Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dear Outraged Social Activists: Outrage Over the Murder of "Cecil the Lion" is Justifiable

Earlier this afternoon I received a text message with the video above. Recently I heard rumblings about Cecil and had seen numerous social media postings where black folks expressed outrage over sympathy for "Cecil." I wasn't really sure who "Cecil" was or why he died. Upon seeing comparisons to Sandra Bland and other recently murdered African-Americans at the hands of police officers, I knew I had to move away from the Drake vs. Meek Mill debacle (no judgement please it was good entertainment to clear my mind of all the injustices that plagued our communities) and find out what happened here. After watching this Jimmy Kimmel video and having a full understanding of this story, I am thoroughly disgusted by the actions of Walter Palmer and equally disgusted with the so called social activists who've attempted to discredit anyone whose spoken up about this incident but didn't for Sandra Bland.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Huckabee Equates Iran Deal to Holocaust, Jon Stewart Speechless

As you may have heard by now, Mike Huckabee has been making buzz this week with his comments comparing the recently negotiated Iranian nuclear deal to the holocaust.  Many leaders on both sides of the aisle, including the President, have denounced Huckabee's remarks as out of touch at best.  Jon Stewart, who is Jewish, was apparently left at a rare loss for words and decided to let Huckabee's comments speak for themselves:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Handicapping Major Party Declared Presidential Candidates (Part Three)

Everyday there's someone else announcing his candidacy because he thinks he has what it takes to be President of the United States. I really do believe that one possible reason for this number of candidates is because some people think that if the black guy could do it how hard could it really be. I'm not 100% serious writing that. Not completely anyway. But for all the myriad disagreements I have and will continue to have with President Obama it is still in some aspects pretty amazing that the twice elected President of United States is a black man with a name that is utterly non-European. That's a big deal. And it is also a big deal that America might follow the election of the first black President with the election of the first female President. But on the Republican side because there is no incumbent to follow or obvious heir, much like GRRM's War of The Five Kings, people think why not me? That HAS to be the justification for long shot mopes like Bobby Jindal, George Pataki or Ben Carson, to name a few. It's like the lottery. Someone has to win. And you can't win if you don't play. And even if you lose you may not have to return all of the campaign contributions. You could parlay your new fame into a television or radio show. Perhaps you have a book you'd like to peddle.Or maybe you intend to be the loyal opposition/sparring mate for whoever eventually does win. Then you can get a cushy cabinet position in their administration. Then you just kick back and do favors for lobbyists for three or four years before cashing in your chips and becoming a lobbyist or tripling your salary at a think tank. On the other hand if you really are trying to win the race there are different paths to victory for candidates, especially Republican ones, in an America with a browning electorate. Some Republican nominees would attempt to run up the score with white voters, particularly among the hard right base. Other Republicans would seek to placate the base but reach out to white suburban college educated voters of whatever political background who may not have seething rage about illegal immigration or gay marriage but who are still worried about their children's economic prospects. And some Democrats might point to the party's dismal national standing among white men, especially Southern white men, and claim that they can reverse that to build a new broad based coalition. I don't know and neither does anyone else who will win their party nominations and ultimately the Presidency or which argument will resonate most strongly with the voters. I do know that this race is going to be wide open, perhaps a little more on the Republican than the Democratic side, though Sanders is currently showing a little more strength and staying power than Clinton would probably like to see.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Confederate Flag: No Big Deal?

Something which unites some people on the hard right and on the hard left or nationalist black left is the desire to sneer at the removal of the Confederate Flag from such official public spaces such as the Columbia South Carolina Statehouse or from Texas state license plates. The usual line of "reasoning" on the right will claim that because removal of the Confederate Flag will not stop the horror of "black-on-black" crime or any other pathology which apparently only affects black people it is therefore a waste of time and (this part is important because it dovetails nicely with what many right-wingers think of black people anyway) STUPID for black people to spend any time or energy trying to get the flag removed from public spaces. After this seeming axiom is pointed out the right-winger will usually try to convince you that the Confederate Flag has nothing at all to do with white supremacy or slavery and for that matter neither did the Civil War and anyone who thinks otherwise is the real racist, not them.

I think the people who try to argue this are either mentally slow or think that you are. On the left of course there are people who understand the symbolism of the Confederate Flag and do not initially seek to claim that it has no meaning of hatred or a very specific and ugly type of white identity politics. Nonetheless they usually wind up claiming that the flag is harmless and/or needs to be understood with some sort of nuance . Another form of left-winger, disproportionately found in academia or other bastions of so-called radical thought, will claim that the US flag is the flag that black people really need to reject. 

