Saturday, April 4, 2020

Bill Withers Passes Away

Bill Withers passed away. You can read what I thought of his music here.

People who can create music like he did are rare.

Bill Withers, a onetime Navy aircraft mechanic who, after teaching himself to play the guitar, wrote some of the most memorable and often-covered songs of the 1970s, including “Lean on Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Use Me,” died on Monday in Los Angeles. He was 81. His death, at a hospital, was announced by his family. His son, Todd, said Mr. Withers had had heart problems. 

Mr. Withers, who had an evocative, gritty R&B voice that could embody loss or hope, was in his 30s when he released his first album, “Just as I Am,” in 1971.

It included “Ain’t No Sunshine,” a mournful lament (“Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone/And she’s always gone too long/Anytime she goes away”) that cracked the Billboard Top 10. Other hits followed, perhaps none better known than “Lean on Me,” an anthem of friendship and support that hit No. 1 in 1972 and has been repurposed countless times by a variety of artists.

Book Reviews: Dave vs. The Monsters: Emergence

Dave vs The Monsters: Emergence
by John Birmingham
The most important thing in the first book of a series is that the reader is intrigued enough to read the second book in the series. I suppose that's another way of saying that the book must be good. Those aren't always the same thing though. 

There are some series where although the first book is good, the reader may not like where the book ends or may have decided that as far as s/he is concerned, the story is complete. So the reader sees no need to read further installments in the story.

I think that this story by John Birmingham hit the spot. It was quality on its own, but also left me interested in reading the next story. This is not a book that has a lot of deep plotting or fascinating characterization. 

Both of those things are actually pretty scarce, at least in this book. What makes this book move is the action. This book is ALL about the action. The book is just under 500 pages but I think I completed it in less than a week or so. 
Dave Hooper is an engineering supervisor/safety manager on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He's smarter than he looks but is at heart a bit of an irresponsible jerk. He tries to be better but Dave usually does most of his thinking with his genitals.

A roughneck in every way, Dave is a man who, once he has a bonus of six months pay, will spend it all on expensive prostitutes flown in from Nevada instead of his back child support. 
Dave regrets such decisions on the rare occasions he talks to his ex-wife or two sons but Dave simply lacks impulse control. Wine, women and song define Dave's existence. The only things Dave takes semi-seriously are his job and responsibility to the men who report to him.

William Rufus: The Scarlet King

In the book series A Song of Ice and Fire and its televised adaptation HBO's "Game of Thrones" the King of the Seven Kingdoms, Robert Baratheon, has a fatal hunting accident which is rather ineptly arranged by his disloyal and adulterous wife Cersei Lannister.

Cersei grew tired of the marriage and wanted to pass on formal rule to her son (though not her husband's). Cersei also needed to get rid of the hopelessly honest Prime Minister who made the mistake of informing her he intended to tell the King of her adultery and incest.

Although in the long run things didn't work out for Cersei and her family, in the short run they do. No one is ever punished for the hunting accident; Cersei and company jack the throne and keep it for most of the story.

In real life, hunting accidents during the Middle Ages were one of the normal explanations used to cover up rather obvious assassinations. William Rufus, King of England from 1087-1100, was the third son of William the Conqueror. So he wasn't expected to inherit very much. But life has a funny way of unfolding. Richard, one of William's elder brothers, died in what was evidently a legitimate hunting accident. 

Shortly after that William Rufus and his younger brother Henry decided it would be amusing to play a joke on their oldest brother Robert, who was William the Conqueror's presumptive heir. The two young men emptied a full chamberpot on Robert's head. 
Unsurprisingly, Robert didn't appreciate this "joke". Robert was incensed when his father, King William, refused to punish his younger brothers. Robert showed his displeasure by starting a rebellion.

Coronavirus Becomes Real

I remember that when I first heard about the coronavirus, I was vaguely distressed and irritated that yet another disease had arisen in China and started to spread. But I believed and hoped it wouldn't impact my life all that much. 

Now, just a few months later I've seen my governor place the entire state under a lockdown that seems unlikely to end anytime soon. 

The governor also closed the schools. Coronavirus has grown to at least a million cases worldwide and over 50,000 deaths.

Two relatives have tested positive for Coronavirus. Who knows what the future holds for either of them. I have good friends and very close relatives who are in the American pandemic epicenter, NYC. How much longer will they stay safe? My home town, Detroit, is looking as if it will catch up to NYC soon. Bus drivers are getting infected and dying. Friends of friends are getting sick and dying.

People who attended my high school have died from coronavirus. I am reduced to hoping that either I already had coronavirus  (I had an extended nasty bout of what I thought was flu in February) or that as with some bugs that the spring's increasing heat and humidity will slow transmission. When I go out now I am always wearing gloves and/or a mask.

