Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Detroit Public Schools: Don't Drink The Water!!!

If you think that certain people are by nature inferior then stories like this won't bother you all that much. But for the rest of us the truth is that no one in the United States should be exposed to contaminated water. Not only does unsafe water impact your health and life but it will also affect your future educational potential. Depending on how far back this problem has been occurring there could be multiple cohorts of Detroit public school students, mostly but not exclusively Black, who may have been impacted.

Functionally, American inner cities serve the same purpose as Native American reservations or the Gaza Strip. They are places where infrastructure and law are allowed to crumble to the detriment of the people living there. You don't have to engage in conspiracy theories. All you have to do is open your eyes and ask questions as to why these schools were allowed to reach these conditions. And why do we keep reading about these sorts of problems in certain communities. All else equal, which it certainly isn't, but were it so, children who consume or are exposed to heavy metals will on average be less able to perform cognitively in later years. They will have poorer grades and test scores. And they won't be as likely to get into college, which is often a prerequisite for any chance at a middle class lifestyle. Fixing these problems may not be as exciting as other hot button cultural or social battles. But I think they're more important.

Drinking water will be turned off in all schools at Detroit Public Schools Community District after initial results for 16 schools showed higher than acceptable levels for copper and/or lead at one or more water sources. "I immediately turned off the drinking water at those schools and provided water bottles until water coolers arrive," DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a statement. Water at the 16 affected schools was shut off Tuesday. Shutoffs at the remaining schools will occur this week, Vitti said. 

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Movie Reviews: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
directed by Martin McDonagh
You could view this film as a dark comedy or a drama. It shifts between both styles but so do our lives. I meant to see this Oscar winning movie quite some time ago, but made the mistake of watching other films first. When I circled back around to see this movie it was no longer available on VOD. Fortunately I ran across it on a premium channel.

You should see this movie. It was indeed Oscar worthy. The sad, beautiful, horrible thing about life is that we are all mixes of good and evil. Some of the worst people can do good on occasion while even seemingly beatific folks can reveal a dark side if you trip the wrong wire. This film makes you think about that a lot. Three Billboards... also has something to say about loss and the thin line between justice and vengeance. Anger and cruelty are not only dangerous to the objects of those emotions, but to the people who hold those emotions as well.

Frances McDormand won Best Actress for her role here. I think the award was well deserved. In this film, McDormand has a particular hardness to her features and the role she plays. I can't think offhand of too many other actresses that could have so completely disappeared into the role. McDormand's Mildred is a woman of a certain age who has been through a lot of pain and disappointment. And life has left marks on her. But Mildred is still standing. And Mildred has lost, if indeed she ever had, any tolerance for nonsense from anyone regardless of age, race, status, or sex. If you don't know where you stand with Mildred, you probably haven't been paying attention. But don't worry she has no problem spelling things out for you if you're particularly dim. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Michigan Democrats Screw Up Hacking Test

We're at DEFCON 1 people!!! This is not a drill!!!! This is not a drill!!! Abandon Ship! Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!!! I'm in charge here!!! Oh everything's ok? Never mind...

I work in the information technology profession. I am attached to financial and legal systems. When you are testing such systems or processes ideally you should ensure that your test is coordinated or completed in a separate environment than production. Additionally, you should inform the relevant people know that you are testing, what you are testing and how long you will be testing. Your test should be imperceptible by your business partners and stakeholders. But in case it's not, you should communicate that any anomalies users may experience are part of a test. 

If you skip these steps then your customers and business partners may experience or see changes and lose their religion. They may call your boss in a panic, escalate the "problem" to department heads or on-call production support, or worst of all, contact serious people like CIO's, partners, executive vice-presidents, the IRS or other law enforcement. It's probably better that the last group of people doesn't know your name, if it's being mentioned along with some sort of production meltdown, legal lapse, or apparent criminal activity. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Movie Reviews: BlackkKlansman

directed by Spike Lee
This film is based on a true story. Lee at 61, is still interested in interrogating whiteness. In some respects the culture has caught up with him. American Whiteness and Blackness are not just biological markers of lineage. 

