Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Supreme Court Strikes Down Texas Abortion Law

There's no doubt that the issue of abortion is a highly contentious issue in America.  But alas, we are a nation of laws, and, in 1973, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Roe v. Wade that a woman's right to choose an abortion is a Constitutionally protected right, making it legal in all 50 states.  In that case, the Court weighed the mother's 14th Amendment right to privacy (which includes a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy) against the State's legitimate interest in protecting the health of the mother and the potential life of the unborn child and ultimately ruled that the former trumps the latter, but only up to the point of viability of the unborn child.  Roe established a trimester framework which drew the line in the sand at the third trimester.  In other words, a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy under Roe was protected under the 14th Amendment, but only up to the end of the second trimester (6 months).  Beyond the 6-month mark, a state was free to make abortion illegal if the state was so inclined.  Fast forward to 1992: the issue of Abortion was once again placed squarely before the Supreme Court in the landmark case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.  Many legal scholars predicted that the Court would take this opportunity to overrule and reverse Roe v. Wade given the makeup of the Supreme Court in 1992 (8 Republican-appointed Justices and only 1 Democratic-appointed Justice) and given the fact that the issue of abortion had not been heard by the Court in nearly 20 years.  However, the opposite happened; the Court doubled down on Roe.  In so doing, the Court tossed out the trimester framework and, at the suggestion of the Court's then-only female Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor, came up with a new Constitutional standard of review for abortion cases: the "Undue Burden" test.  Under the Undue Burden test, states are free to regulate abortion in whatever manner they see fit just so long as their regulations do not make it an "Undue Burden" for a woman to exercise her 14th Amendment right to choose an abortion. The Court figured that this would provide the states with more flexibility to protect the health of the mother and the unborn child while still respecting a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy as a Constitutionally protected right in all 50 states.

This week, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt that: (i) abortion is still legal in all 50 states; (ii) the Undue Burden test still remains the legal standard to determine whether or not a state has gone too far in regulating a woman's right to choose an abortion; and (iii) Texas' law, which would have effectively reduced the number of abortion clinics down to about 20 state-wide, most definitely imposed an "Undue Burden" on a woman's right to choose.

Monday, June 27, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Winds of Winter Season Six Finale

Well all in all this was a mostly satisfying season finale that wrapped up some storylines and opened other ones to ponder over the next year. Book readers will recognize how some events were altered for television. Other characters were folded into different ones. We open up in King's Landing at the Red Keep with Cersei looking out over the city. Everyone is getting dressed for the upcoming trials of Cersei and Loras. Pycelle being the dirty old man that he is, has just finished his business with a prostitute.  There may be snow on the mountain top but there's still fire down below. And Pycelle has apparently, ahem, stiffed the young lady on pay. Cersei is getting dressed in a severe tight gown that doesn't show any cleavage but is still quietly sexual and austere at the same time. At the Sept, Loras is brought in. The High Sparrow (THS) asks Loras if he is ready for his trial. Loras, who has had his hair cut for the trial and looks a particularly sorry sight, responds that actually there will be no trial. He confesses to his crimes of homosexuality and perjury. But this isn't enough for THS. To show that he's truly penitent Loras gets on his knees before THS (and maybe Loras isn't the only one with an alternate sexuality hmm) and says he wants to devote his life to the Seven. He will give up his claim to the Tyrell Lordship and Highgarden. He will live out his life in the "I'm not gay, really I'm not" brigade of the Faith Militant. Lovingly caressing Loras' head, THS announces that this is acceptable. But Lancel and team still need to carve a seven pointed star into Loras' forehead, an act which the watching Margaery and Mace find abhorrent. Margaery even tells THS that this wasn't part of the deal. A child tells Pycelle something as he comes out of his room. Pycelle follows this child until he winds up in a room with Qyburn. Qyburn has an almost pained facial expression. He tells Pycelle that Pycelle deserves better but business is business. He's sorry it had to come to this but you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs and all that. Pycelle has just enough time to say "huh?" before he's stabbed to death by at least 10 kids armed with daggers. The Mountain prevents King Tommen from going to the Sept. People at the Sept are impatient waiting for Cersei to arrive. THS tells Lancel to go get her. Lancel also gets sidetracked by a strange little kid. Lancel follows this kid to the basement or sub-basement of the Sept. And let me just mention how beautiful the soundtrack cello music was here. I will have to watch this again just for that. It was quite suspenseful and haunting. Seriously this was good stuff.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Reviews: End of Watch, The Emperor's Armies

