Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Detroit News Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson

The Detroit News is the primary conservative newspaper in the Southeast Michigan area. When The Detroit News endorses someone for President it endorses the Republican. This time it decided to endorse the Libertarian candidate for President, Gary Johnson. Now you can probably point out that most people don't decide whom to vote for based on recommendations by a newspaper's editorial board, particularly not a small regional paper such as The Detroit News. And you're probably right. Still the reason I thought this was worthy of note was that no matter who wins in November, the definition of conservative will be changing. The Detroit News editorial board members Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques list the first two (and presumably from their view the most important) reasons not to support Trump as immigration and trade. Johnson is in support of the TPP and is for virtual open borders to the US. Anyone who wants to come in to the US (and is not a criminal) should be able to come in as far as Finley and Jacques are concerned. These positions track well with the free-trade and big business types among conservatives but they are utterly unacceptable to many of the conservative voters who successfully made Trump the Republican nominee. There is a question as to whether the nation's definition is more important or earning money is more important. That is a deliberate reduction of some complex issues of course. And Trump, the consummate internationalist businessman, is hardly the paragon of America First which he portrays himself as before certain audiences. But nonetheless there is a divergence of interests between the nativist, nationalistic, and even racist types who do not privilege earning money over what they see as national or racial interest and those conservatives who are eager to expand trade, transfer capital and labor abroad and welcome different types of people into the US because they see money making opportunities. These differences can no longer be papered over. At this time, I still think Trump will lose the election but regardless of November's outcome the Republican party will not return to a point where the free-marketers get to run it without opposition. The blood-and-soil people are there. They're angry. They're not quiet about it. Going forward there is going to be more infighting about what it means to be a conservative in the US.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

So Who Won?

It's after midnight so I'm going to keep this brief.  During the first part of the debate, Donald Trump actually appeared like a serious Presidential candidate.  He was poised, he was on message, and he scored substantive points against Hillary Clinton on trade.  And for a moment, it looked like Trump was going to build upon his recent momentum in all of the polls with those on-the-fence Republicans and Independents who have been gravitating towards Trump.  And then it happened.  About 15-20 minutes into the 90 minute debate Hillary baited him about the loan he got from his dad to start his businesses, and from that moment forward he threw substance out the window and went on the defensive about himself.  In other words, Trump made it all about Trump.  It's important to note that this was deliberately done by the Clinton campaign.  They were hoping that they'd be able to turn Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, and they succeeded.   

I think Fortune got it right here:
Trump arguably had his best moments in the opening section of the debate, which tends to be its most-watched portion. Drawing from his stump speech, he conjured an image of a blighted U.S., outsmarted by its trading partners and abused by its own companies. He promised, with his trademark bluster and imprecision, to get tough on those responsible at home and abroad. “We have to stop our jobs from leaving,” he said, dismissing Clinton as a member of the entrenched political class that’s presided over an economic hollowing-out.
Yet Clinton moved from the start to stick Trump in his softest spot: his business dealings. In her second answer, she explained their differing approaches to the economy as the product of their “different perspectives.” While she was raised in a middle-class family, she said, Trump started out in the real-estate business with $14 million in loans from father. Trump maintains he only received a small fraction of that amount, a key to his narrative about being self-made.
Trump took the bait, the first of several times that he allowed Clinton to provoke him with scripted digs that kept him on the defensive. She weaved into an answer about economic progress under President Obama, for example, a mention that Trump cheered the housing collapse at the time as an opportunity to turn a profit. And Trump chimed in: “That’s called business, by the way.” He deployed another self-defeating interruption as Clinton listed reasons Trump might be avoiding releasing his tax returns. “Maybe he doesn’t want the American people, all of you watching tonight, to know that he’s paid nothing in federal taxes,” Clinton said. Trump, apparently confirming the charge, blurted, “That makes me smart.”
 And then Hillary dropped perhaps the most memorable line of the night:

"I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be President."

