Saturday, November 24, 2018

Book Reviews: Hell on Church Street

Hell on Church Street
by Jake Hinkson
This is a short book that is under 200 pages. It was good to read this book during the shortened holiday week, not because it has anything to do with kindness to your fellow man or woman, but because it moved fast and didn't take up a lot of my time. Since I didn't have a lot of time to spare this was a perfect fit. It was an unexpected bonus that the story was so good. This was another example of how writers can use the same themes and tropes to very satisfying and even surprising ends. As befits the book I think that this review should be pretty short. 

Somewhere in Oklahoma a vicious unnamed man from Mississippi is on the run. It's only been three weeks since the man, upset when his foreman jokingly questioned his work ethic, demonstrated that he had a very low tolerance for insults, even in jest. He beat his foreman half to death and maybe to death. He didn't stick around to find out. The reader learns that this is not the first time the man has been on the run. He's no stranger to violence, jails, or prison. But the man isn't worried about the distant future. He just needs to get a car. He needs money. He needs food. 

The man wants to avoid robbing or hurting a woman, not from morality or gallantry but just because cops respond more quickly and more viciously if a woman is endangered. The man thinks it's the same deal with old people or anyone with kids. But the man is happy when he sees a fat middle aged man coming out of the gas station. The fat man looks like a loser. In no short time the man has carjacked the fat man and threatens to shoot him. But the fat man, whose name is Geoffrey Webb, is unafraid of death. No, Webb doesn't care if he lives or dies. But he would like to tell his abductor a story as he drives him out of state.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Movie Reviews: Black '47

Black '47
directed by Lance Daly
This movie can be understood on one level as a revenge Western/urban drama transplanted to 1847 Ireland during the Great Famine. The Great Famine, via death or emigration, reduced Ireland's population by 25%. This film uses the classic revenge theme. The hero (inevitably a young troubled man) returns from the war/the big city/the sea/etc to discover that his family has been harmed, often by the people he's been serving. THOSE PEOPLE taught him a very particular set of skills. Now he will use his talents to get some righteous James Brown approved payback. He's out for revenge on somebody. Anybody. Everybody!!! This trope is older than dirt. 

The trope is also true to life. The Romans suffered their worst defeat in Germany at the hands of Arminius, a Roman commander of German heritage. The Romans took Arminius as a child hostage. They raised him to lead Roman armies in colonial wars. When Rome sent him back to Germany to repress his own people, Arminius tricked the Romans. He led the Germans to battle against the Romans in the Teutoberg Forest. When Arminius was done, three entire Roman legions had been utterly liquidated, along with the Roman lust for German lands.

Most men are not Arminius. Most colonial soldiers make the individual rational decision to serve the conqueror. It's better to be on the winning team and earn a living right? This film could have been made about Black American buffalo soldiers who helped expel and exterminate Native Americans, Native American slaveowners who sided with the Confederacy, or for that matter Irish immigrants to America who launched anti-Black pogroms, burning down Black orphanages. 

Black Women Alabama Master Quilters

I definitely remember my paternal grandmother making quilts. I'm not sure about my maternal grandmother. I think she must have, but I'd have to ask other relatives about that. She lived down south so I didn't see her as often as I should have. 

Quilting was and from what I can tell still is a predominantly feminine activity so it's highly unlikely I would have been encouraged to pick up that trade. I think a few of my female cousins might have some skills in this area. Either way, whatever your particular family heritage may be there are likely talents and interests that are passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, grandparents to grandchildren and so on. These are important. 

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Book Reviews: 100 Fathoms Below

100 Fathoms Below
by Steven L. Kent and Nicholas Kaufmann
I recently heard about this new book co-authored by Nicholas Kaufmann, some of whose work was discussed here. I'm glad I decided to read it. This story uses a classic theme which for me never gets old. It's a locked room murder mystery with the twist that about halfway thru the book the remaining characters figure out the identity of the killer(s). It's always obvious to the reader because the authors give broad hints from the very beginning. This book mixes the supernatural with a military thriller. It worked well. It's just under 300 pages in hardcover. There's little wasted prose or expansive characterization of the various protagonists. The characters are not the stars here; the plot is. So if you're looking for deep character studies look elsewhere. It's not that kind of party. The characters are realistic but are only detailed enough to get the plot moving. 

