Monday, April 12, 2021

Police Continue to Attack Black Men: Antone Austin and Caron Nazario

I could change only the names and dates in the two stories in this post and the events would be identical to other incidents of police assault on Black men in America during the past four centuries. 
Police see a Black man and attack the Black man, even if the Black man was not committing any crime or civil violation. Police use or threaten deadly force when neither the use of force or the threatened escalation was legal or necessary. 
Police dismiss objections by saying the Black man deserved it for not immediately falling to his knees and begging massa not to whip him. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. 
These incidents can occur any time, any place. When police receive a call about a man violating a restraining order they should obtain information on who the man is, his name and description, his clothing and location. But apparently LAPD officers don't bother with those details. They select a Black man in the general vicinity and attack. Though the alleged violator of the restraining order was White, it was the Black man who was choked and beaten. 
Music producer Antone Austin says his life was turned upside down about two years ago when police officers arrested him and his girlfriend outside his California home in what a federal lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles claims was a case of racial profiling, excessive force and unlawful arrest.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Michigan Home Inspector Assaults Elmo

Although it's tough to beat Florida as a source for weird and wacky stories , it seems like my home state is making a pretty good case for having FAR more than its share of nutjobs.  

Although former New Yorker writer and CNN analyst Jefferey Toobin made news for getting in touch with himself during a Zoom call, at least he had the weak sauce argument that he was in his own home and supposedly thought that the call had completed and the camera/audio was off. Supposedly. But Michigan home inspector Kevin Wayne VanLuven didn't even have that fig leaf of an excuse. No, VanLuven was doing a home inspection and apparently found the prospect of a little me time with an Elmo doll to be too good to pass up. Unfortunately for this puppet molester, he didn't realize that his tickle me Elmo caper was caught on camera. 

A 59-year-old home inspector caught on camera during a home inspection allegedly pleasuring himself with an Elmo doll was charged in district court Wednesday on two misdemeanor counts. VanLuven was arrested Wednesday without incident by members of the Sheriff’s Office Fugitive Apprehension Team. His arrest stems from a March 12 incident at the home of an Oxford Township couple who were having their home inspected by VanLuven prior to its sale at the request of the prospective buyers.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Black F-22 Pilot And Racial Discrimination

I think that many Black men in America could tell some tales about discrimination that falls short of explicit racial hostility in the form of "I hate n*****s and think we should kill them all!" . That thing is not uncommon but discrimination that appears in the form of discomfort, different standards and expectations, and simple failure to connect on a human level is more frequent. This lowkey animus is dangerous to both health and career goals.
Obviously high performance is important to everyone. But your soft skills are almost as important as performance. If, because of your race, people don't like you and never really trust you, it's more difficult to rise in your chosen field. The story that Air Force Major Daniel Walker told resonated with me. I have heard the same sort of stories in different contexts for decades. 
Walker is leaving the Air Force. We each must choose our own path. I bet that Walker will find the same sorts of challenges in his next career. Being Black, your whole life is an "uphill battle against racism." There's no escaping that.
Walker, a Dallas, Texas native, comes from a legacy of stealth fighter pilots. He grew up hearing stories about his great-uncle Norman Scales, a Tuskegee airman who earned a Distinguished Flying Cross for his service to the country during World War II. Walker followed in his great-uncle’s footsteps, and attended the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado before continuing on with pilot training. But once in the ranks, Walker quickly learned how he was perceived by his white counterparts. “You’re big, you’re Black, with a deep voice. You’re intimidating,” he told Martin.

Dutch Street Performer

Music is life.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Movie Reviews: Decoy

Decoy
directed by Jack Bernhard
This is an older and lower budget film noir that nonetheless stands tall as one of the most unabashedly hardcore noirs, with a femme fatale who runs rings around all of the men she encounters. This lady is cold and nasty but also extremely attractive. 
Her beauty allows her to get away with things because nobody believes until it's too late that she will turn on him. You might say that this film is a homage to the power of femininity gone wrong or conversely, an examination of how stupid men can be when women are concerned. One minor character finds the word 'dichotomy' in the dictionary and is fascinated by its sound and meaning. He mispronounces it and repeats it over and over again. He's talking about Jean Gillie's character though he doesn't realize it. The audience certainly will though. There is a serious dichotomy between Gillie's character's looks and words on the one hand and her character's actions on the other. 
I've written before that people do themselves a disservice if they dismiss all older movies as having poorly written female characters. I think too often people believe that women must behave as men behave in order to be strong. That's wrong. Gillie's character won't ever be mistaken physically or otherwise for a man. She won't be cursing, punching people out, or mouthing feminist platitudes. Gillie's character gets the most screen time, is perhaps the best constructed, and is fully in charge of things, from the beginning to the end.  