Regarding the moderator, I think PoliticsUSA got it  right when they said:
Lester Holt – Holt did not allow either candidate to ramble, and where Trump was concerned, he pressed the Republican nominee on releasing his tax returns, dropped the facts on stop and frisk, and held both candidates on topic and to the clock.
There was a great deal of concern before the debate that Holt would allow Trump to run wild, or hold him to a lower standard than Hillary Clinton. The NBC Nightly News anchor was a fair moderator who relied on facts and set the standard for how moderators need to conduct themselves in future debates.
There was some rumblings that Holt essentially disappeared from the debate at times but I think for the most part he let the candidates go after each other, which is the role of a moderator.

The issue of race was also brought up and Trump took some fact checking from the moderator on the Birther issue:
LESTER HOLT (MODERATOR): Mr. Trump, for five years, you perpetuated a false claim that the nation's first black president was not a natural born citizen. You questioned his legitimacy. In the last couple of weeks you acknowledged what most Americans have accepted for years, the president was born in the United States. Can you tell us what took you so long?
I just want to get the answer here. The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You continued to tell the story and questioned the president's legitimacy in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, as recently as January. So, the question is what changed your mind?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, nobody was pressing it. Nobody was caring much about it. I figured you'd ask the question tonight, of course. But nobody was caring much about it, but I was the one that got him to produce the birth certificate and I think I did a good job.
HOLT: I'm sorry, I'm going to follow up -- I will let you respond to that, because there's a lot there, but we're talking about racial healing in this segment. What do you say to Americans --
TRUMP: Well, I was very -- I say nothing. I say nothing because I was able to get him to produce it. He should have produced it a long time before, I say nothing.
In sum, Trump will retain his core supporters after tonight but he did not do himself any favors with the on-the-fence Republicans or Independents who have been trending Trump in the past several weeks.  Indeed, early polls indicate that undecided voters who watched the debate trended towards Hillary by an overwhelming majority.  CNN conducted a small sample of 20 such undecided voters in the key battleground state of Florida and 18 of the 20 said that after watching the debate they now support Hillary over Trump.  Obviously 20 people is too small of a sample to represent the entire state of Florida, but it does tend to suggest that Hillary may have actually gained ground tonight whereas Trump likely lost it at a time where he needed those in-the-middle folks to get over the 50% mark in the key battle ground states that will ultimately decide the election. 

So who do you think won?

Sunday, September 25, 2016

First Presidential Debate: Trump vs. Clinton

Monday night, September 26, at 9 PM at Hofstra University, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet for their first debate. The debate will run for approximately 90 minutes or so. I don't know that there are a whole bunch of undecided voters left out there but the latest polls show that the race is very close. I think for most viewers the debate will be more about trying to find some "gotcha" moment to rile up their base or confirm their own suspicions about their disfavored candidate. If you are convinced, as he has repeatedly shown in statements, that Donald Trump has no real understanding of foreign or domestic policy, constitutional framework or the workings of our government then I doubt the debate will do that much to change your mind. If you think that Hillary Clinton's theme song as she walks onto stage should be Ave Satani then no amount of displayed knowledge or executive command will serve to change your mind. Still, each candidate has weaknesses which the other will try to exploit. For Trump, as I've written before and everyone has noticed, it's his tendency to take everything personally and respond with ad hominem or in this case ad feminem attacks.This worked in the Republican primary debates because the Republican primary voters are highly unrepresentative of the larger electorate. Voting for Trump was a giant middle finger to the establishment from people who thought rightly or wrongly that they had been sold out by their country. They were looking for someone to hear their pain and give them someone to blame. Trump cannily exploited and amplified these fears to become the Republican nominee. But an angry numerically declining base which is already threatening violence and/or secession should Trump lose isn't enough to guarantee Trump victory. He has to convince more moderate Republicans, independents and a few conservative Democrats that he's not just a bully boy know-nothing with an out of control id. This debate is his first chance to do that. When Clinton attacks him will he deflect, defend and counterattack with facts or will he sneer and say "Look at that face!" ?

