Saturday, March 23, 2019

Movie Reviews: Never Grow Old

Never Grow Old
directed by Ivan Kavanaugh
This was a chilling Western with both classic and revisionist themes.
It is sobering to grow older and see actors of your generation who once played sarcastic teens move to playing alienated young men then change to playing pudgy middle aged dads. In another ten years or so they'll be playing grandfathers. So it goes. Time waits for no one.

There are some cultures that and some people who consider a stranger mentioning a man's wife to be a faux pas at best and an intolerable insult or threat at worst. Although we now tend to view such interactions thru feminist eyes and claim that such negative responses are bad because they imply that the wife is her husband's property, the point remains that in certain charged circumstances or situations asking "innocently" after the well being or presence of a man's wife or other female relative is indeed meant and understood as a serious insult or deadly threat.

It's no different from the classic mob hoodlum telling the bar owner that he has a beautiful establishment and that it would be a shame if something happened to it. In this movie, a dark-both visually and morally- Western that attempts some modern revisionist surgery on classic Western themes while also upholding them, the bad guy Dutch Albert (John Cusack) is introduced in a late night encounter at the protagonist's home. 

Andre Williams Passes Away

I wrote before about Andre Williams here. He was one of the last of the old time rock-n-rollers/R&B giants. He just passed away at 82. If you happen to like old school R&B/jump blues/rock-n-roll and don't mind an occasional little lyrical smuttiness/nastiness in music then you might want to give his music a listen. 

As people have pointed out the Good Lord wouldn't have given you a tail feather in the first place if He didn't want you to shake it from time to time. RIP to a Detroit musical giant and one of the dirtiest old men who ever walked the planet. Andre Williams, who carved out a place in the 1950s rhythm-and-blues scene with earthy songs distinctively delivered, then fell on hard times as a result of addiction before enjoying a late-career resurgence, died on Sunday in Chicago. He was 82.

His son Derrick Williams said the cause was cancer.
In a decade when mainstream white audiences were watching “Father Knows Best” on television, Mr. Williams was recording provocative songs like “Jail Bait” (1957), a sly warning to men inclined to date teenage girls. It ends with a narrator pleading with a judge for leniency and promising to abandon his lecherous ways:
I ain’t gonna bother none 15,
I ain’t gonna bother none 16,
I ain’t gonna bother none 17,
I ain’t gonna mess with none 18,
I’m gonna leave them 20-year-old ones alone too,
Gonna get me a girl about 42.

Grand Rapids Police and Teens Walking In Street

I've written about how I am not overly fond of police. In my experience and those of many people I know, police are overly aggressive with citizens, especially black people, and most especially with black males of any age. Police actions cause fear, contempt, and hatred.

I think that police too often reflexively choose the harshest penalties when interacting with black people: unnecessary searches, use of force, citations and tickets when a similarly situated white person gets assistance or maybe a warning, etc. But I'm also irritated at people (usually teens) walking in the middle of the street. The sidewalk is for walking. The street is for driving. I don't drive on the sidewalk and get upset when someone checks me.

Before watching the video below the jump I was primed to blast the cops but afterwards I couldn't-at least not completely. The police officer could have stayed in his car, but police also could ignore a highway speeder who has slowed down. Often they do. But sometimes they don't. If I'm the cop in that situation once I have told the teens to get out of the street and they've done so I'm going to keep moving. My ego isn't so weak that I need to frighten kids with my "authority".

But enforcing a reasonable law is not a crime. Unless you are ready to hold court in the street and kill or die, you won't win confrontations with police. If the police order is legal, most people will eventually comply with it, willingly or not. When the police act criminally, then I believe that we have the right to refuse the illegal order and defend ourselves. But that's not what the below video shows. Few cops will let a citizen ignore them and walk away from a legal detention. FWIW, I'm not sure of the race of the teens. I've seen separate descriptions of them as Latino and/or Black.