End of Watch
by Stephen King
End of Watch, as the title might indicate, is the concluding volume of the trilogy King started with Mr. Mercedes, reviewed earlier here. King is one productive son-of-a-gun. An author who writes a little slower than that asked King how does he do it. There's no answer for that I guess. But whatever field you might work in, you ought to be able to appreciate King's work ethic and productivity. Very few writers can maintain his speed and quality. Anyway, that aside I enjoyed this story because I like King's voice. This wasn't King's best work but it was something that made me think a bit more about the big question which all of us will face.  As Boardwalk Empire's Nucky Thompson said " You tell yourself it’s quick, but you don’t know. You don’t know until it’s you, and then you’ll never tell anyone." King's more recent works have been suffused with that question. What happens after death? How do you alter your life patterns once your body starts to show the inevitable wear and tear of age?  Are you going to age gracefully? Or are you going to be a curmudgeon who moans and complains with every fresh indignity or limitation? What legacy will you leave behind? 

In the hands of a different author these questions might be examined in a dry boring literary manner which would take almost forever to read. Well King is not James Joyce, and End of Watch is not Finnegans Wake. Thank God for small favors. 

I loved my high school English teachers but reading almost anything by James Joyce is illegal torture. Whatever deeper questions King examines in End of Watch are wrapped very tightly in a swift entertaining page turner. As we discussed elsewhere there are some writers who strongly believe that there are only a small number of stories. In this worldview, almost everyone (at least in the speculative fiction arena) is working off some riff of a pre-existing narrative. I don't know if I agree but when you read End of Watch you will have a deja vu feeling. You'll see many cliches and tropes. How you feel about that depends on your feelings about King and his particular talents. I thought that in the hands of a lesser writer these cliches would have annoyed me more. There's the One Last Job, Retired Cop, Ambitious Cold Woman,  Not as Dead as You Thought and many more. I have to list some spoilers from Mr. Mercedes below. 

Friday, June 24, 2016

When Keeping It Mediocre Goes Wrong: Supreme Court Rejects Abigail Fisher's Attack on Affirmative Action

It's not often that we misread how the Supreme Court is going to vote on an issue in this highly politicized world we live in, but I'm happy to say that this was one of those times.  The Supreme Court voted yesterday 4-3 to uphold the University of Texas' affirmative action program that considers -- but does not assign significant weight to -- race as one of several other aspects that can factor into a candidate's overall admissions package.  We'll address the legal analysis below in a moment, but first let's deal with the real issue that lead to this case in the first place: entitlement.

Entitlement is when you graduate high school with a GPA of 3.59 out of 4.00 and an SAT score of 1180 out of 1600 (which would put you in the 75th percentile of SAT test takers), apply to a university where the average high school GPA is 3.72 (0.13 points higher than yours) and the average SAT score is 1340 (160 points higher than yours), and then, when you don't get in, blame minorities for your shortcomings.  That is what Abigail Fisher did here.

Britain Votes to "Brexit" from the EU - Prime Minister David Cameron Resigns

Holy turmoil in the markets, Batman!

From the Times:

Britain has voted to leave the European Union, a historic decision sure to reshape the nation’s place in the world, rattle the Continent and rock political establishments throughout the West.
Not long after the vote tally was completed, Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain in the bloc, appeared in front of 10 Downing Street to announce that he planned to step down by October, saying the country deserved a leader committed to carrying out the will of the people.
The stunning turn of events was accompanied by a plunge in the financial markets, with the value of the British pound and stock prices in Asia plummeting.
The margin of victory startled even proponents of a British exit. The “Leave” campaign won by 52 percent to 48 percent. More than 17.4 million people voted in the referendum on Thursday to sever ties with the European Union, and about 16.1 million to remain in the bloc....
Britain will become the first country to leave the 28-member bloc, which has been increasingly weighed down by its failures to deal fully with a succession of crises, from the financial collapse of 2008 to a resurgent Russia and the huge influx of migrants last year.
In response, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, said the assembly would hold an emergency session on Tuesday to address the decision by British voters.
It was a remarkable victory for the country’s anti-Europe forces, which not long ago were considered to have little chance of prevailing.
Financial markets, which had been anticipating that Britain would vote to stay in, started plunging before the vote tally was complete, putting pressure on central banks and regulators to take steps to guard against a spread of the damage.
Economists had predicted that a vote to leave the bloc could do substantial damage to the British economy, but Mark Carney, the head of the Bank of England, sought to address those concerns on Friday, saying the bank had made extensive contingency plans and had taken “all the necessary steps” to prepare.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