For Clinton this debate offers a chance to contrast her command of facts against someone who is pretty proud that he's mostly ignorant of relevant facts. Her job will be to bait Trump into swinging and missing. If Trump makes a few insane off the cuff statements Clinton can either skewer them on live tv in front of millions or just look at the camera and smirk. Clinton's weakness will be her involvement in foreign policy initiatives that haven't worked out well (Libya) and the fact that she's been around for so long. Many people do not like or trust her. There are millions of voters who aren't happy with the status quo. Clinton, despite being identified with the status quo, must convince those voters that Trump is a dangerous and even unacceptable alternative. I still haven't really heard Clinton express a compelling reason WHY she wants to be President. The debate should make for good television if nothing else. In my view it's too bad that one of these people will most likely be our next President. But that's the system in which we live.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Movie Reviews: Keanu, Blood Father, In A Lonely Place

directed by Peter Atencio
I didn't routinely watch the comedy sketch show Key and Peele when it was still running. Every now and then I would see something online by the show stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and remind myself that I probably needed to watch more of their work. 

Some of their comedy is really really good but much of it is just okay, nothing special. So when I heard that they were involved in writing and producing this movie, and that the film was directed by their former sketch show director, I watched it. Well the movie was just okay, nothing special. Meh. A theme which runs through Key and Peele's work as well as that of many black artists or creatives of all types is the surreal nature of race in America. In this particular case it's the expectations that people (and this includes all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality) can often have around black men or for that matter black boys. All of these stereotypes ultimately go back to slavery/colonialism/Jim Crow and may never really be rooted out. 

Rather than list them all here in gory detail it's probably safer to say that a great many people expect that most black men are hypermacho, supercool, and able to handle themselves physically in just about every situation. While these stereotypes can be embraced by blacks and used to individual advantage (most rap music over the past thirty years) they are more likely to be used by people outside the black community to black disadvantage (witness many black interactions with the police). So Key and Peele use the movie Keanu to investigate in a comedic way how silly these stereotypes are. They do this by simultaneously embracing and deconstructing the stereotypes. YMMV on how successful they were in doing this. This is stuff that goes back to Baraka's Dutchman and Ellison's Invisible Man. It was done better in those works. If the only way to succeed is to do the modern day equivalent of putting on blackface and tap dancing is that admirable? This isn't just a dry academic question. A black comedian referred to the black President with a racial slur. Many black people fell over themselves praising the comedian. Others passionately defended their right to call themselves racial slurs as unassailable proof of their racial bona fides. It's a strange, strange strange world in which we live.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Tulsa Officer Charged For Killing Terence Crutcher - Is It the Right Charge Under the Law?

As you've likely heard by now, the Oklahoma police officer, Betty Jo Shelby, who shot and killed Terence Crutcher, has now been charged with First Degree Manslaughter.  In criminal law, when another human being is killed, the criminal charge associated with their death amounts to either murder or manslaughter.  Murder is, generally speaking, the intentional killing of one person by another.  Manslaughter, by contrast, is similar to murder but without the element of intent.  It's an acknowledgment that somebody's life was taken, but also an acknowledgment that their death may not have been purposely premeditated.

Oklahoma law (21 O.S. § 711) states that a person is guilty of First Degree Manslaughter under the following 3 scenarios:
  1. When perpetrated without a design to effect death by a person while engaged in the commission of a misdemeanor.
  2. When perpetrated without a design to effect death, and in a heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by means of a dangerous weapon; unless it is committed under such circumstances as constitute excusable or justifiable homicide.
  3. When perpetrated unnecessarily either while resisting an attempt by the person killed to commit a crime, or after such attempt shall have failed.
So what does this mean in plain English and is this the right charge given the facts that we know?  Let's take a deeper look.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby Kills Terence Crutcher

