Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Chris Christie is running for President: You gotta problem with that?

If it's Tuesday it must be time for another man or woman to announce that he or she is running for President. Today it was New Jersey governor Chris Christie. I think, similar to what happens after someone you know hits the lottery there's a feeling that if that person got lucky why not you. I think that after President Obama pulled off the longest of longshots by getting elected, not just once but twice, that a lot of would be candidates have reached the conclusion that if he can, they can. 
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) announced he's running for president in 2016. Christie told supporters of his plans in a phone call Tuesday morning, according to NBC and the AP. Christie made a public announcement Tuesday afternoon at Livingston High School, his alma mater, in Livingston, New Jersey. I am now ready to fight for the people of the United States of America," Christie said at the public announcement. He praised his home state during his speech, sharing how working as governor inspired him to run for president. Christie also took hits at lawmakers in Washington, including President Barack Obama, claiming a lack of productivity from Congress is giving Americans anxiety. "Both parties have failed our country... both parties have led us to believe that America, a country that was built on compromise -- that compromise is somehow a dirty word," Christie said. "We need to have the courage to choose, we need to have the courage to stand up and say 'enough,'" Christie added.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Season Five Differences/Analysis

*There will be some spoiler type material here below the fold. 
If you've read Mario Puzo's book The Godfather and watched Francis Ford Coppola's films The Godfather and The Godfather II, you will know Coppola excised many book plots from his film adaptation. Although I don't think Puzo was a horrible writer I do think that Coppola was a better filmmaker than Puzo was an author. The Godfather novel featured Puzo rambling on at length about Lucy Mancini's anatomical sexual abnormalities, the racist, familial and job related frustrations of NYPD police officer Albert Neri, Hollywood's poor treatment of writers and third tier talent, and the noble sacrifices of a friendly abortionist with the guts (however fleeting) to stand up to Michael Corleone. I thought that this was tedious reading and would have made for boring viewing. Coppola was right to drop it. There were other better written book subplots that weren't necessarily key to Coppola's story or were excessively detailed. Some of this material found its way into Godfather II, but some of it is unadapted, waiting for a Godfather IV film perhaps? I mention this because although I'm generally supportive of the author's original intent, I believe there are always things that simply don't translate well from text to screen. So I'm not a book purist or rather not only a book purist. When I read some books I hope that certain characters are massively redone or dropped from a possible film version. Just as I was relieved not to have to watch Lucy Mancini's gynecological melodrama in The Godfather, I thought that HBO's Game of Thrones was well served by (so far?) skipping or possibly rewriting Strong Belwas, a black obese eunuch former slave, who fights for Daenerys and often relieves his bowels upon or at those he defeats while speaking of himself in the third person (and often broken English). Yeah, no thanks on that one GRRM.

Season Five of HBO's Game of Thrones took several steps away from the published books. It wasn't always clear why the showrunners did this. We didn't know if the new material was their own creation or instead something which GRRM told them about but hadn't published yet. GRRM's British editor and some of his collaborators on other works have panned many text deviations. There are far too many changes to discuss but I did want to list four I thought most significant. Again there will be some inevitable spoilers listed. But, honestly there's not much left to spoil. Most main characters are now at the same place on screen and book. The last book was published in 2011. This year viewers saw things book readers didn't know about. I wasn't crazy about Season Five but I also wasn't crazy about the source material upon which it largely drew, the books A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons.

Movie Reviews: Run All Night

Run All Night
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
The director who helmed this film also directed Orphan and Non-Stop as well as the film Unknown. The latter two films also featured Liam Neeson, as does Run All Night. So I was interested in seeing this film not just because of Neeson but also because of the director. I wasn't too disappointed. Neeson brings his usual gravelly authority to his role as a wastrel. Collet-Serra uses a tremendous number of closeups and other intimate filmic and camera techniques to make you emotionally bond with and believe in this story even though it is a tale which you have seen and read a million times before. In some many most respects this is just a remake or update of Sam Mendes' Road to Perdition. So though it's a cliche to say so, if you liked that movie you may well like this one. The only real difference is that in this film the protective father is not seen through the guileless and loving eyes of his underage son but rather is viewed through the judgmental and even hateful eyes of an adult son who does not consider his father to be part of his family. And the son has very good reasons for feeling that way. I know some people who have or too often had (time moves on) great relations with their father. I know others who have or had somewhat conflicted relations with their father. And I know a small handful of people who hate or hated their father with the white hot burning intensity of a thousand supernova. I can't really understand the last group of people but then again my experiences were very different. Run All Night, to its credit, doesn't immediately try to force you into wanting a reconciliation between father and son, even though it's something which the father needs very much. There are only a few initial sentimental tugs at the heartstrings. I suppose they are very well done if you are partial to that sort of thing. I thought some of this was a little bit unrealistic but that's just me.

