in which we communicate could eradicate bossy behavior in our kids.

There are other derogatory B words that relate to women that Sandberg should consider eliminating.  For
instance, we have turned the word “b!tch” on its head. Lil Kim made us all want to be a bad b!tch and a queen b!tch; and Kelis embraced her bossy demeanor by telling us she’s the “b!tch we love to hate,” and BeyoncĂ©, one of the spokeswomen for the Ban Bossy campaign, sings “bow down b!tches.”  Meanwhile the woman who is disliked is referred to as the crazy b!tch.  More important than not being bossy, women don’t want to come across as being b!tchy (in the negative sense of the word).  Unlike the word b!tch, bossy is a well-defined term that hasn’t been turned on its head nor is it vastly embraced.  Even if we teach children the true meaning of the word bossy, the little girl who would have been called bossy in middle school will still be mischaracterized as a b!tch (or b!tchy) either by herself or by her peers when she becomes older.  So the real campaign should be to ban the use of the word b!tch.  There is nothing pleasant about the definition of the word b!tch, yet we (myself included at times) have embraced it, using it as a term of endearment as well as a way of demeaning other women.  So while Sheryl Sandberg is worried about having her leadership style misconstrued as bossy, she’s probably being called a b!tch by people who love and hate her.  This seems more problematic to the struggle for gender equality because the insecurity will continue only masked in a different term.  Although I respect Sandberg’s premise that words are a powerful tool and we should eliminate words that can harm us, banning the word bossy isn’t the approach that women should take if we truly seek to empower ourselves.  I admire her efforts but she chose the wrong B word.


What's your take?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Detroit Superland Market

One of the worst things about racism is that black people tend to internalize it. This is true of classism, sexism and all of the other "ism's" which still plague humanity. If you subconsciously think and accept that you are less than someone else then you will start to behave in ways that support that line of thinking. I have seen black people that would literally shoot another black person just for looking at them the wrong way meekly accept bigoted language or actions from white people. There are some black people who would raise a fuss over poor service from a black owned business who don't say a mumbling word when they're the last party seated at a bad table in a white owned restaurant and so on. One of the things that my parents tried to teach me and my siblings is that as a consumer, as a citizen, as a black person, you should never ever ever accept mistreatment, poor goods or poor service from anyone, no matter their race. Demand and insist upon respect. And if someone is unable or unwilling to do that don't be an idiot and give them your money, work or time anyway. Shop or work elsewhere. I have tried to live up to those teachings.

I was reminded of those long ago lessons when a local news station had a short story on a particularly unsanitary local grocery on the west side of Detroit. I've written before on how the majority of grocery stores and convenience stores or "party" stores in Detroit, and for that matter likely in the entirety of Wayne County are owned and operated by people of Middle Eastern descent. This has led to regular static because of allegations of disrespect, poor store conditions, sexual harassment, violence and refusal to hire local (read "Black") employees aimed at the ownership and allegations or incidents of theft and violence caused by the clientele. From time to time, a case where one side or the other does something really egregious makes the news.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Water Tower: Stand and Salute!

When I drive through this city and pass this building I occasionally wonder if I should stop the vehicle, get out and give a snappy salute. This building was originally erected in 1889-1890 as part of a Ypsilanti, Michigan water supply project. The designer was one William Coats. It is unfortunately lost to history as to whether Coats was laughing up his sleeve when he submitted the design to the city leaders or whether they were in on the joke as well. I can't imagine that anyone looked at the completed building and didn't immediately crack a grin. At a time when in some circles modesty required women to cover up ankles or for both men and women to wear bathing suits that covered up almost everything, it seems astonishing that this building looks like it does. In any event the building's strong and apparently deliberate resemblance to a certain body part possessed by 1/2 of humanity can't be missed and is still to this day a source of local humor. 

