Monday, June 30, 2014

***UPDATE*** Supreme Court Ruled in Favor of Corporate Challenge to ObamaCare's Contraception Provision

On January 21, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission that corporations have a 1st Amendment Right to Free Speech and the Court further ruled that Free Speech = spending money in elections.  Put those two ideas together and you get the Super PACs of 2012 which spent more than $600 million dollars trying to influence the presidential election.  This led many people, both inside and outside of the legal community, to criticize Citizens United as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in a generation.  At the heart of the ruling, the Court bought into the notion that Mitt Romney was right when he famously said "Corporations are people, my friend."  Indeed, the Court's most conservative Justice, Antonin Scalia, wrote his own separate concurring opinion which harshly criticized liberal Justice John Paul Stevens (now retired) for writing in his own dissenting opinion that corporations are not members of society and therefore should not have Free Speech rights.  According to Scalia, "[t]he [First] Amendment is written in terms of "speech," not speakers..[i]ts text offers no foothold for excluding any category of speaker, from single individuals to partnerships of individuals, to unincorporated associations of individuals, to incorporated associations of individuals."   In other words, corporations are nothing more than a collection of individual people who all have the individual right to Free Speech so, therefore, corporations should have the right to Free Speech.  Under this logic, corporations should be able to own and use guns, vote in elections, and practice their own religion.

Speaking of corporations practicing their own religion, the Supreme Court has officially decided to hear 2 cases which will decide just that.  The cases are Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius.  We'll give a break down of what is at stake in each case after the jump.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book Reviews: Swag, The Lives of Tao

by Elmore Leonard
The late novelist Elmore Leonard grew up in Detroit and set many of his stories in and around the Metro Detroit area. I've read some of his works in the distant past. I was inspired to read this particular book after having a discussion about old time Detroit with a friend from New York, who although he's never been to Detroit, is a huge Leonard fan. Go figure. My friend recommended this book in the strongest possible terms. So not having read any Leonard in a long time, I decided to give this book a read. I picked it up used for cheap. This was a good book. It wasn't great but it was good. I am glad that I read it. I had forgotten how much Leonard was, like Stephen King, a master of description, of realistic conversations, of storytelling. He actually makes you think that you are there, that you are part of the story. This is a something that not every writer has but I really enjoy reading works by those who have it. Even if the plot sometimes drags or gets off course I still continue reading because I want to see what happens next. Before describing the plot though I do want to briefly tell you about Hudson's. Hudson's was the centerpiece jewel of downtown Detroit. It was the tallest department store in the world. And for my money it was the classiest. The internal architecture was a intoxicating mix of Art Deco and pseudo-Gothic. For a long time in Detroit, anything you ever wanted to have you could get from Hudson's. And not cheap crappy stuff made in China or Malaysia either, mind you. I'm talking 100% American son! Or Hudson's sold Old World high quality stuff that didn't fall apart six months after you bought it. Hudson's heyday occurred before I was born but when I was a young lad I still remember my mother taking me and my siblings there on Saturdays. Good memories.

Hudson's is long gone now. To show the kind of nostalgic appeal the Hudson's building had for SE Michigan residents of a certain age, before it was demolished and even afterwards people "liberated" fixtures, nameplates, elevator gate doors, even bricks, to remind themselves of a glorious time now gone forever. I think one of my relatives might even have a nameplate lying around somewhere. You can read more about Hudson's here if you like. Ok I went down that little detour in memory lane because as Swag is set in mid seventies Metro Detroit, Hudson's plays a key role in the story.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Delinquent Water Bills, Detroit and The United Nations