More Flat Earth Dummies

It remains a source of amazement and amusement to me that some people still believe that the earth is flat. From what I can tell this is only a very small minority of folks. Some of them are obvious trolls. Others believe everything is a conspiracy. Still others are just low IQ people with an extremely limited grasp of science and logic. Some think that being contrary by definition means being smart. 

Others flatter themselves that they're just smarter than everyone else. And some are people who reject all science, logic and math as Eurocentric and thus by definition untrue and racist. So it goes. But it's funny to me that when the evidence conclusively disproves the flat earth theory, flat earth adherents drop the evidence and not the theory. 

In what may be one of the most satisfying TV moments we can recall, a group of conspiracy theorists have accidentally spent thousands of dollars to prove that yes, actually, the Earth is round. The scene in a new Netflix documentary called Behind the Curve, which follows a group of Flat Earthers, a "small but growing contingent of people who firmly believe in a conspiracy to suppress the truth that the Earth is flat".

One of those Flat Earthers is Bob Knodel, who hosts a YouTube channel entirely dedicated to the theory and who is one of the team relying on a $20,000 laser gyroscope to prove the Earth doesn't actually rotate. Except... It does. 


Why People Watch Birds

I don't spend a lot of time watching birds, or least not as much as I used to spend. I do watch the Wrens and Sparrows(?) that spend a lot time eating pears and berries that have fallen from the neighborhood trees. I keep an eye out when I park my truck near or under a tree. 

And though I utterly despise them I keep a careful watch on the loud and aggressive Canadian Geese who have evidently decided to stay in Michigan year round, gracing us with their hisses, honks and incredible waste production. The geese keep their beady little eyes focused on humans. They will attack any human who gets too close to their nesting areas. And they keep expanding their nesting areas. As I've written before if it were up to me I would happily greenlight Order 66 on those Canadian Geese. Still, I do enjoy watching some of the increased activity of birds as they either return to Michigan or simply become more noticeable. A lot of people also like watching birds.


Earlier this month I gave a talk titled “Backyard Bergen Birds” to the Demarest Garden Club. While I was putting the presentation together, I came up with all sorts of cool photos and information about the birds that visit our yards here in North Jersey. I even included a section on a variety of bird feeders that you can use to attract everything from hummingbirds to cardinals. 

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Movie Reviews: Unfriended 2: Dark Web

Unfriended 2: Dark Web
directed by Stephen Susco
This movie is a stand alone sequel that was both intelligent and plausible in how the story is first drawn out and a little dumb in how the characters later react to danger. The film uses current paranoia over privacy and nasty sectors of the Internet to create a scary story. 
The vast majority if not all of the film shots are captured through computer or phone screens. With the advent of widespread Internet usage we all have a significant portion of human knowledge, history and experience at our fingertips from the comfort of our home 24-7. The flip side of this is of course that your information and identity can be shared with some amoral or completely immoral actors, corporate or otherwise. Perhaps it's Facebook suggesting that you become friends with people in your company though you have zero desire to have personal relationships with work associates. 

Perhaps you shopped on Amazon and now all the online ads you see are related to that item. Maybe you did your taxes online and your tax preparer or Internet service provider didn't mention a data breach. Five years later you learn that someone has used your SSN to file for unemployment insurance in three different states. You might allow your pre-teen child to use the net completely unsupervised. You later find anonymous inappropriate messages in your child's inbox. There's no end to the possibility for good or evil posed by the Internet.

Movie Reviews: King of Thieves

King of Thieves
directed by James Marsh
This film was based on a real life heist that I hadn't heard of before. It is a British film that makes absolutely no concessions to American audiences for the differences in accents, cadence, and slang. So the dialogue was occasionally difficult for me to follow. Most of the characters as well as the actors playing them are well into their seventies or eighties. One of the younger men in the group is said to have just turned sixty. These men have all the normal benefits of age- grandchildren and solicitous children or in-laws. 

