Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Stephen Smith, Michelle Beadle and the Ray Rice Situation: Was Stephen Smith Defending Domestic Violence?

Man got his woman to take his seed /He got the power oh she got the need/ She spends her life through pleasing up her man/She feeds him dinner or anything she can/
She cries alone at night too often/ He smokes and drinks and don't come home at all/
Only women bleed only women bleed only women bleed/
Black eyes all of the time don't spend a dime clean up this grime/
And you there down on your knees begging me please come watch me bleed Only Women Bleed - Alice Cooper
As you may have heard Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then fiancee and now wife Janay Palmer got into some sort of physical altercation in an Atlantic City hotel. Unlike the one way slap and kickfest between Solange Knowles and Jay-Z the public lacks video evidence of what exactly took place but apparently whatever fight took place the new Mrs. Rice lost decisively because we do see the video of Mr. Rice dragging the unconscious Mrs. Rice by her hair and lifting her up after he apparently knocked her out. The police arrested both Rice and Palmer. Each had assault charges filed against them. Janay Palmer's charges were later dropped while Mr. Rice's charges were increased. However as a first time offender, Mr. Rice was eligible to enter into a diversion program, which will allow him to avoid jail or prison. FWIW his wife indicated that she didn't want to pursue charges. In fact at the press conference in which Rice apologized to everyone except her, she said that she regretted the role she played in the incident. Ok. I can't imagine ever becoming violent with a woman. The very idea disgusts me. It's a virtual impossibility. Work it out or walk away. I was raised in a very traditional household. However I am also disgusted by the idea of a woman spitting on me or hitting me as Mrs. Rice is reported to have done to Mr. Rice. I think that everyone should abide by a no-hands rule in interpersonal conflict. When you start a violent confrontation you don't know what the other person might consider an appropriate response to your physical aggression. I have never understood people who hit or beat a spouse or intimate and then go to sleep in the same house as the person they just assaulted. I think that's dumb. You might get some hot grits thrown on you. You might not wake up with everything still attached. You might not wake up at all. So again, no violence against either party should ever be tolerated. This is for both moral reasons and those of pure self-interest. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Book Reviews: The Spook Who Sat by The Door

The Spook Who Sat By The Door
by Sam Greenlee
Sam Greenlee just passed away a few months ago. Sam Greenlee was an American writer who had a long career as both a military officer and overseas agent for the United States Information Agency, which worked worldwide to dispense propaganda and news favorable to U.S. interests. Greenlee witnessed (was involved in?) the 1958 Iraqi revolution. Greenlee was also a member of the Alpha Kappa Psi fraternity. He was among the first black employees for the USIA. He later apparently came to regret some of his work. Although the book "The Spook Who Sat by The Door" was not exactly autobiographical, as Greenlee was never a CIA agent, nor did he start any revolutions as far as we know, it definitely drew on and was inspired by his work experiences. The book's attacks on racism are far exceeded by a deeper disdain for black integrationists, in particular those who were petit bourgeois/middle class. Greenlee's writing drips with contempt for people who would rather go along to get along or mouth empty words about tolerance rather than stand up and take control over their own lives. The book's title is a double pun as spook is both a racial slur and a nickname for a spy. The phrase also refers to the corporate practice of hiring black people in visible positions so that a company can market itself as an equal opportunity employer. Often, however, such token hires are never afforded access to real power or promotion opportunities. The book's protagonist, Dan Freeman, is an Army veteran who takes advantage of an affirmative action program designed to produce the country's first black CIA agent.

The CIA created this program because a cynical liberal senator, concerned that his black support is dropping, verbally attacked the CIA in open committee hearings for not having any black agents.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Television Reviews: The Strain (FX), The Musketeers (BBC America)

The Strain
Vampire myths have always reflected the tensions and fears of their originating societies. Bram Stoker's Dracula gave the reader images of "perverse" (i.e. non-marital/non-missionary/non-reproductive) sex, the threat of the darker, corrupt or foreign man to the white or virtuous woman and fears of unchaste liberated women, venereal diseases and death.

Death and sex are often linked because each process is critical to life. For the past 40 years with some occasional notable exceptions provided by such writers as Stephen King or Brian Lumley, or films such as 30 Days of Night, the vampire's primary media image has emphasized the sexual or romantic loner elements and played down the undead monster or alien monstrosity interpretations. 

