Saturday, June 29, 2019

Book Reviews: The Fix

The Fix
by David Baldacci
This is another installment in the Amos Decker detective series. Decker is a detective on semi-permanent loan to the FBI. He is a former college football player who is fighting a desperate battle against the scale. Decker suffered major injuries, including brain injury, in the college game that ended his career and any chance at NFL stardom. Worse, years later, Decker's wife and daughter were murdered. 

However these two tragedies deeply impacted his life. Decker sees emotions and events in color. He also has a photographic memory for everything he sees and near total inability to forget anything, ever, including his family's murder scene. This event left Decker with a fierce desire to see justice done whatever the cost. 

Although Decker may see emotions in color, he sees things morally in stark black and white. Either a job is done or it is not. Someone is guilty or they are not. Decker's highest loyalty is to the truth, not to his friends, his bosses, the FBI, or even justice. Decker may have been made mildly autistic by his brain injury all those years ago, as he lacks awareness of social cues that most people, even extremely shy people, take for granted. Decker will suddenly stop talking to someone and get up and walk out of the room. Nonetheless his heart is in the right place. He gets obsessed with loose ends and finding the truth. He rarely means to offend someone and will apologize if he becomes aware that he has.

Going to attend a meeting at FBI headquarters, Amos Decker witnesses a man named Walter Dabney shoot and kill a woman named Anne Berkshire before turning the weapon on himself. Dabney is a defense and intelligence consultant. Berkshire is a schoolteacher. The case becomes federal because of Dabney's links to the federal government. 

Book Reviews: Known Devil

Known Devil
by Justin Gustanis
Although this is the third in a series, I didn't know that before starting the book. I don't think it made all that much difference. It's old hat nowadays to imagine a world in which magic and monsters exist side by side with all of the prosaic concerns and institutions of the real world. This story does imagine that and mixes in some timely political parodies as well, even though the book was written well before the current President was elected. The book's prose is, well you will have to decide this for yourself. This is how it opens and it's pretty consistent.
"I've never had a lot of of use for elves. In my experience they're lazy and dumb--nothing like those drones in the stories who supposedly work for the Fat Guy up north. I don't like elves, and elves with guns I like even less. And when those guns are pointed at me--well it's like that Mafia guy on TV used to say: fahgettaaboudit"
Stan Markowski is a detective in the Scranton PD's Occult Crimes Unit. His partner Karl Renfer (there are A LOT of tongue in cheek references to other horror movies and novels)is a vampire. Their job is to keep the peace between humans and supernaturals or supes, as well as prevent the more dangerous supes from acting up. Problems arise when the detectives learn that there is a new drug on the streets, one that gets supes addicted to it and willing to commit all sorts of crimes to get the drug Slide. Experts previously thought that with one or two exceptions, supes were immune to addiction.  

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Robert Smith and Morehouse

When you do something good for people you should be praised for your actions. You may have heard that Black American billionaire Robert Smith attended the 2019 Morehouse commencement where he promised to pay off the entire student loan debt of the graduating class, a gift that will amount to the not insignificant sum of about $40 million. 

Billionaire Robert F. Smith, who received an honorary doctorate at Morehouse College’s Sunday morning graduation exercises, had already announced a $1.5 million gift to the schoolBut during his remarks in front of the nearly 400 graduating seniors, the technology investor and philanthropist surprised nearly everyone by announcing that his family was providing a grant to eliminate the student debt of the entire Class of 2019. 

This is my class,” he said, “and I know my class will pay this forward.” The announcement came as a surprise to Smith’s staff and to the staff at Morehouse, and elicited the biggest cheers of the morning.

About 400 new graduates, predominantly Black men, will be able to start their professional life without any student debt. An adult's twenties and thirties are critical times to establish savings, investments, retirement accounts and capital for business creation. It is also a time to save money for marriage and child care costs. There is a huge wealth gap between Black and White Americans. There is a student loan gap between Black and White Americans. Black Americans owe more in student loans and earn less after graduation, in large part because of discrimination. So when Smith stepped up to do his part to help Black people who were in a tight spot, you might reasonably think that he would be universally lauded.

