Sunday, February 28, 2016

Melissa Harris-Perry and MSNBC

When you work for someone else, as most people do, there are limits on when and how you can express your frustrations with your co-workers and especially your bosses. These limits can vary based on your immutable characteristics. Like it or not, some people can get away with more stuff than others. The limits also depend on your internal makeup. At work, when some people are upset everyone in the room has to know about it ASAP while others grimace, quietly seethe and make plans to depart. But the most obvious limit on what you can say and do at work is how valuable you are to your employer and how in demand you are elsewhere. If you are producing profits for your employer and would be difficult to replace then you can get away with things other workers can't. Money talks and bovine emission walks. But if you aren't producing profits or quality work for your employer your ability to cause work disruptions will be limited. Your boss may be looking for opportunities to bid you farewell. We saw an example of that this past weekend when Wake Forest professor Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP) and former MSNBC host of the eponymous news analysis show decided that she could no longer tolerate what she saw as hideous disrespect from her employer, MSNBC. She decided to boycott her own show this weekend. And she let everyone know why in a scathing letter that implied racial animus:
Dearest Nerds,
As you know by now, my name appears on the weekend schedule for MSNBC programming from South Carolina this Saturday and Sunday. I appreciate that many of you responded to this development with relief and enthusiasm. To know that you have missed working with me even a fraction of how much I’ve missed working with all of you is deeply moving. However, as of this morning, I do not have any intention of hosting this weekend. Because this is a decision that affects all of you, I wanted to take a moment to explain my reasoning...
Here is the reality: our show was taken — without comment or discussion or notice — in the midst of an election season. After four years of building an audience, developing a brand, and developing trust with our viewers, we were effectively and utterly silenced. Now, MSNBC would like me to appear for four inconsequential hours to read news that they deem relevant without returning to our team any of the editorial control and authority that makes MHP Show distinctive. The purpose of this decision seems to be to provide cover for MSNBC, not to provide voice for MHP Show. I will not be used as a tool for their purposes. I am not a token, mammy, or little brown bobble head. I am not owned by Lack, Griffin, or MSNBC. I love our show. I want it back. I have wept more tears than I can count and I find this deeply painful, but I don’t want back on air at any cost. I am only willing to return when that return happens under certain terms.
I have a PhD in political science and have taught American voting and elections at some of the nation’s top universities for nearly two decades, yet I have been deemed less worthy to weigh in than relative novices and certified liars..

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Book Reviews: The Resort, The Sixth Family, Something from the Nightside

The Resort
by Bentley Little
Bentley Little is a horror writer who uses the Southwest, most frequently Arizona, the same way that Stephen King uses Maine. It's Little's home turf and primary fictional setting. It's what he knows. He brings it to life. 

Bentley Little does not possess the same talent for characterization as Stephen King does. That's not a knock against Little. Few popular writers have that sort of knack. Little is a fast food horror writer. I don't mean that in any sort of pejorative way. You know what you're going to get with Little. Usually a family or group of people in the Southwest run into some sort of supernatural or extraterrestrial event and are lucky to escape unscathed. 

Little also has a strong penchant for the perverse. Little often produces easy reading that can manage to make the great outdoors look dangerous. Little's description of the empty deserts, deserted highways and big box stores of the Southwest can give a reader the chills, that is when Little is on his game. An example of Little being on his game would be The Store, his horror parody of big box stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Sam's Club and Best Buy. 

Unfortunately I didn't really think as highly of the book The Resort, which reads initially like a homage to Stephen King's The Shining (there's a psychically sensitive little boy and even a reference to room 217 IIRC) but very quickly degenerates into shock for the sake of shock. I don't think my tolerance for gore has decreased with age. The Shining is a masterpiece. It also had some graphic violence and sex. The Resort has more graphic sex and violence than The Shining but has less of a story to tell. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Unstoppable Donald Trump?