Such writers as Anne Rice, Stephenie Meyer and perhaps to a lesser extent Charlaine Harris have created and inspired a large number of vampire stories that for my taste veer far too close to gothic romance stories or even soft core porn. Each person has their own likes and dislikes. I just happen to prefer the myth of a vampire as an alien/undead thing, not a bisexual goth or tortured romantic or suave antihero. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the other renderings. It's a large world and fortunately everyone can find the sort of entertainment that they enjoy. To each his or her own. You may be familiar with the film director and producer Guillermo Del Toro and/or the writer Chuck Hogan. 

You may not have known that a few years ago they wrote a trilogy of vampire novels in which the vampires were light years away from pretty boy fops. These vampires are not moping around whining about immortality nor do they "sparkle" or hang around high schools experiencing puppy love with tremendously boring teen girls. These vampires are not looking for the reincarnation of their lost love. You don't want to meet these vampires in alleys, dark or otherwise. Del Toro has made that quite clear in his public comments about his new series.

The vampires are monsters. When they drink your blood it is not a metaphor or substitute for sex. Sex is not really on their agenda. Drinking your blood is their agenda. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Arizona Inmate Executed: Can the Death Penalty be Rehabilitated?

We've discussed the problems with the death penalty before here and here and here. Another problem with the death penalty is that in part because of increasing national and worldwide moral objections to the medicalization of executions, there are shortages of the various chemicals needed to literally put a man to sleep. And obviously there is no ability to, well not in this country anyway, to test in advance the chemical cocktail used in executions. This leads to "botched" executions. That is "botched" in the sense that the condemned man (and it's usually a man) did not die either quickly or painlessly. Now while if I were related to someone who had been murdered, I'm not sure that I would be all that bothered by the person who did it having some suffering before they died, that's not what our justice system is designed to do. The State carries out sentencing in the name of the People, not as private vengeance and retribution. There are various sentences, approved by the People and their Representatives, that are supposed to deter, to punish and in some cases to rehabilitate the convicted criminal. The sentences are not supposed to visit upon the convicted criminal the same evil and horror that he doled out. In many cases that would be not only immoral but impossible. If someone has raped and killed your child most people would agree that the State's proper response should not be to send someone to the convict's house to rape and murder his child. That's retribution but it's not justice. Similarly if someone has tortured and murdered someone and been sentenced to death, is it cruel and unusual punishment if his execution is slow, drawn out and painful instead of swift, certain and painless?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Note to Self: Do Not Fly Over the Ukraine

Only days after one of the biggest "oops" moments in the history of modern warfare resulted in the murder of 298 innocent men, women and children aboard a commercial airliner flying over the Ukraine, rebels there have not let up and have reportedly shot down even more planes just yesterday.  Per CBC:

2 Ukraine fighter jets shot down by pro-Russian rebelsPro-Russian rebels have shot down two Ukrainian fighter jets, a spokesman for Ukraine's military operations said on Wednesday.
The spokesman said the two Sukhoi-25 fighters were downed around 1:30 p.m. local time near Savur Mogila in eastern Ukraine.
No details were known about the pilots, but defence officials said the planes may have been carrying up to two crew members each.

I don't profess to know the cause or history of strife that motivates these rebels to do what they do, but perhaps there is a better way to go about getting their point across, especially when you can't tell the difference between fighter jets like the ones shot today and a commercial airliner like the one shot down a few days ago.
I'm just saying.
Your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Who's a thug: Santelli vs. Sherman

You may remember that Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman was quite excited after his team just won the NFC Championship game. Sherman was instrumental in helping his team to achieve that victory. He spoke emphatically and aggressively. He also spoke dismissively of rival football player, wide receiver Michael Crabtree of the San Francisco Forty Niners. Sherman was fined. He was also excoriated in social media and by more than a few pundits as a thug. A great many people made racist ugly comments about Sherman's intelligence, his family, his class, his race and black people in general. The people making these sorts of attacks on Sherman did not care that he was a Stanford graduate, was obtaining a Masters Degree, or most importantly had no record of criminal arrests or convictions. AFAIK no one has accused him of domestic abuse, drug sales, bar fights, child abuse, drug usage or anything else that might indicate violent or criminal tendencies. All that is public record about Sherman is that occasionally he likes to run his mouth on the football field. These public attacks on Sherman weren't just your normal attacks by conservative/racist whites. They also included people like liberal/moderate law professor Jonathan Turley. Unconscious stereotyping and unexamined bigotry cross all political lines.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Israel Attacks Gaza and Kills Palestinians: Again