On September 16, 2016 Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby shot and killed one U.S. citizen named Terence Crutcher. Mr. Crutcher was unarmed. He had no gun on his person or in his vehicle. His vehicle had stalled or broken down. There were no warrants for Mr. Crutcher's arrest. Police did not apparently render any assistance to Mr. Crutcher. They evidently did not put out any hazard lights, offer him a jump, help move the vehicle off the road, try to determine the problem with the vehicle, or call for a tow truck or roadside assistance. These are the things that most citizens who are having car trouble would expect the police to do. After all police are supposed to serve and protect. Unfortunately Mr. Crutcher was a black man. The police immediately saw him as a threat. In no short time after their arrival the police are yelling things at Mr. Crutcher and have him surrounded. Mr. Crutcher has his hands up. A police officer in a helicopter says that Mr. Crutcher "looks like a bad dude". And shortly after that two police officers almost simultaneously tase and shoot Mr. Crutcher. The police don't even bother to tend to the dying man's wounds but instead let him bleed out. They appeared to be more concerned with making sure that Officer Shelby was emotionally okay. Shelby has not been arrested or charged yet. I'm not being fashionably cynical when I write that I will be surprised if she does goes to trial. Her attorney is of course reaching for the tried and true tactic of claiming fear of the "big black man". Quite often this is a literal get out of jail card for white police officers. As many people on twitter have pointed out at this point if someone doesn't understand that there is a problem with police use of force against black people, disproportionately black men and boys, then they don't want to know. Most people will have car trouble at some point in our lives. Imagine running into someone who is so consumed with fear and hatred of you that there is literally nothing you can say or do that will not be interpreted as a threat. Well Mr. Crutcher didn't have to imagine that scenario. He was a Black man in America. He knew the deal. He kept his hands up even though he'd committed no crime. And he still died.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Reviews: Chin, Party Music

Chin: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante
by Larry McShane 
Mafia boss, clotheshorse and media junkie John Gotti sought and received attention during his rise and short stay as head of his organization, the Gambino Crime Family. But the Dapper Don was not as powerful or as wealthy as Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, secretive boss of a different New York based organization, the Genovese Crime Family. Unlike the flashy, vain and extroverted Gotti who was insistent that everyone in or outside of the Mafia know he was boss, Vincent Gigante or "The Chin" as he was known in some circles (the nickname was a shortened form of his Italian born mother's pronunciation of Vincenzo) shunned the spotlight. 

He rarely left the neighborhood in which he had lived for years. He did not like people knowing he was boss. In fact Gigante initially didn't even let many people in his own organization know when he became boss. He kept his advanced status a secret from other families for years. Gigante used cutouts and front bosses to misdirect law enforcement. Because Gigante was very worried about surveillance and betrayal he announced that anyone in his family who used his given name (and eventually even his nickname) in conversation was risking a death sentence. If a mobster needed to refer to Gigante that mobster was supposed to either touch his chin or say "this guy". 

Even mobsters in other families were advised to follow this edict. But Gigante was most infamous for perpetrating a decades long scam to fool law enforcement and the medical establishment. Gigante pretended to be crazy and possess diminished capacity. Sometimes luck can put a man on a different path. In the late fifties Gigante was a low level thug who got the assignment to murder Frank Costello, gentleman gangster and boss of the Family once led by Lucky Luciano. The man who gave Gigante this assignment, Vito Genovese, wanted to be boss. And the brutal Genovese had the backing of a sizable portion of the Family's roughest crews. Gigante dutifully shot Frank Costello but didn't finish the job. Costello survived. Unusually, for some reason Genovese didn't follow his normal procedure and have Gigante murdered both to set an example about the perils of failure and remove any link back to him.

Genovese was notorious for this sort of devious maliciousness. According to mob turncoat Joe Valachi,  "If you went to Vito and told him about some guy doing wrong, he would have the guy whacked for doing wrong and then he'd have you whacked for snitching!". At the ensuing trial Costello claimed to have no idea who had shot him. Gigante was acquitted. 