Donald J. Trump has won three out of the first four Republican primaries or caucuses. He's gleefully ignored or changed the rules on what is proper political speech and prudent behavior in a Republican political race. Trump has insulted and feuded with Fox News personalities, made fun of war hero Senator John McCain, mused about being able to commit felonies and still win, said good things about Planned Parenthood and the necessity of some sort of national health system, called his opponents liars and derogatory names for women's genitalia, retweeted white supremacist talking points, talked about punching protesters in the face, joked about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig's blood, called Bush a liar and blamed him for 9-11, joked that if his daughter wasn't his daughter he might, well you know, and on and on and on. That's not even the half of it. Statements that would have quickly sunk another campaign either have had no impact on Trump's supporters or have actually increased their admiration and fervor. Unless there is some sort of unforeseen meltdown (someone gets footage of Trump doing a Ray Rice on his wife Melania) it's a pretty good bet that Trump will be the 2016 Republican nominee for President. Trump's recent win in Nevada where he both inspired record turnout and received 46% of the vote makes it unlikely that anyone on the Republican side will beat him. Trump even got 45% of the Hispanic vote. This was a little surprising considering that the received wisdom has been that to criticize illegal immigration is to throw away the Hispanic vote. Apparently that's not true with Nevada Hispanic Republicans. Of late Ben Carson has consistently been making lame jokes about being surprised and grateful that the debate moderators ask him questions. He's the only one still laughing about his dumpster fire of a campaign. Rubio hasn't won a contest anywhere but constantly talks as if he's the front runner. Confidence is good I guess but there's a thin line between that and delusion. Rubio is in the process of crossing it. Trump is currently polling ahead of Rubio in Rubio's home state of Florida for goodness sake! Cruz likes to talk about how he's the only man who has beaten Trump. And that's true. But he's only done it once. Can Cruz beat Trump again? Can he do it consistently? I don't think so. Kasich has so far been an after thought.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Visit

The Visit
directed by M. Night Shyamalan
This is a found footage thriller or horror film that combines a hidden intelligence with plenty of references to classic Western fairy tales. And of course as it is a Shyamalan film there is going to be a very big twist that takes the story somewhere different. As you know that going into the film it reduces the shock just a bit but nonetheless the film still manages to be interesting and mildly surprising. I guessed wrong on a few surprises. 
Perhaps I am just dumb but at the very least I was entertained by some of the surprises. Smarter or more discerning viewers may think that some of the plot twists are too predictable. So as always YMMV. If you are fortunate enough that some or all of your grandparents are still alive and cogent then you should take every opportunity remaining to talk to them and learn from them. They may have insights into who your parents are and indeed into who you are. And if nothing else it can be humorous to watch parents who demand strict deference/obedience from you give a modified form of this deference to their own parents. Grandparents are also usually great ones for spoiling their grandkids and passing down family knowledge and heirlooms from days long past. 

With all of this in mind fifteen year old Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and her thirteen year old brother Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) decide that the time has come to visit their maternal grandparents. Their divorced mother (Kathryn Hahn) has long been estranged from her parents because of her marriage to Becca's and Tyler's father. But she won't give any details about what happened (besides the marriage) to cause her and her parents to refuse to speak or visit with each other for over a decade. That's her business. She's not the sort of parent to share painful private things with her kids, thank you very much.

Game of Thrones Season 6 Teaser

Even with the death of you know who we haven't yet had any Game of Thrones trailers which would indicate if he's still (implausibly) alive or not. I'm pretty sure he will be brought back to life somehow because I think the story absolutely requires him to be. But I've been wrong before. Who knows what GRRM or rather Benioff and Weiss have in store for us this season. The showrunners are playing things pretty close to the vest for the late April Season Six premiere. So far all we have is this teaser, which has no footage from the new season at all. So make of it what you will.