And then of course there is the "more radical than thou" type who is thoroughly convinced that unless and until we can undo, eliminate and repair each and every incarnation of racism, capitalism, sexism, patriarchy, homophobia, speciesism, transphobia, fat shaming, xenophobia, whiteness, nationalism, and any other "ism" you can think of going back to 1492 or before, then your protesting the Confederate Flag or being happy that there is a growing clamor to remove it from public spaces is just evidence that you're a brainwashed sap who's too quick to go for the okey-doke. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie Reviews: The House That Dripped Blood

The House That Dripped Blood
directed by Peter Duffel
Amicus Productions was a British film company that was actually owned by Americans. In many respects it was a Hammer Films ripoff. Well maybe ripoff is an unfairly harsh term. Rather I should say that the look and feel of the company's films were often similar to those of Hammer. This was made more so by the fact that apparently Hammer had neglected to sign many of its most notable stars to exclusive contracts so quite a few of them showed up in Amicus films. In this film for example, quite bountiful cleavage is provided by Hammer Films va-va-voom icon Ingrid Pitt. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee also show up for to add their usual gravitas to the proceedings. The major difference between the two companies was that Amicus was much better than Hammer at producing interesting films set in the present day while Hammer of course tended to shine at period films, Regency or otherwise. This film is an interesting time capsule of the looks and styles of early seventies Great Britain. Anyway this is another film in a packet sent to me by my brother. I think it was the best of the films included therein. It's an anthology of four short stories all of which revolve around the titular home. Robert Bloch, the noted American horror author of Pyscho, wrote the stories and screenplay for this film. So there's quality writing, solid actors and decent direction. And the film is just a little short of two hours. So even the infrequent down times don't last very long. Despite the title there's very little depiction of blood shown in the movie. In fact I think there might not be any. So if you are the sort of person who avoids horror movies because you can't stand the sheer nastiness and explicitness of much of the genre, you might be interested in checking this out. Or on the other hand if you are turned off by the ubiquity of nudity, spurting blood, shaky camera work, jump cuts and crushed heads that have become common place in modern horror films you may be intrigued by a slower paced horror film that really presents itself as a mystery and avoids too many overt shocks to the system. The director had a background in television which turned out to work well with the episodic nature of this movie. The special effects are not so great and are not even state of art for the time. But there is a definitely a tongue in cheek feel to the proceedings, particularly when Pitt is on screen. Some of the cheesiness is probably quite deliberate. All the same, it's Bloch's writing and pacing which make this movie work.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Song for Sandra: Dash Cam Video Released in Traffic Stop of Sandra Bland

At 1:35 this morning I watched a 1:15 clip of the Sandra Bland dash cam video. As I watch Sandra Bland explain to the officer why she was upset at being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, refuse to put out her cigarette, and refuse to get out of her car when asked, and then the officer go to one thousand for I assume being disrespected, my heart dropped and my stomach sank. We already know she died three days later in a jail cell with a trash bag wrapped around her neck. Seeing her fight for her last shreds of self-respect and dignity by resisting a power structure that assumes a person of black or brown skin is guilty until proven innocent regardless of an arrest, explanation of detainment, or being read miranda rights makes me ache.

We've seen this story before. Sanford. Jacksonville. Detroit. Ferguson. New York. Baltimore. Trayvon Martin. Jordan Davis. Renisha McBride. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray.

Whether walking home in the rain to see the All Star Game or bumping loud music during the Black Friday weekend vigilantes and police prove time and again Black Lives Don't Matter. Whether trying to get help after a traffic crash or walking in the middle of the street from the corner store (alleged robbery be damned) vigilantes and police prove time and again Black Lives Don't Matter. Just being seen in a drug infested neighborhood, or known to sell loose squares to make a buck on the block police prove time and again Black Lives Don't Matter.

