Tuesday, September 29, 2015

George Zimmerman Tweets Trayvon Martin's Dead Body

I've wrestled with writing about this story since I saw it surface at work early yesterday morning. At this point it's a proven fact that George Zimmerman is a pretty despicable human being. He's said in the past that he doesn't feel guilty for killing Trayvon Martin. He's been accused of domestic violence by both his wife and his girlfriend. He's had several run ins with his neighbor Matt Apperson in road rage incidents, the latest led to Zimmerman being shot at and Apperson being charged with second degree attempted murder. Of this last incident George Zimmerman took the witness stand last week in the same Seminole County courtroom where he was acquitted in Trayvon Martin's killing to testify about how much his life was in danger from Matt Apperson's mere presence in his neighborhood.

Well ain't that rich.

So in the midst of this latest round of legal troubles for Zimmerman, this happened: 

Facebook Threat Posts: Pebbles and Bam Bam

Every time someone goes on a shooting rampage the people who knew the assailant are either shocked and heartbroken (usually the assailant's parents) or they are not surprised at all. The people who weren't surprised only wonder why the assailant took so long to crack. These folks are often seen on television interviews smugly declaring they knew so-n-so wasn't right in the head, and never felt safe or at ease around him. Folks who fall into the second category are often the assailant's co-workers, spouse or significant other, or anyone else who is able to evaluate the person without looking through the rosy lens of motherhood or fatherhood. A challenge that we have in a supposedly free society is that we want to protect ourselves and everyone else from crime or violence without arresting and convicting people for what they might do. Our idea of justice normally includes the requirement that we only punish people for what they've done. There is a huge gray area/exception to this, obviously. Planning to perform a crime is usually a crime and something for which you can be arrested and charged. If you and your buddies get together every Thursday after work to plan your multi-million dollar bank robbery but are discovered and arrested, it's not much of a defense to say that sure you might have been planning multiple felonies but you never did them. But is talking junk on Facebook or other social media something which is or should be a crime? If I say someone gets on my nerves so much that I could kill them is that hyperbole or an actual threat? Your perception of that depends on your perception of the person making the statement. The average man or woman saying something like that probably doesn't mean it. But there are some people, either through mental instability or actual past criminal or violent history, who make statements like that and must be taken seriously. And there are other people, who while they may have no rap sheet or known psychological issues, say or do things which are so outrageous that they also must be closely watched if not arrested and charged. Former Washtenaw County mental health/disability worker Grady Floyd falls into that last category.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Reviews: Off Color, Impaired Judgment

Off Color: The Violent History of Detroit's Purple Gang
by Daniel Waugh
Although the Purple Gang has passed into infamy and is mostly forgotten now, for a brief period of time it was probably the most violent, if not the most powerful or largest, organized crime group in Detroit and the surrounding areas of south east Michigan.

The Purple Gang had a spectacular rise and fall from its post WW1 beginnings to its Prohibition ascendancy and its slow decline in the thirties and forties. This decline was helped along by lethal internal squabbling, the growing power of the Detroit Mafia or "Partnership", and the utter inability of some Purple Gang members to adapt to new ways of doing business. 

The Purple Gang was a very loose knit conglomeration of primarily Jewish gangsters who engaged in various crimes, including but not limited to burglary, auto theft, hijacking, labor racketeering, bootlegging, narcotics importation and trafficking, murder for hire, extortion, and bookmaking among others. In a time before mass transit by airplane Detroit gangsters were uniquely positioned to bring whiskey across the river and lakes from Canada. Organized crime groups in Detroit supplied high quality (and sometimes not so high quality) liquor to their counterparts across the Midwest and East Coast. They had a few violent conflicts with the Detroit Mafia but many more business dealings. The Purple Gang hijacked more whiskey than they made or imported. 