The Kiss: V-J Day

Just about everyone in the US has seen this photo. It's probably the best known symbol of the end of World War Two. It's also in some cases been seen as an snapshot memory of a better time, when America unambiguously won conflicts. For some people this photo is the pictorial paragon of a time where optimism was in the air and there was nothing that this country could not do. The photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt took this picture in Times Square of a sailor kissing a nurse shortly after the announcement of the Japanese unconditional surrender and end of the war. Growing up I naively thought that both of the people were either married to each other or were dating. That wasn't the case. The sailor and nurse were strangers to each other. That nurse, Greta Friedman (Zimmer) recently passed away. Greta Friedman, who said she was grabbed and kissed by a sailor in a euphoric moment that made for one of the most defining American photos of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Richmond, Va. She was 92. The cause was pneumonia, her son, Joshua Friedman, said. In 2012, a writer on the website Crates and Ribbons argued that the picture depicted not a moment of romance, but a “sexual assault by modern standards,” pointing to Ms. Friedman’s description of the kiss during her interview with the Veterans History Project. “I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss,” Ms. Friedman said. “It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.” In an article in 2014 about the photo, Time, whose parent company discontinued the monthly publication of Life magazine in 2000, noted that “many people view the photo as little more than the documentation of a very public sexual assault, and not something to be celebrated.” Ms. Friedman did not shy away from the photo or her role in it, her son said. Mr. Friedman said he believed she understood the argument that it was an assault but did not necessarily view it that way.

Standards and mores change of course. There probably aren't too many people today who would venture to grab someone and plant one on their lips without prior consent, some sort of signal or an ongoing relationship. That said though when once in a life time events occur people do feel emboldened to do or say things they otherwise wouldn't attempt. By today's standards this would be some sort of assault but even then there are people who wouldn't feel that way if it happened to them. Knowing the story behind this photo I just think it's a Rorschach test on how our concepts of masculinity, femininity and consent have mutated over the years.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Carmen Chamblee Keeps It Real

There are times and if you live long enough most of us have experienced them, when someone close to you rips your heart out, throws it on the ground, looks you right in the eye, and gleefully does the tarantella all over your bleeding broken heart. Although in later years you may look back at whatever occurred between you and your special rider and find if not exactly humor, some perspective and wisdom, at the moment when this happens most of us will be in a foul mood, caught between sadness and anger. Some among us who are more prone to anger will lash out at the person who did us wrong. If we can't reach them we may even try to hurt someone they loved or damage some of their property. This is of course a remarkably stupid idea. Any thing that involves possible criminal charges is as far as I am concerned not worth doing. And why would you want to give someone you don't even like anymore the satisfaction of knowing that they can still push your emotional buttons? Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. However one Florida woman by the name of Carmen Chamblee allegedly decided that she wanted to make a point to her ex-boyfriend by burning his car. I'm guessing Miss Chamblee is a Waiting to Exhale fan. Well there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when you're burning your ex-boyfriend's car as retribution for whatever heinous thing he supposedly did. (1) You should make sure that you're not caught on video setting the car on fire and fanning the flames. (2) You should also probably make sure that the car you're setting on fire is actually your boyfriend's car. Because it would kind of stink to get caught doing something so foolishly vindictive as setting a car on fire and not even get the satisfaction of having burned the correct car.

A Florida woman set fire to a car thinking it belonged to her ex boyfriend but got the wrong vehicle, authorities believe. Carmen Chamblee, 19, was arrested Saturday morning near Clearwater and charged with second-degree arson. She is accused of intentionally setting a Honda on fire earlier this month. Jennings' roommate was the one who alerted him that his car was on fire. The two men ran out with a pot of water to try to extinguish the blaze - but Jennings told ABC Action News it was 'too much'. Chamblee was taken to the Pinellas County Jail on Saturday according to online records. She was scheduled to appear in front of a judge on Sunday morning.