General Election Politics 101: The Minority Vote

13 million people voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican Primary.  To be sure, that is a record for the most votes received by any candidate in the Republican Primary.  You will often hear Trump or his surrogates tout this number on the cable news shows.  And they should.  13 million people is pretty impressive...for a primary, that is.  But when it comes to the General Election, 13 million people is a drop in the bucket.  Roughly 130 million people (a factor of ten times greater than 13 million) vote in the General Election.  So it's going to take a lot more than 13 million people to get Trump into the White House.  But that's not the real issue for Trump.  After all, even your most generic run off the mill Republican or Democratic candidate will be able to count on close to half (approx. 65 million) of those 130 million voters, give or take a few.  Trump's problem, and what really drives the GOP up the wall, is his short-sighted off the cuff rhetoric which seems to be aimed at alienating minority voters. Especially Muslims and Latinos. The GOP hates this because they realize, even if Trump doesn't, that White people alone are not enough to win the General Election.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Games of Thrones Recap: Battle of the Bastards

George R.R. Martin has famously and consistently said that he expects the ending of his series A Song of Ice and Fire to be bittersweet. He has, at least in part, shared what he expects that ending to be with Weiss and Benioff, the creators of HBO's A Game of Thrones. There's no way of knowing if this was derived from something that Martin said (unless Weiss and Benioff confirm it) but I think tonight's episode had some of that aforementioned bittersweet feeling. There were crowd pleasing scenes that were long in coming but there were also some bitterly dashed hopes. More on that in a minute. As is typical with the penultimate episode of this series Sunday's night's episode was very tightly focused. Everything took place in two locations-The North/Winterfell and Meereen. This recap will be a little shorter than normal but that does not reflect the intensity nor the scope of what took place. In Meereen, Tyrion is playing the part of every bumbling middle manager trying to explain to the enraged CEO that things aren't really as bad as they seem and by the way it's not really his fault anyway. Have you ever had to do that at your job? It's not a fun thing to do. Imagine if the CEO has a penchant for feeding failures to dragons. That might tend to make her underlings stay focused. And like a typical big boss, Daenerys is unimpressed with Tyrion's excuses or explanations. She straightforwardly says she will destroy her enemies and burn them all. Tyrion thinks that this might be a good time to channel his inner Tom Hagen and tell her "You've won Mike!! Do you have to kill everybody?". Well it's not that exactly but Tyrion does remind his queen of her insane father and his predilection for burning things and people. The Mad King had hidden caches of wildfire all throughout King's Landing. Tyrion is worried that this love of fire is apparently a genetic tendency. He suggests an alternate plan. Apparently listening to her height challenged adviser, Daenerys meets with representatives of the slavers.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Music Reviews: O.V. Wright

O.V. Wright
I didn't hear or more likely didn't remember hearing O.V. Wright until relatively late in life, probably in college. But once I heard him he became one of my favorite singers. Most of the top soul singers, and Wright was in that class, came out of the church. 

Wright was no different. Wright, who had a very expressive tenor voice, started out with gospel groups such as The Five Harmonaires,The Sunset Travelers, and The Spirit of Memphis Quarter. 

Wright's I don't want to sit down is a rewrite of gospel great Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Sit Down. Don't Let my Baby ride is an obvious reworking of the gospel classic Don't Let the Devil Ride. That O.V. Wright song may also be the inspiration for the humorous Albert King lyric "If you got a good woman you'd better pin her to your side/Because if she flag my train brother, I'm bound to let her ride!" In 1964-65, no doubt at least partially inspired by Sam Cooke, who had made a similar journey (and whom Wright occasionally sounded like early on, check out Gone for Good to hear the Cooke influence) Wright made the switch to non-gospel music. 

Even as he sang secular music Wright always kept that gospel tinge. In fact in some aspects Wright never left gospel behind. As mentioned in other posts, with many older singers born before a certain time it's simplistic to talk of them as a "blues" or "soul" or "R&B" singer. They did it all. Wright moved more or less seamlessly between various forms of traditional Black American music both secular and profane.  