The Real Housewives of Westeros

Because, why not? I liked the little details in this video, such as Sansa's constant snacking on lemon cakes, Ellaria's accent, Stannis' obsession with grammar and Cersei's snarky guarantee that her wine is "poison free". There is a soap opera quality to some of Martin's written work so a Real Housewives of Westeros makes sense.

Friday, June 26, 2015

*BREAKING NEWS* Supreme Court Rules 5-4 that Same-Sex Marriage is Legal in All 50 States

Per Wall Street Journal:

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court on Friday ruled same-sex partners have a constitutional right to marry, sweeping away state bans on gay unions and extending marriage equality nationwide.
The 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges struck down restrictions on same-sex marriage in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee that a Cincinnati-based federal appeals court upheld last year. It also validated a series of lower court opinions that expanded the institution across most of the nation since 2012, following an earlier Supreme Court holding requiring federal recognition of gay and lesbian marriages in states that had chosen to authorize the practice.
The opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy caps a rapid shift in legal and societal acceptance of same-sex marriage over the past decade. It also marks a revolution in American society, one that in the course of a generation saw gay rights move to the front line from the fringes of a national debate over the meaning of equality.Justice Kennedy is joined in the majority by the court’s four liberal justices— Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayorand Elena Kagan.
Friday’s ruling marks the fourth major gay rights ruling by Justice Kennedy. As at times in the past, he used sweeping language in describing the outcome.
“As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Kennedy wrote in the 28-page majority opinion. “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. The four conservatives filed four separate dissenting opinions, each of which some of the others joined.
“If you are among the many Americans—of whatever sexual orientation—who favor expanding same-sex marriage, by all means celebrate today’s decision,” wrote Chief Justice Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia and Thomas. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
Ahead of the ruling, same-sex marriage was legal in 36 states and the District of Columbia. That included Alabama, where a federal judge had ruled the state must recognize same-sex marriages but put the decision on hold pending the high court’s ruling on the matter.
The appeal before the Supreme Court was brought by 16 gay couples challenging marriage bans in the four states. The couples argued the U.S. Constitution entitles them to unions on the same terms as heterosexuals, and that state restrictions hurt them financially and demean their dignity by denying their unions legal recognition.
The four states had argued the courts should defer to the political process, leaving the decision of whether to recognize same-sex unions to the legislatures of each state.
The courtroom was full Friday morning, with people anticipating a blockbuster decision. Among them were Solicitor General Donald Verrilli and former Justice John Paul Stevens. The justices went straight to the marriage ruling at 10 a.m. As the direction of Justice Kennedy’s opinion became clear, smiles emerged from supporters, followed by tears and then hugs. One man took off his glasses, covered his head with his hands and started to weep.
As soon as Justice Kennedy ended, Chief Justice Roberts began reading his dissent.
As news of the ruling spread outside the court, gay-rights supporters who had gathered outside the Supreme Court began to celebrate. Cheers erupted and people embraced and began chanting “U.S.A.”
“I was speechless, completely, at first,” said Jennifer Davis of Michigan, who’s been married for three years. “I still need to sit down and read the opinions myself.”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

*BREAKING NEWS* Obamacare Upheld by Supreme Court 6-3

On March 9, 2015, we made the following prediction:

"I could definitely see a 6-3 vote against the plaintiffs that includes Roberts and Kennedy along with the 4 liberal Justices . . ."

Just minutes ago, the following ruling came down:

In a 6-3 decision, the justices said the Affordable Care Act allows tax credits to flow to Americans no matter where they live, according to the SCOTUSBlog, which tracks the court by the minute.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony Kennedy sided with the liberal wing of the court, while justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. dissented.

Did we call it, or did we call it?

For more on the background of what was at issue here, take a look at our March 9 Post.