Home Invasions: In For A Penny In For A Pound

The thing about most criminals is that they are cowards. They pick on people whom, in the criminal's estimation, can't or won't fight back. 

They attack people when they think they outnumber their would be prey. 

But of course law abiding people, who don't make their living kicking in people's doors and then raping, robbing or killing other people, get tired of being potential or actual victims. Some of them take steps to ensure that criminals will learn, the hard way, if need be, that criminal behavior is not a cost free activity.

Although I don't think this incident was funny per se, I did find it grimly appropriate that the Big Bad Wolf turned Little Bo Peep once confronted with equivalent or superior firepower. 

As I've mentioned before I do not doubt that some of this criminal behavior is driven by fatherless homes, self-hate and lack of respect for others caused by internalized racism, short time perspectives, greed, over investment in material acquisition, lack of economic opportunity and so on. I think that a civilized society must do its best to address those issues before they erupt in violence.

Animals React To Mirrors

I just was looking for something humorous and found this.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Movie Reviews: International Falls

International Falls
directed by Amber McGinnis
This is an indie film directed by first time director Amber McGinnis. It's based on a two person play but McGinnis transcends those limitations. It doesn't feel like a play at all even though the two leads dominate the screen time. 

It's by far the best movie I've seen in 2020. International Falls carries a message and tells a story with which people are probably very familiar but the director puts her own twist and interpretation on the tale. She mixes drama and absurdity in a way that is realistic and often poignant. 

In the hands of a lesser director or more intrusive studio this film would have found the time to grind various ideological axes or go for grossout humor. McGinnis, thankfully didn't make any concessions to people looking for those things. This is a unsparing and sometime comedic look at how people deal with life when things aren't going their way. The casting of the two leads is spot on. I simply can't imagine any other actors/actresses providing this performance. They are really that good.

The film is occasionally silly but it's not a comedy. This is not a farce, full of slapstick and physical humor. This is not a movie for kids, not because of the adult themes, of which there are plenty, but because this film will appeal most to people who have lived long enough to have regrets and recognize mistakes but aren't too old to change their future.

Illinois Coronaracist Police

It's depressing and ironic to me but perhaps heartening and morale boosting to others to know that at least some police won't let the COVID-19 pandemic interfere with what appears to be their prime directive of constantly harassing Black people, particularly men and boys. 

This is reality. Like the song says, it's just the way it is. Some things will never change. At grocery stores I see a good 40-50% of customers wearing some form of face covering. This is because they don't want to get sick or get others sick. People want to live. Even before this pandemic hit its stride I would often see some shoppers wearing surgical masks. I don't recall police ever singling them out for negative attention. But usually they weren't young Black men. 

A recent YouTube video showed two young African-American men with surgical masks being followed by a Wood River Police officer as they left Walmart in Wood River. Viewers were at odds whether the men were racially profiled or causing a disturbance — as well as if anyone should be asked to remove a surgical mask in light of COVID-19 concerns.

The video, which first aired March 18, has more than 30,000 views. Jermon Best, of Belleville, who made the video, said he shared it because he wanted to show the world racial profiling is happening and the situation could have been much worse.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Movie Reviews: Thinner

directed by Tom Holland
Although many of the films adapted from Stephen King's works have not worked out that well, until recently anyway, this film, adapted from the short story of the same name, was always something I liked.

Although it has a definite eighties movie vibe, it, like the similar film Graveyard Shift, was a nineties movie. It is a definite skill set to make a film look cheap but in a cool Saturday afternoon sort of way. 

This film stuck closely to the source material. And I think it was the better for that. As several movies inspired from King's work did, this one featured the author himself in a small cameo. I don't know why but I always forget that King is a tall man, standing about about 6'4". 

Although this is a body horror film, with many characters undergoing some unpleasant and dangerous physical changes, it's more than that. It's really a film about the wages of sin being visited upon the rich, powerful and prejudiced for their crimes against the poor and ethnic outcasts. Although the underdogs here are not really nice people they don't bother anyone who doesn't bother them first. The same can't be said of the protagonists.

Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) is a genial, morbidly obese upper class lawyer. If there's anything remotely starchy, fatty, or sweet within 20 yards of Billy, he's going to eat it. In part because of his non-threatening demeanor and boyish name, (not William or Bill but Billy) most people who know Billy like him. 

Fox News and the Coronavirus

Fox News's first political instinct regarding the Coronavirus was to dismiss it all as overreaction and a Democratic hoax to take down the President. I work with a few devout Fox News viewers. It was both amusing and irritating to hear them repeat nonsense each morning that they had heard on Fox the night before.