And you would be wrong.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Television Reviews: Yellowstone Season One

Yellowstone Season 1
created and written by Taylor Sheridan
I'm not sure if I thought this Paramount TV drama was trashy fun or funny trash. Yellowstone was created by the man who wrote and directed Wind River, reviewed here. Sheridan also wrote Sicario, reviewed here, acted in Sons of Anarchy, and wrote the Oscar nominated Hell or High Water. So there is some skill behind this creation, but it's not always consistently super apparent in the first season. There are a lot of ups and downs with the narrative. I think as is common with a lot of shows these days the creator/writer wants you to identify with everyone and no one.

There is some confusion in what the show is trying to say at times, something I think comes directly from the top. The creator has said that he doesn't really believe in the concept of white privilege and finds it very offsetting to those whites, who like him, grew up without what they saw as any privilege. 

On the other hand Sheridan's work seems to be at least partially influenced by the work of his brother, John Gibler, a journalist who has passionately detailed drug war atrocities in Mexico, environmental racism in California and Texas and other human rights issues. Sheridan has also written of how certain restaurants or bars out west refused to serve Native Americans, white police would wait outside reservations specifically to profile Native Americans and how gas stations would refuse to serve him once they discovered he was friendly with or working with Native Americans. So whether he likes all the language used by the modern "woke" audiences or not, Sheridan is certainly aware of racial disparities. The question is what to do about it. 

What to do about it is only one of the various questions addressed in Yellowstone's first season, and perhaps not even the most important one. The best description of Yellowstone might be "Dallas" meets "The Godfather" with a VERY healthy slice of "Sons of Anarchy", "West Side Story" and "The Wild Bunch". 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Movie Reviews: The Mule

The Mule
directed by Clint Eastwood
Although the plot seems improbable this movie was based on the real life exploits of an elderly man who became one of the Sinaloa Cartel's most productive drug mules. Earl Stone (Clint Eastwood) is a dashing award winning Illinois horticulturist and Korean War vet who has spent long amounts of time away from his family because of work. Earl can't seem to ever put family first. He can't even show up on time to the big events like weddings or funerals. As you might imagine Earl is divorced from his wife Mary (Dianne Wiest) and estranged from his daughter Iris (Allison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood's real life daughter). 

Iris dislikes her father so much, not least because he didn't show up to give her away at her wedding, that she won't even talk to him. In fact Iris often refuses to be in the same room as Earl, given a choice. The only family member that still seems to like Earl is his granddaughter Ginny (Taissa Farmiga).  Her mother and grandmother snark that's only because Ginny doesn't know Earl that well. Showing up at Ginny's bridal brunch, Earl ignores the hateful looks from his ex and his daughter and tries to have a good time. He can't really have a good time though because his horticulture business is kaput. 

He doesn't have the capital or resources to compete with internet delivery of flowers. Earl doesn't even have the cash to replace his ancient broke down truck. Earl complains briefly about his financial situation and boasts about his long record of spotless driving to a man who is friendly with one of the bridesmaids. This man gives Earl a card with a number to call.

Range Rover Evoque Commercial: Stolen Music???

I am not a musician or an entertainment lawyer so I can't say with absolute authority that the song "I found a place in my heart" from the new Range Rover Evoque commercial was stolen from the song "Every Beat of My Heart" as originally written by Greek-American musician and honorary Black man Johnny Otis and later covered by James Brown and most memorably, in my opinion, by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

I can't say with 100% certitude that someone sat down, listened to someone else's music, stole the melody and rhythm and verbal phrases and tics and altered the lyrics just enough to avoid lawsuits from all but the richest or most protective of estates.

I can say that if there were ever a lawsuit by the Otis estate (or by whoever owns the rights to the song) against the person who claims to have written this song the defendant probably wouldn't want me on the jury. At all. Because all I would be asking the judge is can we convict the thief now. Or to put it another way, I despise plagiarists. But maybe I'm all wet. Listen to both songs below and share your thoughts.