There are jokes galore about this building, most of which I won't repeat here. Still, I have heard from some people that touching this building or giving it a hug will immediately cure erectile dysfunction in men or cause women of any age to become spontaneously pregnant. Supposedly if any virgin ever graduates from nearby Eastern Michigan University this building will crumble and fall apart. I know nothing about the sexual habits of EMU students but I do know that the Ypsi Water tower is still standing strong. It has won a contest for the most phallic building in the world. So far nobody has seriously linked this building to "rape culture" or fears of assault. This isn't Wellesley . Maybe 1000 years from now anthropologists will find this building and theorize the existence of some strange fertility cult. Who knows if we go on after we die but if we do I'd like to think that somewhere, in some other space and time, William Coats is still chuckling.

Book Reviews: The Prince of Thorns, The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics

Prince of Thorns
by Mark Lawrence
This book was a gift from my brother. I didn't love this book. I may or may not read the sequels. My biggest issue was that the story is told in first person by a teen sociopath. Many stories use themes of young men and women who have been viciously wronged, sinned against or had something stolen from them. They then turn to a life of crime and outlawry. Sometimes they have a fair end they're trying to obtain by foul means. Sometimes they only rob those who are political enemies. Sometimes they have just devolved morally until a previous comrade or moral guide shames them into returning to righteousness. Tolkien used this trope in his Turin Turambar stories in The Silmarrilion. GRRM uses this both in the Brotherhood Without Banners and with a few other characters I can't name yet for spoiler reasons. This trope is played for laughs in the The Pirates of Penzance and in The Princess Bride. Michael Moorcock and Robert E. Howard both used this in their Elric and Conan stories. In some legends Robin Hood was a loyal noble retainer to King Richard III or a brave Saxon resistance leader against Norman invaders. This is an OLD storyline both in fiction and reality. But to my memory few or none of the stories I mentioned above opened with the protagonist and his friends completing a rape and slaughter campaign against poorly armed peasants. We didn't have the "hero" musing about how he'd prefer sex with a willing woman or cursing the fact that he has to wait in line to "enjoy" an unwilling teen girl. We didn't have heroes stripping and despoiling the dead or killing a person because he didn't like the man's tone of voice. No hero mocked a farmer as he died or questioned him about the location of any hidden gold or daughters.

Now we can argue that this behavior is the reality of how armed groups of men behave when they have no powerful state, leader or organization to restrain them. If you give someone unchecked power of life and death over other people it's a good bet that various bad behaviors will occur. Human beings are mixes of angels and devils. And war is no place for angels. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Kim & Kanye - Cover of Vogue Magazine


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Anita Hill Documentary (Opening 3/21 in New York City, San Francisco & Los Angeles)


The year was 1991. The women's rights movement and the fight against gender inequality in the workplace, hit the main stage -- The United States Congress, during the Senate confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas. We lost that day. Anita Hill who was a victim of sexual harrasement in the workplace, arrived on the Hill in October 1991 to testify and do what she thought was the right thing. Anita attempted to change the dialogue and handling of sexual haarasement in the workplace. Anita Hill thought she would set herself and millions of other women free, by telling the truth. What she did not anticipate, was the media shit storm that ensued at the hands of US Senate Judiciary Committee (then led by Senator Joseph Biden), in which she was publicy put on trial for the harrasement she suffered.

We all know how this story ended. Clarence Thomas was confirmed and has now been on the bench of the United States Supreme Court for over 22-years.

Uncle Tom, High-Tech Lynching, Uppity -- who could forget these words.

Ladies and Gentleman, in a must see documentary Anita Hill finally tells us her full story.
Watch the trailer

HBO Game of Thrones S4 Trailer: The Devil Inside

Enjoy the latest HBO Game of Thrones trailer embedded below. As always, if you've already read the books or know what happens next please don't reveal spoilers for this season. Youtube is full of people who gain perverse joy from doing things like that. Weird. Anyway there are a lot of new characters. And some older characters go thru changes. I am looking forward to this season. The creators have started to move the pacing of book events around more and more. There is less of a one-to-one relationship between book and season. This could be good. The creators have said they don't want to do more than seven seasons. GRRM only has five books written at this time. He's not the fastest writer so there's a chance that unless he's trolling everyone and already has books six and seven written, the story ending could be revealed on screen before print. We shall see. Expect the unexpected, both in life and in the trailer.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Is President Obama a lame duck?

