Wednesday, November 30, 2016

#WhiteisRight: White Skin, Black Bodies

SuperModel Tyra Banks posed in "white face" in 2013
to honor other Supermodels during New York Fashion Week
and the internet had a fit.
One of the biggests issues I've had with the results, or the outcome rather, of the Presidential election is not that Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States, but that Michelle Obama will no longer be First Lady. For the last eight years FLOTUS has been the epitome of beauty, grace, and class; slaying in all four of her VOGUE covers. She may not have created #blackgirlmagic but she's exemplified the phenomenon since she first came on the National scene as the wife of an Illinois Senator who stole the show at the 2004 DNC. I lament daily on the impending absence of FLOTUS from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. These lamentations then turn to shudders when I think about her replacement. Melania Trump. The third wife of President-Elect Donald Trump, a Slovenian immigrant, model, who posed nude in British GQ. But hey ... you know ... white ... or white adjacent (that means you Tila Tequila) is always right. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Electoral College Fallout

In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election there has been a lot of noise coming from both traditional and social media about the fact that Clinton won the popular vote. When I first considered writing this post Clinton's popular vote margin lead was somewhere between 1 and 2 million votes. Now her popular vote victory margin is above 2 million votes. There are a lot of stories, gifs and memes being passed around about this news. I think about half the people on my Facebook feed have posted something about this information. I guess they wanted to make sure that I knew about it. The obvious implications are (1) that Clinton really won the election (2) that the Electoral College is unfair (3) Trump will be illegitimate as President. Some people are calling for the electors to change their votes because they see Donald Trump as uniquely dangerous and unqualified. Other people are threatening some electors with violence if the electors don't do the right thing and vote Clinton. I've been clear that I don't like Trump. But the implication that Trump is illegitimate because he lost the popular vote is not correct. In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected with only 43% of the popular vote, not a majority. Bill Clinton had more support than each of the other candidates but it's also true that most voters chose someone else. But that's irrelevant. Hillary Clinton and her supporters knew the rules of the contest before November 8th. We have 51 separate popular vote elections which then determine electors. It's not as if we were going to use the national popular vote to decide but Trump changed the rules at the last minute. Ironically before the election it was Trump who was petulantly making noises about the election being rigged and Clinton bannermen who were responding with scorn. We talked about the "faithless elector" issue here.

We don't choose the President by the national popular vote. We choose the President by who receives the most electoral votes. The popular vote and electoral vote normally line up together (just like points scored and total yards in a football game) but when they don't it's the electoral vote which is key.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Take, Law Abiding Citizen

The Take (aka Bastille Day)
directed by James Watkins
Stringer Bell and Robb Stark team up only to discover that they're probably better off apart.
This is another action film that continues the practice of using British actors in American roles. Some people (Idris Elba) can pull this off pretty seamlessly; others really ought to stop. There's not in my opinion, in most European based stories a compelling reason why a protagonist needs to be American. 

Done properly Americans will line up eagerly for films or series with European national protagonists (James Bond, Downton Abbey or Harry Potter anyone) -especially British ones. So why continue this practice of forcing British actors to try to take on American accents. 

Some of them just can't or even when they can are already so thoroughly identified with roles reflecting their own nationality that seeing them trying to pretend to be American immediately takes me out of the fictional story. Well whatever. You may feel differently of course. Acting is about new challenges and pretending to be someone else after all. The Take is a solidly made but altogether generic action movie that never quite lives up to the hype generated by the two male lead actors. 

It also suffers from not having a strong female lead. I don't mean strong as in physically or verbally combative. I mean that the lead women characters don't really have a lot of motivation on their own or for that matter have much meaning to the lead male characters. They could have been played by anyone. They didn't have a lot to do.