I do my best to pay my bills on time. I expect the same from others. If I use a service I pay for it. If I loan money I want the money returned. I don't think that's too much to ask from other adults. Things can get a little tricky with relatives or other intimates because the relationship warps our understanding of money. So I avoid loaning money to people in those categories. If they need assistance I will give it to them, if I can. But people close to me know that I like my money very much and don't like giving it away. So that preserves the balance.
But where there's no personal relationship there is no misunderstanding of what money means. With people who lack a personal relationship with me there is never any expectation on my part that money loaned won't have to be repaid, regardless of who is the creditor and who is the debtor. My bank expects monthly mortgage payments. The bank is entirely uninterested in my problems making that payment. All they want is their money. I work for pay at my company, not because I enjoy the witty repartee. So, as is incredibly obvious to most adults, when you make a deal or purchase goods or services, you are supposed to live by the deal or pay for the goods or services you bought. Unfortunately in my home town of Detroit, the Water Department is running into some pushback as it seeks to either obtain payment from delinquent customers or shut their water service off. 

The reason for the Water Department's new aggressiveness in going after delinquents is probably related to the city's bankruptcy. Not only has the Emergency Manager made it clear that business as usual can't continue but of course the Detroit Water Department can't be privatized or merged into a regional service provider unless it shows that it can actually get customers to pay their bills.  I mean would you invest in or purchase a business where customers used the product but refused to pay for it? No you wouldn't. These decisions make sense for the entire organization but inevitably there are going to be some people that get hurt and may not even be deadbeats.

HBO Game of Thrones: Season Four Differences Between Book and Show

Ok, Season Four of HBO's Game of Thrones saw more differences between the books and show than I could remember or to be more precise more than I would care to write and certainly more than you would care to read. Presumably the series creators believed that their choices, minor or not, were necessary for the narrative advancement. As Game of Thrones has become HBO's biggest hit ever, officially surpassing The Sopranos, Benioff and Weiss deserve all the praise they receive for successfully translating Martin's textually dense and narratively complex works into the visual medium. That doesn't mean I wasn't irked at some thematic alterations. The biggest and most disappointing change to me (and apparently quite a few book readers judging by vicious comments on fan blogs) was something that I can't in good faith detail here because it's not been 100% officially ruled out of Season Five. I can say that there was some Stark revenge from an entirely unexpected source which was left out of Season Four. My heart turned to stone upon watching the last few episodes of Season Four and realizing the show dropped something big. If you've read the books you know exactly what I'm talking about! But in the admittedly unlikely event that next season includes it, keep quiet about it here. For this post I want to mention some of the more important, interesting or shocking changes from the book to the screen. I'm not interested in a character's name change or a man with no manhood trying to run some game on a woman who was actually a little girl in the books. Those are small potatoes. But when you change a character's knowledge or his motivations for patricide, I think those changes matter a little bit more.
I will shy away from discussing nearly certain future events or even future events that appear to be generally likely. If you've read the books I hope that you will share that restraint as well. However the very nature of this post requires listing some events which didn't happen in the show. For all I know the show creators could rectify some of this next season. So if this entire discussion is something you consider vaguely spoilerific, well you know what to do regarding this post. The first book in A Song of Ice and Fire was published in 1996 while the most recent was published in 2011. So read the doggone books. Of course if everyone read the books I wouldn't be this guy any more so there's that. Hmm. I strongly believe that the series' first three books had a quality and pace not matched by the last two releases. I would have preferred more televised fidelity to the high quality source material of the first three books. I will be less concerned with how the show handles the upcoming adaptations. Next season I think the show from necessity as opposed to convenience will invent more of its own story lines, prune back some of Martin's and create even more surprises for book readers and show viewers alike.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

***UPDATE*** Here We Go Again: The Supreme Court of the United States will Interject Between the Executive and Legislative Branches of Our Government


By unanimous vote the United States Supreme Court sided with the United States Congress (who doesn't do their job), declaring that President's no longer have the authority to make recess appointments. 

From NBC News:

The US Supreme Court today limited a president's power to make recess appointments when the White House and the Senate are controlled by opposite parties, scaling back a presidential authority as old as the republic.
The case arose from a political dispute between President Obama and Senate Republicans, who claimed he had no authority to put three people on the National Labor Relations Board in January 2012 when the Senate was out of town.
He used a president's power, granted by the Constitution, to "fill up all vacancies that may happen during the recess of the Senate." But the Republicans said the Senate was not in recess at the time the appointments were made, because every three days a senator went into the chamber, gaveled it to order, and then immediately called a recess.