Bobby Jindal: Mr. Rogers runs for President

You may have heard that Louisiana Governor Piyush "Bobby"Jindal recently declared that he was running for President. I suppose that's just wonderful. Go big or go home I always say. At only 44 years old and a two term governor, former Congressman, former head of the Louisiana University system, and Rhodes Scholar, Jindal is an intelligent ambitious man. He's also a less than impressive public speaker. Remember this?  But more importantly he's a man who panders to the constant conservative feelings of being under siege and needing to strike out at the "other". In Jindal's worldview this other includes everyone from non-Christians and liberals, which to him appear to be the same, to especially Muslims.  His stupid repeating of a myth about London "no go zones" and his stubborn refusal to correct his statement when called out on it show that he's eager to appeal to bigotry against Muslims. His announcement speech was full of aggrieved rants about liberals who are supposedly at war with Christians and God. Why is it important if someone believes in a supernatural being or not? That's not the source of morality or political legitimacy.  Additionally, although it may be difficult for Governor Jindal to process this, there are millions of people who believe in the same faith as he does but see things very different politically. There are folks who read through the New Testament and didn't really pick up the ideas that Jesus said to hell with poor people, that it should be every man for himself, that the free market was the best way to organize everything in life, or that the road to prosperity is paved with corporate tax breaks. It's hard to believe I know but there you are. Governor Jindal may be the only Presidential candidate who ever conducted an exorcism, but I'm not sure that level of religious devotion is really what the American electorate is looking for in a President. The sort of Manichean worldview does fit in much more with the conservative mindset than it does with the liberal one. But the tide is turning (has turned?) on some of the issues of gender and sexuality which are near and dear to the social conservative heart. I think Jindal and company are going to find that out to their dismay. Well they would if they ever reached the general election. Jindal won't win the nomination because besides being somewhat goofy looking with an odd voice, he's trying to appeal to a base which is not necessarily inclined to nominate someone who's not a white male. As discussed previously, speaking of Hillary Clinton, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre sneered that eight years of one demographically symbolic President is enough, while recently Ann Coulter (wrongly) accused South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley of being an immigrant (based apparently on her South Asian heritage) who thus didn't understand American history.

So those are the sorts of people to whom Jindal will have to appeal. It's possible he could do just that. He was elected to Governor twice in Louisiana, after all. But I'm not seeing it on a larger stage. Not now. It would be a win for Jindal just to make it into the first debate. Fortunately for Jindal though, people from his parents' country can't vote in Republican primaries, because many seem less than impressed with Jindal and his perceived rejection of his ethnicity. Go figure.

Charleston, Roof and the Confederacy

Lilly Belle, your hair is golden brown / I've seen your black man coming 'round 
Swear by God, I'm gonna cut him down
Southern Man-Neil Young
I was reminded of the above quote from the classic rock song "Southern Man" when it was alleged that an event which evidently pushed killer Dylan Roof into his downwards spiral from garden variety racist to murderous savage was the fact that he lost out romantically to a black man. This sort of hatred based in real or more often perceived sexual rivalry or sexual assault has been the basis for many racist actions, from slavery to Jim Crow to lynchings to police shootings on down through the years. Just as a totem of racial hatred and treason like the Confederate Battle Flag has survived, so have the emotions which the flag embodies. So no one should be surprised that a man who says that he hates and wants to kill black people was drawn to Confederate imagery. Many modern day Confederate Flag supporters either do not want to think about or admit the nature of the state which they are defending. They will blather on at length about their Confederate veteran great-great-great-grandfather veteran and how brave and honorable he was ad nauseaum. Well to paraphrase George Carlin, my great-great-great-grandfather said F*** your great-great-great-grandfather. The Confederacy was created to protect and extend slavery and white supremacy. This is emphatically not a modern day interpretation of historical events and motives. The Confederate military, political, journalistic and philosophical leaders were crystal clear about why they were fighting, what they thought the proper relationship of black and white was, and how long slavery would continue if they won (indefinitely). We've been over this before but it is evidently worth pointing out again. The Confederate states seceded because they believed that President Lincoln in particular and the North in general were both at the very least insufficiently dedicated to and at the worst openly hostile to the twin causes of slavery and white supremacy. Check it out for yourself. The secession declarations put in plain English for posterity's sake just what the drafters thought of black people. Southern politicians appealed directly to racism to motivate their base. Federalism, tariffs and industrialization mattered to them only to the extent that that slavery was threatened.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Confederate Flag