You know what. I think they're right. Black Lives Don't Matter.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Netroots Hecklers, Sanders, O'Malley and the Theater of Emotional Politics

Hecklers by definition want to disrupt someone's speech or presentation. They think that the presenter is missing some key points in his or her argument, is morally heinous, is focusing on incorrect topics, is wrong about everything and/or shouldn't even be allowed to speak in the first place. Now, I would never say that hecklers are always wrong but make no mistake heckling is a rude aggressive action. If you remember just a few weeks back an illegal immigrant transgender rights activist tried to heckle President Barack Obama at a White House event. After attempting to talk over this person and vainly appealing to a sense of decorum, the President had the person removed from the premises. Most of the President's political supporters were okay with this action. Some were openly amused by the President's forceful response. It's all about time and place. Interrupting someone is what heckling is all about. It's bad enough when someone heckles you. That's to be expected in politics. Politics is a contact sport with sharp elbows. If you can't take the heat get out of the kitchen. But when someone tries to bogart an event that's something else indeed. There are some people or groups who can't get enough attention in their own right so they travel to other more popular events to hijack the narrative and reset the agenda to one of their own liking. Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley found this out recently when at the Netroots Nation conference protesters chanting "Black lives matter" and "Say her name" heckled them, prevented them from speaking and briefly took over the stage.  But the protesters aren't doing themselves or their cause any favors by focusing on people who currently lack the power to initiate nationwide changes. More on this below. 

PHOENIX — A group of protesters repeatedly confronted Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland during a town hall discussion with liberal activists here on Saturday, demanding the Democratic presidential candidates address issues like discrimination and police brutality. Chanting, “What side are you on, my people, what side are you on?” and “Black lives matter,” the demonstrators moved to the front of the ballroom about 20 minutes into the event as Mr. O’Malley discussed proposed changes to Social Security. They remained there, heckling the candidates and posing questions, until organizers shut down the event, one of the centerpieces of the annual Netroots Nation conference.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Book Reviews: A Walk Among The Tombstones, The Age of Selfishness

A Walk Among The Tombstones
by Lawrence Block
This is listed as a crime thriller but is really more of a mystery novel. It was originally published in 1992 so many of the technological references and even some plot points are now dated but not so much so that these things would interfere with your enjoyment of the story. As it turns out I recognized the lead character's name. I did some checking. I believe that I read an earlier Scudder story by Block way back in the seventies or eighties. Go figure. This is a very leisurely read at just over 408 pages in paperback format. Although some gruesome horrors are detailed because the bad guys are very bad indeed, for the most part with a few notable exceptions there's not too much gore. It's mostly offpage and/or left up to the reader's imagination. But when a shock does occur it punches you right in the gut, suddenly and with extreme force. Being a private eye in American fiction is sort of like being a ronin, a samurai with no master, or being that gunfighter with no name. The private eye often fights for the side of what's right, but he may need to break laws to do that. He's often no Boy Scout. He may have his own demons to face which prevent him from being the best man he can be. In some cases the private eye is only on the side of good by accident. He may have the same urges the bad guys have but was trained or raised differently. Change one or two things and the private eye could just as easily be on the other side of the good: evil divide. Well Matthew Scudder isn't quite walking the fine line between good and evil. He's probably not (at least in this book) anything even close to being a bad guy. He knows the difference between right and wrong, but he's willing to occasionally stretch the law or look the other way. He's not a naif. Scudder's an alcoholic and former cop. He knows the wrong that people do. Usually unless it involves hurting other people he tries not to judge. He has his own pain to process from the apparent destruction of his former marriage and relationship with his children. I'm not sure what the status of his relationship is with his ex and children or even if they are still alive as Scudder doesn't talk about it. I'm not sure you could say that Scudder accepts evil as indeed he ends up struggling against it. But I do think that you could say that Scudder is under no illusions that he's going to make a huge difference in the overall scheme of things or that evil will ever be permanently removed from the human condition. No matter what Scudder does, the world is going to keep on turning. There is both horror and joy in that fact.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Black Unemployment: Who Gets the Credit?