The concepts show us who is on the winning team and who is not. We use race to delineate opportunities: legal, financial. social or otherwise. Ironically, though these racial descriptions are taken for granted by most Americans at any given time, the reality is that both categories, but especially whiteness, have been historically flexible.  At one time "White" Americans questioned whether or not Italians, particularly southern Italians, were really or fully white. Al Capone and other Italian hoodlums murdered Irish hoodlums who, irritated by the sight of Irish women with Italian men, insulted the women by telling them to leave the bar and come back with white men. A few generations before that incident not all white Americans accepted Irish as white. 19th century era magazines and newspapers ran columns and cartoons depicting Irish as lazy, stupid, wicked, in other words Black in all but color. 

White in America has also meant "not-black".  That meaning has co-existed with the idea that the further someone is from Northern or Western European heritage and Christian religion, the more tenuous their whiteness claim is. In BlackkKlansman a Jewish detective infiltrates a Klan group. A Black man makes initial contact with the Klan. He draws them in by pretending to be white and runs the investigation. A white man is pretending to be a Black man who is pretending to be a white man. Lee shows us how whiteness and blackness can be understood as performance art. 

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul Passes Away

There are all sorts of ways to look at the inevitable. Being sad about someone's passing, assuming that they didn't die tragically young or violently, is often about your feelings of loss and heartache and not about that person. After all, whatever you believe about the existence or non-existence of an afterlife, the person who just left this existence is beyond all the pains and tribulations of this world. There's only one Queen of Soul. There's not going to be another. If you didn't know Aretha Franklin's music I think you missed out. 

Aretha Franklin, whose impassioned, riveting voice made her a titan of American music, has died, her niece, Sabrina Owens, confirmed to the Free Press. She was 76. She died at 9:50 a.m. surrounded by family at her home in Detroit.

A family statement released by her publicist Gwendolyn Quinn said "Franklin's official cause of death was due to advance pancreatic cancer of the neuroendocrine type, which was confirmed by Franklin's oncologist, Dr. Philip Phillips of Karmanos Cancer Institute" in Detroit.

The family added: "In one of the darkest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our heart. We have lost the matriarch and rock of our family."

Franklin was the loftiest name in the rich history of Detroit music and one of the transcendent cultural figures of the 20th Century. Raised on an eclectic musical diet of gospel, R&B, classical and jazz, she blossomed out of her father's Detroit church to become the most distinguished black female artist of all time, breaking boundaries while placing nearly 100 hits on Billboard’s R&B chart — 20 of them reaching No. 1.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Movie Reviews: Sunset Boulevard, Bad Samaritan

Sunset Boulevard
directed by Billy Wilder
All right, Mr. De Mille, I'm ready for my closeup.
This is a classic film noir which I hadn't seen in its entirety though I knew some popular lines. Sunset Boulevard leaves a cinematographic impression upon the viewer. It's filmed in glorious black and white. It uses shadow, smoke and music to create a setting that is alternately realistic and something that could have come from a dream or nightmare. 

The story and the character motives and fears displayed in this 1950 movie are relevant today. Men and women haven't changed that much. Watching movies like this, that if remade today would have been more graphic, always reminds me of how quality films can tell good stories without relying on blood and nudity. Sunset Boulevard is also an example of non-linear story telling; the film is told in flashback voiceover by a character who explains the events.

Joe Gillis (William Holden) is a Hollywood screenwriter of dubious morals, questionable talents and light wallet. Joe has tried selling a script to Paramount but Betty (Nancy Olson) a younger quality control script reader, didn't like it. Joe is behind on his car payments and other bills.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Movie Reviews: Traffik, Truth or Dare, Laws of Attraction

directed by Deon Taylor
It is ironic that a movie which wants to make some points about the modern sexualized abuse of women, and which makes some hamfisted allusions to historical American slavery, and which was produced by its Black female lead, also spends a lot of time showing off said female lead in a manner which invites the (male) viewer to do a lot of leering. 

Not that I'm complaining. Patton does look really good in Daisy Dukes and tight and/or low cut tops. There's no doubt about that. My problem was that the story's writing and some of its acting weren't enough to make this movie a real winner. All the closeups of Patton's legs or cleavage, wonderful as they are, don't change that. 

Traffik was an update of similar 1970s movies that starred such Black actresses as Tamara Dobson or Pam Grier. Like those cinematic forerunners Patton combines victimization with a willingness to fight back. I liked the grindhouse style/close up camera work. I liked the invocation of fear that many Black citizens can experience when they are surrounded by whites who have made it clear that Blacks aren't welcome in their neck of the woods.