5 years ago, we did a post on why the confederate flag does not exactly square with American patriotism.  Given the recent shooting of Black church members in South Carolina by a proponent of the confederate flag, and in light of the recent outcry to finally remove it from the state flags of
several southern states, it seems only fitting to revisit our old post, which we will reprint here in pertinent part:

March 4, 1861 - 7 states in the South (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas) were pissed off at the anti-slavery infringement on "state's rights" by the Federal Government, declared that they were officially seceding from the United States of America (aka "the North"), and formed their own government: the Confederate States of America. [can you imagine how wild that would look in today's context?]  About a month later, they attacked the United States at Fort Sumter, causing 4 more states to join the cause (Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia).  President Abraham Lincoln, who had just taken office by the way, ordered the troops of the United States to fight the Confederacy and officially started what we all now know as The Civil War.  That war lasted for another 4 years killing more Americans (over 620,000) than any other war or military operation that America has ever been a part of since.  As we all know, the United States (aka the "Union") won the Civil War in 1865, reclaimed the Southern states through the "Reconstruction" period, and ended slavery in America.

A while back, The Fed did a post about the so-called "Real Americans;" people who claim that their patriotism for America is superior to others because of certain enumerated beliefs typically revolving around a social conservative agenda.  One of the biggest ironies (or perhaps "hypocrisies" is a more apt description) of this group is their love for the Confederacy, it's flag, and all things associated therewith.  Nothing could be more anti-patriotic.

All racial implications of slavery aside (and that is a HUGE aside, people), the reason why honoring the Confederacy is anti-patriotic is simple: secession from the United States is treason. Text-book treason at that.  If you love America, you cannot love something that tried to destroy America. The two concepts are mutually exclusive.  We can add this inconsistency to the long line of inconsistencies of so-called "Real Americans" who seem to be missing the point about what it means to actually be, well, an American.

In Germany, federal law strictly prohibits the use, sale, or display or any kind of the Swastika -- a symbol from that country's past that, much like the Confederate Flag, is associated with an unpleasant chapter in that nation's past that cost many lives.  Bottom line, the retirement of the Confederate Flag has been long overdue.  Now that we're about 150 years removed from the Civil War, the only real question is "what took you guys so long?"

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Movie Reviews: Focus

directed by Glenne Ficarra and John Requa
As I get older I wonder if the saying that there aren't many new stories, just recycled ones actually has some truth to it. Certainly the film Focus hit on a great many themes which are common to stories you've heard before (fractured parent and child relationships, the inability to tell if something is truly love or just lust, and the dedicated player/con man/gambler, who like the people in the Bob Seger song Still the Same ,may never truly be made to go straight or change) So this movie will probably feel very familiar to you, albeit in a good way. I'd compare it to a favorite pair of slippers.  Nothing special, just nice and comfortable.

Unfortunately unlike the similar films Now You See Me or Contraband Focus slightly misses its mark by not having a particularly strong, intelligent or dangerous adversary with whom the lead character can interact. Without this conflict you're not always able to admire the lead character's resourcefulness or shake your head in wonder as to how he got out of that jam. Focus does have one or two good set scenes where the viewer can really enjoy the intelligence and swagger of the lead character but overall this would have been a much better and more enjoyable film with a nastier or more intelligent bad guy to push the lead. On the other hand whereas many of these heist/con type films are concerned with the battle of wits between and among men, Focus features that only as a secondary issue. The film is far more interested with the professional and personal relationship between a man and woman grifter. 
So in some respects this is as much of a romance film mixed with heists as it is a drama film about the underworld of con men. There's some violence in Focus but not all that much. Con men almost by definition like to avoid violence. If they do their job correctly they're able to have their victims willingly give them money. A good mark never knows he's been conned. You can wonder a little bit about the sort of people who do this for a living but the film doesn't allow you to see the world any other way except through the con artist's eyes. 
As a result you end up identifying with the protagonists who, truth be told are exactly the sort of lowlifes who will steal your credit card number and ruin your credit, sell you ocean front property in Kansas, and get you to give them two tens for a five. You may end up admiring their panache even though, unlike the con artists in the underrated British series Hustle, these scoundrels have no interest in righting wrongs or only ripping off the greedy.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Handicapping Major Party Declared Presidential Candidates (Part Two)