As you may have read in the news the State of Israel has launched military attacks by land, air and sea against the Palestinians in Gaza. Israel claims to be trying to degrade Hamas' military capacity and prevent Hamas from launching rocket attacks against Israel. As virtually every US politician who sees himself or herself as a national figure has rushed to the nearest microphone to intone, "Israel has the right to defend itself" and "No country could accept rockets being fired into its territory". Those are true statements. What you won't hear many, if any, US politicians say is that Palestinians also have the right to defend themselves against Israel. As Palestinians are literally children of a lesser God in the view of many in the "West" the idea that they have the right to resist is something completely alien to the narrative. The other idea which is completely alien to the narrative is the idea that massive and exponentially disproportionate retribution isn't always actually a moral or even useful method to respond to violence or resistance. At the time of this writing, a little over 400 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, most of them non-combatant men, women and children. That's what happens when people with a first rate air force, navy and army drop bombs on and shell people who lack any air force who live in an area roughly the size of Detroit. Children have been deliberately targeted while playing on a beach. Hospitals and disabled centers have been attacked.                                          
It's simply impossible to oppress, demean and humiliate a group of people without simultaneously coming up with an ideology that transforms your oppression into sober, fair minded treatment and the people being subjugated into either irrational, mindless beasts howling for blood or folks who are sadly simply culturally deprived and don't understand all the benefits your "oppression" provides them.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Movie Reviews: Devil Ship Pirates, China Moon, Gettysburg

Devil Ship Pirates
directed by Don Sharp
I purchased Devil Ship Pirates around the same time my brother sent me the package which included Bad Blonde. Although it was made in Hammer's classic era, this film is not overly reliant on oozing blood or heaving cleavage. By Hammer standards, there's little of the former and just the normal amount of the latter, mostly provided by actress Suzan Farmer, who plays the local lord's daughter, Angela. The simple story provided a modest level of suspense and tension that was gradually turned upwards as the movie progressed. It's really a hostage film. It reminded me of Key Largo or Went the Day Well? The Spanish Armada has just been beaten by the English navy. The survivors are limping home to Spain. Everyone goes home except for the people on the ship Diablo, which is commanded by the Spanish pirate Captain Robeles (Christopher Lee showing off his Ike Turner haircut). Robeles thinks his ship is too damaged to make the long trip back to Spain. When one Spanish navy commander disagrees with this assessment, questions Robeles' martial spirit and tries to take command of Robeles' ship, Robeles promptly kills him. Robeles, as he patiently explains to everyone throughout the film, is not big on people telling him no.

The other Spanish navy liaison, Don Savilla (Barry Warren) is wiser. Although he disagrees with Robeles and despises pirates he's not stupid enough to press the issue while he's outnumbered 60-1 on a pirate ship. He registers his objections and shuts up. Robeles lands in a remote English harbor to make repairs. Robeles' plan goes awry when two of his men are discovered by the villagers. Showing the value of a good bluff when your hand is crap, Don Savilla lies to the villagers and tells them that the Spanish won. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Breaking News: Malaysia Airlines flight crashes in Ukraine

Breaking News: Malaysia Airlines flight crashes in Ukraine
 From (CNN):

A Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur has crashed in eastern Ukraine, Russian news agency Interfax reported Thursday. 

Malaysia Airlines confirmed that it lost contact with MH17, and the flight's last known position was over Ukrainian airspace, the airline said on Twitter. 

 The jet is a Boeing 777, according to Interfax. The plane reportedly went down near the border between Russia and Ukraine.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Book Reviews: Beat The Reaper

Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell
This book reminded me of Pest Control, The Catcher in the Rye, or a few other madcap satirical adventures. But it's also a biting critique of the health care system, a coming of age story, an Elmore Leonard style absurdist mob hijinks tale and one huge middle finger to anti-Semitism. That's a lot for one book but it flows well. The book was written by a doctor who also has a B.A. in English Literature. I don't know if the described details of hospital life would seem familiar to doctors or other people who are familiar with real life hospitals. 