Detroit Church Beset By Break-ins

In the movie Leaves of Grass a gentle religious character explains her belief that the world is broken, but that it's up to us to fix it. In his works The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion the devout Catholic J.R.R.Tolkien imagined that the force of evil had permanently marred the material world as far back as creation. 

In his Perelandra trilogy Tolkien's friend C.S. Lewis similarly posited an evil force that dominated the planet, had perverted humanity, and if left unchallenged would ultimately destroy human kind. Theodicy is a question that has never been resolved as far as I can tell. Not only can we not agree on why evil exists, but we can't really agree on what to do about it.The Bible has contradictory advice. God told us that accounts would be and should be settled.
And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.
And if any mischief follow, then thou shalt give life for life, Eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.
Jesus told us to resist not evil, turn the other cheek and don't attempt to get our stolen goods back.
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them. 
But Jesus never lived in Detroit...

Book Reviews: The Summoning

The Summoning
by Bentley Little
I'm not really a big fan of the strain in vampire fiction that imagines vampires as tortured romantics who sparkle, bisexual goths, or private eye stand-ins who reluctantly protect humanity against even worse threats. To each their own but I prefer the concept of vampire as monster and/or parasite. That is why I started the reread of this older book which I picked up in a now closed bookstore all those years ago. I was looking for something with vampires with a little bite, so to speak. This book has a definite thematic resemblance to King's Salem's Lot.

In both stories, the vampire is attracted to a decaying town, a small ragtag group of believers try to do battle against the creature, and human vice is an important part of the story. But because this is Little, and not King, perversion and vice are dominant parts of the storyline to the point where they choke out other elements. YMMV on this. There's a thin line between pushing the envelope of horror imagery and creating things solely to disgust and shock. I think Little tends towards the latter. 

The Summoning is set in the town of Rio Verde, Arizona. Rio Verde has seen better days. Most of the town's young people leave for greener pastures upon graduating high school. With the closure of mines and rerouting of expressways there's less and less economic activity within the town. One person who notices this acutely is Sue Wing, the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Sue's parents run a Chinese restaurant; Sue, her younger brother and her aged grandmother help. Sue's in her early twenties and drifting thru life. Sue didn't have the money to go to a first rate college. Her parents aren't poor, but they're far from rich. They don't have thousands and thousands of dollars at hand. Set in the early nineties, this book imagines that there are still a fair number of people who won't patronize the Wing restaurant for prejudiced reasons. 

Woman Falls Out of Moving Car Doing Dance Challenge

A body in motion stays in motion.
Stupidity is the basic building block of the universe.
Forget these natural laws and pay the price.

Trump and Impeachment

I haven't written much on Trump and impeachment because right now there is no chance of that happening. The endless media frenzy over this or that action, lie or statement taken or made by Trump and especially the hyperbolic hyperorgasmic hysteria and anticipation over every little piece of news from the Mueller investigation has exactly the wrong impact on anti-Trump partisans.

The Department of Justice is not going to indict Donald Trump while he is President. No one is going to burst into Mar-a-lago, drag Trump's obese behind outside at gunpoint and make him kneel on the curb with his hands up and fingers interlocked. No one will make President Trump do the perp walk in front of cameras before guiding him none too gently into the back seat of an unmarked government issue Mercury Grand Marquis. No one can call early elections to get rid of Trump. In our political system, absent sickness, death by natural causes, or some unforeseen and utterly out of character attack of conscience, Trump isn't going anywhere.

The only non-violent way to get rid of Trump is for the majority of the House to vote to impeach and for two-thirds of the Senate to vote to convict. That's it. Democrats don't currently have the numbers to do that. And they likely won't get them in both the Senate and House. Only two Presidents were ever impeached; both were acquitted in the Senate.

Beethoven Pizza Delivery

What if Daniel Baremboim had to make ends meet by delivering pizzas? Well it might sound something like this. I hope the family gave him a big tip. It's always good to hear Beethoven.

Some pizza delivery guys don't just deliver pizzas.
A regular old Wednesday pizza delivery turned into a surprising performance for a Shelby Township family. Julie Varchetti posted on Facebook that a young pizza delivery man noticed the family's piano and asked if he could play it.
Bryce Dudal, 18, of Sterling Heights was delivering a pizza from Hungry Howie's when he spotted the piano. What happened next wowed the family.