Doctor Sleep Movie Trailer (2019)

I reviewed the Stephen King book Doctor Sleep here. It will be interesting to see how the upcoming film matches or exceeds the book. Given that King has consistently expressed his strong dislike for the movie adaptation of The Shining, to which Doctor Sleep is a sequel, I wonder what King will think of this movie. Will this movie take more from the book versions or the film versions. We'll see.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The Principal is a N*****!

In the classic Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles, a black man is appointed to be sheriff of a Western town. The new sheriff initially doesn't know that the state's corrupt attorney general and governor only appointed him in the hopes of making the townspeople lynch him, drive him off, or simply leave, thus allowing the corrupt public officials to buy up their land cheap and make a financial killing when the new railroad is built. 

The racist townspeople are shocked and unhappy to see that the new man in charge is a black man. Later a townswoman privately tells the sheriff that although she's impressed with the great job he's done please don't tell anyone she said that because after all she certainly doesn't want to be known as a n***** -lover.

I was reminded of that movie when I read about the controversy surrounding new Principal Zeke Ohan of Hancock Middle and High School in Michigan's UP (Upper Peninsula). Mr. Ohan is Black. The town and the UP are overwhelmingly white. Often times some whites don't think anyone is racist unless they're wearing Nazi flag underwear and screaming racial slurs at the top of their voice anytime they see a Black person. And even then there will be quite a few people who say that the person doing that is misunderstood or just having a bad day.

I think racism is more nuanced than that. I have met many whites who have no major problem with Black people, provided they are in a superior work position to the Black person. When a Black person, especially a Black man, makes more money than they do, is in a higher position than they are or has the ability and the drive to tell them what to do and make them do it, a different side of their personality emerges. I think that's what happened at Hancock. 

Hancock — Zeke Ohan wasted little time after becoming a high school principal in the Upper Peninsula in 2017. He carried out a plethora of changes that already are bearing fruit. Enrollment and test scores at Hancock middle and high schools are up. More graduates are going to college. Students and parents like the hard-charging administrator.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book Reviews: The Border

The Border
by Don Winslow
In The Border Winslow concludes the story that he started in The Power of the Dog and The Cartel and which he referenced in The Force and Savages. As with those previous stories there are a number of ultra realistic depictions of extreme depraved violence. 

So if you can't handle those pictures rattling around your head this isn't the book for you. I have seen interviews where the author has  addressed concerns (his own and those of others) that by telling what he sees as a true to life story he's also engaging in violence porn. That could be.

As with certain scenes in George R.R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons, Winslow has created some vivid violent sequences that occasionally caused me to put the book down and reflect on the world's evil. And I have a pretty high tolerance for that sort of stuff.

Nevertheless there is very little that Winslow has imagined in this book that hasn't occurred in real life. In fact he adapts a few real life incidents. There are devils and demons who walk this planet and live long, happy and remunerative, albeit utterly malevolent, lives. It is an open sociological and historical question as to why with a few notable exceptions  American organized crime groups did not routinely liquidate the families of any disobedient employees, clients or victims and avoided murdering police officers, judges, politicians and other high profile "civilians" who got on the local Mob boss's last nerves. 

Organized crime groups in Mexico and Guatemala have no such reservations. Does the difference have something to do with the violence of the pre-Colombian Mayan and Aztec societies? Is it caused by the even more extreme violence of the Spanish conquests? Is it caused by the repeated US interventions? I can't answer those questions.

Though some Latin American countries are more violent than the United States, they might be equal in terms of corruption. Latin American corruption might be more direct and in your face. American corruption could be more difficult to eliminate because much of it is legal. 