In 1983 the US nuclear submarine USS Roanoke (and yes that is a nice little reference to the doomed English colony) embarks upon a classified mission. Unknown to everyone onboard except the captain and later his executive officer (XO), the Roanoke's mission is to enter Soviet territorial waters and obtain proof of an upgraded stealth Soviet submarine. This is very aggressive espionage and could be considered an act of war. The Roanoke is on its own. If detected the crewmen could be killed. If captured the men will likely be tortured or at best spend a few decades in Soviet prison camps. 

The Soviets could decide to start WW3 over the violation of their territorial waters. No one knows. As far the Roanoke's captain is concerned, the results of his mission aren't as important as completing the mission. 
Captain Weber has his orders. He will follow them. No one is going to be able to say he messed up and didn't follow orders.

Tucker Carlson Home Protest

In my home! In my bedroom where my wife sleeps! Where my children come and play with their toys. In my home.
Tucker Carlson is a conservative talk show host employed by Fox News who routinely traffics in white victimology. He gives mainstream amplification to the ugliest fears and tropes of white nationalism. I will give him some credit for having people on who disagree with him. However, with few exceptions these people are usually either so ridiculous that they step all over their own points or are shouted at or cut off by Carlson. Carlson often demands that his opposition guests respond to some rhetorical strawman that Carlson has constructed. If they don't respond to his silly side point Carlson insults them or laughs at them. 

Carlson is almost certainly smarter than he appears. He will sometimes make a cogent point and/or reject some conservative shibboleth. But generally he doesn't venture far from Fox News' basic narrative: that the US is a white (wo)man's country, evil dark people are trying to steal it, and whites are the real victims of racism today. FEAR! BOOGA BOOGA! Trouble in River City! That starts with T and that rhymes with B and that spells Blacks!

Although I would likely disagree with about 95% of Carlson's worldview I don't agree with harassing/protesting/vandalizing his home-especially when he's not even there. That's a cowardly vile act.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson was at his desk Wednesday evening, less than two hours before his 8 p.m. live show, when he suddenly started receiving multiple text messages. There was some sort of commotion happening outside his home in Northwest D.C. “I called my wife,” Carlson told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “She had been in the kitchen alone getting ready to go to dinner and she heard pounding on the front door and screaming. ... Someone started throwing himself against the front door and actually cracked the front door.”

His wife, thinking it was a home invasion, locked herself in the pantry and called 911, Carlson said. The couple have four children, but none were home at the time.
But it wasn’t a home invasion. It was a protest. 
According to now-deleted social media posts shared by Smash Racism D.C., a local anti-fascist organization whose members have been tied to other demonstrations against prominent Republican figures, activists showed up outside Carlson’s home Wednesday and they had a message for him.

Movie Reviews: Thief

directed by Michael Mann
This was Michael Mann's first feature film. It's a modern noir that was a precursor and template to later Mann creations such as Miami Vice, Crime Story, and Heat. In fact Heat's iconic coffee shop discussion between De Niro and Pacino is something that Mann did first in Thief. Like Heat, Thief stars a Godfather alumnus, James Caan. It seems to me that male American actors from the seventies and eighties were more comfortable expressing traditional masculinity than their modern day counterparts. 

Caan is in full bada$$ swagger mode, wide shoulders and all, throughout this film. This movie shows Mann's eye for glossy nighttime colors, modern haunting synth music (courtesy of Tangerine Dream), well dressed albeit morally compromised heroes (Caan is often in Armani suits), and tough guys from both sides of the law. Chicago Detective Dennis Farina made his acting debut here as a mob hitman while real life Chicago thief and mobster John Santucci convinced as a greedy and corrupt cop. Both actors went on to greater acclaim in Crime Story.

Traditionally the classic Chicago Outfit maintained oversight over the most successful professional burglars, auto thieves, safe crackers, and armed robbers in the greater Chicago area. These criminals were usually independent, not formal Mob members. However the Mob often demanded that such thieves pay a flat street tax or percentage of their take to the local Mob representative. Refusal was considered disrespectful. This "disrespect" could be an excellent way for recalcitrant thieves to wind up arrested by a Mob affiliated cop, if they were lucky, or appear in a car trunk, if they weren't. One might wonder why criminals would agree to surrender any of their take to or accept orders from mobsters. That's a good question. 