Book Reviews: Chaingang

By Rex Miller
I reviewed one of the late Rex Miller's books before here. He was not an author for the faint of heart as the saying goes. He was writing deliberately shocking ultraviolence before similar modern artists like Tarantino did the same on the movie screen. Like Stephen King Miller could cheerfully go for the grossout but he didn't have quite the same gift at creating believable human characters that stuck with you after the book had finished. No one is perfect of course. Miller's most memorable character was one Daniel Edward Flowers Bunkowski. He introduced this character in an earlier book Slob, in which it appeared that the hero, Detective Jack Eichord, put an end to Bunkowski aka Chaingang. But much like with Arthur Conan Doyle bringing back Sherlock Holmes from the dead, Miller evidently had more stories to tell about old Chaingang. The book Chaingang takes place in the early nineties. The title character is a serial killer. But he's not your run of the mill serial killer. He's a man who stands 6'7" and weighs close to 500 lbs. A Vietnam War vet, Bunkowski served as a special assassin for the government on various classified black jobs throughout Southeast Asia. Both before and after his government service he has killed so many people that he's lost count. He's extremely dangerous, not just because of his size, strength and sheer malevolence towards all humanity but because his intelligence is off the charts. He's able to use more of his brain than most people and maintain conscious control over functions that are automatic for most of us. His abilities to detect and anticipate danger verge on the supernatural. Bunkowski's brain is a literal library; his memory is massive. The kinds of activities Bunkowski thinks of as fun are things I won't mention here. Bunkowski's only saving grace is that he has a soft spot for animals in general and dogs in particular. Bunkowski grew up under horrific sexual and physical abuse from his foster parents. Bunkowski's only childhood friend was a dog who similarly suffered. At the book's beginning Bunkowski is detained at the Marion Federal Prison. For reasons that line up exactly with some of the real world evil our government has committed for the so called greater good, Bunkowski is released in the vicinity of a small Missouri town. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Trump: Now What?

So Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Imagine that. I didn't think he would pull it off but he did just that. To the extent that you are worried about what a Trump Presidency could accomplish in a wholly negative sense I share those concerns. But I would also question then why should any President have that much power. Since at least WW2 there has been an accelerating bipartisan tendency to concentrate power in the Presidency. People only seem to care about this when it's not their guy in the Big Chair. That is unfortunately just human nature. If people thought about this some more they then might discover that that is one of the exact reasons why the Founders created a form of government where power was split between several competing and independent branches. From my perspective the silver lining in an otherwise gloomy prospect of a Trump Presidency is that perhaps some people on the left will rediscover a fierce commitment to separation of powers, federalism, a Senate filibuster and states rights. It's surreal that before the election people in the media and on the left were warning Trump supporters that they needed to accept the results. Now some Clinton supporters are writing about the need to secede from the nation. This is real. Papers have been filed.

Before the election people in favor of "immigration reform" were smugly reminding opponents that states and municipalities didn't get to make their own immigration law. Only the Federal government could create and enforce immigration law. And if the Federal government didn't want to enforce a particular immigration law there wasn't anything a state or city could do about it. Immigration was Federal policy. We couldn't have fifty states and thousands of cities creating immigration policy. But now some people who said that have seamlessly switched their view and are stating flatly that federal law or not, their particular city or state will resist any enforcement of immigration law that leads to deportation of illegal immigrants. So much for that whole federal supremacy idea, eh? We have people on the left endorsing what amounts to nullification! Apparently people, despite their partisan divides, aren't quite as different as they may think. It's ironic that it took Trump's election to bring that out.

Rutgers Incident: Keep Your Hands to Yourself!!!