Back in 2011, The Janitor wrote a piece on the black unemployment, which you can read here.  That post covered many of the possible causes of high Black unemployment.  We also began to hear some rumblings about the "first Black President" not helping Black unemployed people.  We asked the question, "Who's to Blame for Black Unemployment?"
This past June, the unemployment rate for black people in this country fell to 9.5, its lowest point since Obama took office.  Make no mistake, there’s still work to be done.  But improvement is improvement.  Especially for those who often ask, “What has Obama done for Black Folks?”  As if Obama is the President of Black America exclusively. 
When we compare today's numbers with the numbers in Janitor's post:
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 19 plus million black people in the labor work force, 1.8 million (9.5) are unemployed.  Black men make up just under 9 million of our base line 18 million figure; of the nearly 9 million black men in the work force, just over 800K (9.5) are unemployed.  That same figure among Black women is 780K (7.9).  Among the 712K Black teenagers eligible to work, 226K (31.8) are unemployed.   
When we compare the Black unemployment figures to those of our White counterparts, the contrast remains the same, but there is improvement: the White unemployment rate is 4.6% compared to 9.5% for Blacks; the White male unemployment rate is 4.2% compared to 9.5% for Blacks; the White female unemployment rate is also 4.2% compared to 7.9% for Blacks, and the White teenager unemployment rate is 15.7% compared to 31.8% for Blacks. 
Janitor’s post showed the disparity between Black and White unemployment rates as compared to the national average.  When the Janitor wrote his post, the White unemployment rate was 1.1 percent lower than the national average and the Black unemployment was 6.9 percent higher than that of the national average at.  However, as of June, the White unemployment rate is 0.7 percent lower than the national average and the Black unemployment rate is 4.2 percent higher than that of the national average.  So while there is work to be done, there has been an improvement with the Black unemployment rate of nearly 3 percent.  
Since we asked who to blame, should we now ask, "Who do we credit for the improvement with Black Unemployment?"

1.) Is this improvement significant?
2.) How much - if any - credit goes to Obama for the improvement of the Black unemployment rate? 
3.) If, historically speaking, the Black unemployment rate is almost always nearly double that of the national average, is this the best Black people should realistically hope for in this country?

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Book Reviews: Flat Broke In The Free Market

Flat Broke In The Free Market
by Jon Jeter
This book's subtitle is "How Globalization Fleeced Working People" so it's not as if the reader should be too surprised that the author, a former Washington Post bureau chief for southern Africa and South America, and Pulitzer Prize finalist, very clearly takes a stand against globalization, or to be more precise, globalization as it's been implemented. Broadly speaking globalization has meant that there have been ever greater capital flows in search of cheap labor and low regulation, less protection of native industry, deindustrialization and destruction of unions, massive privatization of key public sectors and monetary policy that is far more concerned with fighting inflation and protecting the value of investments than with fighting unemployment and ensuring that those people outside of the investor class at the very least have a job. However this book was written in 2009 so some of the specific economic information cited about certain countries is now out of date. Some of the countries Jeter cited as basket cases have slowly turned things around but on the other hand some of the countries which he didn't mention because they didn't support his arguments have since had experiences which fit well with Jeter's theme. However, specific data points aside, the larger trends remain more or less the same across the United States and especially what is called the Third World. Corporate profits are up. Banking, investment, finance, and real estate sectors are larger parts of the world economy. Wages are down. Inequality has risen. Worldwide, people struggle to pay or obtain basic services and goods such as food, clean water, electricity and housing. Theories that seem to make sense and have a certain elegance in academia or corporate board rooms somehow have devastating impact on the real lives of people across the world, especially the half of the world's population who struggles to live on less than $2.50 a day. Jeter struggles to make sense of all of this. He describes the genesis of this book as coming to him after interviews with right-wing libertarian Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman and former Rhodesian white separatist leader Ian Smith. Although he had no truck with either man's point of view, Jeter found that each man was surprisingly hard to dislike even though they apparently lived in an alternate reality to that which most of the world's population inhabited. Friedman thought that everything was going well for the world's investor class and that everyone else would be helped further on down the line by what he called reduction in interference in trade. The polite and genteel Ian Smith thought that the blacks in "Rhodesia" were much better off under white rule and were the "happiest in the world". I guess that Smith didn't really think too much about why such "happy blacks" launched a war to end white rule.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

HBO Game of Thrones: Rethinking Theon Greyjoy

As Roose Bolton matter of factly reminds Theon Greyjoy in the book (not sure if this happened on screen and it's not that important) Robb Stark's cause was permanently lost the moment Theon took Winterfell. The eternal symbol of Stark authority had been captured and was later burned. Robb's heirs were supposedly dead. Theon's actions (and the Bolton secret backstab) were not only serious symbolic blows to Robb's cause, they also caused both Stark allies and enemies to pause and wonder about The Young Wolf's judgment. If Robb couldn't protect his own castle and smallfolk, how could he protect his retainers? If Robb misjudged Theon's loyalty, would he make other similar strategic wartime errors? 

Well, we know that Robb did indeed make horrible strategic blunders. Chief among these errors were trusting the Boltons. The Boltons ruthlessly exploited Robb's mistakes in order to realize their long dreamed of goal to supplant the Starks as the Wardens of the North. None of this would have been possible without Theon. And Theon knows it. He verbalizes in both book and show that he should have died with Robb at the Red Wedding, and that he sees Robb and Ned as a better brother and father to him than his own. By then it's too late. 