Off Color details the genesis of the Purple Gang in Detroit's Little Jerusalem neighborhood where members got their start robbing pushcarts and icemen, doing home break-ins and performing assaults or worse for money. Later the nucleus of what would become the original Purple Gang, centered around the four Burnstein brothers (Abe, Joe, Raymond and Izzy), hooked up with gangsters/disreputable businessmen Charles Leiter and Henry Shorr. Shorr and Leiter, among other ventures, supplied sugar for citywide liquor distillation. Their headquarters was the appropriately named Oakland Avenue Sugar House. 

To an extent Leiter and Shorr were initially the legitimate leaders or at least less violent faces of the Purple Gang. But if they were ever the undisputed bosses, that era ended in 1934 when Shorr went on a ride with some of his gangland friends but never came back. Though the Purple Gang always had a very loose hierarchy with fluid membership, the Burnstein brothers, especially Abe, became the acknowledged first among equals. It wasn't healthy to cross the Burnsteins.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ben Carson is a bigot

Black conservatives often complain that people, by which they mean liberals and/or other black people (and those two groups are not mutually exclusive), try to question their blackness or expel them from the black community because they have conservative views. Well all "blackness" really means in the American context is that you are apparently descended in whole or in part from people who recently originated in what's commonly known as "Black Africa". It's a circular definition. Blackness, however defined, definitely doesn't automatically imply anything about an individual's voting patterns, his views on sexuality, religion, preferred music, stance on economics, feelings about whether nature or nurture are more important in human development, favored sports teams or anything else. So I agree that one shouldn't assume that blackness automatically means you are or should be beholden to a specific political theory, party or way of life. On the other hand, given the black experience in America, which only in the past fifty years has fitfully moved beyond formal exclusion, it is a little jarring to see a black person enthusiastically take up bigoted ideas that were just recently used against him and his. Dr. Ben Carson, famed surgeon, Republican presidential candidate and nutcase extraordinaire, has been providing us a clinic on this sort of dissonance.
Washington (CNN) Ben Carson says the United States should not elect a Muslim president.
"I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that," the retired neurosurgeon and Republican presidential candidate said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Carson, meanwhile, was asked Sunday whether a president's faith should matter to voters. "I guess it depends on what that faith is," he said. "If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem." Asked whether Islam is consistent with the Constitution, Carson said: "No, I don't -- I do not.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Black Women Win at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards


This happened.

This happened.

And this happened.

Just take a minute and bask in all of that glorious dark skinned Black womanness. Isn't it awesome.

Just three years ago the interwebs were all a buzz for the premier of Scandal. The Shonda Rhimes juggernaut that made history when it became the first show on network television to be lead by a Black woman in nearly 40 years. Now the interwebs are buzzing again about Viola Davis's big win. Another first for Black people, and Black women especially, in an era when most Black folks thought we'd be done making our firsts.

It's because of Scandal that How to Get Away with Murder came into fruition. It's because of Shonda Rhimes' refusal to white-wash the real world that Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, along with the ensemble cast of Grey's Anatomay which includes the ever-enchanting Chandra Wilson, own ABC's Thursday night line up. It's because of them that we are now seeing a crush of network shows, dramas and comedies alike, with a bevy of Beautiful Black faces.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Movie Reviews: Dirty Weekend, Kill The Irishman, Bad Teacher

Dirty Weekend
directed by Neil LaBute
OK judging by this film Matthew Broderick may need to do some running, cut back on the carbs and hit the weight room. But you could say that about a lot of people couldn't you. Father Time eventually catches up with us all.There are very few people in their fifties who look as they did when they were in their twenties. Perhaps I am just a little taken aback at watching an actor I long identified with youth or young adulthood move into AARP eligible status. Oh well. It happens to everyone if we're lucky enough I guess. Alice Eve continues to take quirky roles which downplay her physical attributes and show a gift for snark and comedy. Nevertheless I didn't like this film all that much. There is a much anticipated twist that while it doesn't come out of nowhere (it's all but shouted out in the first twenty minutes) was sufficiently odd enough to put me off the film. YMMV but this wasn't really the movie I was expecting. I kept hoping that the film wasn't going to go where I thought it was going to go but it did just that. If this film were a basketball player it could be said to have faked left and went left. This is a film which occasionally gives the impression both from casting and the cinematography that it was directed by Woody Allen. Of course as it turns out this movie was directed by Neil LaBute, who also directed such films as Your Friends and Neighbors and In the Company of Men. I didn't know Labute directed this film before I started watching it but as soon as you listen to the characters talk it becomes supremely obvious who created this film. LaBute has the ability to produce some incredibly emotionally harsh scenes, something which, at least in the two other movies mentioned above, caused some people to dismiss him as a misogynist and/or misanthrope. That trait is somewhat muted in this movie. Nevertheless Dirty Weekend could still come across as an unpleasant Seinfeld episode or a less restrained Woody Allen film. I did like the introductory 60s style colorful credits with the smooth jazz soundtrack.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Illegal Search or Unreasonable Citizen: California Family