By a unanimous vote, the Supreme Court agreed that the Senate was not in recess, holding that it's up to both houses of Congress to define when they're in session or in recess. As a result of the decision, the Senate can frustrate a president's ability to make recess appointments simply by holding periodic pro forma sessions, a tactic used in recent years by both political parties.
The question, the court said, is whether the Senate had the capacity to act. It found that during the recess at issue, the court did have that power.
The stakes were no longer as high as they were when the case first came to the Supreme Court, given that the Senate has now agreed that a president's nominations need only 51 votes for confirmation.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dave Chappelle Exceeds Expectations At Radio City Music Hall

Yesterday I felt as if I was witnessing a piece of history at Radio City Music Hall in Midtown Manhattan. After being on hiatus for a decade my favorite conscious comedian Dave Chappelle resurfaced for a series of shows at Radio City, along with some really dope musical guests. Last night one of my all-time favorite Emcees was the musical guest -- NAS.

Anyone who is a fan of Dave Chappelle and his wildly popular comedy central show -- the one he quit 10 years ago with $50 million on the table, knows that Dave is a hip-hop head. He’s the kind of hip-hop head that we conscious people can relate to. Remember Block Party -- the documentary in which Dave had the who’s who of conscious hip-hop and “neo soul” music performing in Brooklyn on the same stage, accompanied by his comedic genius. The one that completed the impossible task of reuniting the Fugees. Well a decade later Dave has recreated that historic collaboration with a weeks worth of comedy performances and musical guests, like The Roots, Erykah Badu, and Busta Rhymes. I heard Kanye West made a surprise performance during the Friday show.

Many critics seemed concerned that Dave’s sabbatical from the limelight had somehow stunted his comedic growth and that his best days were behind him. The fans clearly did not share the skepticism because just about every show is sold out, except for one.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hillary Clinton: Clueless, Dead Broke and Not Well Off

When Mitt Romney was caught on tape speaking dismissively of the 47% of American citizens who did not pay income taxes and presumably would be immune to his appeals for their vote, it's safe to say that that was a game changer, or at least one among many for his campaign. It locked in many people's perception that Mitt Romney was an out-of touch plutocrat with a disdain for the working class and the impoverished. Obviously this perception was fanned and fed by the Obama campaign and its surrogates supporters in the media who went out of their way to make sure everyone knew about the Romney quotes. That's politics after all. If you trip and fall into a ditch, know that your opponent will go out of his/her way to run over you with the bus. Strangely enough presumed 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton seems to be going out of her way to make some of the same mistakes that Romney made. As she is not a declared candidate nor are we in a Presidential election year her gaffes may not have the same bite that Romney's did. Additionally, outside of a few extremely progressive/leftist circles she is not quite yet seen as relentlessly pro-plutocrat as Romney was. Romney looks like the caricature of the evil businessman who buys up a widget company, fires all of the semi-moral midlevel executives and then moves 90% of the manufacturing to slave labor camps in Sri Lanka, that is right after he gets a tax break for dumping mercury in ponds.

But just as a woman CEO at Duke energy shows that crony capitalism and ignoring of pollution costs is not something that is hindered by gender, perhaps Hillary Clinton's continued unforced error statements concerning her wealth will show us that gender doesn't prevent you from saying stupid things.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Music Reviews: Ruth Copeland