Wright had a voice and style that could make you feel the oozing pain from his soul in one song and the transcendent joy he was experiencing in another. Even singers as talented as Tyrone Davis, Little Milton and Johnnie Taylor hesitated to go on stage after O.V. Wright. 

8th grade Graduation Speech with Political Impersonations

You should never take things too seriously. That goes for 8th grade graduations and Presidential elections. I thought the impressions were pretty good, particularly of President Obama and Bernie Sanders.

Whoever wins this year’s presidential election might want to call this Chicago-area eighth-grader up as a speech writer. Jack Aiello is a young teen with big dreams ahead of him — and potentially a slot on "Saturday Night Live" or in the White House. The Arlington Heights middle schooler has quickly garnered Internet praise for his hilarious graduation speech, which included impersonations of the 2016 presidential candidates. Aiello’s entire roughly 350-student graduating class was tasked with writing a graduation speech as part of an English assignment. The speeches were then evaluated by teachers and staff before three finalists were selected. "He was hands down No. 1 because it was going to speak to the kids," principal Brian Kaye said."I’ve decided that since we’re in the middle of an election year, that I would do my graduation speech in the style of some of the 2016 presidential candidates[along with President Obama]," Jack begins in the video. But what unfolds after that is a series of spot-on impersonations that few in the audience could have anticipated from the soon-to-be-high-schooler described by many as "humble."

"He’s been doing them since he was very young — family members, teachers, he even makes up his own silly voices and he’s been doing that for a very long time," said his mother, Carla Aiello. "And then with the election, he watches the news clips and he just absorbs everything."

"If you were to ask him what he really wants to do, he really truly does want to be president someday. He feels a great desire to be a leader," said his father, John Aiello. "A politician or a comedian, which the lines do sometimes blur."

Thursday, June 16, 2016

First Trailer for "All Eyez on Me" Tupac Biopic

From the moment I started seeing photos pop up on Instagram of Demetrius Shipp Jr. in character for the up and coming Tupac biopic, "All Eyez on Me," I knew this film was going to be something special. Any fan of 90's hip-hop and those of us who are old enough to remember the infamous east coast, west coast beef, would inevitable have to compare this film to "Notorious," the 2009 Biggie Smalls biopic, which I always thought was a bit premature. After all it was 6 years before "Straight Outta Compton," the NWA biopic.

I was always drawn more to Tupac, even though he was a west coast rapper, because of his strong social and political convictions, but that doesn't mean I am biased when I say this trailer looks like it will be a much better film than "Notorious."

 Take a look at the teaser for both films below and let us know what you think in the comments.


Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando Massacre

Over the weekend a U.S. citizen of Afghan heritage and Islamic religion, Omar Mateen, committed the worst single gunman mass shooting in US history, killing at least 49 people. That number may rise. I can't write much on this now because the Day Job requirements have become more pressing while my Day Job overseer has become more demanding. That's how it goes when you work for other people. The thing I did find intriguing and yet unsurprising is how quickly everyone framed this atrocity according to their favored narrative or tribe. Some people on the left, who would have otherwise pontificated at length about the evils of homophobic heteronormative patriarchal Christian Republicanism had the gunman been of European Christian heritage, ignored the gunman's personal demons or religious motivations to focus on the gunman's ability to purchase an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Some people on the right were downright gleeful that the Orlando gunman wasn't a man of European Christian heritage. They only wished to discuss the wisdom of bringing in numerous immigrants from countries whose cultures are not as advanced as ours in terms of women's rights, gay rights or tolerance of different religions and lifestyles. Some of these immigrants or their 2nd generation children have proven to be problematic to say the least. Some people, including one Presidential candidate, would say this shows that members of group A are dangerous and should all be prevented from entering this country. Other Americans think that a different group is dangerous and should be prevented from owning weapons. I don't have a lot to say about this not only because I have supervisors who've made it clear that my attention is better spent elsewhere during the day (LOL) but also because I think almost everything has already been said. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap : No One