But there's only so many times that even Fox News can tell the most credulous viewer that the brown smelly goop on her plate is miso paste and not instead exactly what it smells like, dog excrement. Perhaps concerned that even their most devoted cult members might realize that there was something to this coronavirus stuff (and being older could be more vulnerable), Fox News turned on a dime from laughing at the coronavirus to admitting that this could be a big problem.

America and the Covid-19 Coronavirus

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes not. People act like they can't simultaneously hold two true ideas in their head. 

This latest coronavirus apparently began in China thanks in part to the Chinese habit of housing, slaughtering and consuming exotic wildlife in unsafe and unhygienic conditions. 

The virus spread quickly across the world because that's what happens on a planet with mass travel and far flung supply chains. What impacts one group soon impacts everyone.

It's not "racist" to say that the virus began in China. It is racist to make the logical jump that therefore Chinese are "less than". 

China needs to (literally) clean up its act. Some Chinese state officials, citizens, or US citizens with that ancestry really don't like hearing that. I understand. But everybody plays the fool sometimes. 

If West Africans and Central Africans could be questioned about the links between Ebola and consumption of bush meat, if New Guineans could be criticized over the links between Kuru and cannibalism, if Europeans and European-Americans can be mocked over the links between dog kissing/licks and Sepsis, then certainly Chinese can take some much deserved critique over some of their food consumption and food safety habits. If no one got upset about diseases such as West Nile, Zika, or Ebola being named after the regions where they started why should anyone be boo-hooing over Covid-19 being associated with China?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Sanders and Biden Debate

"Last of all Bernie stood alone. Then he cast aside his shield, and wielded an axe two-handed; and it is sung that the axe smoked in the black blood of the troll-guard of Clinton until it withered, and each time that he slew Bernie yelled: ‘Medicare for All!! Power to the People!!!’ Seventy times he uttered that cry, but they took him at last alive, by the command of Biden, for the Democrats grappled him with their hands, which clung to him still though he hewed off their arms; and ever their numbers were renewed, until at last he fell buried beneath them. Then Clinton bound him and dragged him to MSNBC headquarters with mockery."
-Apologies to J.R.R. Tolkien

Senator Bernie Sanders was defeated convincingly in most states that had contests, including my own, this past Tuesday, March 10. Although Sanders is down, he's not yet mathematically eliminated. Sanders still has a most unlikely path to victory. Sanders must win the remaining races with about 60% of the vote. Sanders is making some reconciliation sounds to Biden voters while still planning to debate Biden Sunday night. 

Compared to four or certainly eight years ago, Biden is having more challenges getting the right words to come out of his mouth. He's forgetting more. Is it dementia? It may happen to us all if we live long enough. Sanders is apparently hoping that when he gets Biden one-on-one he can press Biden on issues, evoke some gaffes, and put a verbal beatdown on Biden so that Biden "ain't pretty no more". Evidently aware of some of Biden's issues and unwilling to provide any more ammunition to the Trump campaign, some of Biden's supporters have called upon the Democratic Party to cancel the remaining debates and/or for Sanders to concede.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Movie Reviews: Only

directed by Takashi Doscher
This film works the same side of the street as works like Stephen and Owen King's book Sleeping Beauties, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, or the films Children of Men, and A Quiet Place. It is more focused on the individuals and not the larger story. 

For an apocalyptic movie this film has almost no special effects. The story is woven tightly around two young lovers and how they deal with doomsday. Unfortunately there are some people of both genders who express disdain and vitriol for the other gender and claim to look forward to a world where the other gender is either suppressed or completely eliminated. 

I think those are anti-life opinions held by people who often have some unexamined familial strife and sexual/psychological issues. A dystopia where one gender disappears can show us what we truly value in each other and ourselves. 

In the modern day, Will (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Eva (Freda Pinto) are a loving couple who live together. A comet passes over the world. For a period of time (the film jumps in time back and forth between the duo's present predicament and 400 days prior when the comet first appeared), the comet produces ash that falls across the planet. Although it looks like snow, it's not snow. 

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Movie Reviews: 21 Bridges

21 Bridges
directed by Brian Kirk
This is a action/thriller that makes a few nods towards neo-noir. Ultimately it's a little hampered by not having a true femme fatale.

But the lead actor's slow burn intensity and leonine authority carries the movie over most of the rough spots. This wasn't a must see by any stretch of the imagination. It was quick moving and didn't overstay its ninety-nine minute run time. 

Andre Davis (Chadwick Boseman) is a NYPD homicide detective who is a little too good at his job. He has fired his gun quite a bit in the line of duty, killing about seven or eight armed criminals, some of whom had killed police officers. 

The NYPD Internal Affairs unit and psychiatrists think that Davis is bad for community relations and is over-compensating for the murder of his father, a uniformed NYPD officer who was gunned down when Davis had just entered his teen years. 