Below the break you will see a video of a family declining a vehicle search by some sort of California Agriculture inspector. They are later pulled over by California State Police and arrested. The proximate cause of the arrest was the driver's (Brad Feinman) refusal to accept a ticket or provide identification. Of course once the police broke the vehicle window and hauled the family out, they searched the vehicle anyway. This video was hard to believe. Not because of the escalation of force by police officers. That part was easy to believe, especially the part where the Caucasian-American police officers did not immediately shoot or beat or tase the Caucasian-American citizens. No what I didn't know is that apparently the State of California has taken the power upon itself to search, excuse me, inspect vehicles entering the state. This appears to me to be an end run around the Fourth Amendment. It's being done under the bailiwick of the Agricultural Inspection station but to me it doesn't really matter why it's being done or under what supposed authority it's being done. I think it's wrong and should not be tolerated. What sort of country are we living in if government authorities can just search your vehicle without warrant or probable cause anytime they want to do so. Now there are smarter people than I and people who know the law much better than I who read this blog. I would be interested in knowing what they thought of this. But ultimately it doesn't matter does it. If someone is asserting authority to search your vehicle merely because you're entering the state and/or look suspicious it seems to me that California is giving a huge middle finger to the Fourth Amendment and associated civil liberties. This, among other reasons, is why I think the security apparatus that has grown up around airline travel post 9-11 is so pernicious. There really is no reason why such (VIPER) procedures can't be put into place for travel by train, bus or as we saw here, automobile. 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

NYPD Assaults James Blake

As you may have heard former tennis star James Blake was wrongly detained by the NYPD when he was mistaken for a suspect in an identity theft ring. That in and of itself is not a big issue. Police and witnesses make mistakes all the time. No the big problem was that rather than being questioned first and THEN detained or arrested by a uniformed or otherwise identifiable NYPD police officer (which could have cleared up any misunderstanding immediately) James Blake was rushed by undercover police officer James Frascatore, grabbed by the neck, assaulted and forced to the ground. The officer did not identify himself. I'm not aware of the exact particulars of self-defense laws in NYC but presumably if strange men assault you in public you do have the right to defend yourself. If Blake had tried to defend himself of course the officer would have shot him and felt piously justified in doing so. Plenty of people, some with good intentions, many more with bad ones, give advice to black men on how to avoid unnecessary confrontations with police. Some of that advice is worthwhile. Most of it is utterly worthless. Here we have Blake literally minding his own business in Gotham before being assaulted by a public servant (who apparently has a track record of violent and abusive policing). There is nothing that Blake should or could have done differently to minimize his chances of being attacked. He was a black man and that was sufficient. Of course it's not just race. It's also class. Can you imagine anyone accusing a Caucasian American business owner or lawyer or other perceived/actual paid up member of the 1% of a non-violent crime and having the police execute a violent takedown? Of course not. Heck, even Mafia bosses with platoons of killers on call don't get treated like James Blake was treated. To add insult to injury the person who police thought was the initial suspect wasn't involved in the alleged crime of identity theft. The NYPD commissioner issued a mush mouthed apology but the union is defending Officer Frascatore. Just another day in the US. It is surreal. Once again, I must admit that Cliven Bundy and his supporters weren't wrong about everything. If the people tasked to enforce the law routinely brutalize people under protection of the law, what recourse does a citizen have?