In Braavos after Lady Crane finishes playing Cersei during Joffrey's death scene she leaves the stage. In her dressing room Lady Crane discovers Arya wounded and just about out of it. She binds Arya's wounds. I guess we'll just ignore the serious nature of several deep stabs to the stomach, intestines, kidneys and liver areas for now and roll with the story. When Arya questions how an actress learned to be such a good medic Lady Crane tells Arya of previous domestic violence issues with her beloved bad boy paramours. But hold on to your feminist outrage. Lady Crane was the aggressor. She also got rid of the actress playing Sansa by scarring the girl's face. She likes Arya. She offers to bring along Arya when the troupe moves to Pentos.  Arya says she can't stay with Lady Crane because she'll put her in danger. The Hound, as befits his name, has tracked down some of the members of the Brotherhood without Banners and showed them 99 different ways he can turn them into origami with just one trusty axe. He hasn't found the leaders yet but he's looking. The Hound is not so much on the forgive and forget train any more. King Charmin Tommen gave the Faith Militant access to the Red Keep. Qyburn is too polite or too scared of Cersei to point out Tommen's weakness but Cersei knows it well enough. Smelling himself a bit, Cersei's cousin and former lover Lancel tells her that The High Sparrow wants to see her. Cersei is not really feeling this but Lancel makes it clear that it's not a request. So get moving. Now!  Cersei has had just about enough of this attitude and says she's not going. So Lancel and his Holy Rollers need to leave. When they try to seize her, FrankenGregor steps in. One of the Faith Militant is foolish enough to attack the undead Mountain. The Mountain knocks him down and rips him apart. Cersei sardonically lets Lancel know he and The High Sparrow are always welcome to visit. But maybe Cersei played this hand too soon. A little later there is a royal pronouncement in the throne room. Cersei is rather ostentatiously not invited to hear it. Typically she shows up anyway but her uncle Kevan, Tommen's Hand, won't let her anywhere near her son. He banishes her to the upstairs gallery, an obvious insult. King Stay-Soft announces trial dates for Loras and Cersei but in a move that probably comes from The High Sparrow Tommen also announces that effective immediately, trial by combat is banned. It's barbaric and doesn't really prove anything. Instead seven Septons will judge Loras and Cersei. And just like that Cersei is deprived of her most obvious weapon. But you never laugh at live lionesses. Qyburn tells Cersei that there's much more to the rumors she had him investigate. Interesting. Cersei has a plan. I'm sure this involves violence.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Ones Below, Get The Gringo

The Ones Below
directed by David Farr
The Ones Below is a nifty little thriller movie which shows once again that you can make impressive disturbing films without over reliance on gore and guts. If I recall correctly there is virtually no violence in this movie although the filmmaker certainly makes you think there might be much more than there is. It's creepy as hell though. Visually the only sex appeal is fleeting off screen coitus and a few cleavage baring outfits, but there's nothing I would find gratuitous. Of course I almost never find cleavage gratuitous so take that with a grain of salt. 

No this is a game attempt at what might be called a thinking man's or woman's thriller. I didn't think The Ones Below needlessly insulted the viewer's intelligence even as some things became obvious. You'll see the twist coming a mile away but I think you still might be a little impressed with how the movie reaches the seemingly inevitable ending. This film slowly ratchets up the dread even as the outside world in which the characters live is cheerfully bright. One of the beautiful and horrible things about life is that we all inhabit our own little reality bubbles. One person is getting divorced by their spouse. Another one is welcoming their first child into the world. Someone else is dying a slow painful death from cancer. And the world just keeps on turning. 

The Ones Below does a great job in showing the contrast between our inner and outer worlds. Obviously there are some allusions to previous films here. It's very difficult to escape the shadow of Rosemary's Baby given the themes and subject matter. It is or should be a source of amazement that we can so easily and quickly create another human being provided we can find an interested someone with parts complementary to our own. But although the initial act of creation is very easy, relatively quick and usually joyous for both parties involved, the long process of bringing another human being into the world falls exclusively to the woman and is, from what I've heard, not necessarily a bowl of cherries.

Fox Sports Florida Reporter Emily Austen Fired

There are some people who routinely make ethnic or racial comments and earn a good living doing just that. These people are usually comedians, writers or politicians who represent districts where the overwhelming majority of people look like them and/or agree with their point of view. Other people are better off just reading whatever is on the teleprompter, smiling and raking in the big bucks. When some people go off script and let you know what they really think they run into problems. There's a very thin line between a comment that is crass or ignorant but not meanspirited and one that is deliberately malicious. Who knows what's really in Emily Austen's (former Fox Sports Florida sideline reporter for the Tampa Bay Rays and Orlando Magic) heart. All the public can go by is what Austen said. I'm betting that Austen is probably wishing that she hadn't made the comments that she made during an interview with Barstool Sports.