Davis doesn't think he's seeking revenge. He thinks he's doing things by the book. If someone commits murder, Davis is going to find them and bring them in for the court system to handle. 

If they attempt to commit violence against him, other cops, or civilians, Davis will put them in the ground, go home and sleep like a baby. No exceptions. Davis is a driven and moralistic man, something that makes other cops both admire him and be wary around him.

Detroit Elementary School Wins Chess State Championship

A downtown Detroit elementary school has recently won a chess state championship. 

Again. I think that this must be surprising to those who believe that all Detroit public schools are blasted wastelands where intellectual capacity is non-existent.

The chess team at Walter Chrysler Elementary School in Detroit took home the state championship.

A large banner signalling the championship is hanging in front of the elementary school for the second year in a row. The chess team won the state championship for the K-5 division.

“I can’t even explain how happy I am for them,” chess coach Dereke Wilder said. “It’s phenomenal to see what these kids have accomplished these last two years.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Super Tuesday Is Underway!

Today is Super Tuesday , in which about one-third of the total Democratic delegates will be awarded. After Super Tuesday is completed, about 40% of the total delegates will have been awarded. 

There will be 1300 delegates awarded today. A candidate needs 1991 to win. Specifically in order to stop the seeming ascension of Bernie Sanders, former candidates Klobuchar and Buttigieg dropped out. 

Steyer also dropped out. Klobuchar and Buttigieg endorsed Biden, as did fellow former candidate Beto O'Rourke, though he did so without any attacks on Sanders. 

O'Rourke went out of his way to point out that whoever wound up winning the Democratic nomination would have to get the support of Democrats who didn't vote for him. The best method to do that probably doesn't involve insulting the intelligence, maturity and preferences of other Democratic voters.

Biden stomped Sanders in South Carolina and injected new life into his campaign, to the point where  I was surprised to see that the fivethirtyeight site gives Biden a better chance than Sanders of winning a majority and/or a plurality of votes today.

Overall, the model has “no majority” happening 61 percent of the time, a Biden majority 31 percent of the time and a Sanders majority 8 percent of the time. Anyone else winning a majority would require a minor miracle.

Chris Matthews: Sexual Harassment??

Sexual harassment often involves unwanted sexual comments or touching. There are other definitions and other things involved but those are two of the more obvious and common components. 

At one extreme, say that represented by Harvey Weinstein, most reasonable people, men or women, would agree that there is untoward behavior occurring, which needs to be halted immediately. 

However at the other extreme, absent certain context, there is not a whole lot of difference between comments that could be sexual harassment and acceptable or invited expressions of romantic or sexual interest. It all depends on who is saying something and how it's received. MSNBC host Chris Matthews, 74, was accused by columnist Laura Bassett of bad comments that occurred about four years ago. 

Longtime MSNBC host Chris Matthews was absent from the network's live coverage of the South Carolina primary on Saturday, one day after being accused of sexual harassment by GQ columnist Laura Bassett.

Among other allegations, Bassett in a GQ opinion piece published Friday claimed Matthews told a network makeup artist to "keep putting makeup on her" and asked, "Why haven't I fallen in love with you yet?"

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Book Reviews: Dark Crusade, Darkness Weaves

Dark Crusade and Darkness Weaves
by Karl Edward Wagner
The late Karl Edward Wagner was an author, editor, publisher, poet and graphic novelist who originally trained as a psychiatrist. Wagner wrote fantasy, sci-fi, and horror stories. Wagner may have been best known for his Kane stories. These tales weren't always consistent in which world they were set. Generally it's a world that's not our own but occasionally Kane is shown in modern Earth. 

Kane, the allusion to the Biblical character is deliberate, is one of the first humans to exist. Kane claims that Adam was his father and Eve was his stepmother. Kane rebelled against the insane God who created humanity. Kane murdered his brother when that brother supported the deity.

The enraged God cursed Kane to wander the world, knowing neither age nor disease, until Kane succumbs to the violence he introduced. Kane has his own marks of evil: red hair, left handedness, and most notably disturbing cold blue eyes. Kane radiates violence and insanity to anyone who meets his gaze. Kane CAN be disabled and killed but it's very hard to do as he quickly heals from all but the most damaging wounds.

Kane is NOT a good guy. Kane doesn't experience the world as other humans do. Time and morality are meaningless to Kane. Kane staves off boredom and depression by using magic, technological knowledge, or violence to achieve temporary dominance. Kane is an anti-hero, a villain protagonist. 

Wagner makes him barely sympathetic by (a) creating worse antagonists and (b) having most of Kane's obviously immoral actions take place in the past. People remember evil sorcerers or pirates named Kane when they meet him before convincing themselves that the muscular man they see couldn't possibly be the man from the legends. I was reorganizing a few things in my library and decided to reread these stories, which I must have had since eighth grade or so.