Ruth Copeland
Ruth Copeland is a British singer/songwriter who for a time was married to an Invictus producer. Invictus, as you probably know, was the Detroit based record label that grew out of Motown after a dispute between Berry Gordy and three of his most important songwriters (H-D-H) For a brief time in the late sixties and early seventies Invictus was a semi-successful rival to Motown, going after some of the same local talent as well as venturing into more rock based as well as experimental or low down funk music that Motown initially avoided. This latter group of music very much included P-Funk. Copeland wrote or shared writing credits on a fair number of songs on Parliament's first Invictus release, Osmium. I was surprised to learn that she had co-written "Come in out of the Rain" which must rank among the funkiest and most soulful songs which P-Funk performed. The lyrics still apply today, sadly. Copeland also sang backup on that cut, I think. Actually there are a surprising number of early seventies Invictus songs which were written or co-written by Copeland. Repaying her favor with one of their own Parliament (well most of it) backed up Copeland on her two Invictus albums and resulting tours when she decided to become the label's first "blue eyed funkateer". The songs are well written and I love P-Funk so I like most of the two releases. However Copeland possessed a clear and piercing soprano that was nothing at all like the voices of contemporaneous soul performers like Aretha Franklin or Lyn Collins. Copeland's voice was much much closer to a singer like Freda Payne. So in my view there's a few times that Copeland tries to be a belter of songs rather than a crooner and generally misses. Her voice is not built for such things. She doesn't have a lot of resonance. She can get histrionic pretty quickly. 

All the same I like her voice. Nobody was going to mistake her for Dusty Springfield but then again we all have to find our own way in this world. If you were ever curious as to what P-Funk would have sounded like backing an Englishwoman with her own take on the funk well the record exists for you to peruse.

Movie Reviews: Non-Stop

directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
The director previously directed Liam Neeson in Unknown. He also directed Orphan. Like both of those films Non-Stop has a big twist about 2/3rds of the way thru the story. However whereas Neeson was perfect in Unknown and the story in Orphan, although seemingly ridiculous near the end, worked for most of the movie, here I'd have to say that Neeson puts this film on his back and carries it (just barely) across the goal line. But the film really didn't deserve to score a touchdown. It's one of those touchdowns where instead of the running back breaking through the line and dragging people into the end-zone , the quarterback places the ball exactly one inch over the white line, ever so gently breaking the plane. It may be a touchdown according to the rules but it's hardly something that you can brag about. It's not the stuff of legend. Still, a touchdown is a touchdown. Neeson is a good, solid exciting actor who works well with what's on display in this film. Neeson's a big man, well over six feet. The confined spaces of the aircraft work to give his character an irritation as well as a sense of physical dominance that serves the story well. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Breaking News: The Central Park 5 to Settle with New York City for $40M

Central Park 5 to Settle for $40M

Back in 1989 the City of New York committed a gross act of injustice, when they arrested the five teens above, coerced false confessions from them, tried them on false evidence, and later convicted them for a crime that they NEVER committed.

After 25-years it appears that these men are finally getting the restitution that they rightfully deserve. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

June 2014 Book Of The Month

It looks like this book could be an important companion piece to the book We will Shoot Back, which we earlier discussed. The author, Charles Cobb, is a former SNCC member and on the ground activist who actually participated in the human rights struggles of the sixties and had to deal with the reactionary threats and violence directed at Black people or other supporters who dared to suggest that segregation was wrong, black people were human and that blacks could vote. Cobb was there as were many other people. It is of course instructive to realize as many of the great names have died or lost their way struggling against personal demons, that nothing that the "leaders" accomplished, not one single thing, could have been done without the active support of many more people, of whom Cobb is one. Cobb, who is a journalist, is interested in showing the importance of armed self-defense in helping midwife real American democracy. His argument is that guns made the civil rights movement possible. He is dissatisfied with the idea that Rosa sat down, Martin stood up and white racists saw the light. It is a great frustration of mine that guns and gun culture have become in the American imagination almost exclusively the provenance of right-wing, reactionary and occasionally down right racist politicians, groups or individuals. People constantly forget that a key portion of Southern and for that matter Northern white supremacy was that black people did not, could not and would not defend themselves. And in this culture letting everyone believe that they could hurt you with impunity was not necessarily the best idea. In fact it was a stupid idea. It tended to attract bullies. Cobb describes how black WW2 vets were important in helping to relieve and reverse years of deliberately inculcated fear. Once you've seen that men whom you were told were superior to you can die just like you can, it tends to change your attitude about things.