Emily Austen won't be the sideline reporter for future Tampa Bay Rays games on Fox Sports Florida. Nor will she do that job for the Orlando Magic next season either. After unleashing a variety of racial and religious jokes during a live Facebook chat with Barstool Sports, Austen has gotten the ax from Fox's regional sports station. During a 35-minute video with three men, Austen made several controversial comments, among them:
• That she "didn't even know that Mexicans were that smart.''
• How the "Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class.''
• About how she "used to talk to Jews in Boca'' when she was a server, saying one customer was "stingy'' because he complained about how she poured his beer and that "they would complain and b---- about everything.''
Austen, 27, also referred to Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love as a "little b - - - -.'' While this is the sort of anti-PC, bro-centric content that has made Barstool Sports a popular (and well-funded) Internet destination, Austen learned pretty quickly what flies on Barstool Sports doesn't necessarily fly at her workplace. 

I don't see this as political correctness run amok so much as I see someone who lost sight of who she was and how important she wasn't to her company. You have to be pretty stupid or pretty privileged to let something you're doing outside of your workplace interfere with your work. I listen to sports radio during my commute. It is a place where slightly different rules apply. Still there are standards. Questioning a player's masculinity in a crude fashion is inbounds I think. Being amazed that an entire ethnic group/nationality is not as dumb as you thought they were is out of bounds. You always need to have a clear understanding of your value to your employer. If your departure won't negatively change your company's revenue stream or stock price, you should probably be careful about what you say in public. The other lesson is something everyone should already know. Just because someone smiles at you doesn't mean they like you. You can hear the problematic comments starting at 24:31.

Monday, June 6, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Broken Man

Well well. Everyone's favorite anti-hero is back. We open up with a group of people making a new building. I think it's going to be a church. Folks are cutting wood, moving stones and sanding lumber. This is hard work. It takes a number of men and women to lift a tree trunk. Usually this seems to be about a four or five person job. And then from behind we see a large man with a limp and a big head carrying a tree trunk all by himself. Well you know who it is don't you. Sandor Clegane, aka The Hound, is alive and well! This episode included a lot of storylines from book 4 of George R.R. Martin's series, A Feast For Crows. That is my least favorite book. Nonetheless I think the show creators did an adequate job bringing these scenes to life-in some cases. In others I think they missed by a country mile. More on that in a second. Anyway Ian McShane, former star of Deadwood, is playing the Septon (Religious leader) of this small group of, well what should we call them? Hippies isn't quite the word I'm looking to use here. Rehab members might be more accurate. Survivors might be the best word to use. Yes, these are people who have survived the wars and found strength in the Faith of The Seven. Some of these people were victims of brutality. Others inflicted brutality. But they all are trying to turn the page on the past and get right with God(s) or more importantly themselves. The Septon found the Hound near death. He was surprised that the Hound didn't die. The Hound says hate kept him going but the Septon thinks that's just deflection. He says that God(s) has(have) a purpose for The Hound. The Septon is a former military man with a profane nature. But he is also spiritual. He says that it doesn't matter what you believe as long as you know there is something greater. The Hound still eats and works alone because many people are scared of him. The Septon would like to change that. The Hound spends a lot of time chopping wood and no that is not a euphemism for anything else. I suppose it (hard physical labor) could be a way for the The Hound to purge the evil and fear from himself. The Hound doubts that any god would want to work thru him.  The Hound says that the Septon doesn't know what's he's done. The Septon says he's heard stories.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Muhammad Ali