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

If you have paid any attention to the news over the past two weeks you've seen that San Francisco Forty-Niners (former starting and now backup) quarterback Colin Kaepernick has attracted both praise and scorn for his act of refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick is taking a stand so to speak to express his dismay at the status of black Americans and more specifically at the treatment of black Americans by the police. Kaepernick has mostly been met with outrage although he is starting to get more support (cautious and enthusiastic) from some of his fellow professional athletes outside of football, inside of football, and amateur brethren. And obviously since this is America a great deal of that criticism that Kaepernick has faced has been racialized. This has not just come from the usual conservative racists. People on both sides of the color line have questioned Kaepernick's self-described race, claiming that because he is biracial and relatively light skinned, he's not really black. People have called him ungrateful, ignorant, spoiled, entitled and all of the usual insults that accrue to someone who is going against the perceived grain. Those were the "nice" insults hurled by people who still needed to maintain public plausible deniability of their racism. Many people on twitter and blogs and website comment sections weren't restrained by such considerations and immediately reached for the tried and true racial slurs. Other people, including one pastor(!), just let their inner authoritarian come out to play and suggested shooting those people who didn't stand for the National Anthem. I didn't write on this earlier both because time to write has been at a premium of late thanks to a demanding Day Job and because I thought other people (including some of my blog partners) had pretty much already said everything worthwhile on the issue. Still, driving home a few days earlier listening to the condescending and clueless well known local radio host and writer Mitch Albom opine again on the issue as well as reading some other tweets I realized that maybe I did have something to write about this after all.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joy Reid and Gary Johnson: Big Dummies!

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so"-Mark Twain
Everyone makes mistakes. No one knows everything. There are so many different realms and levels of knowledge that you can, despite what Scott Adams thinks, spend a lifetime becoming expert in one particular area of human endeavor and still have more to learn. So there is no shame required if you are ignorant of a particular fact or unfamiliar with a given experience. No, the shame doesn't come with being ignorant. The shame comes with wanting to stay ignorant, being uncurious or trying to pass yourself off as an expert in a given field when actually you know nothing about the discipline. I saw two examples of this recently that I thought were humorous enough to share. One deservedly got more attention than the other because the man who made the gaffe is running for President, but both show that an unfamiliarity with facts is not good for people in high profile positions. As you probably know there is a multi-faction civil war in Syria ongoing. The largest city in Syria, Aleppo, is currently the site of a battle that involves just about every faction still extant, including foreign adventurers. Every faction has committed atrocities or has been accused of committing atrocities. The civilians are getting it in the neck, as is usually the case with civilians trapped in war zones. Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson, as Libertarians tend to be, has been skeptical of committing the US to new foreign wars or "interventions". This non-interventionist stance tends to drive the so-called "serious" foreign policy journalists and gurus (especially neo-cons) up the wall. They see it as dangerously naive and virtually treasonous. With this in mind MSNBC's Mike Barnicle asked Johnson what would Johnson do about Aleppo if he were elected President. Unfortunately Johnson, who looked tired and sounded even more inarticulate than normal said he did not know what Aleppo was. After Barnicle snidely explained what Aleppo was and where it was, Johnson gave a desultory dispirited answer that basically boiled down to using more diplomacy and avoiding foreign entanglements. But the story of the day wasn't that Johnson, like almost everyone else in the current or would-be foreign policy establishment, doesn't know how to fix Syria. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Movie Reviews: Now You See Me 2, The Duel