Good morning. Unfortunately this is another day when it looks like the overseer at my salt mine employment wants to know in exact detail how much salt I've mined over the past month, where are the records and why didn't I mine more salt. So as a result this will be a short post but it is something that has been on my mind lately. Is President Obama a lame duck? Usually, lame duck status only accrues to a President in the final two years or less remaining of his term, after the November midterms, when his party has usually lost seats in the House or Senate or even if they haven't done so are looking forward, often for reasons of self-preservation, to the next political cycle, which by definition won't include the current President. Much like the lag period between a corporate boss announcing that they're retiring and the time at which they actually do so, people who used to toady to the boss or at least grudgingly offer respect to the position, may suddenly discover heretofore unknown independence of thought and action. The boss' requests may be ignored or slow-walked. If the boss was never much liked in the first place, open insubordination is not out of the realm of possibility. This is particularly true when the boss was not well plugged into the power structures of the company. Other power brokers can even subtly or not so subtly encourage such behavior, especially if your workplace is a real dog-eat-dog kind of environment. I've heard that Washington D.C. is such a place where the weak are killed and eaten, politically speaking.

Now as far as some more right-wing citizens were concerned of course the President lacked legitimacy in the first place so they saw him as a lame duck from the start despite being elected twice by comfortable margins. But some recent events and data should give the President and his supporters, if not fits, cause for serious concern.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Movie Reviews: 300: Rise of an Empire, The Counselor, The Bagman

300: Rise of an Empire
directed by Noam Murro
I adored the original 300 movie. This film dramatically ups the violence and blood splatter but it didn't satisfy emotionally. It can be difficult for sequels to match or improve upon the original. Even if they are good movies in their own right, often the sequel is retreading what we've seen before. Slowed down and sped up athletic violence? Close up depiction of blood spray? Someone seeing a close relative die? Been there done that. Whereas Butler's King Leonidas was a baritone big baaaaad man, Athenian Admiral/General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is more of a thinking man's leader. He's known more for superior tactics, deception and resoluteness than for macho come get some attitude, although he'll show that at times. It was Themistocles who killed the Persian Emperor Darius (Yigal Naor), Xerxes' father, though he does not brag of this. He's basically Odysseus, the intellectual warrior to Leonidas' brawling Ajax

Themistocles will give public voice to his doubts, fears or mistakes. Leonidas had no doubts, fears or mistakes, not in public anyway. This fits the stereotypical characteristics of Athenians and Spartans quite well but unfortunately, though it was per creator Frank Miller, purposely done, I thought it left something out of the lead role. I only rarely had the idea that the actor was actually the role and not just acting the role. There was something missing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Reactions to Kordell Stewart & Porsha Williams Divorce?

To be clear up front, I am not a fan of the "Real Housewives of [whatever]" TV shows.  In fact, I think they're doing a disservice to the very concept of marriage and, moreover, sending an extremely opportunistic and selfish message about what it means to get married.  It's basically a show centered around a bunch of talentless women whose sole claim to fame in life is that they married (and in most cases, divorced) a rich guy.  This message is especially damaging to the Black Community who see women and men who look like themselves portrayed by these stereotypically foolish multi-millionaire athletes who, for reasons unknown, trust that the stereotypical gold digging beauty queen that he married will not file for divorce and take 1/2 of his stuff just like every other "Real Housewife" on the show has done since the beginning of the series.  Recently, however, one of these so-called "Real Housewives" found out the hard way that marrying and then divorcing an NFL player is not exactly the guaranteed road to riches that gold diggers across America have grown accustomed to hearing about.  Per good old TMZ:

"Real Housewives of Atlanta" star Porsha Williams got hosed in her divorce settlement with Kordell Stewart.

According to legal docs -- obtained by TMZ --  Porsha gets NO alimony, NO house, NO NFL retirement money, NO cash-out, NO health insurance.  She even has to pay her own credit card balances.