Movie Reviews: Midway (2019)

directed by Roland Emmerich
This isn't a remake of the 1976 film but a new take on the famous and iconic WW2 1942 battle between the United States and Japan. The Battle of Midway was a turning point of WW2 . 

Just six months after Pearl Harbor, the United States badly defeated Japan at the Battle of Midway, giving the Japanese such a thorough drubbing that Japan could never again take the offensive against the United States. 

The US advantage in numbers, material and innovation would turn the tide of war against the Japanese though their defeat would take another three years. In this battle the US lost about 300 men and one aircraft carrier. The Japanese lost about 3,000 men and all four carriers in their fleet. It was a curb stomping, a knockout, a mollywhopping, a whupping, a beatdown.

This movie tries to give the Japanese status as honorable enemies. This was of course how they saw themselves. The reality was different. Much like the US and European nations it attacked and temporarily displaced the Japan of the thirties and forties had a very strong streak of racism, xenophobia and national chauvinism. This was expressed against everyone who wasn't Japanese and especially anyone who surrendered. 

Oakland: Rental Criminal Background Checks Now Illegal!

It is my belief and often state or federal law that it's wrong to mistreat someone for an immutable characteristic. Refusing to hire or rent to someone because of race or religion is wrong. 

Assuming a young woman woman will become pregnant and declining to hire or promote her is wrong. And so on. 

Now unfortunately there are loopholes in and ways around all of those restrictions.  A racist can't legally place a "No N*****s!!!"  clause in her company's hiring policy but no one can force her to mentor Black employees with the same vigor that she does for others. Still, laws that prevent mistreatment for race, religion, ethnicity are good things. It's trickier when we make laws to prevent differential treatment for actual individual past wrong doing. The city of Oakland has banned most background check usage by landlords.

Oakland became the first city in California to ban criminal background checks in most housing applications for private and other rental units under a measure adopted by the City Council on Tuesday. The council unanimously passed a “fair chance housing” ordinance that bars landlords from conducting criminal background checks on prospective tenants. 

The ordinance in Oakland is the first to include rental units outside subsidized affordable and nonprofit housing. The measure, supporters say, could prevent homelessness and bring down the recidivism rate. 
“There is only one place in America that any one of us is guaranteed a roof over our heads and that is in prison,” said John Jones III, campaign director for Alameda County Fair Chance to Housing Coalition. “All of us seek to have safe shelter. That should not be a matter of privilege.”

Applicants who believe they were discriminated against due to their criminal background can file a complaint with the city or a lawsuit. The city can issue penalties of up to $1,000 per violation.
If a private action is filed, a court could award damages

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Democratic Debate: The Knives Come Out For Bernie

I didn't have the time or the energy to watch all of the televised recent South Carolina Democratic debate. My Day Job Boss has made it clear that it would be in my interest to arrive to work earlier. 

But the parts of the debate that I did see fit perfectly in line with The Janitor's prescient predictions. It was pretty eerie actually. 

As you may have heard pundits, statisticians and self-serving politicians say before, Black people are a slight majority of the Democratic electorate in South Carolina.  Black men are 20% of Democratic primary voters while Black women are 35% of Democratic primary voters.

This is thanks to mass incarceration and an almost complete abandonment of the Democrats by some Southern whites who have a rather strong dislike of any political party that includes you know who. Any politician worthy of the name knows who his or her audience is. Here is what The Janitor had to say:

Democratic debate tonight in South Carolina so get ready for 2 hours of shameless pandering like:

Warren: "You know when my brothers joined the military they made friends with a black soldier. True story."

Bernie: "I once marched (all the way in the back of the crowd) with Dr. King..."
Klobuchar: "We gave you Prince. You're welcome."
Buttigieg: 😶
Bloomberg: "So about that stop & frisk, you see what had happened was..."
Biden: "O-hibety hoo-blah-Bama..." 
Steyer: "I bought the rights to reparations, shrimp n grits, Migos, cocoa butter, Red Lobster biscuits, and Beats by Dre."

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Book Reviews: The Mafia Hitman's Daughter

The Mafia Hitman's Daughter
by Linda Scarpa with Linda Rosencrance
Greg Scarpa was also known as The Grim Reaper, which probably tells you everything you need to know about his primary skill sets and value to the Profaci (later Colombo) Crime Family of which he was a member. Scarpa boasted that he had stopped counting the number of people whom he had murdered after around fifty or so. 

Some accounts indicate that the number of murders he either committed personally (Scarpa was a hands on leader) or ordered could be somewhere between eighty and one hundred. The FBI employed Scarpa to intimidate and/or torture KKK members for information, something he boasted about to his family.