As you may have heard GRRM recently announced that he had not completed The Winds of Winter, the planned book six in his A Song of Ice and Fire series. It would not be available before the April Game of Thrones premiere. GRRM felt bad about this but it is what it is. This means that even if HBO extends the series to eight seasons instead of seven the ending will most definitely be seen on television instead of being revealed in print. This conclusion was actually obvious last year as Season Five moved into uncharted territory but GRRM's announcement made it official. So I guess in one aspect we are fortunate that HBO insisted that GRRM share his planned ending with Benioff and Weiss. Still it has been five years since book five. It's a fair question as to what GRRM has been doing with his time. Noted fan Conan O'Brien couldn't tolerate not knowing what was going on so he did a little investigating. See video below.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Professor and The Police

As I've made clear on many occasions in this space I'm not overly fond of the police. Just as a general rule if police are talking to you for any length of time something has probably gone wrong in your day. All else equal police are usually quicker to initiate and escalate aggressive action against Black citizens than they are against Caucasian ones whether it it be shooting people only armed with wallets or toy guns, choking people accused of selling loose cigarettes, arresting professors who are entering their own home or writing people tickets for incredibly obscure and vague traffic violations which only ever seem to be enforced against Black people. There is a problem with policing in this country. After saying that though police do have a job to do. They are necessary. I don't want police not to arrest anyone. Humans aren't saints. We never will be. I just want police to stop being needlessly violent, racist, brutal or bullying. When I first saw this story headline I was primed to find fault with the police officers' action. But after reading the story I couldn't see what the police did wrong. And believe me I looked.  A black Princeton professor is protesting her arrest during a traffic stop last week, saying she was mistreated because of her race by two white police officers who searched her and handcuffed her to a table. The police chief in Princeton, N.J., however, said the officers had followed department policy in arresting the professor, Imani Perry. The arrest of Dr. Perry, a professor of African-American studies, and the divergent views of how it was handled have reignited a debate on social media over police tactics and racial profiling. The arrest came after officers stopped Dr. Perry around 9:30 a.m. on Saturday for driving 67 miles per hour in a 45 m.p.h. zone, Capt. Nicholas K. Sutter, the department chief, said in a telephone interview on Tuesday.
While Dr. Perry said in a message posted online that she was arrested over “a single parking ticket,” Captain Sutter said that the officers who stopped her — a man and a woman — learned during a routine check that her driving privileges had been suspended and a warrant had been issued for her arrest over two unpaid parking violations from 2013. “The warrant commands the officer to take the person into custody,” Captain Sutter said. The officers searched, handcuffed and placed Dr. Perry into a squad car, the captain said. At the police station, she was handcuffed to a workstation and booked. After paying outstanding fines totaling $130, he said, she was released. Dr. Perry, who declined to comment via email on Tuesday, wrote about the episode on Twitter and Facebook on Monday, saying it had left her humiliated and frightened.


Omarosa and Bra Sizes; Killer Mike and Uteri

In the early days of Donald Trump's reality show The Apprentice, one of the more unpleasant contestants was one Omarosa Manigault. She was combative, sarcastic, dishonest and above all, snide. Of course, being a jerk can make for good television. Omarosa took pains to point out that she was there to win the contest (she didn't win), and that behavior which might otherwise be considered within the normal modes of competition was considered underhanded and nasty when practiced by a woman, especially a black woman. Maybe so. Omarosa has said that the television shows edited depictions to show storylines which producers felt were more entertaining. Probably so. If you're watching reality tv and thinking it is real, you might need help tying your shoes every morning. On the other hand sometimes when there is smoke there is fire. Fast forward 12 years and after a number of other reality shows, Omarosa has resurfaced as a Trump media surrogate. Recently she was on Fox Business Channel defending her preferred candidate against questions about his seriousness from Fox contributor Tamara Holder. But perhaps unintentionally reflecting both the insult happy nature of Donald Trump and the foolishness of all thing Fox related while revealing her own bile, Omarosa decided to engage in some ad hominem (ad feminem?) attacks on Holder. These attacks were centered around Holder's chest size. Okay then. I guess Omarosa felt threatened in some regard? Or maybe she was just saying what she thought Trump might say in a similar position. Or perhaps she really is just an unpleasant individual. I am not seeing what someone's physical attributes have to do with pronouncing their name correctly but such logic is not necessarily shared by everyone on this planet. I was always taught that in a professional environment that you do not comment on anyone's body parts. I'm trying (and failing) to imagine saying something similar to anyone at work. That wouldn't and couldn't happen. But if it did take place I suspect I would need to look for other employment. And I wouldn't even have to wait two weeks to start searching.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia Dies at Age 79