Who is a girl: Lila Perry, Tolerance and Acceptance

I don't really care how a person chooses to live their life. That's their business, not mine. I tend to be a live and let live kind of person. I don't know what happens after we die but I figure that you're the best person to decide what is right for you just as I am the best person to decide what is right for me, within certain limits. But it's that last little disclaimer where so much that is controversial can be found. What are the limits? Where are they? Most people would agree that the limits would be where some form of harm occurs. When you impact someone else's life, liberty or safety negatively is where your rights to live freely stop, or at the very least must be weighed against other considerations. One of the reasons that the American gay marriage or to use proponents' preferred terminology, marriage equality, movement was so successful in such a short period of time was because it was extremely difficult if not impossible for opponents to argue that they would suffer any serious harm as a result of gay marriage being legalized. This was especially the case in a social milieu in which marriage itself was roundly derided by many as being little more than a paper and in which ever increasing numbers of children are born to unmarried parents. If you don't like gay marriage, don't marry a gay person was a blunt but effective rejoinder to most of the objections raised. In a framework that recognizes individual rights and the above theory of harm there simply wasn't the language available to counter that idea. However there are places where just because something is tolerated or even legal doesn't mean it must be accepted. We've discussed some of those instances before. Dragooning photographers or caterers or bakers to provide their services for gay weddings may be legal or constitutional but it is also something that starts to make me a bit uneasy. 

And the next step sought by the "T" membership of the "LGBT" coalition is something where I think I would jump off the acceptance bus entirely.  
Almost 200 high school students in Missouri walked out of their classes to protest one a transgender student in senior year being allowed in the girls' bathroom. Members of the Hillsboro High School in Hillsboro, Missouri, ditched two hours of lessons to object to Lila Perry, a 17-year-old senior, being granted access to female bathrooms. Perry, who started identifying as transgender earlier this year, was using the female facilities to change for gym classes, which upset many other girls at the school.

Music Reviews: Freddie King: Going Down at Onkel Po's

Freddie King
Going Down at Onkel Po's
Late great Texas born bluesman Freddie King was one of my favorite musicians. He was a huge man at 6-6. King had a literally larger than life expressive baritone voice. Obviously King was best known for his exciting guitar style. King easily bridged the gap or in some cases was the gap between the post BB-King lead style electric blues and the blues-rock and funk of the late sixties and early seventies. King had a very aggressive guitar sound, shaped in part by his very large fingers and somewhat anachronistic country blues style usage of a thumbpick and index finger pick. Unfortunately King died tragically early at 42 from ulcers and pancreatitis. Like many blues musicians King's best work was done live. However, as with many other artists whose lives were cut short before they could put all of their musical and financial houses in order, King's discography was marred with posthumous live releases that to put it mildly, were utter crap. Some musicians found it very difficult to regularly produce high quality live releases. Just because someone happened to be recording at a concert didn't necessarily mean the concert was intended to be commercially released. 

There were many Freddie King bootleg releases which featured out of tune guitars, inaudible or occasionally overly booming bass, microphones that were too close or too far from the amplifiers, questionable mixing levels or other sonic issues that marred the music. And when you worked as often as Freddie King did, (a typical year could see him doing 300 performances or more) it was almost inevitable that there would be some off nights where the band was flat, poorly recorded or just uninspired. It just happens. As something of a Freddie King completist I own many of these releases, to my chagrin. 

Sometimes it seems as if every last single fly by night recording/publishing company put out a Freddie King concert release under many different names. To make things worse, often times these releases would cover the same concert or concerts, occasionally dropping or adding a song so that the company could claim that their release was unique. Purchasing or even bothering to listen to much of this stuff can leave you feeling akin to Charlie Brown immediately after Lucy has pulled away the football for the ten billionth time. All day sucker.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rape-Apologist Damon Wayans Defends Bill Cosby

Comedian Damon Wayans has come out in support of embattled comedian Bill Cosby. Wayans says Cosby wasn’t raping the women who accuse him of various levels of sexual assault. Wayans says the women coming out of the woodwork are working a money hustle, and some of them, by their looks, are unrapeable. 