Somewhat surprisingly Scarpa had an unconventional home life. He married one woman and had four children with her. Sometime during that marriage Scarpa fell in love with another woman and had two children with her. However he didn't marry her. That woman, Linda Schiro, didn't want the stigma of having children outside of wedlock so she married (and cuckolded) another man before divorcing him to move in with Scarpa. 

Cuckoldry became something of a recurring theme as Schiro later, with Scarpa's apparent enthusiastic support, took up with a delivery boy who would later become part of Scarpa's criminal network. Another book I read that focused on this family claimed that Scarpa would occasionally interrogate the younger man to ensure that he was properly satisfying Schiro. Hmm. 

Those must have been some rather uncomfortable conversations.

I guess the Mafia was not immune to changing sexual mores. I also guess that people who wanted to keep breathing did not needle Scarpa about Schiro's behavior. You don't get a nickname like The Grim Reaper by letting people insult your common-law wife.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Warren Destroys Bloomberg At Democratic Debate

At the recent Democratic debate in Las Vegas, Senator Elizabeth Warren showed what happens when one person (that would be her) comes to the debate prepared and fiercely determined to show everyone she's still in it to win it, while another person (that would be former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg) saunters into a debate evidently not having bothered to do minimal preparation. 

Bloomberg apparently thought that his wealth and support from certain anti-Sanders media pundits meant that he was above the fray. It was seemingly inevitable that Bloomberg was going to win the Democratic nomination, despite having been a Republican just five minutes ago. In Bloomberg's mind, this debate was just a dog and pony show that for some reason he had to join. Senator Warren didn't see things that way.

Professor Warren (she was my brother's professor at Harvard) not only laid hands on the supercilious Bloomberg, she broke his jaw, kicked in his ribs, hit him upside the head with a brick, kneecapped him with an icepick, and shot him twice with a .45. And THEN she really went to work on him. Before she was finished I was expecting to get a late night call from Warren telling me to meet her at my northern Michigan property with shovels, duct tape and a tarp.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Movie Reviews: Angel Has Fallen

Angel Has Fallen
directed by Ric Roman Waugh
This is the third installment in an action adventure series that centers around men who try to kidnap or kill the President and the Secret Service agents who try to stop them. The movie is not boring. It is comfortable in the same way that wrapping yourself in a favorite old blanket is comfortable. As long as you don't care about the frayed ends, questionable spots, and rips where the stuffing is falling out, no one else will either. 

The quality of the acting and the cinematography are all what you would expect from work that involves A-list actors. The writing? Well like I said it is a comfortable sequel. The bad guys are way too obvious. People who don't even like or watch movies like this would be able to tell you who the bad guys are and what they want in the first ten minutes of the film.
That's not really a good thing.

Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is a Secret Service agent who is getting up there in age. He suffers from migraines, concussions and other pains from his Secret Service work and military experiences. It's about time for Banning to move out of the direct field work and take a promotion to head of the Secret Service. It's Washington D.C.'s worst kept secret that Banning will get the spot after the current Secret Service Director David Gentry (Lance Reddick) retires. 

But Banning doesn't want to do that, because among other reasons, he still enjoys the frontline experience of being on President Trumbull's (Morgan Freeman) security detail. He doesn't want to sit behind a desk and do fake battle with corpulent staffers, Senators, and lobbyists for his budget each year.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Trump Acquitted in Senate: Now What?

WASHINGTON — After five months of hearings, investigations and revelations about President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, a divided United States Senate acquitted him on Wednesday of charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress to aid his own re-election, bringing an acrimonious impeachment trial to its expected end.

In a pair of votes whose outcome was never in doubt, the Senate fell well short of the two-thirds margin that would have been needed to remove the 45th president. 

The verdicts came down — after three weeks of debate — almost entirely along party lines, with every Democrat voting “guilty” on both charges and Republicans uniformly voting “not guilty” on the obstruction of Congress charge.

Only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, broke with his party to judge Mr. Trump guilty of abuse of power. Democratic leaders immediately insisted the result was illegitimate, the product of a self-interested cover-up by Republicans, and promised to continue their investigations of Mr. Trump.

“The verdict of this kangaroo court will be meaningless,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said moments before the vote. “By refusing the facts — by refusing witnesses and documents — the Republican majority has placed a giant asterisk, the asterisk of a sham trial, next to the acquittal of President Trump, written in permanent ink.”

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Movie Reviews: Countdown

directed by Justin Dec
This is a predictable PG-13 horror movie where attractive young people do stupid things to keep the story moving. There are jump scares every other frame. But at least the Black guy doesn't die first. So there's that. These movies all have a certain rhythm. 

Someone does something questionable, like buying an ancient lamp from an elderly Roma lady, desecrating a grave, or partying at a wicked family's deserted ancestral home. Bad things happen. Someone with more brain cells than your average door knob realizes that something isn't right. This person, usually with some skeptical friends or supportive strangers, tracks down a paranormal expert.