Donald Trump

Why he can win
Say his name! You know who he is. Everyone knows who he is. He's richer than Romney. He's tall. He's been a public figure for most of his adult life. He's usually surrounded by attractive women. His name is synonymous with an over the top wealth, pugnaciousness and clueless bigotry. He never stops talking about how great he is. If he says that often enough some voters might believe it. If nothing else he's not a politician. He could combine his salesmanship with a new found economic nationalism to convince people that they really ought to drop the middleman, and just vote for a dues paying member of the top 0.0001%. People of Trump's class are making many decisions behind the scenes anyway. Why not go full plutocracy? Part of Trump's brand is that he's a fighter who doesn't take any guff from anyone, especially those Chinese or Mexicans who are, in Trump's telling, responsible for everything that's wrong in your life.

Why he can't win
Trump has a very pronounced tendency to take every disagreement or criticism personally. Trump doesn't turn the other cheek or let any attack pass unchallenged. Revenge and payback are virtual Trump sacraments. For a man worth unbelievable amounts of money, Trump is quite thin-skinned. He will inevitably respond to any disapproval or disagreement by deriding his critic as a loser, stupid, fat, ugly, or poor. Obviously Trump considers wealth, success, and good looks to be of the highest importance. Trump's the king of ad hominem attacks. If he's in the televised Republican debates, his aggression and nastiness will entertain. But he won't go much further. Many Republicans simply don't like the man. If your base doesn't like you what do you do? Some of Trump's statements reveal an incredible ignorance of our political system. As both supporters and detractors of President Obama point out, the President can't just rule by fiat. A domineering personality will only get you so far. Once this reality starts to penetrate Trump's delusions about his popularity and applicable skill sets, the results won't be pretty. As mentioned, he doesn't handle rejection well. Rejection is for losers. If Trump is rejected then he will be a loser. But Trump can't be a loser. There could be a mental breakdown looming here folks.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Breaking News: South Carolina Church Murders Gunman Captured - Says He Went to Church "To Shoot Black People."

21-year old Dylan Roof Arrested 

The man suspected of killing nine people Wednesday night at an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, was arrested Thursday morning about three hours away near Shelby, North Carolina, law enforcement authorities said.
Investigators identified the suspect as Dylann Roof, 21, of Lexington, South Carolina.
The man spent an hour in a prayer meeting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday night before he opened fire, Charleston police Chief Greg Mullen said Thursday morning.
A law enforcement official says witnesses told them the suspect stood up and said he was there "to shoot black people."

Monday, June 15, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Season Five Finale: Mother's Mercy

"For the Watch."
Well another year has come and gone. And I can stop with these recaps. Thank you for reading and commenting though. I may write one or two more posts on Game of Thrones. Or I may not. I really wish that Martin was a faster writer because this season saw the greatest number of and most significant kind of divergences between book and show. Sometimes these differences worked. Sometimes they didn't. Although there is a great deal of book material which was left out or severely altered, more and more characters have reached the end of their storyline in the published books. So this season also enabled book readers to be just as surprised as show-only viewers. Benioff and Weiss either made changes to what we read in the books or possibly depicted events that Martin created but had not published yet. Anyway we open up in the aftermath of the horrible sacrifice of Shireen to the Lord of Light. Initially it looks like the magic delivered. There is a thaw. Melisandre looks approvingly at melting icicles. The way to Winterfell is open. Melisandre goes to crow about this to Stannis; she also wants to get a little cuddling in. Well it doesn't really matter that she's showing off the goodies, Stannis is in no mood to hear about the Lord of Light or canoodle with Melisandre. Murdering your own daughter tends to kill the mood. There will be no sexual healing for Stannis. But any grim satisfaction Stannis may have with the improving weather quickly dissipates when he gets bad and worse news. Apparently roughly half his already small army has deserted, presumably because they aren't too happy about fighting for someone who murdered his daughter. Even for money or loyalty there are just some things mercenaries or other soldiers won't do. The deserting mercenaries and regular soldiers have also taken all the horses. But wait, that's not all. In addition to that Queen Selyse has hanged herself. Melisandre didn't foresee any of that. How embarrassing. Well she rides off when Stannis isn't looking. It's bad enough to lose your wife but when your girlfriend dumps you it's going to be a long day. So, to recap, Stannis has virtually no men left, no siege engines, no horses, low morale and no family left. But Stannis being Stannis cannot admit defeat even as it's clear that he's an utterly broken man. The deaths of his wife and daughter have left him with nothing to fight for. Still he orders the march on Winterfell. A man has got to have a code. And Stannis' only remaining element of his code is that he's supposed to be king. It's all he has left.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Reviews: The Children of Hurin