I don’t even know where to begin with this foolishness. When the Cosby allegations first came to light a decade ago I could see the basis for some of his support. It was one woman, with one story, and no one wanted to believe this one woman’s story as it would take down a man we all at one point slotted into the role of our father. Fast forward 10, 15 years later and there are now more than 50 women accusing Cosby of sexual assault. Their stories are all eerily similar in that they say Cosby drugged them or drank them into non-consensual oblivion. And then there’s that deposition that was finally released where Cosby, in his candor, admitted to procuring Quaaludes for the sole and express purpose of having sex. Cosby never admitted to rape, and he probably never will, but by his own implication what he is allegedly accused of doing to women is not only the women’s truth, but THE truth beyond a reasonable doubt. 

50 women, most of whom do not all know each other, wouldn’t all concoct a story about being raped by a comedian in an ugly sweater. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Intersection of Religion and Politics: The Case of Kim Davis

An appeal has been filed on behalf of Kentucky Court Clerk Kim Davis who refuses to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite June's landmark Supreme Court decision. The appeal is of Davis's contempt of court judgement that landed her in jail until she complies with the order that she must issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. She refuses. The judge refuses to lift the order. She stays in jail. With this all unfolding in the right ventricle of the bible belt, that is Kentucky, protesters and supporters on both sides of the issue have chanted themselves into a euphoric frenzy motivated by their passions and convictions for either love of a same other, love of God, or love of the law.

Kim Davis's case is not surprising in this country where the chasm between right wing nuts and left wing nuts is barely dotted with middle of the road moderates calling for cooler heads to prevail. Kim Davis's case has ignited in this country once again the role of religion in the guidance of our law.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Movie Reviews: Zipper, Taken 3, Northmen: A Viking Saga

directed by Mora Stephens
What makes a man go crazy when a woman wears her dress so tight/ It must be the same thing that makes a tomcat fight all night -Muddy Waters "The Same Thing"

Why must I feel like that/ Why must I chase the cat/ It's the dog in me, nothing but the dog in me. -George Clinton "Atomic Dog"

Woman I can tell what's on your mind/ Cause I can see the lovelight shine/ You're wanting me to settle down and quit all my rambling around/ Oh woman this heart of mine just loves one day at a time/ Tomorrow is a brand new song and I might be moving it on -Jerry Reed "Let's Sing Our Song"

People have written billions of words detailing the differences great and small between men and women and debating whether such divergences are primarily cultural and environmental or instead mostly biological and hard wired. I lean more towards the latter explanation in most circumstances but that's neither here nor there. Culture and biology often reinforce each other so it can sometimes be difficult to tease out which is what. What's important is that for both genders but apparently more so for men, sex is a primary and necessary drive for which much will be risked. Unfortunately Zipper doesn't have a whole lot to say besides the obvious but it looks good doing it. There are too many politicians and celebrities to mention who could fit into this fictional story but I guess the most obvious parallel would be to former NY Attorney General and Governor Elliot Spitzer. Tiger Woods also gets a filmic shoutout. But you can probably just pick up your local newspaper and find someone who reminds you of the characters in this film. I wouldn't say the cast of Zipper is slumming exactly but they have done better things in the past. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Huckabee Dead Wrong About Supreme Court & Constitution (and Life in General)

So I just watched Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee debate with Joe Scarborough this morning on Morning Joe about the "fact" that he (Huckabee) doesn't have to respect the recent Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges that same-sex marriage is the law of the land in all 50 states.  Scarborough, to his credit, pointed out to the former governor that basic civics informs us that once the Supreme Court makes a determination about the United States Constitution, that ruling automatically becomes the law of the law in all 50 states (because all 50 states obviously follow the United States Constitution), and any state law that contradicts such a ruling is automatically superseded.  To be sure, that is how the law in this country works.  Huckabee, however, immediately quipped "no, that's not true."