I don't understand why it is so difficult for some people to understand that if you go around hitting people you will eventually run into someone who will hit you back. Fighting should be your last resort. It should only be done in self-defense. Although I can appreciate that certain insults can make a man or in this case a woman feel that honor requires them to lay hands on someone I would remind people that when you get into a fight with someone--especially when you start it--you're essentially signing up for whatever comes next. I think it's an utter obscenity for men and women to fight-whether it be in a domestic violence context or in a street brawl as in this case. There used to be an understanding in society that gentlemen did not hurl sexual assaults at ladies and that ladies did not attempt to fight gentlemen. Unfortunately many of those conventions have been lost with our insistence on equality as the highest and only good. Equality is necessary but it is not the whole of human experience. But in a country that insists upon placing women in combat is there any reason to be upset at this situation? I think there probably is though as a society we no longer have the vocabulary to explain why. So all I can say is morals aside, from a strictly pragmatic POV, this is why it is a very bad idea for most women to start a fight against most men. The difference in strength, speed and endurance is too great. And the law apparently doesn't protect people who start fights, regardless of their gender, even if they do wind up with a cracked skull.
No charges will be filed against the man caught slugging Emily Rand in the face with a right hook so hard that she was knocked unconscious when her head hit the sidewalk. “We’ve finished our investigation and interviewed the individual you see in the video, as well as a lot of other people. At this time there’s not going to be any arrests or any charges,” New Brunswick Police Capt. J.T. Miller told New Jersey 101.5 of the incident that took place around 1 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. “It’s a mutually exclusive fight between the individuals.”

The incident was captured on video, which was posted online.

Miller said that the 19-year-old Middlesex County College student from South Amboy struck the man first and “there is evidence that she was aggressive towards other people before the video starts.”
Other people involved with the video do not want to pursue charges against Rand, according to Miller, who did not disclose the identity of the man. Rand has been at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center and was in a coma following skull surgery to relieve pressure in her swollen brain. Her aunt, Debbie O’Connor, said Rand has started to breathe on her own this week and will soon begin physical therapy.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Movie Reviews: Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year
directed by James DeMonaco
If I had known that Mykelti Williamson played a prominent role in this movie I probably would have skipped it. Everyone has to eat I guess but something about many of Williamson's roles just rubs me the wrong way. If you're looking for a black actor to spout some cringe worthy dialogue then Williamson's your man. I've always looked a little askance at him since his turn in Species 2 where he grabs a machete and says he wants " get African on some alien a$$" (and where coincidentally he's the only male human the sex hungry female alien has no desire to mate with). In the latest Purge installment Williamson's character is basically the Wise Old Negro who serves no real purpose except to provide service to other (non-black) people. He gets to have wonderful dialogue like saying that his team is like "a bucket of fried chicken about to be attacked by hungry negroes" or telling other black people that he "likes these white folks so I'm not going to let you negroes kill them". Hmm. We all have different things that annoy us I guess but a lot of the dialogue and assumptions in this movie seemed more than a little reactionary to me. Williamson is not exactly a desperate young actor who's willing to take any role to get his name out there so he can stop living in a studio apartment. I would have thought that a black actor with his success could have requested some script changes but who knows. His sensitivities are not mine. Ultimately it's all just pretend fun and games, right? Anyhow my hangups aside The Purge: Election Year is not a great movie, either in execution or in the meaning behind it. It's heavy handed and over the top. Every now and then there is a good scene but usually it's something that viewers have seen before, whether it be from Death Wish or strangely enough Jaws. If you are a person who is sickened by cinematic violence then this probably isn't the film for you. It's not super explicit but it does have more than its share of mayhem. But as this is the third installment in this series most of us have figured out by now that there's bloodshed in this film.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Night SNL Skit

President Trump. Wow. Depending on the vagaries of the Day Job and the insistent demands of merciless supervisors there might be other more detailed and substantive posts on the election results, political parties and what all of this means at a later time, but for now I did want to put this out there for your consumption. I thought it was humorous. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Reviews: Bad Guys, Red, Here There Be Monsters