When I was very young, apparently to save money my Dad would drive my Mom and us kids south for summer vacation with my grandparents. We never talked about it as my Dad was not the sort of person one questioned but I do remember him placing a rifle in the trunk and a pistol in the glove box. He never said that he expected trouble but one would have to be reckless to be a black man and drive through some of the states which he did and not be armed. And my Dad was not a reckless man. So this is why I've never had much use for people who are reflexively or dogmatically anti-gun. To me guns are just tools. They are the most effective means of showing someone this far you may go and not one step further. I'm really looking forward to reading this book.

Kohl's Lawsuit: Deadbeat Client or Harassment; Brad Ausmus: Unfunny Joke

A long time ago before I was the sober responsible grownup that I am today I used to use credit irresponsibly and run up bills that were more than I could pay in one month. Doing this a few times and getting dinged with late fees, interest, and other penalties and having the highly irritating experience of having a few paychecks effectively spent on debt service before I even received them was more than enough for me to revert back to my parents' training of not buying something if you couldn't pay cash for it. After all we all must be able to distinguish between a want and a need. Grown ups do that. Children don't. Generally speaking, if you can't or won't pay cash for something, chances are you don't need it. I believe that if you owe money you should pay what you owe. That's what's fair. However just because someone owes money doesn't give the creditor the right to take extra-legal steps that include tactics of harassment or worse in order to get their money back. As a creditor there are a number of laws you must abide by when seeking to get your money back, whether you are doing it yourself or have outsourced it to a legbreaker collection services agency. In Michigan, a woman who owed Kohl's department store felt that the store was being far too aggressive in seeking to recover a particularly small debt. It's unclear as to whether the debt was more than 30 days late. Fed up with the tactics she filed a federal lawsuit. Yes that's correct. A federal lawsuit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

US Patent & Trademark Office Cancels Washington Redskins Trademark

One of the most important aspects to any profitable business is a term lawyers refer to as "intellectual property."  Intellectual property includes things like patents which protect inventions, copyrights which protect creative works like songs or books, and of course trademarks which protect logos or the very name of a company itself.  For many years, the name and logo of the NFL team known as the Washington Redskins has been cited as being offensive to the Native American people to which it refers.  Indeed, the term "redskin" is considered by many Native Americans to be a racial slur carrying the same level of offensiveness and disrespect as other racial slurs directed towards other minorities.  Accordingly, several attempts have been made to change the name of this NFL team throughout the years but a recent ad campaign started by the National Change the Mascot Campaign seems to have had an impact with the United States Patent & Trademark Office:

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

GENOCIDE: Contaminated Milk Being Sold in Black Communities

"How can diabetes be genetic in blacks when they didn't have it in Africa?"

This was the question posed by a scientist whose research has led her to the theory that contaminated, radioactive milk is being sold in poor and black neighborhoods at local mom and pop stores.

Africa has the lowest rates of diabetes in the world according to the scientist. Why then, is this disease so prevalent in the black community?

Monday, June 16, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Season 4 Finale Recap: The Children

For the 5011th time I really do urge you, if you like this story, please do read the books. The first three are really quite good, perhaps even excellent. There are many themes, subplots and dramatic arcs which are done differently in the books. The books do have their drawbacks, which the show creators have generally adroitly worked around but there are some things which the show has altered which are not necessarily for the better. There's a thin line between generous adaptation and fan fiction. I think that this season the show drifted overmuch towards the latter. The show creators are confident enough to make their own narratives. Maybe we'll talk about that in a final GoT post sometime soon. Jon Snow has left the Wall to speak with Mance Rayder. Mance is upset by Jon's betrayal. Jon counters that he was being true to his Night's Watch vows but Mance reminds him of his dalliance with Ygritte. Mance tells Jon that winter really is coming. Mance is trying to protect his people from the Others. Mance sees himself as a refugee leader. Mance figures out that Jon intends to kill him. Mance mocks Jon as his intended act would be almost impossible to pull off and extremely dishonorable under all forms of hospitality. Before Jon can respond there's an attack on Mance's army. It's Stannis, who alone among would be leaders, has taken the Night's Watch request for aid seriously. Obviously he wants to burnish his credentials as "king" but that's Stannis. Mance surrenders but refuses to kneel. Jon advises Stannis to take Mance into custody but treat him fairly and listen to what he says. It's what Ned Stark would have done.