There aren't too many giants left who walk the earth. Muhammad Ali was one such man. I was sad when I heard the news of his June 3 passing at the age of 74 but at the same time I wasn't. Ali was a man who lived his life in line with his beliefs and principles. I wish he had lived longer. However often times when someone passes our sadness is more about how we're affected and not the end of that person's life. Ali stood up at a time when it was much easier to duck and hide. He paid a price for that. Maybe it's always much easier to duck and hide. I don't know if the later battles Ali had against fellow boxing titans Frazier, Foreman, Holmes and Norton brought on or worsened his Parkinson's Disease. I do recollect that even pacifist relatives who were otherwise steadfastly opposed to boxing tuned in to watch an Ali bout. Ali was larger than life. Unfortunately most of my memories of Ali boxing were when his skills had already visibly deteriorated. But even then there was always a glimpse of the speed, grace and power that made him the Greatest, as he would have been the first to tell you. But more than the classic fights which I was mostly too young to remember what I remember about Ali is how he made people I knew, especially the men in my family, feel. Ali was a Black man who defiantly seized and kept the right to name himself. He made his own decisions about what was good and what wasn't. He made Black people feel good about being Black. This is still a controversial stance today. Ali said I'm not going to have a European name based in slavery because I'm not European. I'm going to love myself. And he refused to join a war he didn't believe in, even though he likely would have been kept far away from any danger. He threw away three years of his career at the top just to stand on principle. How many of us would do that? How many of today's athletes would make that sacrifice? Ali helped to start a change in how Black athletes were perceived, how they performed and how they were marketed, one that is still going on today. Ali wasn't perfect. None of us are. And certainly there are probably some people who were more comfortable with the aged man who could barely speak than the young brash "Mouth Of The South" who cut opponents up with verbal wit even quicker than he did with his fists. But for my money Ali truly was The Greatest.

I’m the greatest thing that ever lived! I’m the king of the world! I’m a bad man. I’m the prettiest thing that ever lived.
It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.
It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Book Reviews: Dead Man's Hand, Pimp

Dead Man's Hand
by John Joseph Adams
Dead Man's Hand, so named for the aces and eights or the black two pair poker hand supposedly held by gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok when he was murdered, is an anthology of short stories set in the Old West. The twist is that these tales are not just shoot em ups though a few of those exist. No the common theme that links all these stories is that they occur not in the West that was but rather the West that could have been. As the book cover indicates it is a anthology of the weird west. For those of you who read this and immediately assume that Dead Man's Hand is just another low rent horror book that you'd prefer to avoid, not being a horror fan, you are probably making a mistake. 

Yes, there are some traditional horror stories within though here traditional doesn't mean that you'd know exactly what to expect. But the emphasis is not on vampires, ghouls or ghosts. The emphasis is on the weird. So in one story you can read about a battle between a vampire and a righteous revered gunfighter and in the next read a feminist take on what happens when a vicious pimp tries to reclaim his "property" from the women who work in an enlightened bordello. Some of these stories work better than others but I don't think I was ever really bored reading this. As usual the best thing about anthologies is that if there is a story that you dislike it's okay because in just a few pages something new is coming along.  

Other than always being set in the West these stories are often quite different in theme, tone, purpose and feel. There's something here for everyone, but I wouldn't say all of the stories are for everyone. My favorite story in this collection was Walter Jon Williams' "The Golden Age" which reimagines Gold Rush era California as something out of a Steampunk comic strip. An English sailor, unfairly cheated out of his gold claim, turns to a life of crime. He becomes known as The Commodore. 

He is alternately assisted and hindered by a motley crew of fellow superheroes and villains, most of whom will go out of their way to avoid killing each other outright but prefer old time radio serial favorites like leaving their enemy tied up over a flaming volcano. Other superheroes include Shanghai Susie, who uses Kung-fu to protect Chinese railroad workers or The Masked Hildalgo who fights for Mexican miners. Good or bad many of these people must put aside their quarrels when California is invaded by an Austrian madman with a blimp and an entirely unsporting attitude towards rivals. 

Mike Resnick's "The Hellbound Stagecoach" is a new twist on a very old theme. Ben Winter's "The Old Slow Man and His Gold Gun From Space" had some surprises which I don't think most people will see coming. "Stingers and Strangers" finds a boyfriend/girlfriend team investigating why some very dangerous oversize wasps have suddenly vanished. Tobias Bucknell's "Sundown" tells the story of an extremely pragmatic Black Federal Marshal who teams up with Frederick Douglass to deliver some righteous and legal retribution on some very bad people. 

In "Holy Jingle" Alan Dean Foster tells us the story of a man who was last seen at a Carson City brothel. When he's found he might be drained of something besides that which one would normally expect. Charles Yu's "Bookkeeper, Narrator, Gunslinger" shows us what happens when a mild mannered bookkeeper opens his mouth and discovers he's not such a bad shot. Alastair Reynolds' "Wrecking Party" informs us that a man who's smashing up the newfangled horseless carriages may not be an ignorant Luddite after all.