The Children of Hurin
by J.R.R. Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)
The famous fantasy/sci-fi author Michael Moorcock once called Tolkien's Lord of The Rings "Epic Pooh", a characterization which I thought wasn't entirely accurate or fair. It is true that Moorcock wrote work that was (occasionally self-consciously so) much grittier with more moral ambiguity of the sort that would become popularized by later writers such as Donaldson, Martin and Abercrombie , to name a few. But on the other hand Tolkien knew all about the uglier side of life. He was after all a WWI veteran who fought in and survived the war's bloodiest battle, The Somme. Two of his best friends were killed during that battle. 

So if some sections of the Lord of The Rings are not as dark or as explicit as some later fantastical novels, it's not because Tolkien hadn't seen evil and hardship in his life. One of his earlier works, although it was only published after his death, was The Silmarillion, which had all sorts of doomed heroes, grim people doing grim things for worse reasons and even a few families which didn't fork. The Silmarillion as published is a collection of Tolkien's older stories about Middle-Earth ,ultimately going back to its creation and corruption. Perhaps the most tragic tale in The Silmarillion involves the story of Turin Turambar and his sister Nienor. As the title indicates they were the children of the northern lord, Hurin, considered to be the greatest warrior to ever live. 

The events detailed in this story took place roughly 6000 years before the occurrences in the Lord of the Rings. So with the exceptions of immortals like Gandalf, a few surviving elves like Galadriel or humans like Aragorn who are descended from some of the protagonists, most people by the time of the Lord of the Rings consider these tales mere legends if they remember them at all. If you think Martin's Starks had a rough time of it well they got off light compared to Hurin and his children. This story is also a great example of how creative people build on what's been done before to construct their own works. The Children of Hurin bears a very clear (Tolkien readily acknowledged this) debt to such classic stories as Wagner's Ring Cycle and the Volsung saga, Oedipus, and especially the Finnish national saga, the Kullervo. There's a saying that your arms are too short to box with God. Well if that's true it's also probably the case that your arms are also too short to box with the Devil. Tolkien's primary evil force was Melkor, or as he became known, Morgoth. Morgoth vacillated between wanting to destroy all of creation, because he didn't make it, and wanting to rule it. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

#AskRachel: Is Transracial a Thing, or is Rachel Dolezal Just a Liar?

There is nothing that gives me more life than a good twitter dragging. And at 1:45 this morning, as I fought sleep amongst my coworkers in the newsroom, #blacktwitter did not disappoint. The subject, one Rachel Dolezal. The issue homegirl (and I use that term loosely) has been passing for Black for years and got put on front street by her parents, and a news reporter after she checked the Black African-American box on a form for some measly political seat in Spokane. All morning, between breaking news, getting shows on the air, and making phone calls about breaking news, I kept coming back to Rachel. Mostly to laugh at her shame, or maybe her pride; and then through that twisted hilarity I tried to figure out why homegirl was so pressed to be down that she resorted to lies and tall tales so bald-faced that her edges clearly ran away from her mendacious face.

In 2007 I read a book called Passing by Nella Larsen. It is about light skinned black folks passing for white. A practice put on film in the movie Imitation of Life. A practice broken down for a social science experiment in the book Black Like Me. Passing is not new. Passing is what led to the separate but equal laws in the first place. Plessy v. Ferguson anyone? What is new is passing in reverse or what we millennials and Rachel Dolezal apologists have hashtaged #transracial.