However they also have all of the normal costs as well. Muscle has been replaced by flab. Sex is not really a motivating factor for most of the men any longer. Some of them have permanently lost the interest or ability. Others have diabetes or hearing problems or prostate problems or incontinence issues. Some are widowers. They fall asleep at inopportune times. None of them have the energy or drive that they used to have. 

Although the movie sometimes makes jokes at the mens' expense-one hapless fellow needs to relieve himself so badly that he uses the sink instead of the toilet-much to his friend's disgust- the film doesn't stay on this path. As becomes clear both by exposition as well as the actions of the thieves, these are hard men who've done some hard things in their lives. Some are killers. Some have killed cops. None of them are particularly trustworthy, grandfatherly appearing though they may be. Some are just mean. As their leader reminds them they should have too much pride to ever beg for mercy from the state.

Because the film decided to stick pretty closely to the broad outline of real life events there was not quite the level of violence which I had expected. There are some threats. It might have been a more exciting film had it decided to venture a little more into fiction and add some more events to the storyline. This film is crammed full of award winning talents. I thought the director and writer might have taken greater advantage of that.

President Trump and The Pimp

In all likelihood, President Trump's immigrant grandfather Frederick Trump, was among other things a brothel owner or to put it less delicately, a pimp.

In 1891, Trump moved to Seattle, in the newly admitted U.S. state of Washington. With his life savings of several hundred dollars, he bought the Poodle Dog, which he renamed the Dairy Restaurant, and supplied it with new tables, chairs, and a range.[2] Located at 208 Washington Street, the Dairy Restaurant was in the middle of Seattle's Red Light District; Washington Street was nicknamed "the Line" and included an assortment of saloons, casinos, and brothels. Biographer Gwenda Blair called it "a hotbed of sex, booze, and money, [it] was the indisputable center of the action in Seattle."[3]:41 The restaurant served food and liquor and was advertised to include "Rooms for Ladies", a common euphemism for prostitution.[3]:50

So with that background perhaps it is not too surprising that the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, had a Super Bowl party where he posed with one Li "Cindy" Yang, an enterprising "businesswoman" who among other things owns massage parlors and previously owned the day spa where Trump buddy, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft allegedly paid women for a "happy ending".

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Glass Wall

The Glass Wall
directed by Maxwell Shane
This is a 1953 black-and-white drama that might be considered a film noir in some circles. I didn't see that though. It has the look of many noir films but I'm not sure the story quite meets that criteria. It is far more of a very important message film than a noir, not that those two categories are mutually exclusive. It is something that would with some appropriate nationality changes to characters and an even more in your face approach likely resonate well with about half of American viewers were the film remade today. 

Although the message is not always subtle because the director beats the viewer over the head with it near the film's end, the film still has enough drama and excitement to pull the viewer in no matter his views on nationalization, immigration and following the letter of the law. There is always a tension between doing the right thing and doing the legal thing. Survival can make people not care about doing what's right. And the question of who gets to be an American is as important today as it was in 1953. 

The film's cinematography showing New York City at night is intoxicating. It reminded me of why NYC might be a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there. NYC has so many people that if it were a state of its own it would be the 12th most populated state. I couldn't tolerate being around that many people day in and day out. Shane uses the constant throng of people to show how even among millions we can be set apart and made to feel alone. 

Movie Reviews: The Hole in the Ground

The Hole in the Ground
directed by Lee Cronin
This is an intelligent Irish horror movie. Well maybe it's not as smart as it thinks it is, but it does convey thrills, chills and excitement without gratuitous bloodshed or bared mammary glands which are normally de rigueur for these types of films. It doesn't reach the heights of Hereditary, perhaps because the story has been told so very many times before. And the ending is well, somewhat cliche ridden. But nevertheless I always appreciate films that can tell a story without automatically sinking to the lowest common denominator. 