Bad Guys
by Anthony Bruno
This novel was the debut fiction offering of now deceased true crime and mystery author Anthony Bruno. It is also first in a series. It was pretty quick reading with very little fat. I did find it a little over descriptive at times but on the other hand Bruno was able to bring you into a story which had only a few well drawn characters. Everyone else was more of a stock type in some aspects. But Bruno did make you feel like you were actually in the New York and New Jersey neighborhoods which he described in such detail. This book was just under 300 pages in paperback and can likely be found in any of your better used bookstores. It's set in the eighties so some of the references (pay phones, slow computers, video cassettes) can feel a little dated. The story is something that you've read a million times before -two cops who are wildly different in both morals and personality must work together to bring down a bad guy. The difference here is that one of the cops may be the real bad guy. This book tries and I think succeeds in having it both ways. It definitely doesn't make heroes out of the organized crime people who are the book's primary antagonists. There's no love for any of the mafiosi, who are depicted here as uniformly greedy, corrupt and personally dangerous. 

On the other hand the younger protagonist is indeed breaking the law. The fact that he's an FBI agent who values doing what's right more than he values upholding the law can leave the reader feeling a bit conflicted, which presumably was the author's intent in creating the character. It's the 80's and one Richie Varga, counselor to at least three New York based crime families has provided evidence and testified against his former bosses, helping to sentence them to life terms and destroying large portions of the East Coast Mafia. Varga has since disappeared into the Witness Protection Program. But word on the street is that Varga is also the man responsible for the grisly murder of three undercover FBI agents, although no one can prove it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Election Night 2016

As polls are closing around the country, we're here keeping track in real time on this election night, Tuesday, November 8, 2016. (See comments below)

For the record, has the following probabilities of victory as of this posting for the battleground states (from West to East):

Nevada - Hillary 58.3%, Trump 41.7%
Arizona - Trump 6.6%, Hillary 33.4%
Colorado - Hillary 77.5%, Trump 22.4%
Iowa - Trump 69.8%, Hillary 30.2%
Michigan - Hillary 78.9, Trump 21.1%
Ohio - Trump 64.6%, Hillary 35.4%
Florida - Hillary 55.1%, Trump 44.9%
North Carolina -  Hillary 55.5%, Trump 44.5%
Virginia -  Hillary 85.5%, Trump 14.5%
Pennsylvania - Hillary 77.0%, Trump 23.0%
New Hampshire - Hillary 69.8%, Trump 30.2%

If you plug those in, 538's map looks like this:

Click the map to create your own at

We may be in for a long night, or a quick one.  Make your comments below...

Monday, November 7, 2016

2016 Election Predictions

Unless something really strange happens, by 10 or 11 PM EST on Tuesday we should know who will be the next President of the United States. I'd like to raise an issue which is related to the post I did on the last election. I didn't originate this point but I've made it before. Let's say there are four candidates. Let's call them Crazy Man, Corporate Stooge, Hippy Dippy and Weed Man. If you vote for Hippy Dippy, none of the other three candidates get your vote. Hippy Dippy gets one vote. If on the other hand you decide to vote for Weed Man because like Peter Tosh you think it's time to legalize it, then again none of the other candidates get your vote. But Weed Man gets one vote. Now Crazy Man and Corporate Stooge may have much larger followings then the other two candidates. They and their supporters may hope that you don't understand math. They will say that since one of them is going to win the Presidency you shouldn't waste your vote and vote for Hippy Dippy/Weed Man because a vote for one of those people is a vote for their opponent. This is not true.The only way that Crazy Man or Corporate Stooge get a vote from you is if you place a check by their name. The point here is that your vote and your reasons for casting it are yours and yours alone. The only wasted vote is a vote which is not cast according to your conscience, values, analysis and political interests. You have no obligation to vote for a candidate who is not your best choice. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. The amount of vitriol which the larger parties and their supporters spew onto smaller parties and their voters is amazing. Here's a thought. If you must insult or bully people into voting for your preferred choice, maybe your choice isn't that great. It's always the right thing to do to vote for your preferred candidate regardless of their chance at victory. I couldn't vote in 1984 but most adults I knew voted for the Democrat Walter Mondale even though they doubted he'd win. Mondale not only didn't win he led the Democratic Party to an apocalyptic election night massacre that made the Red Wedding look like a minor after dinner squabble and caused Michael Corleone to urge mercy. 