Maester Aemon says words over the dead Night's Watch members before the survivors burn the bodies. Jon visits Tormund to ask if Tormund would like to preside over wildling funerals. Tormund is still suspicious of and angry with Jon. Like Mance he also wants to know if Jon loved Ygritte. Tormund saw that she certainly loved Jon. Tormund asks Jon to burn Ygritte north of the Wall as she was a woman of the Free Folk. Although Jon pretended coldness with both Tormund and Mance, when he burns Ygritte's body we see tears. Obviously he loved Ygritte.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Music Reviews: Hot Chocolate, Funkadelic: Maggotbrain

Hot Chocolate
Hot Chocolate was a racially integrated though mostly black British band that walked in the interstices between light funk, pop, calypso, disco, rock, soul and reggae. So they had a variety of different sounds but all of their different styles were held together by the insistent warbling tenor of bald Jamaican born primary songwriter and lead singer/front man Errol Brown. I think in the US they're probably best known for the song "You Sexy Thing", which charted as high as number 3. I don't think they ever had wild mass success in the US but they certainly did ok in the UK and Europe. Throughout the 70s and 80s they had many hits. Hot Chocolate was a band which consistently delivered the goods and got a fair amount of radio play if not critical recognition. They weren't really disco but were disco enough for some to write them off completely. Oh well you know that old Liberace line about crying all the way to the bank. I was motivated to write on them because I recently heard their hit "Everyone's a winner" on satellite radio. I hadn't heard that song for decades. It brought back some pleasant memories of times long past. "Everyone's a winner" was quite typical of much of Hot Chocolate's best work, what with the very heavy dominant bass line, low pitched drums, slightly distorted guitar (in this case a guitar synth) and triumphant group vocals. Hot Chocolate was not deep funk in the mode of James Brown or P-Funk but was reminiscent of bands like later EWF, Kool and the Gang or Tower of Power. 

Hot Chocolate wrote good songs with nice melodies and danceable rhythms. Their discography may not have any lost masterpieces that will make you rethink popular music but how many groups can really claim otherwise? 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Iraq 2.0?

You ever feel like you're experiencing deja vu?

Per Chicago Tribune:

Islamist rebel fighters captured two more Iraqi towns overnight in a relentless sweep south towards the capital Baghdad in a campaign to recreate a medieval caliphate carved out of fragmenting Iraq and Syria.

U.S. President Barack Obama threatened military strikes against the radical Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant on Thursday, highlighting the gravity of ISIL's threat to redraw borders in an oil-rich region with the risk of any new entity turning into a launch-pad for attacks on Western interests.
In the spreading chaos, Iraqi Kurdish forces seized control of Kirkuk - an oil hub just outside their autonomous enclave that they have long seen as their traditional capital - as Iraqi government troops abandoned posts in panic over ISIL's advance.
Thrusting further to the southeast after their lightning seizure of the major Iraqi city of Mosul in the far north and the late dictator Saddam Hussein's hometown of Tikrit, ISIL entered two towns in Diyala province bordering Iran.

And, like clockwork, enter John McCain advocating for a re-occupation of Iraq for an indefinite amount of time and also calling for the firing of the Obama administration's entire national security advisory team. 

So...are we seriously entertaining the idea of going back into Iraq? 
Didn't we see this episode already? 
Why involve ourselves here again? 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Congress Rocked: Majority Leader Eric Cantor OUT!

RICHMOND, Va. — House Majority Leader Eric Cantor was defeated Tuesday by a little-known economics professor in Virginia's Republican primary, a stunning upset and major victory for the tea party.