Some of the displayed false concern for patients rang true to me from my brief experiences of hospital care. I imagine that anyone who is constantly making life or death decisions would find a way of achieving some distance from patients because otherwise how could they do their job? Bazell takes pains to point out that he's writing fiction. He writes that hopefully you're not going to rely on occasionally made up information for medical knowledge. 

This tale is told in first person and has some very funny parts mixed with real tragedy. Dr. Peter Brown is a sleep deprived, sarcastic, irritable and overworked (not that there's any other kind) intern at a Manhattan hospital. There's more to Dr. Brown than meets the eye as he is a little older, larger and rougher than the average intern. He can handle himself physically in a way that most men, doctors or not, simply can't. On Brown's trip to work a criminal attempts to mug him by placing a gun to his head. That criminal or "f***head" as Brown calls him makes a tremendous mistake. Brown easily maneuvers out of danger and disarms the mugger. Brown seriously injures his assailant via a combination of martial arts and medical knowledge but pulls back at the last second to avoid killing his attacker. Peter Brown is not just a doctor. Peter Brown is an Anglicized version of his real name "Pietro Brwna". "Brown" is a Jewish-Italian (he strongly identifies as Jewish) hitman, who having run permanently afoul of his Mafia employers in ways that are slowly revealed throughout the book, has joined the Witness Protection Program. 

However both Brown and the Feds are so thoroughly contemptuous of his former employer's retaliatory powers and intelligence that Brown hasn't bothered to leave NYC or do much to protect himself beside the modest name alteration and keeping a low profile.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Snowden Reveals NSA Spying On Americans

In the movie Baby Boy the self-described OG named Melvin played by Ving Rhames sneers at his possible future stepson. Melvin says that everything that the younger man is currently experiencing on the streets, the older man has already seen. To him, he boasts, it's just a rerun. 
I thought of that scene when I read the latest news that contrary to what its apologists have been saying about the NSA and the associated security structure, the NSA and FBI actually are spying on American citizens with political views and/or ethnicity that are out of the ordinary. This is something that Americans have seen before with surveillance (legal and extra legal) on civil rights and anti-war or left-wing activists from the 50s through the 80s. Rinse and repeat. Additionally the NSA is NOT just collecting metadata but actual data that lays bare the lives of millions of Americans who are neither suspected of or charged with criminal activity. So when the NSA spokesmen say they don't collect the actual contents of Americans' communications they are lying. These lies were obvious. Of course if anyone ever bothers to ask the President about this I am sure he will say that he knew nothing about it and is outraged. He will launch a commission to get to the bottom of it. Maybe. Someday. He will want to be perfectly clear that no one is more outraged than him. Yada, yada, yada. Rinse and repeat. Look over here there's news about Kim Kardashian! Look over there there's news about that celebrity's love life! Buy this pill it will make you a sexual dynamo! Start this secret Hollywood diet to lose weight to fit into this dress! These are the things that most Americans care about much more than the NSA activities, unfortunately.

George R.R. Martin Tells Fans What He Thinks

Have you ever reached a point when someone has worked your last nerve and made you lose your religion? Of course you have. Likely we all have at some point. Maybe it's your controlling blameshifting micromanaging boss who tells you for the fifteenth time to do something which you already did. Maybe it's a spouse or significant other who just HAS to have the last word in an argument and simply won't let sleeping dogs lie. Maybe it's someone smoking or spitting after you've asked them not to do that around you. Maybe it's a devious work rival who patiently waits until the department meeting with upper management to publicly ask you a question which is solely designed to make you look bad in front of the big shots. Maybe it's a child in the back seat who asks you "are we there yet?" every twenty minutes on a four hour car ride. Maybe it's a relative or alleged family friend, who upon the very day of a loved one's death has the gall to ask you if you've decided what you're going to do with their prized collection of books/cars/musical instruments/photographs/writings/etc. Maybe it's an underwriter who's calling you for the third time in an hour to ask about the $100 withdrawal you made from your bank account three months ago. Maybe it's an internet troll who is impervious to the most basic logic and can only communicate in slurs and profanities. Whatever or whoever it might be we all have our limits and for lack of a better word berserk buttons. Even the most mild mannered milquetoast man can occasionally lose his patience and wonder if it's time, as H.L. Mencken wrote, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats.