But if you believed in certain values Mondale was your man and you voted for him. You didn't say "Oh he can't win so let's vote for Reagan". No. Stick with your conscience and values no matter what. You get one vote just like everyone else. Vote for the candidate who best meets your values, worldview and criteria.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Music Reviews: Fever

"Fever" is a Blues/R&B song which was written by the African-American singers/songwriters Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. Both men had more success in the music business writing songs for other people than they did as performers under their own names. Blackwell in particular was a relatively unheralded early songwriter of many rock-n-roll hits. Elvis Presley considered Blackwell to be a favorite songwriter. Some of the Blackwell written Presley hits include such songs as "All Shook Up", "Don't Be Cruel",  and "Return to Sender". Blackwell also co-wrote "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis. "Fever" first was a hit for teen African-American singer Little Willie John in 1956. Afterwards, as was often the practice in those days and today, it was covered to even greater acclaim by Euro-American singer Peggy Lee. Lee's sultry voiced version turned up the sex appeal although ironically Lee dropped some of the original lyrics because they were thought to be too risque for the white market. Much as would latter happen with Aretha Franklin's version of Otis Redding's "Respect", most people probably know Lee's version of the song instead of Little Willie John's. There have been many different singers who have done versions of the song including Madonna, La Lupe, Beyonce and Buddy Guy. I like Little Willie John's version best although Buddy Guy's overwrought James Brown approved take on the song is certainly worthwhile listening. All of the good versions of the song, regardless of who is interpreting it, capture the utterly irrational and insistent nature of love and lust. People do things that they otherwise wouldn't do and may later regret under those influences. When that part of our brain is fully engaged insanity or fever may be the best way of describing the experience. Little Willie John was from Detroit. Despite only standing 5'4" (hence the nickname) Little Willie John was a pugnacious fellow with a quick temper who rarely backed down from fights. He died at age 30 in prison in the late sixties where he was serving time on manslaughter charges. A drunk 6'2 "fan" punched Little Willie John in the mouth. Little Willie retaliated by stabbing his assailant to death.

Little Willie John was an influence on James Brown among other singers. As with Peggy Lee, Little Willie John's song "All Around the World" is likely better known as Little Milton's "Grits Ain't Groceries".

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cheryl Mills, Corruption, Infrastructure and Sweatshops

If there were a generic Republican who was running for President and we learned that this person had not only assisted foreign companies in setting up sweatshops in third world countries but also that this person's top advisor was doing the same while they were on the government dime many people would have an issue with that. Some people have argued and really believe that sweatshop labor is just what third world countries need to bootstrap themselves into prosperity. Other people argue that no one ever got rich providing slave labor for corporations. In my view the second view is closer to being correct. The business model simply doesn't allow for that. So it's a fair question as to why Clinton lawyer, advisor and former government employee Cheryl Mills has been helping a low wage textile firm to set up shop in Haiti while simultaneously using the company's expertise to pursue her own low wage business dreams in Africa and the Caribbean. 

As chief of staff and counselor to Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Cheryl D. Mills worked ceaselessly to help a South Korean garment maker open a factory in Haiti, the centerpiece of United States government efforts to jump-start the island nation’s economy after the 2010 earthquake. Ms. Mills took the lead on smoothing the way for the company, Sae-A Trading, which secured millions of dollars in incentives to make its Haiti investment more attractive, despite criticism of its labor record elsewhere. When she presided over the project’s unveiling in September 2010, she introduced Sae-A’s chairman, Woong-ki Kim, as the most important person at the ceremony, which included Mrs. Clinton and the Haitian prime minister. Mr. Kim would later become important to Ms. Mills in a far more personal way — as a financial backer of a company she started after leaving the State Department in 2013. The company, BlackIvy Group, is pursuing infrastructure projects in Tanzania and Ghana, the only African nations in the “Partnership for Growth,” an Obama administration initiative that Mrs. Clinton helped introduce that promotes investment in developing countries. 