Sometimes the expert is an incompetent clown. Sometimes the expert has lost faith and must be cajoled back into action. Sometimes the expert is retired.Sometimes the expert is eager to assist and kick a$$ for the Lord!. Sometimes malevolent forces eliminate the expert before he can share critical knowledge. Sometimes the expert is secretly working for malevolent forces. 

The friends and/or last survivor make their final stand against the forces of evil.  Maybe there's a disbelieving cop or other authority figure who once arrested or otherwise hindered the heroes/heroines. At the end that person usually helps. He (or she) validates the group's story, gets busy with the attractive lead character, or sacrifices himself for the attractive lead character. Countdown didn't break any new ground. I thought the 90 minute run time was too long. The movie touches some interesting points about fate and predestination. 

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Benin Bronzes and Colonial Theft

In the movie Black Panther, Killmonger talks to a British museum curator, testing her expertise on various African artwork and artifacts. When Killmonger finds the item he's looking for and not so coincidentally tells the curator that she is incorrect about its origin, he informs her that she need not worry about such things any more as he is going to take it off her hands. 

She haughtily tells him that the item is not for sale. Killmonger asks her how does she think her ancestors obtained these items in the first place? Did they pay a fair price for them? Or did they, secure in their greater capacity for violence and total contempt for anyone not white, just take them. It's a powerful scene.

People, unfortunately too often especially people who have benefited from colonizers and imperialists, often forget that much of the world's greatest art is in European museums not because of honest trade but because of violence and theft. I was reminded of this because of a recent NY Times article that detailed the halting and slow efforts of two people to convince European museums (in this case a British one) to do the right thing and return stolen art (in this case masks from Benin in what is now Nigeria).

In 2004, Steve Dunstone and Timothy Awoyemi stood on a boat on the bank of the River Niger. In the back of the crowd, Mr. Awoyemi, who was born in Britain and grew up in Nigeria, noticed two men holding what looked like political placards. They didn’t come forward, he said. But just as the boat was about to push off, one of the men suddenly clambered down toward it. “He had a mustache, scruffy stubble, about 38 to 40, thin build,” Mr. Dunstone recalled recently. “He was wearing a white vest,” he added. The man reached out his arm across the water and handed Mr. Dunstone a note, then hurried off with barely a word. 

That night, Mr. Dunstone pulled the note from his pocket. Written on it were just six words: “Please help return the Benin Bronzes.” At the time, he didn’t know what it meant. But that note was the beginning of a 10-year mission that would take Mr. Dunstone and Mr. Awoyemi from Nigeria to Britain and back again, involve the grandson of one of the British soldiers responsible for the looting, and see the pair embroiled in a debate about how to right the wrongs of the colonial past that has drawn in politicians, diplomats, historians and even a royal family. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Movie Reviews: Joker

directed by Todd Phillips
The mixed and somewhat negative critical reaction to Joker was in some aspects more interesting to me than the movie itself. Some people dismissed this movie because they, in my opinion wrongly, assumed that the film was making a politically sympathetic depiction of the type of predominantly though hardly exclusively Caucasian men who describe themselves as incels (involuntary celibates), stalk women, shoot up schools, or vote for Trump. 

That interpretation was so wrong that words almost fail me in rejecting that notion. I am old enough to remember when some "mainstream" commentators argued with a straight face that depictions of racialized violence in Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing would cause Black people to go crazy and start burning, looting and rioting just because of what they saw on the screen. Some people made similar statements about Joker

Although it's a mug's game to try to determine what people's purposes are when they make such statements, I think it's fair to say that for some critics, Joker depicts a certain type of person whom they despise not just on ideological grounds but also on existential ones. The joke, if you will, is on them. The title character is not ideological at all. He's mentally disturbed. And that is what drives all of his actions. He's not a mens' rights activist or a political ideologue who's sending pipe bombs to left wing activists. The character is beyond politics. 

The director, though he's definitely not beyond politics, seems to be bemoaning a failure of the social safety net in helping to create a man like the titular character. It's something that is more in line with a left wing approach than a right-wing one. 

Michigan Man Returns $43,000 He Found

Imagine that you bought a couch or similar item from a thrift store. After you bring it home you find some cash inside of it. And not just a few dimes and pennies or some crusty dollar bills, but about $43,000 in crisp 100s and 20s.

Now in movies and books, the sorts of people who casually leave that kind of money lying around their home also tend to be people who will hire other highly motivated single minded individuals to retrieve that money. 

Such folks often ask questions in a direct way that may involve blowtorches, meat hooks, cattle prods, and butterfly knives. So I wouldn't want to deal with anyone like that. And what's right is right. If someone really did misplace that money it's probably not right for me to keep it, is it? Or is it?