It's almost like a western movie.  She gets the Mercedes she drove in on, and that's about it.  She does get to keep the engagement ring and all of her personal crap ... jewelry, clothes and other personal items.

As for Kordell ... he gets two houses, 2 plots of land, a 2013 Mercedes and a 2010 Porsche, and his full retirement benefits.  He also gets to keep a 100% interest in his companies.

Pretty crazy -- considering there was a lot of talk on "Real Housewives" that Porsha and Kordell did NOT sign a prenup.

Porsha was fighting like crazy to stay in the house, but Kordell changed the locks on her.

And it gets even worse.  She's on the chopping block for the show.

On the bright side ... a pawn shop would probably pay a pretty penny for that ring.


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

INFOGRAPHIC: Racism in the Criminal Justice System

It is no secret that justice in America is not blind. It is certainly not color blind.

Since Marisa Alexander published "The New Jim Crow" there has been a huge response to the decades long push toward full, profitable prisons, particularly comprised of black and brown faces.

 In 2010 we did a series titled, "Unmasking the Prison Industrial Complex" where we took a look at the circumstances that lead America to having the largest  prison population in the world, with no particular decrease in crime. We did not examine the disproportionate number of black men who occupy these prison cells, leaving a misguided soul to believe that blacks actually commit more crime than any other race. This is very untrue.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Power of an Informational Meeting

Last Friday I received the greatest news of 2014. I was offered a new job and a promotion. Now I wasn’t totally surprised when I received the offer, but I was surprised that an offer was on the table so quickly. I never had a formal job interview for the position. I landed the job solely on a series of informational meetings. I know, very interesting.

So what is an informational meeting and how do I get one? Let discuss….

Monday, March 10, 2014

Why we need Government: North Carolina and Duke Energy Ash Spill

I'm not a huge fan of overly expansive government. I think that, especially on matters of conscience, privacy and police powers, the federal and state governments have over the course of the last fifty or sixty years, become far too intrusive, too powerful, and dangerously unresponsive to the individual citizens they purport to represent. I still believe that. However government does have some fundamental core duties. One of these is broadly what I'll call public safety. Public safety is often thought to comprise the cop on the street or a military member guarding the nation. That's correct but public safety goes beyond that. Public safety also encompasses the ability to enjoy clean air and water. It involves the ability to eat food anywhere in this country without worrying that you have an excellent chance of consuming deadly molds, bacteria, viruses, fecal material, or other items unfit for human consumption. It means you can purchase goods and services and get what you pay for without always having to bring along your violent ex-con cousin to guarantee that the seller doesn't pull a fast one.

So far so good right? However there is a conservative and occasionally libertarian streak in politics which is fundamentally opposed to the very idea of government interfering with individuals business. When such people actually gain control over the government the results are often no different than if the drug dealer paid off the chief of police. The people on the streets suffer. This truism was recently affirmed in North Carolina, home to my maternal kin. Read the article excerpted below:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Season Four Trailer: Secrets

Another promo trailer drops for the new season. As usual if you've read the books or otherwise know what happens this season please keep that fascinating information to yourself, won't you? Interestingly enough many of the show's actors have said this season is even more dramatic than last season and will be paced differently with climaxes occurring throughout the season instead of just episode nine. We shall see.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book Reviews: Two Trains Running, Flesh

Two Trains Running
by Andrew Vachss
I hadn't read anything by Andrew Vachss in a long time. Two Trains Running (the title comes from a Muddy Waters blues song) is a period piece and one of the hundreds of books in my library which I'm trying to finish reading before time runs out. Most of the books by Vachss I've read have been set in modern New York and are noir detective stories, often featuring his cynical damaged antihero Burke. Those are enjoyable books which I would certainly recommend. Two Trains Running is both different than Vachss' usual work and yet familiar enough to be suitable reading for those people already accustomed to Vachss' style. Two Trains Running is set in 1959 in a town named Locke City. IIRC the state is never named. It's not on the East Coast and definitely not in the deep South. But it could be a border or lower Midwest state. It could be Kentucky, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Missouri or even Indiana or Iowa among others. It's not that important. This story is a noir crime novel or at least that's what you're inclined to think at first. But although the crime element does drive some of the plot, it soon becomes clear that this novel is not so much about crime as it just is about people in general, especially the various tribes of post-war America. It's a slice of life story about people who all come together in Locke City during a few months in 1959. Crime is just a catalyst here. The story could have just as easily used railroads or coal mines or steel mills to provide background. I liked that. Although there is some violence, it's not critical to the story nor is it really that common. There are at least four different love stories that bring out some pulpy sub themes.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dogs and Ice Cream