Cantor is the second-most powerful member of the U.S. House and was seen by some as a possible successor to the House speaker.

His loss to Dave Brat, a political novice with little money marks a huge victory for the tea party movement, which supported Cantor just a few years ago.

Brat had been a thorn in Cantor's side on the campaign, casting the congressman as a Washington insider who isn't conservative enough. Last month, a feisty crowd of Brat supporters booed Cantor in front of his family at a local party convention.

His message apparently scored well with voters in the 7th District.
"There needs to be a change," said Joe Mullins, who voted in Chesterfield County Tuesday. The engineering company employee said he has friends who tried to arrange town hall meetings with Cantor, who declined their invitations.

We're the Millers: Racist Cop Killers and Cliven Bundy

As I mentioned previously about the Cliven Bundy situation the thing that most disturbed me was that the United States Government backed down to a few losers with rifles. This was a horribly bad idea because it legitimized the so-called protesters' idea that their threat of violence worked. If you point guns at law enforcement and law enforcement backs down well it's not such a huge leap to the next decision point of pointing guns at law enforcement and actually pulling the trigger. In Las Vegas recently, Jerad and Amanda Miller apparently took that next step, killing two police officers and another man before killing themselves. Somewhat unsurprisingly all sorts of information is coming to light about the married couple's embrace of extremely conservative and white supremacist literature and worldviews. I have a firm belief that ultimately each individual is responsible for his or her own actions. If someone who merely looks like me does something stupid it's not really fair or reasonable for other people who don't look like me to blame me. We make our own individual decisions in this world. But I do find it it well somewhat interesting let's say that anywhere in the world when say a Muslim does something savage that is taken as proof of the inherent savagery of Islam and the inability of its adherents to live peacefully in a modern world. There is no presumption of individual responsibility granted.

Monday, June 9, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Watchers on The Wall

Some people say that conflict or war reveals who you really are. That's certainly the case in this episode as the Wildlings attack Castle Black from both north and south of the wall. Command is not just something a title can give you. It's also something that you earn from your peers, particularly in the Night's Watch, which is of course mostly comprised of men with little or no social standing in the Seven Kingdoms. Under stress some men rise to the occasion and lead while others mess their pants and hide in the pantry. It has always been so. This episode, much like the famous Blackwater episode is solely centered on one area and one storyline: Castle Black. Jon Snow and Sam are stuck on night duty. Sam tries to get Jon to explain to him what love and sex are all about but Jon really doesn't want to think about Ygritte. Jon tries to describe the essential erasing of boundaries between male and female that loving sex entails but can't find the words to satisfy Sam's curiosity. Still worried about Gilly, Sam goes to the library to read up on wilding culture and war tactics but is discovered and gently chided by Maester Aemon, who blind or not, sees that Sam loves Gilly. But as the Maester reminds Sam, love is the death of duty. Sam's not really listening because when Gilly arrives at the southern gate, Sam orders Pip to let her in.

The Wilding group south of the wall is listening to Tormund tell his fantastical stories about copulating with bears. This gets on Ygritte's nerves. She calls the stories out for the bs they are while she is making more arrows than any one woman could possibly carry into battle. Styr, the leader of the cannibal Thenns, recognizes sexual frustration when he sees it. He mocks Ygritte by claiming that her threats to kill Jon Snow are just words. He claims that when Ygritte sees Jon Snow she won't give him arrows but will enthusiastically give him a certain red haired body part. Ygritte stands up to Styr and says that Jon Snow is hers to kill and she will kill anyone interfering, including Styr.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Movie Reviews: Lone Survivor, Bad Blonde, Baggage Claim

Lone Survivor
directed by Peter Berg
There is a scene from the book Gates of Fire which captures what I think of as the elite warrior ethos which is displayed so magnificently in Lone Survivor. In the book scene a feared Spartan warrior has caught a recruit making an unforgivable mistake in weapons handling. So he smacks the recruit across the face with a handle, cutting the man's scalp and breaking his nose, before continuing to harangue him about all the things he was doing wrong. 