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Racist Ads and Mid-Term Elections: Who Will Win?

You may recall that current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seethed with rage when during the period that McConnell was Senate Minority Leader, Democrats got rid of the filibuster for confirming most federal judges. McConnell coldly promised that Democrats would regret that decision a lot sooner than they thought. 

He was right about that. In a tit for tat exercise once Republicans had majority status in the Senate again they eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court justices. McConnell also predicted that Republicans would put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court despite solid Democratic opposition. He was right about that as well.  McConnell said that the Democratic approach to Kavanaugh backfired and helped to unify and inspire Republicans. 

“The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said Mr. McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”
Rage and fear work well to motivate and unify conservatives and many Republicans. It's why despite the economy doing well by many standards, Republicans in general and Trump in particular aren't making political appeals based on positivity, optimism and economic well being. Instead they are making appeals on racial national solidarity and fear that THOSE people are gonna come get you. The latest Republican created Trump tweeted ad before Tuesday's election goes all in on this fear. 

Movie Reviews: Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War
directed by Joe and Anthony Russo
I didn't see this film in the theater. I don't remember why. I do remember that after its debut two different people told me their concerns about what they considered the film's unfortunate implications. Their issues, which I will mostly avoid mentioning here, put me off from seeing the film for a while. This Marvel film is designed to appeal to the largest possible audience. This movie was the fourth highest grossing film of all time. It's entertaining and long. This movie successfully combines action, humor and some bleakness. It raises some serious questions about morality and overpopulation. Most people won't get upset when it becomes apparent that deer numbers have grown to the point where deer are harming the environment and/or other animals and must be culled. Heck, even I wouldn't mind eliminating the invasive Canadian Geese who often stay in Michigan year round and make an absolute mess. Rational humans, even sentimental ones, can recognize when a particular species has become overly destructive. 

But humans resist recognizing this about themselves.  There are 7.6 billion people on this planet. As recently as 1974 there were just 4 billion people. Humans have been very busy making other humans. A little over half of the world's population is Chinese, Indian, or African. As those three populations increase what will be the impact on carbon emissions, political power, food prices, climate change, wildlife, military conflict, ocean pollution, migration, etc? It may not be "good" from a First World standpoint or from the standpoint of the world in general. Some argue that free market capitalism can continue to produce enough for everyone. Others argue that socialism is the best bet for dealing with questions of scarcity and equity as we near a population of 10 billion.

Others don't believe there is a problem. They say that people raising alarms are mistaken or regurgitating barely veiled racist eugenics. Some insist that it's unfair that some people are reproducing so much. Obviously birth control is warranted. Many feminists point out that women in most societies rarely want to have as many children as men do so improving women's education, health, legal protection, and financial and sexual independence slows birth rates.

Should the US Senate be changed?

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election and Trump's appointment of not one but two justices to the Supreme Court some people are arguing that the Senate and Electoral College have outlived their usefulness if indeed they ever had utility and should be utterly transformed if not eliminated.

Usually this takes the form of a resident of a high population state which normally tilts Democratic (think New York, California) scornfully bringing up a low population state which usually tilts Republican (think Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana) and arguing that it's not fair that the residents of the high population and often richer state have the same Senate representation as those dumb rubes in the low population state. Inevitably the person making this argument will reference the fact that Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential election and thus conclude we need to change our political system to give more power to the majority.

We have a political system that has separated powers between the federal government and the states and further split power among separate elements of the federal government and placed limits on what the federal government can do. The idea was and is that the best protection against tyranny would be that no one element of government could grab all the power to itself. Some would argue that this hasn't worked. They would say that since at least the end of WW2 the power and authority of the Federal government has grown into the Leviathan we see today. But people differ on whether this is a good or bad thing. Some people think that they are components of an emerging permanent majority. So they might want the Federal government to have all the power it needs and then some. Some people want to crush their enemies, drive them before them, and smile at the lamentations of their women. Remaking the Senate into an institution that better reflects majority rule would be an important step in that process.