I suppose you might make an argument that the film, although it has obvious connections to movies such as The Omen, The ShiningOrphanRosemary's Baby, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, is also a metaphor for domestic violence. We are at our most vulnerable behind closed doors with those whom we love and think that we know. But what if you discover that your loved one is not the person you thought they were. That can be a very scary thing, no? Sometimes people find that out too late.  

Some people cross a previously unknown line and trigger a harsh unpleasant response from their spouse. Or you might realize that your spouse or significant other has an entirely different world view, one which is utterly inimical to yours. Your spouse might have been just faking to get something from you. But their true beliefs or behavior patterns frighten you. If you tell other people that your special rider has some issues no one believes you because with everyone else that person is polite, helpful and well behaved. In fact, anticipating just such a response from you, an abuser could have told and convinced all of your friends and family that it's you who have the problem, not him or her.

An abusive spouse can be practiced in making the target of his or her hatred not believe what they are seeing. And when the mask drops, the abused person may be so frightened that they will do whatever they are told to do, just to get a semblance of normalcy again.  Food for thought I guess. 


HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Lannisters, Greyjoys, and Tyrells

Damn It Feels Good To Be A Lannister
HBO's Game of Thrones series, adapted from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire starts its final season on April 14th. The initial antagonist family pitted against the proud but sternly moralistic Starks was the sybaritic and equally proud but more numerous, wealthier, and far more vindictive Lannisters. Rich as a Lannister, A Lannister always pays his debts, and Hear Me Roar were just a few of the sayings associated with the Lannisters, who maintained firm control over the Westerlands and successfully made a power play for the Iron Throne, cuckolding the Baratheon King and arranging his death. 

The noble but hapless Ned Stark failed to prevent this. After all of the wars, murders, attempted murders, backstabbing, taboo breaking betrayals, intra-family squabbling and patricide, a Lannister still sits on the Iron Throne. Utterly pragmatic, Lannisters will use any tool to win-force, lies, money, sex, treachery. Just win baby.

As it turns out the Iron Throne may not be worth anything because Winter Is Coming And This Time We Really Mean It but Cersei Lannister has never been known for her ability to let go of old resentments. Nursing resentments is after all a Lannister family trait.  Cersei may be a mean drunk, not as intelligent as she thinks, and a nasty brother-f****r but she does seem to have learned something from having been previously outsmarted by the High Sparrow and her little brother Tyrion. In the last season it was Cersei who outplayed Tyrion, despite having an objectively weaker position during Daenerys' return. 

House Lannister is hanging onto power by a thread but as Cersei Lannister patiently explained to both Ned Stark and Littlefinger, maintaining power is the entire point of her existence. Either you have it or you don't. So where does House Lannister stand as the end game begins?

HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Trailer #1

April 14th. Be there or be square dudes and dudettes!

Selfmade Kash Performs Self Own

You know, if you're going to be a criminal it's probably not the smartest thing to do to let everyone know that you're a criminal, brag about your criminal success, offer to teach others how to become successful criminals, and do everything just short of leaving a notarized confession of your crimes at the local police station to make sure the police and prosecutors know exactly who, what, when, where and why you've been doing. This kind of extravagant law breaking and taunting tends to annoy and embarrass the local police and prosecutors (especially if you didn't make sure they got their cut); they will go the extra mile to make certain that you are arrested, jailed, prosecuted and convicted. 

The most powerful and successful gangsters are usually the ones you either never heard of or who have everyone scared to say their name. The criminals who last aren't the ones on youtube or Instagram boasting about what they do. It is amazing to me that some people have such massive egos that they would rather let the entire world know of their alleged actions, even if that means they're going to be doing their thing in jail or prison. To this day no one knows who committed the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, who murdered Jimmy Hoffa, or who put the bomp in the bomp bah bomp bah bomp. The people who did those things were smart enough to keep their f****g mouths shut. It remains an open question as to whether rap music causes low IQ or if people with low IQ cause rap music.