Michigan, Gay Adoptions and Welfare Reform

One of the interesting things about Michigan is that although it has two Democratic US Senators and is a pretty reliable Democratic state in presidential elections it also has a large vibrant conservative electorate. That electorate is not all that happy with some of the recent changes in society. As you may have known if you read our previous post on gays in Michigan and some of the challenges they face around family law, sexuality is not a protected status in the state of Michigan. Theoretically then, there is no current state protection against discrimination against homosexuals in hiring, public accommodations, contracts or housing. Such protection is not in the state constitution or in state law. Those protections exist in Michigan not at all. However Michigan conservatives, religious and otherwise, can see which way the courts and more importantly the larger national electorate are both leaning on this issue. Michigan conservatives don't like it. They also don't like the fact that in certain other states or in Washington D.C. , adoption agencies who refused to place children with gay adoptive parents were forced to either change their policies or close. So yesterday Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed into law a measure that explicitly allows religiously based adoptive agencies to refuse to place children with prospective parents who happen to be gay. So if Pat and Pat show up and want to adopt a child, the agency, should it find same sex relationships (gay marriage is not legal in Michigan) distasteful can tell the two men or two women to take a hike. There's no longer any need to couch rejections in niceties. I think that some conservatives view this both as a rearguard action against a culture they no longer recognize and as a necessary and prudent preemptive strike.

Monday, June 8, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Dance of Dragons

"I believe in second chances. I don't believe in third chances."
Well I think it's safe to say that Stannis is out of the running for Father of The Year. More on that in a minute. First we open up in the North where Melisandre, apparently unbothered by the cold as she is wearing her normal plunging neckline gown, (heh-heh) seemingly senses something awry and walks out of her tent. She sees what is probably one of Ramsay's men scurrying away. Then fire breaks out across the camp. Tents, horses, and men are all set ablaze. It's chaos and near panic. The next morning Davos gives the grim report to Stannis. We see what Ramsay wanted those twenty men to do. Much of the food stores and all of the siege engines have been burned. Stannis' army has also lost horses, Going forward just became even more difficult. Even if they reach Winterfell they have no way to besiege it now. Stannis is, needless to say, more than a bit perturbed. He can't understand how twenty men can infiltrate his camp so easily. This lack of security around a ruler will be bookended in the episode's final scenes. Stannis is not mollified by Davos' excuse that the southerners are unused to the grim North and don't know the terrain. Not raising the alarm while you're on guard duty means that you're either incompetent or you're a traitor. Stannis has no use for either; he orders the guards hanged. His march looks like it's dead in the water...or rather dead in the snow I guess.
Later on Stannis summons Davos to undertake a new mission. He is to return to Castle Black to ask for food and supplies with the promise that once Stannis becomes King, he will ensure that the Night's Watch is provisioned and manned far beyond the skeleton crew it currently has. Stannis doesn't seem to care that this request would require the Night's Watch to break the neutrality it's supposed to maintain. And he cares even less that, as Davos angrily points out, that this message could and should be carried to the Night's Watch by someone far less senior than Davos, the King's Hand. But orders are orders. Right. Before he leaves Davos visits Shireen. He has carved her a  beautiful wooden stag. A stag is of course the Baratheon sigil. It's a gift to her for not giving up on him, and for teaching him to read. There's some very obvious subtext here as to why Stannis wants Davos temporarily gone. You probably know what it is too. Davos may even sense it which is why he gave Shireen the gift. Just in case you're really thick, we see Stannis give a meaningful look at Melisandre. And I don't think he's checking out her womanly goodies though probably everyone else is.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Cop Assaults Teen Girl in McKinney Texas

All of the facts leading up to this incident are still up for debate. What's not up for debate are the apparently unprofessional, thuggish and dangerous actions of one of the police officers who responded. Knowing how police generally behave and their differing perceptions of threat based on race I'm not really too surprised by anything in the video, though I am angered. I really don't have a whole lot to add about this other than incidents such as these are precisely the reason that police officers ought to be better trained. But if someone is racist and hateful the level of training is meaningless. This is in many ways the historical and apparently current black experience in America in a nutshell. Blackness is considered criminal by definition when it's outside of its "place". In our (not so) post-racial America, black children, white children and hispanic children are apparently having a good time at a pool party. Apparently some white adults are put off by the numbers of black invitees or question whether they are all invitees.  A security guard (white?) starts to evict the black children who were apparently invited. One white woman, who evidently feels that black children should not be at that particular pool party, starts hurling racist insults. When she is called out on this by another black woman, she apparently initiates a physical assault. The police are called. Like most black people, young or old, would do, many of the black children decide that now would be a good time to depart the premises. After all the police are quite comfortable beating or shooting black people. Everyone knows that. What the video seems to show is that one police officer, upset at having fallen down chasing someone, decides to unload his bile on any black teen in the vicinity. He curses and insults them and then takes down a young teen girl, grinding her face in the ground and sitting on her. He also pulls his gun and points it at the children when they protest. These children were treated as if they had just slaughtered nine people. Oh wait, no they weren't. The bikers who actually killed people and exchanged gunshots with the police were treated better than unarmed children committing the felony crime of being black in an area where being black is illegal. The officer has been placed on administrative leave...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Movie Reviews: Supremacy, The Gambler