Michigan Trump Supporter Pulls Gun on Kids

The problem with extreme partisanship is that people can no longer distinguish between a group of people who do not agree with you on some important issues and a group of people who are evil and need to be violently suppressed, expelled or exterminated. This problem is something that impacts both putative sides in American politics. There is one side that is much more likely to be armed however, and when you start mixing politics and guns usually bad things happen. I can understand the sense of violation experienced when someone steals something from your porch or commits an act of vandalism on your property. However you can't threaten deadly force in retaliation. You certainly can't do that when the alleged offenders are children. And it's that much worse when the people you threaten aren't even the people who committed the offense. Then you're not a man standing up to protect your property or your family. You're just a hothead who wants to get revenge.
An Allen Park man upset that his campaign sign was destroyed, grabbed his gun and now he's facing charges for pointing that weapon at children. It appeared Michael Kubek wasn't home Thursday night after being released from lockup for allegedly holding six kids at gunpoint at about 8 p.m. Saturday night.
FOX 2: "Did the kids seem scared?"
"Yes, yes," said a neighbor.

The neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she was spooked too. The News-Herald reports Kubek made the kids sit in the grass at the corner of Pennsylvania and Sterling in Allen Park as they stared down the barrel of his gun. Kubek was fuming because he thought they destroyed his Trump lawn sign.
FOX 2: "What was he saying to them?"

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Ship Be Sinking?

With less than a week to go until election day, what was once trending as a Hillary victory as little as a week ago now appears to be trending towards Trump this week.  So what happened within the week to change the tides?  A couple things.  First, a report came out showing that health care premiums under ObamaCare will be going up.  Bad news for Democrats.  Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, the infamous e-mail scandal has once again come back from the grave like some sort of special Halloween surprise.  In a story that is truly stranger than fiction, it turns out that the FBI was investigating Anthony Weiner -- yes that Anthony Weiner -- for sending sex pics to underaged girls when they came across metadata on his laptop suggesting that e-mails were sent to and from that laptop by his wife and Hillary Clinton aid, Huma Abedin, that may have been classified.  Key words being "may have."  As in maybe they were and maybe they weren't.  The fact is, we don't know.  But FBI Director James Comey is not one to let a little thing like uncertainty get in the way of making a public announcement that could impact the presidential election a week out:

Four days after James Comey, the F.B.I. director, sent Congress a brief, inscrutable, election-shaking letter about emails that may or may not be new or relevant to the previously concluded investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, his logic makes even less sense than it did on Friday.
He said then that he was obligated to update Congress because he had testified in July that the investigation was complete. It now turns out that he knew nothing about the substance of the emails, which were found during a separate investigation of a computer belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Huma Abedin, one of Mrs. Clinton’s closest aides. And he clearly failed to consider the impact of the innuendo he unleashed just days before the election, seemingly more concerned with protecting himself from recrimination by critics in Congress and the F.B.I. In fact, the investigators had not even obtained a warrant to examine the emails when he fired off the letter; they got the warrant over the weekend.
Now, thanks to Mr. Comey’s breathtakingly rash and irresponsible decision, the Justice Department and F.B.I. are scrambling to process hundreds of thousands of emails to determine whether there is anything relevant in them before Nov. 8 — all as the country stands by in suspense. This is not how federal investigations are conducted. In claiming to stand outside politics, Mr. Comey has instead created the hottest political football of the 2016 election.
Comey basically pulled the equivalent of your best man or your maid of honor coming up to you on your wedding day saying "your fiance might be having an affair...but I don't know.  I'm looking into it and will have more information after your wedding."

Thanks a lot, man.  Good luck at the Bad Timing Awards.  I'm sure you'll do well. 

Meanwhile, we're looking at the following map, folks:

Were Comey's actions here prudent?  Will Hillary still be able to pull this off or has she been irreparably damaged?