I like to think that I would try to discover the rightful owner of the cash. Doing the right thing is important. On the other hand finders keepers, losers weepers. Finding an unexpected $43K is like a wolf finding a bird nest on the ground. You don't ask how it got there, you just eat!

But a Michigan man named Howard Kirby who found this money said he had to do the right thing and return it, even though like many people, he had his own pressing needs. People have come together to praise Kirby and help him with some of his issues.

OVID, MI — When Howard Kirby returned more than $43,000 in cash he found in a couch cushion he bought at a thrift store, the mid-Michigan man said he didn’t want attention or expect a reward.
But doing the right thing has touched others who are now helping Kirby with his needs.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Book Reviews: Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures

Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures
by Walter Moers
There are some programming languages in which before you even begin the program you are required to list and define every variable that the program uses. Every last one. No exceptions. 

If you don't do this the program won't compile and can't be used. This can be slow and monotonous work but it also is a good way to idiot proof some programming work. 

In other programming languages the coder doesn't have to do anything as old fashioned as all that tedious listing and defining. He just names the variable and defines it on the fly. In short he makes it up as he goes along. 

The book Rumo & His Miraculous Adventures would definitely fall into the 2nd category were it a programming language. It is a gloriously chaotic novel. It's the second book I've read by Walter Moers.

It's only near the novel's midpoint that the reader may realize (well smarter readers than I likely saw this much earlier) that for all of the insane breakneck pacing, interminable asides, farcical and fanciful creatures that pop up for seemingly no reason, and unrelenting silliness, that the author has pretty methodically followed the steps from the classic Hero's Journey, as popularized by Joseph Campbell. 

So I don't want to discuss the plot too much. In a world like our own in times long gone, there is a continent named Zamonia, which contains a bewildering number of non-human creatures, along with a few humans.  

A nameless orphaned puppy like creature who is the beloved pet of a kind dwarf family discovers that he can walk on two legs and talk. Unfortunately, soon afterwards he and his entire family are kidnapped by a nomadic group of mentally slow one eyed giants known as Demonocles, whose greatest pleasure involves eating other creatures alive, preferably kicking and screaming. 

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Trump Wants War With Iran

Recently President Trump ordered the assassination of Iranian general Qassim Suleimani. Trump did so without informing Congress, asking permission of Congress or certainly not doing anything as old fashioned as asking for a declaration of war on Iran. 

Shortly afterwards Iran responded with missile launches on American bases in Iraq. It appears that Iran may well have provided advanced warning of their response because from what we know now there were no American casualties inflicted.

I don't have much to say about all of this because (1) I've said most of it before ; (2) I'm disgusted at the ugly Pavlovian response to bloodshed by some people, generally conservatives, including one former Facebook friend who joked that Suleimani's funeral would be a good target of opportunity; and (3) this is a very busy time of year for me at the Day Job. 

As I wrote when President Obama got trigger happy with drones, Obama was not going to be the last President!!! To paraphrase a certain moralistic fictional character from a popular book series and HBO show, killing becomes too easy when someone can do it from afar or order other people to do it. War is such serious business that (1) it should not be undertaken unless there is no other choice and (2) Congress gets to declare war and commit the country to bloodshed, not the President. 

Movie Reviews: Rambo: Last Blood

Rambo: Last Blood
directed by Adrian Grunberg
Some VERY IMPORTANT SERIOUS critics get upset when films that they think ought to be watched and enjoyed by everyone are only or primarily enjoyed by a particular demographic. They rant and rave about this. They are less interested in film's entertainment value than in film's didactic purpose.

I doubt that any of us are always immune to such sentiments. But, I don't think it's ultimately that big of a deal. Although we all have more in common than not, regardless of our race, sexuality, gender, age, nationality, etc. it's also true that those listed characteristics all influence our real life experiences and our fantasies.

And that's ok. I'm not in the target audience for Victorian/Edwardian period comedies or dramas about whether some woman should marry John Puff-n-Stuff, the short, drab but responsible barrister or instead run away with the tall, dashing and reckless cad Harry Darkeyes Handsome, who allegedly has women and children in every port. Some princess film that has the titular character beating and berating the audience (and all male characters) upside the head with how strong and independent and special she is, probably won't be my preference.

Just as some films are aimed at the female audience, other films are directed at the male audience. Rambo: Last Blood is one such film. Doubtless there were some women who enjoyed this movie but I would imagine that most people who watched this film had XY chromosomes. The problem is not that a particular film is aimed at men or women. The problem or rather question is whether the film is good or not. And this wasn't really a good movie. The issue isn't that it's gruesomely violent or that it depicts Mexico as a vile depraved place where everyone is out to sell young women into the sex trade.