Detroit — Federal prosecutors threw shade at a Detroit rapper and self-professed god of credit card fraud Thursday by indicting the man, who fancied jewel-encrusted necklaces made out of credit cards and bragged about his alleged crimes on Instagram. Jonathan Woods, 25, who raps under the nickname “Selfmade Kash,” was charged with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and possession of unauthorized access devices. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Boulder Police Officers Hold Black Man at Gunpoint For Cleaning His Own Property

Police detained a black Colorado man who was picking up trash outside his own home. A Boulder police officer questioned the man after spotting him Friday morning picking up trash with a clamper in a partially enclosed patio behind a “private property” sign, and he asked whether the man was authorized to be there, reported The Daily Camera.

The man, whose identity has not been released, told the officer he lived and worked in the building, and presented his school identification card, but the officer detained him for further investigation and called for additional assistance, saying the man was uncooperative. A roommate began recording the encounter, and video posted online shows the man trying to explain that he lives in the building and did not have a weapon.


“You’re on my property with a gun in your hand, threatening to shoot me, because I’m picking up trash,” the man says. “I don’t have a weapon! This is a bucket, this is a clamp.”
“I’m not sitting down and you can’t make me,” the man says as additional officers arrive. “This is my property, this is my house — I live here.”

These incidents are exactly the sort of thing that made the Black Panthers form in the first place. They are excellent examples of how racism works. A  racist white person sees a black person and immediately assumes that the black person is up to no good. The white person then initiates force against the black person while also assuming that the black person is dangerous and has a weapon. Racism warps the mind so badly that items like cell phones, wallets, keys, skittle bags, or garbage-pickers are transmogrified into guns. And what happens when racist whites see a black man with a gun? Well, often this sort of incident ends with the black man being beaten or shot. Perhaps the only thing that prevented that in this case was the cops' knowledge that another white person was filming them.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Final Season: Starks, Tullys, and Arryns

HBO's Game of Thrones series, adapted from George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire starts its final season on April 14th. The Starks, Tullys, and Arryns all intermarried with one another. The Starks are the first family introduced and get the majority of the POV characters for much of the series in the books. They are even more the "good guys" in the TV series. They are clearly the people with whom the viewer and/or reader are meant to identify. And yet the Starks more than any other House, at least for much of the series, take it on the chin. They lose the War of the Five Kings. Their home is burned down. Later their home is under the control of monstrous rivals. Still there are a few Starks left alive. As Arya Stark pointed out "Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe." The Vale, under Littlefinger's influence, stayed out of the war. The Tullys also lost control of the Riverlands to the Freys (and Littlefinger). Which characters from these three Houses are still standing? Let's review:

Movie Reviews: Overlord

Overlord
directed by Julius Avery
By WW2 Germany had one of the most scientifically advanced military forces in Europe and therefore the world. It is a fortunate irony that the Nazi anti-Semitism caused many European physicists, Jewish and non-Jewish, to flee to the United States, thus severely retarding German nuclear weapon research and development.

However, even without Jewish scientific assistance, German military scientists, doctors and technicians produced advanced deadly weapons such as the assault rifle, a speedier machine gun, thermobaric bombs, jet aircraft, Pervitin, and the first ICBM's. There were rumors of even more outrageous weapons and plans, such as a death ray mirror that would use the Sun's energy to incinerate cities, anti-gravity and time travel devices, and stealth fighters. Some of these were discussed in the fiction book Swastika by Michael Slade.  Overlord imagines that American paratroopers, tasked to destroy a German radio tower on the eve of D-Day, discover a secret sinister Nazi military program.

Overlord, much like Tarantino's WW2 film Inglorious Basterds, is unashamedly anachronistic. The hero is a Black paratrooper serving in an integrated unit.  The company first sergeant is also a Black man. In real life, all US military branches were officially racially segregated during the war. Although some segregation broke down during combat, there weren't any units that were by design integrated. 