NYPD Sgt. Ann Marie Guerra Abuses Co-Workers

I wasn't surprised or shocked to read that a female police officer could allegedly be dismissive or sexually abusive to male co-workers. We should all be beyond the fantasy that women are morally superior to men. They aren't. And that's okay. No, the detail that made me raise an eyebrow about this alleged incident was the fact that the NYPD has co-ed locker rooms. That seems like a very bad idea that would almost make such incidents predictable. I don't think that men and women who are not intimate with one another ought to be dressing or undressing in front of each other.  It would seem to be a pretty simple question of appropriateness, privacy and dignity. 

Obviously most people will do their best to be professional even in such ridiculous circumstances. But there will be a few people who won't. So why make it easy for this sort of stuff to take place? I know that many of the very smart very compassionate people get very upset at any hint of difference between men and women. But we are different, no matter how much we try to pretend otherwise. Co-workers who are going to be changing clothes ought to have separate locker rooms. I think that's just common sense. Of course perhaps this female police officer would just be a nasty person whether she was changing clothes in a co-ed locker room or a women's locker room. Presumably, regardless of gender, no one wants to be walking around a place where someone is leaving their dirty drawers on the floor.

A ball-busting female boss at a Brooklyn precinct is under investigation for allegedly stuffing a pair of her panties into a male colleague’s mouth, police sources told The Post on Monday. Sgt. Ann Marie Guerra, the second-in-command at the 72nd Precinct Detectives Squad, flipped out on Detective Victor Falcon when he complained about her leaving her underwear all over the unisex locker room, sources said. “They are f–king clean!” the 38-year-old married mom of two allegedly roared Oct. 7 — as she shoved a pair of her panties into Falcon’s mouth, a source said. A complaint was filed against Guerra with the NYPD’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office three days later.

German Far Right Raises Profile

Although the United States is not officially a nation based primarily on lineage and blood and soil, Germany is. There are apparently more than a few Germans who do not like the idea of sharing their country with non-Germans one bit. At all. The relatively recent influx of mostly non-European immigrants and migrants into Europe has been the single biggest boost to right-wing, reactionary and downright fascist political parties across the continent. As the video below the fold makes clear, as dislike for immigrants becomes more acceptable to vocalize, Nazi sympathizers and actual Nazis successfully shift the Overton window far enough to the right to include some even uglier ideas. 

Although for obvious historical reasons Europe in general and Germany in particular get most of the media attention for this sort of stuff there are places all over the planet where people make it clear that they aren't overly fond of THOSE people. THOSE people can of course be of any race or ethnicity and could even be (to me) visually indistinguishable from the people yelling for their expulsion. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of Black South Africans chasing down and assaulting Black Nigerian or Black Zimbabwean immigrants or refugees.

It's important to keep in mind that we're not all the same, we can't all get along, and nations aren't disappearing any time soon. The noxious Steve King had it right when he said that European right-wingers and Nazi sympathizers would be Republicans if they were Americans. I think that most Germans have enough sense not to politically support would-be Nazis. That said though mass immigration from the Third World into Europe will continue to be a politically destabilizing event.

60 Seconds of Michigan Fall Colors

Fall is the best season.
Fall is best experienced in the Midwest and especially Michigan.

Cops Chase Crazy Crackheads

The obvious takeaways from this story are that (a) crack cocaine is a hell of a drug (b) drug abuse prematurely ages people something fierce and (c) despite what they sometimes claim cops are actually able to refrain from use of deadly force in stressful and dangerous situations when they want to do so. 

And who is stupid enough to light up the crack pipe in front of agitated police officers attempting to make an arrest? Crackheads are stupid enough. That's who. And I can't be the only person who finds it ironic that the other dopehead arrested is actually named Weed. This is less Thelma and Louise than Dumb and Dumber.

A 36-year-old female motorist from Eastpointe who a Macomb County Sheriff's deputy tried to pull over smoked crack cocaine and then led authorities on a car chase, officials said Thursday. The incident happened at about 2 a.m. Oct. 25 in Harrison Township, according to the sheriff's office.