All of Westeros knows him as a traitor. Many people start using the alliterative appellation "Theon Turncloak". And that's the nicest thing they call Theon. He's despised and mocked throughout the land. A man who could have been the living symbol of reconciliation and/or alliance between the North and the Iron Islands became the ultimate icon of Iron Islander treachery. What went wrong?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Key and Peele: Hillary Clinton Anger Translator

I don't watch a tremendous amount of television but I ran across this skit and thought it funny enough to share. I recognized Stephnie Weir from MADtv. I always thought she was a bit underrated there. Nice to see her here. I really like the whole Obama anger translator bit so it made sense to use it to parody Hillary Clinton. I think that like Obama or really most other politicians, Clinton keeps a lot of her true feelings very tightly wrapped. Key and Peele continue to impress. They, like Weir, are MADtv alumni and apparently reached out to Weir to do the translator bit.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

De'Andre Johnson dismissed from FSU football team

Some people like to say that there is no excuse for violence against women. I don't really like that framing at all because it turns what could be a valid reason into an "excuse" and ignores the fact that whether we like it or not there are some very violent, dangerous and even deadly women on this planet. What IS true however is that almost regardless of what a particular woman might have done to initiate or continue a physical confrontation, a man who hits a woman rightfully has a very high bar of skepticism and contempt to climb over in a court of law or especially the court of public opinion. Because this is the case it is a good idea to avoid putting hands on women. It's a bad idea and is often morally repugnant. However, men, like women, do have the right and duty to defend themselves. There ought to be a better way for us to distinguish the case of a man who is legitimately defending himself from the case of a lowlife punk who just gets his kicks beating and terrorizing those who are weaker than he. I've seen both situations. This problem is further muddled by the assumption that women are and should be in all ways "equal" to men. Some people say that if we wouldn't worry about a bad outcome happening to a man because of his or someone else's dumb decision than we shouldn't worry about a woman in the same position. So by this logic if a woman wants to be in combat and is qualified, let her do it. There should be no cries of "Save the women and children!" if a ship starts to sink. We're all equal. Well.
De'Andre Johnson, former quarterback for the Florida State Seminoles football team, found out the hard way that "defending yourself" from a woman in the same way that you might defend yourself from a man is not, at least for him, an acceptable course of action. He got into a physical confrontation with a woman at a Tallahassee bar. She raised her hands which were balled up in fists. They both appeared to push and grapple with each other. She took a swing at Johnson. Johnson punched back. The woman lost. It is the difference in gender and strength that makes this a shock. Johnson was suspended and later dismissed from the team.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Book Reviews: Necessary Evil

Necessary Evil
by David A. Van Meter
This is a very creepy thriller/horror revenge story. It's told in first person so you never get the chance to step outside of the subject's mind. This was a short novel, just over 300 pages. It's an older book, written a little over twenty years ago. It was very graphic for the times, but still retains its ability to shock even in today's grindcore market. Revenge is not really a morally good feeling is it? We try to get rid of it by outsourcing private revenge to a dispassionate justice system. But for some crimes and for some people that's not enough. Some people are able to forgive the worst trespasses as indeed Christianity argues that they should. Vengeance is not man's but God's. Other people scoff at such arguments. If someone hurts them or gives them trouble they want to repay evil for evil, hurt for hurt, pain for pain to bitter end. For some people turning the other cheek only invites further attacks. And even if it didn't it would still be morally wrong to do so. You come after me with a bat; I get my gun. You put my brother in the hospital; I leave your son's casket on your front door. And so on. Most societies can not operate if everyone behaved in such a fashion because we'd live in a Hobbesian state of nature where no one can trust anyone who is stronger than they are. So in order to have the benefits of society we all implicitly agree to give up our private desires of revenge or retribution to accept the dictates of judges, juries and the law. But what if the law lets us down? Then what? Do we accept that sometimes a guilty person gets away with his or her crime? Or does that haunt us? In Necessary Evil, Van Meter shows almost in a clinical way how an act of evil impacts a child and warps him for life. If you have ever wondered where an adult psychopath came from, Necessary Evil gives a pretty good, though occasionally cliched, depiction of just how such a human being is created. The story jumps back and forward through time. We get childhood memories, teenage memories and finally present day descriptions from a thirty three year old man.