Justice Antonin Scalia, arguably the United States Supreme Court's most conservative Justice, was apparently found dead today in Texas:

Per NY Post:
Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Antonin Scalia was found dead Saturday on a luxury resort in West Texas, federal officials said.
Scalia, 79, was a guest at the Cibolo Creek Ranch, a resort in the Big Bend region south of Marfa. said he died of apparent natural causes.
Scalia arrived at the ranch on Friday and attended a private party with about 40 people, the website of the San Antonio Express News said. When he did not appear for breakfast, a person associated with the ranch went to his room and found a body
Obviously, this has huge implications not only for the current make up of the Supreme Court (which until Scalia's death was a 5-4 conservative majority), but it also places the issue of appointing a Supreme Court Justice front and center in this 2016 Presidential election at a time when things were already beginning to heat up.

Before we address the impact of Scalia's death on the current Political climate, let us take a brief moment to look back at the man, Antonin Scalia.

Movie Reviews: Misconduct

directed by Shintaro Shomosawa
This is a passably entertaining movie that ultimately doesn't live up to the promise of the cast. I thought that with Anthony Hopkins and Al Pacino I'd be getting something a little more solid but each of these gentlemen turn in graceful but strictly limited performances. They aren't the leads in this film. I wouldn't say they are just there to pick up a check. Even talent that coasts is still talent. But this isn't their film nor do they have many scenes together. This is a noirish legal drama that is less about the law (I don't recall any courtroom scenes though there is a short tense deposition) and more about the pressure to perform that might lead any of us to cut a few ethical corners or look the the other way on semi-legal activity as we try to become more materially successful. Of course there are some people who are claim to be more or less immune to the seduction and allure of more money, greater power and nicer homes so for those folks perhaps this film can serve as an interesting field study into how other people think and live. Misconduct jumps around in time in order to hide some critical narrative information and character motivation. I liked that. I liked that even as the movie concluded you weren't entirely sure who was the bad guy and who was the good guy. I didn't like that about two-thirds of the way thru the movie the writers/director had poorly developed characters doing remarkably stupid things for presumed entertainment value. The tonal clash in the final portion of the movie stunk. It was as if two different movies were grafted together. But the graft didn't take. And the dialogue in the film was nothing to write home about, again, especially near the ending. So your mileage may vary.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Random thoughts on 2016 election and New Hampshire Primary

This post was actually supposed to be written on Monday but my supervisor at my Day Job is becoming more unpleasantly demanding and nastily watchful in his later years. I will have to ensure that my pay keeps up with his demands. Lately it doesn't seem like that's the case. No sir, not at all. Anyway this is going to be a short post so I can swiftly return to the virtual salt mines that provide a way for me to earn my daily bread. Since the last time I was able to write on the race to become the next POTUS, also rans and longshots like Mike Huckabee, Martin O'Malley, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul all dropped out of the race. None of that was surprising as either the political time had passed them by (Paul) or there was never any evidence that there was strong voter desire for their services in the first place. Santorum and Huckabee had little to say on issues beyond abortion, grits and gay rights. Paul's movements away from his father's hardcore libertarianism didn't win any voters. And O'Malley had little to say besides "I'm not Hillary Clinton". Yawn. But there were two interesting events in both the Republican and Democratic contests which made news and are worthy of discussion while New Hampshire primary voters make their choices. The first was the remarkable display of emptiness by Florida first term Senator Marco Rubio at the Republican debate Saturday night. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie attacked Rubio's relative lack of experience, leadership and tendency to repeat memorized lines regardless of context. Rattled, Rubio tried and failed to think on his feet and swat away Christie's attacks. In fact he retreated to the same talking points 3 times(!!!) even as Christie seized the opportunity to tell everyone to watch Rubio mess up in real time. Both in terms of content and appearance it was a serious body blow to Rubio's debate standing. I don't ever think he quite recovered. It was a man putting a boy in his place. I was reminded of Rocky Balboa in the first fight against Clubber Lang. Rubio wasn't strong enough to keep Big Chris off of him. And he got hurt.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Music Reviews: Earth, Wind and Fire, Moving in Stereo