Who knows if fantasy author George R.R. Martin is a mild mannered man or not. I don't know him. I do know that he has no patience with people speculating on his work ethic, his writing style, his weight, his age, his mortality or how likely he is to finish A Song of Ice and Fire before he leaves the planet. But just in case people didn't know, Martin very helpfully shared what he thought of his fans who ponder those questions or worse, ask him directly...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Hillary Clinton Back in Spotlight Over Defense of Child Rapist

In a good number of states, after you pass the bar and become a licensed attorney you may get a phone call from a nearby court like I did telling you that you have been assigned to represent a criminal defendant who cannot afford an attorney.  And once you get that call, the rules of professional conduct for attorneys are clear: you have to take the case.  Period.  Just like jury duty; unless you're on your death bed, you don't have a choice. The state bar takes this obligation seriously.

I don't really have a dog in the fight surrounding Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency, but I can say that this latest controversy cooked up about her court appointed representation of a child rapist lacks merit.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Stop calling Hobby Lobby a Christian business

From Jonathan Merritt at The Week:

(Brian Cahn/ZUMA Press/Corbis)
"We're Christians," Hobby Lobby's president Steve Green proclaims, "and we run our business on Christian principles."

That is music to the ears of many conservative Christians, who rallied around Hobby Lobby when the retail chain argued at the Supreme Court that ObamaCare's contraception mandate unlawfully burdened their religious beliefs. But a closer look at Hobby Lobby's actual business practices reveals this claim to be as hollow as a flute. Turn over just about any trinket in a Hobby Lobby store and you'll find a gold oval stamped with "Made in China," a country that is one of the worst offenders of human dignity, unborn infant life, and economic justice anywhere in the world.

As such, those shiny stickers littering every Hobby Lobby from sea to shining sea are more than a statement about a product's geographical origin; they are also a stinging indictment against the way the retailer has sought to label itself.

Imagine for a moment a nation with nightmarish labor conditions, inadequate workplace regulation, and rampant child labor. You've just imagined 21st century China. Seventy thousand Chinese employees die every year in workplace accidents — that's roughly 200 humans snuffed out of existence every day.

Some provinces in China are raising their minimum wage standards. But don't rush to praise them. Starting this year in Shanghai, minimum wage is rising to only $293 per month — a paltry figure that is still the highest amount paid in all of mainland China. That's about $9.77 per day. If you were wondering how Hobby Lobby can sell wicker baskets for next to nothing, now you know.

The Bible is replete with calls for economic justice. Can you call yourself a "Christian business" when you leverage your profits to support an economic system that blatantly perpetuates injustice?

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Book Reviews: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
by Stephen King
Some things are obvious upon reading Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s follow up to his novel The Shining. The first is that King is and always has been an incredibly masterful writer. The second is that (and he states as much in the epilogue) King is still rather peeved at Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining. He thinks Kubrick got some very basic things wrong. King appears to resent that the film is probably better known in the American zeitgeist than the book. King seems to have made it his goal to change that in his remaining time on this planet. The final obvious takeaway from this book is that apparently King did not spend much, if any, time around black people during his formative years. I don't think he can easily(?) write realistic black characters. 

Many of his black characters are either literal Magic Negroes or creations that are just white characters dipped in blackness. For example, Dick Hallorann is the hero's mentor and I suppose, literally a Magic Negro. All four of Dick's grandparents were black. Despite this Dick unironically describes his paternal grandfather as “Black Gramps” because the man was bad. This grandfather was a child molester and all around evil man. Dick describes his maternal grandmother as “White Granny” because she was good. It’s from her that Dick inherited his psychic abilities. OK. Imagine a Jewish character describing one Jewish relative as “Jew Uncle” because he was cheap, petty, vindictive and grasping and another one as “Christian Auntie” because she was kind, polite, friendly and helpful. Does that ring true to you? Well YMMV but it certainly didn’t give me a warm comfortable feeling. Anyway. 

If you haven't read The Shining you're missing something good. Nevertheless reading The Shining is not necessary to enjoy Doctor Sleep. The inevitability of death and the circle of life are important themes in Doctor Sleep. We also get King’s first hand knowledge of the pain of alcohol abuse, broken bones and the helplessness of being hospitalized and immobilized. King was hit by a van in 1999. This accident almost took his life. He narrowly avoided losing limbs to amputation.