Music Reviews: Pacific Gas & Electric

Pacific Gas & Electric, later known as PG&E after some unpleasant legal interactions with the utility company of the same name, was a late sixties/early seventies band based in blues-rock with a side order of soul and gospel. The band wasn't one which I think really stood out for instrumental virtuosity or songwriting skills. I think the band was worthwhile because of the soulful voice of the primary singer, Charlie Allen. The band was unusual then and now because it was racially integrated. 

I suppose this made it more difficult to get radio play as Allen's voice was unmistakably "black" while some of the guitar work sounded very "white". So perhaps the band was often too "black" for white radio and too "white" for black radio. So it goes. The band had broken up by the mid seventies. I don't think any of the band members ever truly hit the big time. Few musicians do. That's life. But there were two songs of theirs which I liked a lot. The first is "Death Row #172", a bluesy lament in which a Vietnam Veteran on Death Row wonders about his approaching end, how he got there, and what happens next.

I like this song because it's a reminder that people can do evil things and yet not be evil themselves. We can all fall from grace. I also love the bass line. Bass should always be heard and felt I say. The lyrics are pretty introspective. I'm not on death row but I do occasionally find myself listening to this song when I'm wondering about life decisions. Hope can sometimes arise in what looks like hopeless situations.

Lake Michigan Wind and Waves

This is what 40 MPH winds and 12 foot waves look like. The Great Lakes are more inland seas than what most people think of when someone uses the word lake. There's a lot of natural beauty in the world if you only take time to appreciate it.

Howard Webb Delivers Spicy Salsa

How well do you know the people who handle your fast food delivery or orders at a favorite restaurant? Do you think that they like you? Because some of them don't like you very much. And occasionally they are eager and willing to show how much they don't like you.

Are you confident that your immune system is in tip top condition? Are your body's white blood cells just fighting fools ready to kill anything in your body that isn't you? If they aren't then you might consider avoiding food that you didn't prepare yourself. Anyone stupid enough to film this kind of stuff probably isn't smart enough to be preparing or delivering your food anyway. I guess we're just lucky this fellow didn't add any special sauce. 

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — Howard Matthew Webb is not the kind of guy you want delivering your food, if a Blount County warrant is to be believed. A complaint prepared Feb. 22 by Maryville Police Department Investigator Rod Fernandez alleges Webb rubbed his testicles in a cup of salsa during a Dinner Delivered food delivery. He faces a felony charge of adulteration of food, liquids or pharmaceuticals. Webb was taken into custody Feb. 22 and was still being held Tuesday in jail.

Women File Class Action Lawsuit Against Yale and Fraternities

I think that many reactionary rants against today's litigious society are often veiled attempts to defend someone doing wrong. If a corporation is price gouging for insulin or deliberately selling bad meat to an unsuspecting public then the courts and lawyers absolutely have a role to play. 

But there are some complaints and conflicts where I believe that the courts and lawyers and state should stay out. If a man attends a "gentlemen's club" of his own free will it is ridiculous for the man to turn around and sue the club for sexual harassment because young women lacking clothes displayed themselves to him. That's the point of such clubs. It would also be a reach for the man to sue the city where the club was located for allowing this supposed sexual harassment. And it would seem unbelievable for the man to claim that the club was the only social venue in town and thus he had no choice but to go to the club.

And yet something very similar is happening at Yale.

Three Yale students who claim they were groped at fraternity parties have filed a class-action lawsuit against the university, arguing the school has fostered an environment where alcohol-fueled gatherings at off-campus fraternity houses dictate the undergraduate social scene.

While the New Haven, Conn., university presents itself as a campus where fraternities are not a major presence, the lawsuit states that few options besides fraternity parties exist for women who want to socialize and meet other students. Joan Gilbride, a lawyer for the fraternities named in the lawsuit, said the accusations are “baseless and unfounded,” and that the fraternities and their national organizations would vigorously defend themselves against the claims.