But it IS true!  It's not even like there's a debate here.  This is a fact.  And as many in politics have correctly pointed out, you're entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

It just struck me in that moment that we have people like Huckabee, who are running to be president of the United States of all things, who don't even know how the laws of the United States work.  Let that sink in for a moment.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Reclaiming Black Womanhood

I ended my work day with a co-worker showing me a headline on her phone that screamed in bold faced font that our favorite fake black woman is pregnant with a baby. I gagged and then looked up the information on my own iPhone to confirm the miracle foolery. TMZ, The Daily Mirror, and several other 99.9 percent reliable celebrity news sites confirmed that Rachel Dolezal is indeed pregnant with a baby boy and in her second trimester. This confirmation thus commenced the gathering of the black women in the room at my workplace to discuss this latest tea. The conversation, as many conversations do amongst black women, jumped quickly and we went from trying to figure out if the baby would be black, the baby daddy, and we eventually got back to Dolezal and her race switching shenanigans in which I was reminded that she does hair now to make ends meet since she lost all her jobs. If she was actually black I could sympathize with the blackness of this story, hold up a fist of support for a black woman down, pour some out for her struggle, and add her to my prayer request at church. But Rachel ain't Black no matter how many times she proclaims she is, and I ain't the one to offer words of support for her privilege at pretending to struggle.


However, Dolezal's expectancy, the continued blow up, blow back, and critique of the Nicki Minaj-Miley Cyrus VMA beef, and the recent "Born and Made" campaign launched by Carol's Daughter founder Lisa Price got me to thinking about black women and black womanhood and what it means to be and exist as such in a world that prefers our parts over our whole.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Cemeteries, Mosques and Anti-Muslim bigotry

An ugly fact of the human condition is that the negative generalizations that we are so quick to detect and oppose when used against us we often eagerly apply to the other. Few of us completely lack this trait. Witness the ugly bigotry some people have against Muslims. There are four recent incidents which reminded me of these thought patterns. In the first case, former baseball great, born-again Christian, ESPN analyst and proud conservative Curt Schilling approvingly posted and later deleted the meme comparing Muslims to Nazis. He apologized and removed the tweet, but was briefly suspended from ESPN activities. His employer made it clear that Schilling did not speak for ESPN. Unsurprisingly the NY Post defended Schilling as telling "the truth" about Muslims. In the second case a group of apparently low information American citizens in the town of Farmersville, Texas are protesting plans for a "Muslim invasion" of their town. Well, what exactly has these people so up in arms you might ask? Is there some wealthy Arab expatriate sheik who is building a compound for his harem and is going to seize all the town's young women for his own libidinous purposes? Or maybe it's a smooth talking charlatan who is building a secret bomb making and terrorist training facility. When the time is right he'll give the secret radio signal. Every Muslim in Texas will start screaming Allah-u-Akbar and chopping off heads. Perhaps it's just a whole bunch of fiendishly clever Muslim parents who, just for s***s and giggles, intend to have massive numbers of children and so within a few generations take over the United States. The people of Farmersville apparently believe that some of that might be going on but in reality the plan that has them so upset, fearful and blurting out stupid or hateful comments is that some American Muslims, you know, fellow citizens, are planning to build a cemetery. Yes, some people in Texas are so scared of Muslims or hate them so much that even dead ones make them cry for their Mommy

Not to be outdone, some people in my own state, in the city of Sterling Heights, are protesting a planned mosque. Some people opposed to the mosque claim to have and may indeed have no religious or ethnic bias as a motivating factor. But many others are quite clear about their prejudices against and hatred for Muslims. When you say that "these people scare us" or "you should have homeland security investigate these people" or "I don't want to live next to people like this", you don't leave much room for misunderstanding. Finally, in Houston Texas, about thirty or so brave yahoos protested against a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten magnet language immersion school for the horrible crime of teaching Arabic. That'll show those five year old little terrorists in training! Don't mess with Texas!!!