Technically speaking you're not supposed to give your dog milk or milk based products or anything with artificial sweeteners included. But many pet owners don't know that. And many other pet owners can't resist large soulful eyes looking at them with all the pleading their canine owners can summon. Of course dogs will generally try anything that their human offers them. And if it tastes good to them they'll eat it without asking questions about safety or whether this is good for them. Of course some dogs have better table manners than others as this video makes quite clear.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Fellow Christians, the Law Does NOT Belong to Us

Most of you are familiar with the phrase "separation of church and state."  It's a doctrine that our country was founded upon after our founding fathers learned the hard way that mixing religion with the law is a recipe for disaster.  Accordingly, the very first thing they did after they drafted the Constitution was to make this thing called the First Amendment which explicitly says that while the citizens in our country are free to practice the religion of their choice, this country will not choose any one religion to be the official religion of our nation:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" - U.S. Const. amend. I

This is the bedrock of the United States of America. Religious freedom.  A land where people are free to choose their own religion -- or no religion at all -- without government intervention, and also a land where the law cannot force any one religion onto the people. We should be grateful that the founding fathers had this much foresight.  But lately it seems that some people have become willfully ignorant of this core principle.

Monday, March 3, 2014

And the Winner is ......... 12-Years a Slave!

Before Steve McQueen brought this story to film, non of us knew the story of Solomon Northup. Personally, I had never heard of the Mr. Northup or his autobiography. Honestly, I didn't even know that free slaves were kidnapped from the north, taken to the south and put into slavery. As an American, I should know something like this. Slavery was a travesty that will never be written right. Today, in 2014, we can still see the residual affects of slavery in our communities (black and white). Yet, we've heard elected officials make callous comparisons to slavery or say things like "black people should to get over slavery." There is even a movement of people who believe that slavery was "not that bad." 

Who could forget this????

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Movie Reviews: Almost Human, Orphan

Almost Human
directed by Joe Begos
No this is not the Fox Sci-Fi drama starring Michael Ealy and Karl Urban. It is however a low budget 80s style throwback horror flick that is deliberately reminiscent in credits, style, pacing and formatting of such iconic 70s and 80s films as Evil Dead, Re-AnimatorThey Came from Within and Halloween. It's a film with plenty of graphic bloody violence including an attempted(?) sexual assault. So if that sort of thing doesn't meet your criteria you know what to do. 

This is definitely not something that should be watched by people who are only familiar with the shallow end of the horror pool. Nope this film is made for folks who can dive and swim in the deep end. It has a short running time (80 minutes) and leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which for this movie works well. There are a few people who do stupid things, particularly near the ending, but at least some of this is called out in the film itself.

The acting is not super convincing, which is occasionally a serious problem, but by genre standards it's not the worst I've ever seen. Some of the lead actors actually also worked on editing and other behind the scenes tasks. I guess that saved money. The film is set in the 80s. The producer(s) and director did an admirable job in ensuring that sets (mostly rotary phones thank you very much) and automobiles were of a piece with decades gone by. Almost Human is set in Maine. There's a blink and you'll miss it shout out to Stephen King. 
The photography/cinematography is not what I would call crystal clear. Even on a HDTV the film remains rather blurry and in some scenes appallingly so. That could have been a deliberate attempt to put viewers in mind of the aforementioned classics or it could have just been a byproduct of not having the best equipment. 

Either way I think you ought to take the time to put your best foot forward technically. I don't think this film always did that. So shame on the creators for not doing so. If money was saved on the acting it wasn't immediately apparent that it was being spent on photography and SFX.