Waverly Woodson: D-Day Hero

My maternal grandfather was a WW2 Veteran. Unfortunately by the time I was old enough to be interested in such things I didn't see him that often. He was gone way too soon. It's true that you should cherish every moment you have with loved ones. I can still get stories about him and some of his experiences from other relatives but it's not really the same as getting it direct from the source.
I don't know if my grandfather was ever in combat. I do remember the seemingly HUGE rifle that he brought home. Memory is important. History is important.  And it's because of the importance of memory that Joann Woodson, the 90 year-old widow of WW2 D-Day hero Waverly Woodson, is fighting to ensure that her late husband receives all the praise and commendations that he should have received during his life, including the Medal of Honor.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) – For years, a widow has been fighting for recognition of her late husband's heroism during D-Day. Waverly Woodson Jr. was one of an estimated one million African Americans who served in World War II, including 2,000 who were at Normandy. All served in segregated units and their contributions are often overlooked. Joann Woodson, 90, wants everyone to know the sacrifice her husband made when he stormed Omaha Beach 75 years ago as a medic.

"He said that the men were just dropping, just dropping so fast. Some of them were so wounded, there was nothing that you could do but just give them a few little last rites," Woodson said.



Pay Your Tab Principal Comeau !

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should always pay your bar tab, promptly, in full and without complaints. Because otherwise, things could get ugly. But given many of the other scandals that have emerged from Catholic schools this one seems pretty mild.The only damage done is the self-inflicted harm to the former principal's reputation.

A Louisiana Catholic elementary school principal resigned after being arrested outside a Washington D.C. strip club while on a field trip with students.

Michael Comeau, 47, was charged with being intoxicated and is alleged to have stiffed the club on his tab.

This is the second time Comeau, principal of Holy Family School in Port Allen, Louisiana, has resigned from a school under a cloud.

Comeau was also a part-time police officer in a small Baton Rogue police department. He resigned by text Saturday.

According to reports obtained by local media, police responded to Archibald’s Gentlemen’s Club at 2:20 Friday morning May 31, and found the Catholic elementary school principal intoxicated and blocking a roadway outside the strip club. He allegedly refused to pay his tab. There were reports that Comeau had a service dog with him. Comeau was on a field trip with seventh and eighth graders visiting the nation’s capital.

“The incident occurred when the students on the trip were in their hotel rooms for the evening under the supervision of other chaperones,” said a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge, according to local media.



Boy Notices Stinky Feet on Airplane

The beautiful thing about children is that they have no filter. They have no concept of the idea of lying or pretending not to notice something unpleasant because doing otherwise might hurt someone's feelings.

If you smell bad, look funny or are just someone out of the child's limited range of experience a child is probably going to tell you so. I don't know if this really happened just as it seems or if the father put up the kid to this. Either way it was amusing to me. I don't think people should be taking their shoes off in the airplane, smelly soles or not.

(STORYFUL) - A 4-year-old boy is getting some attention for calling out a woman and her plane etiquette. Darryl Small and his son, Rodney, were on their way home to Houston from Disney World when the boy realized the person sitting behind him put her bare foot up on the side of his chair.


Saturday, June 1, 2019

Movie Reviews: Cold Pursuit

Cold Pursuit
directed by Hans Petter Moland
This is a yet another Liam Neeson revenge movie that was the subject of some buzz not just because of the tall actor's trademarked baritone badassery but because apparently trying both to gin up interest in the movie and point out that he understood both the seductive allure of revenge and its bad moral costs, Neeson decided to share some stories from his real life. 

Apparently at one point a female friend of his (I don't think he indicated if they were special riders or not and it doesn't really matter) was raped by one or more black criminals. Enraged, Neeson said he started hanging around the area in which his friend was attacked, looking at black guys, wondering if a given man was the one and just hoping that some "black (bastard)" gave him a reason to set things off. Per Neeson he didn't do anything and is not the man he used to be. 

Subsequently, Neeson had to go on a little mini media tour explaining that no he wasn't a racist and blah-blah-blah. If I recall correctly the Hollywood premiere was canceled. That little tempest in a teapot may have made some people decide against viewing the movie or decide to look at Neeson a little differently. I didn't see things that way because I didn't see his actions or immediate thoughts as racist and with a few notable exceptions don't care all that much about the personal lives, sins, crimes, opinions or hangups of artists--especially those I will never meet. I do care about the product that they produce.