All in all this was a good read. Not every story was a winner but I can honestly say that the gold outweighed the dross. It's a little long but you can read it at your leisure.

San Jose Anti-Trump Protests and the Right to Assemble

I will not vote for Donald Trump in the fall election. There are numerous reasons for this, too many to list here. I think that Trump is despicable for spreading rumors and lies about President Obama's birthplace and religion. I think Trump is a bigot with a history of bigoted words and actions. But there are many people who will vote for Trump. I don't think that all of these people are horrible racists and/or inbred rural residents with stingy dental plans and roiling resentment over Reconstruction. But even if that were indeed the case the fundamental deal in America is that everyone gets to have a say, including people that we dislike or even hate. This was actually going to be another post on the importance of the entire First Amendment. That post may show up later with a slightly different emphasis, I guess. It all depends on the Day Job workload. But if you didn't hear about it already, on Thursday, people who were apparently opposed to Donald Trump physically attacked a number of Trump supporters at a Trump rally in San Jose, California. Now there are better writers than I who will argue in flowery abstruse academic language that Trump has legitimized a certain level of political violence through his ugly words and/or has no problem with violence as long as "his people" are delivering the beatdowns. In this POV all the San Jose protesters were doing is responding to previous violence. It's Trump and his goons who are the real bad guys. Right. This sounds good but it completely misses the point. Every American has the right to peacefully assemble and support the candidate of his/her choice without being physically attacked. Period. If we can no longer agree on that basic point then this country really does need to break apart. Let's call it a day. There is no level of rhetoric that makes it okay to respond with violence. SAN JOSE, Calif. —Protests outside a Donald Trump rally in downtown San Jose spun out of control Thursday night when some demonstrators attacked the candidate’s supporters. Protesters jumped on cars, pelted Trump supporters with eggs and water balloons, snatched signs and stole “Make America Great” hats off supporters’ heads before burning the hats and snapping selfies with the charred remains. “The San Jose Police Department made a few arrests tonight after the Donald Trump Rally,” police said in a statement. “As of this time, we do not have specific information on the arrests made. There has been no significant property damage reported. One officer was assaulted.” In one video circulating widely on social media, two protesters tried to protect a Trump supporter as other protesters attacked him and called him names. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

President Trump: America's Worst Reality TV Show

As more and more Establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan fall in line (read: accept their fate) with the notion that reality TV star Donald Trump will be their standard bearer for the 2016 Presidential Election, the vision of what a Donal Trump presidency begins to take shape. What would a Trump Presidency look like?  Perhaps no other recent event encapsulates the essence of a Trump Presidency more than the most recent remarks made by "The Donald" against the federal judge who is presiding over one of the several Trump University fraud suits alleged against him.

Per the WSJ:

Donald Trump on Thursday escalated his attacks on the federal judge presiding over civil fraud lawsuits against Trump University, amid criticism from legal observers who say the presumptive GOP presidential  nominee’s comments are an unusual affront on an independent judiciary.

In an interview, Mr. Trump said U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over the litigation given that he was “of Mexican heritage” and a member of a Latino lawyers’ association. Mr. Trump said the background of the judge, who was born in Indiana to Mexican immigrants, was relevant because of his campaign stance against illegal immigration and his pledge to seal the southern U.S. border. “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

3 Reasons Why Snoop Is Wrong About the Roots Reboot

At first I had resolved to simply troll the comments section of the Facebook posts I saw with the article of Snoop Dogg telling us to Boycott the Roots reboot, which aired Monday night on the History Channel. I got into a few minor debates, acting in this fashion until I realized that a full on rant was needed to properly address some of the arguments I’ve come across since Snoop’s comments.

I get it. Black folks are tired of the self-depreciating, subservient, slave role that seems to permeate the big screen when it comes to stories being told about black experiences. 12 Years a Slave and the Oscar frenzy that followed was the last straw for a lot of people who believe that more diverse, positive stories about black people are needed. No doubt, when you see a black man on screen who isn’t Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Laurence Fishburne, and now Idris Elba, he is usually either gay, an ignorant thug, coward, or has some kind of disability that makes him seem less human.