After a moment the recruit tries to wipe the blood off his face and out of his eyes. This was an even worse error as his captain inquires sarcastically if the youngster thinks that during battle everyone will stop to allow him time to wipe blood from his face so that he will look pretty. He also hits him again. 

Things go downhill from there for the recruit. I was reminded of that scene because of Lone Survivor's reveal of real SEALs training and the fact that its heroes are indeed pushed far beyond their previous already hardened levels of endurance in their desperate battle to stay alive and complete the mission. They have no time to wipe the blood off their faces. Whether you've been shot repeatedly, are drowning on your own blood, have limbs shot off, or are coping with broken bones as long as there's life there's fighting to be done. Because the enemy certainly won't stop. And neither should you. SEALs and associated Special Forces units are operating at the tip of the spear, just as Spartans did so long ago. By definition most people won't ever get anywhere close to that sort of excellence in their everyday endeavors but the never give up never say die can do spirit can inspire everyone in whatever their mundane day to day business might be. 

Lone Survivor then is both a sort of hagiography to this sort of excellence in action as well as one of the most effective war movies I've seen in a while. There aren't any political statements here, which makes the heroism shown something above and beyond petty little partisan squabbling.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Video of President Obama Working Out in Poland - Security Breach or No Big Deal?

The video above is making waves and has many people wondering why the secret service allowed this to happen. President Obama was recorded during a recent workout routine at his hotel in Poland.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Real Life "Homeland": Did the US Negotiate with Terrorists?

If you've ever watched any movies featuring terrorists and the U.S. government, then you know like I do that Hollywood likes to showcase the U.S. government's policy on this issue: We Do Not Negotiate with Terrorists. 

And rightfully so.  If we did then it would open the floodgates for terrorist groups to hold the proverbial gun to our head in order to gain leverage for whatever they want. As far as policies go, it's difficult to argue with this one.

Enter Army Seargent Bowe Bergdahl.

In a move that sounds more like the basis of the plot for Showtime's Homeland than an actual news headline, the U.S. Government apparently set aside its "We Do Not Negotiate" policy in order to secure the release of one of our own prisoners of war, Sgt. Bergdahl from the Taliban.  The price?  The release of five (5) current Taliban prisoners from our ever controversial Gitmo prison.

Monday, June 2, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Mountain and The Viper

And we're back. Once again it's on! If you didn't know already this episode made it abundantly clear for the six millionth time that the show creators are just that, show creators, and are not solely interested in bringing George R.R. Martin's unedited story to the screen. I don't mind this when they are tightening up storylines, dropping stereotypical characters or moving things along a little more quickly than Martin is wont to do. But it's a mixed bag when the showrunners start putting their own subthemes and stories into the series. It's inevitable I guess. We must take the good with the bad. In this episode sometimes the new material worked and sometimes it simply did not. I'll write more in detail on this once the season has completed. But for now all I can say is that the butterfly effect is real. I don't see how it's not going to cause some serious storms later on in the televised series.Ok, enough bellyaching. What happened. Well we open up in everyone's favorite Molestown brothel where a prostitute, jealous that Gilly doesn't have to sell herself and contemptuous of Gilly's wildling heritage, is both complaining to and threatening Gilly about her baby's noise. Gilly can't really pay attention because she hears the sounds of wildling raiding parties signalling each other.  Yes, Tormund, Ygritte and crew attack the brothel, killing everyone, prostitutes, customers, Night's Watch members. It's less of an attack than a massacre since most of the people are unarmed or hardly in a position to defend themselves. Ygritte decides not to kill Gilly and her baby but warns them to be quiet. 

Again, here is an example of wanton violence against human beings of both genders. The horror. Although I'm as prudish as anyone and more so than most it still fascinates me that generally depictions of violence are not as criticized as depictions of sex or nudity. Jon Snow and his friends in the Night Watch pout impotently about not being able to or allowed to protect Molestown.