directed by Deon Taylor
This movie was supposedly based in part on a real life story. So then I can't get too upset if it dragged at times because that could very well be how it all went down. Still there are some directorial techniques which might have been put to better use in order to keep the film moving. Watching this film I also got the distinct impression that there was more than usual in terms of scenes or writing that was cut from this theatrical release. Some character motivations and frustrations are severely lacking. Perhaps another ten minutes or so would have been worthwhile adding? Or perhaps ten minutes trimmed from other scenes to let you know why some people were so upset could have been useful. I don't know. I just watch movies. I don't make them. Still this film features Danny Glover (it is difficult for me to watch the actor who famously groused in the Lethal Weapon series that he was getting too old for this s*** actually become someone who is old) so I was positively inclined to watching it. Glover carries the movie despite the fact that he must act and look every bit of his 68 years on this planet. Although Glover stands a commanding 6'4", his role in this film mostly requires him to downplay his height, physicality and baritone. Here he's an old and often bitter man who, armed with nothing more besides reason and words, must try to protect his family. Nevertheless Glover gives the film gravitas though the frantic energy is brought to the table by the other lead actor. As do most movies of this kind this film made me think twice about people from times past, whether they found themselves on a plantation in Mississippi or a death camp in Poland, who did what they had to do in order to survive. It's all very easy to look back and talk big about what you would have done or how you wouldn't have stood for this or that. Bottom line if someone has a gun to your head or to that of a loved one, you may decide that death before dishonor is not really a code to live by. Not everyone is ready to die right this minute, though we obviously remember and cherish those who are.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Tracy Morgan's First Interview Since His Accident (VIDEO)

A very touching and emotional interview...


HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Hardhome

Just two episodes left. What have your impressions been of the season so far?
Anyhow this episode opened up with Daenerys trying to decide what to do with Tyrion and Jorah. She wonders openly as to why she shouldn't just kill them both. Tyrion being Tyrion snarks that it's too early for him to decide if Daenerys would be a good ruler or not but he is impressed and intrigued that someone who was sold to a warlord as a wife and later lost her husband has managed to rise to a position of power and leadership. However as Tyrion sees it she needs an adviser like him because of his intelligence and political acumen. As a test Daenerys asks Tyrion what would he do with Jorah. After all she did order Jorah not to return on pain of death. Who will take her seriously if she doesn't follow through. Tyrion agrees that keeping your word is important. But it's also important to inspire devotion. You can't do that if you kill a man who is obviously devoted to you and also in love with you. Tyrion counsels exile. So once again Jorah is banished. Only this time he has greyscale. Life is just not working out for Mr. Mormont. But a man will do anything for love. Jorah sells himself back into slavery for the chance to fight in the pits and once again sneak back on Daenerys' radar. A faint heart never won a fair lady. But then again this lady has dragons. She's denied Jorah twice already. I hope Jorah knows what he's doing. Two's company but three's a crowd. Now that Jorah is out of the picture Daenerys and Tyrion relax and share guarded stories about their fathers, or in Daenerys' case stories she's heard about her father as she never knew him. Tyrion cautions her that it might not necessarily be a good idea for her to invade Westeros as Daenerys has no base of support. Why not just stay in Meereen? Daenerys says the common people of Westeros will support her. Politely declining to inform her that she might be a tad deluded on that front, Tyrion points out that none of the leading families of Westeros will rally to her banners. It's not in their interest. Politics in Westeros is just a spinning wheel that goes around and around and around. Daenerys gives her "I will break the wheel" speech. Daenerys doesn't lack for confidence, that's for sure.