I was not the most intense Earth, Wind and Fire fan out there. In general, I preferred their earlier jazzier raw work to the pop-funk they later did. As you probably heard, Maurice White, the group leader, founder, and guiding producer and songwriter behind the band just passed away after a long struggle with Parkinson's Disease. Although he had not toured with the band in quite some time because of health concerns the band would not have existed without him. White combined jazz musicianship (at one time he was the drummer for jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis) with a showman's style to produce music that was quite different from near contemporaries like James Brown or Parliament-Funkadelic. It might not be common knowledge but Maurice White did a lot of session work for Chess Records, better known as a blues label and home of legends like Muddy Waters, Etta James and Howling Wolf. By the early sixties Chess was expanding its footprint from just hardcore Chicago blues to include updated blues rock, jazz, funk and soul. White was involved in a lot of that. White, along with some other jazz musicians, was one of the first people to deliberately reintroduce some African sounds into African-American pop music. This was of course best symbolized by White's use of the mbira or kalimba, a thumb piano, which is found in different forms and with different names throughout the continent. Anyway here are four EWF songs, most of which everyone knows. These songs make me very happy whenever I hear them no matter what sort of mood I might have been in previously.

Customer Service: Speak English and keep your opinions to yourself

Recently, while driving home, I heard about these two stories on a local radio show. I thought that in different ways they were both interesting. I think the underlying connection between them is customer service. What makes good customer service? What makes you want to be a return customer to a business? Also if you feel that you are mistreated then what is the appropriate response? Do you shrug it off, pay your bill and simply shop elsewhere? Is a quiet word to the manager or a terse letter to the regional vice-president enough to satisfy your need for justice? Some people want to have it out verbally with the offending party right then and there to let them know that no one gets anything over on Mr. or Miss so-n-so. And a small minority of people aren't averse to laying hands on people should they find it necessary. Other people avoid or are downright incapable of direct confrontation. These people tend to go home or pull out their smart phone and start ranting on social media about their horrible experiences. In the first story a Kansas woman and her thirteen year old daughter were shopping for dresses for a school formal. I don't remember having such things at that point in school but it's been a while since I was thirteen. The mother picked out a dress that she thought her daughter might like. As children will do the daughter tried on the dress to please her mother though she told the mother that this dress wasn't her style. The saleswoman apparently thought that the dress was not particularly flattering to the young lady and suggested that the youngster needed to purchase and wear Spanx. I didn't know what Spanx was but apparently Spanx is underwear, primarily though not exclusively for women, designed to slim figures. I don't know if the mother was more upset by the saleswoman's tone or by what she said but either way she was angry enough to write a facebook post criticizing the saleswoman and defending her daughter's weight and shape. Of course every parent thinks their child is beautiful. That's human nature. But I'm not sure the mother's zeal to defend her daughter was best served by putting her daughter's pic in the public sphere. I suppose there are some saleswomen or salesmen who just want to move product and don't care what you look like in their clothing. But I've also bought clothes from people who were honest enough to tell me what looked good and what didn't. If I were buying an expensive suit or shoes or whatever I'd like to know ahead of time if something clashes, accentuates negatives or simply doesn't work. But that's just me. There are polite and yet direct ways to let me know that.