Now You See Me 2
directed by Jon Chu
Although I will do my level best to avoid spoilers for this movie, there is probably going to be at least one spoiler for the previous (first) movie in this series. So if you absolutely can't stand anything along those lines then you know what to do. Although this movie had plenty of fun, including a tour de force computer room sleight of hand combined performance by the magicians known as the Four Horsemen, it was also, unlike the first movie, extremely predictable. If you didn't know exactly what was going to happen in most cases while you were watching this movie that's only because you either weren't paying attention or had been dropped on the head a few times too many as a child. Most people watching this film could probably call out almost all the changes and misdirections ahead of time. This didn't make this installment a bad movie. I wouldn't go that far. But it was something that you've seen many times before, like for example in the first movie, albeit not with the admittedly impressive and upgraded special effects and tricks. There were only a few plot surprises. So basically as long as you don't go into this film expecting the world from it you'll be ok. And you'll probably even enjoy it. It's more style than substance. Lizzy Caplan replaces Isla Fisher. Caplan brings a bit more snark and edge to her role as sole female member of the Four Horsemen. As we open this film the three remaining Horsemen, Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKenny (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are bored and feuding with each other. A year has come and gone since they escaped the FBI but the new organization they've joined (The Eye) has no assignments for them or any magical secrets to share.  They're wondering if they made the right decision by joining this group. They're also wondering if they can trust FBI Agent/Eye member Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who claims to speak for The Eye and doesn't take kindly to any attempt to go over his head.

Music Reviews: The One I Love Is Gone

There are more similarities both musically and lyrically between blues and bluegrass than the casual listener might expect. Both genres, when done properly, can speak honestly about hard times, loneliness and loss among other themes. 

Bluegrass titan Bill Monroe wrote the song The One I Love is Gone specifically for fellow bluegrass luminaries Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Dickens and Gerrard came by their love of bluegrass and folk music in different manners. Dickens was born to an impoverished West Virginia mining/trucking family and grew up with the music. Her father was a Primitive Baptist preacher and musician. At least one of her brothers, a miner, died of black lung disease, an event that Dickens immortalized in her song Black Lung. As you might expect Dickens was a fierce supporter of the labor movement and women's movement. She expressed these sentiments in her songs They'll never keep us down and Don't put her down (you helped put her there). Gerrard was a college educated classically trained middle class woman who didn't start singing professionally until later in life. The women apparently met each other via their association with the famed Seeger family. Dickens was briefly in a band with Mike Seeger. Gerrard was married to Mike Seeger. 

The two women formed their own bluegrass group and had some success during the folk revival of the mid sixties and early seventies. They were one of the few if not only female led bluegrass groups when they started together. I was familiar with Dickens from her rollicking interpretation of the hard times song Coal Tattoo and was moved to find other music that she created or performed. Thus, I found this song. It's really almost a blues waltz. Dickens' and Gerrard's voices may or may not be to everyone's liking but to me the two women have a honesty and directness which is special during any epoch of music. Monroe's lyrics are straightforward and simple. Loss stinks. 

The primary way that I interpret this song is that the singer has been permanently rejected and dismissed by her (his) lover. I think you could also make an argument that the singer has been driven mad by their loss and is addressing someone who is in the grave. Either way the loss is permanent. And that's no good. There's a lot of space in the Dickens/Gerrard arrangement. Lauren O'Connell created an updated electric version with more drive which I also like.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Trump Surrogate Pastor Mark Burns Caught Lying

The great thing about telling the truth is as the saying goes the truth will set you free. If you really do have an advanced post-graduate or professional degree, if you really do have the professional certifications that are required for your chosen field, if you really did join and participate in service organizations or governmental organizations, if you really did graduate from exclusive competitive colleges or universities, if you really did pass exams which allow you to call yourself a doctor or lawyer, if you really did put in work as a combat hero in Iraq or Afghanistan, then there will be documented proof of all of your accomplishments. You can sleep easy at night if someone decides to do a little background checking on you. Any investigation will leave you unworried. You may or may not have a huge ego because of your past accomplishments but either way your work is something that no one can take away from you. On the other hand the world is full of small petty little men and women who either for egocentric reasons or more purely mercenary ones lie about their past achievements. Sometimes these lies are small ones. Some people claim on their resume to be team leaders or managers when in fact their entire past experience consists of taking orders from someone else. Some people might exaggerate the level of responsibility that they had for a project or initiative. These sorts of falsehoods are venial sins in the big scheme of things but lying is still wrong. If you're lying about the small stuff to get over then you'll probably lie about the big stuff as well. You're not someone I want on my team. I don't want to supervise you. I don't want to report to you. I can't trust you.

Hillary Clinton - She Has Issues But You Kinda Have to Agree She's Probably Gonna Be President

OK. I've been trying to get to this piece for weeks now but haven't had a free minute to sit down with my thoughts about Hillary Clinton.  Chances are you feel some kind of way about Hillary Clinton.  And by "some kind of way" I don't mean warm and fuzzy.  The Clintons have basically rubbed every constituency the wrong way at some point or another.  Pick your controversy.

But to be fair, if Hillary Clinton has a 55% disapproval rating (give or take), you can safely attribute at least half of that to narratives concocted by Right-wing figure heads ranging from Fox News to talk radio.  It's no secret that the Right has hated the Clintons for decades.  The Right hated Obama too. They still do, but now that he's old news they've taken their sights off of him and redirected their focus onto Hillary Clinton.  It's no wonder why Obama's favorable poll numbers have risen over the past year and change; the Right simply does not care to continue to hammer him anymore.  Accordingly, there's no 24/7 anti-Obama narrative out there on the airwaves for the media to run with.  Don't get me wrong, they still hate Obama, they've just moved on to hating Hillary. 

Which brings us back to Hillary.  Now, as I was saying, at least half of Hillary's unfavorables are due to a 24/7 Right-wing narrative that likes to beat the dead horse of Benghazi, E-mails, Benghazi, E-mails, Benghazi, nauseum ad infinitum.  We get it.  The Right doesn't like Hillary and thinks she's the devil reincarnate.  OK.  Fine.  But putting that to the side, there are legitimate flaws with the Clintons and, specifically, with Hillary.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys
directed by Shane Black
Although neither lead character is actually a cop, this is a cop buddy film. It touches most of the obvious themes and tropes you'd expect to see in these sorts of films. That is to say, two guys who don't really like each other and approach their shared work from vastly different perspectives wind up working together. 

After the requisite fracas and figurative measuring of body parts the two men realize that they may not make such a bad team after all. They're like peanut butter and jelly. Thunder and lightning. Salt and pepper. Spenser and Hawk. Fire and Ice. Canseco and McGuire. Murtaugh and Riggs. Watch out world! Well you get the idea. The director was the writer for the original Lethal Weapon. So the plot is not that important here. Large portions of it don't make much sense when you sit down to think about it. But who spends a lot of time thinking about acton film plots anyway? The problem with this film, and maybe "problem" is too strong of a descriptor, was that the film lacked a singular effective big bad or a female love interest.

Missing one of those things wouldn't have really hurt the film but missing both of them slightly damaged my interest in the movie's storyline. Maybe you will feel differently. As is typical in the genre this movie has a fair amount of comedy, some of it slapstick. I thought this worked well. As mentioned there is not a female love interest (in the normal sense) for either lead but perhaps to make up for that there is some amount of female toplessness and bare flesh.  It makes sense given the subject matter and surroundings. The film takes place in 1970s Los Angeles and like the movie Lovelace, reviewed here, The Nice Guys does an admirable job at recreating the look and feel of those times.

This includes everything from the fonts to the clothes, music, cars, and technology on display. Like Lovelace this film examines some shady goings on connected to the adult industry. Unlike Lovelace, The Nice Guys keeps the actual nuts and bolts of that industry at a distance. With the exception of the opening scene and a few party scenes the sex industry is not really essential to the story line. This movie doesn't have an axe to grind on that front. Most of the bad guys are not even involved in the adult film industry. The Nice Guys wants to investigate corruption and malfeasance that goes far beyond the adult film industry.