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Book Reviews: The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien
edited by Humphrey Carpenter with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien
When we read books we dislocate ourselves in space and also time if the book is sufficiently old. What Tolkien did with The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings was to create a world which was (he was sometimes coy about this) our own but much removed in time. This world had a backstory of untold eons, its own invented languages (Tolkien was above all a philogist, being able to speak or read at least seven different languages), and its creation stories that intertwined Christianity and the Northern European myths of which Tolkien was so fond. Tolkien was also keen to point out that although the Northern myths were his favorite because they were those of his origin he was also interested in many other cultures and tales.
Although Tolkien lived and died long before the internet was a thing he was a prodigious letter writer. This book is exactly what it claims to be. It is a collection of letters written by Tolkien to friends, relatives, business associates, employers, priests, publishers, fellow writers, fans, detractors, and finally a few to his fiancee and later wife Edith. There aren't many epistles to Edith in this collection because Carpenter and evidently the Tolkien Estate thought most of them were too personal for public release. Would you want to know all of your parents' intimate discussions? Would you want everyone else to read them? I'm betting not. 
Tolkien's letters range from October 1914 to August 1973, just a few days before Tolkien's death. There is a gap in letters from 1916 to about 1923 and another from 1925 to about 1937. Carpenter says that there (a) aren't a lot of surviving letters from that period and (b) many of those that do survive are either again too personal or have little to do with Tolkien's literary works. 

Monday, March 22, 2021

Senator Schumer Shields The Rich

One of the predictable things about life is that people are hypocrites. People sanctimoniously blast others for looking after their tribe or self-interests but rush to do the exact same thing when they are in power. 
One politician who exemplifies this more than most is New York Senator Charles Schumer. 
Some people have referred to old Chucky as the Senator from Wall Street because of his previous interest in ensuring that New York based financial entities are protected from legal accountability and get their "fair share" of any "gub'mnt cheese" that is being disbursed. 
Well surprise, surprise, as it turns out Senator Schumer is also, despite former hints to the contrary just fine with public funds being given to private schools. 
Tucked into the $1.9 trillion pandemic rescue law is something of a surprise coming from a Democratic Congress and a president long seen as a champion of public education — nearly $3 billion earmarked for private schools. 
More surprising is who got it there: Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader whose loyalty to his constituents diverged from the wishes of his party, and Randi Weingarten, the leader of one of the nation’s most powerful teachers’ unions, who acknowledged that the federal government had an obligation to help all schools recover from the pandemic, even those who do not accept her group.

Brooklyn Bus Battle: You Back Up!

It's unavoidable. In life we will have arguments, debates, disagreements, contretemps, squabbles, or outright fights with other people: friends, relatives, spouses, lovers, co-workers, and strangers. It is of course always more important to insist that you are right and that the other person acknowledge that he is wrong than to find a solution to an issue that is affecting both people. Okay, obviously that statement is hyperbole but people do act like that often enough such that it's a permanent problem in human relations, both individual and societal. 
Fortunately in a recent Brooklyn confrontation, two bus drivers armed with nothing more than rising tempers clashed instead of two nations armed to the teeth that were each looking for a reason to start trouble. Bystanders intervened, lowered each antagonist's temperature, and found a solution that allowed everyone involved to maintain pride. So people solved the issue before anything other than harsh words were exchanged. And that was good. Would that more clashes turned out like this. We would all be better off for it.

Two quarreling city bus drivers locked horns and refused to move their massive rigs in a bizarre stand-off on a narrow two-way avenue in Brooklyn, a video released Friday shows. 

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Murder Over Stimulus Check in Indianapolis

When I read about the story below I was reminded of the Tolkien quote which headlines this post. I am not opposed to the death penalty per se.
But even in the most execution happy states of America, most first degree murderers never receive the death penalty. I'm not sure that imposing the death penalty would provide deterrence. There are some people who just don't care.
Obviously the death penalty is also just filthy with race and class bias just like the rest of the justice system. I have seen too many cases where innocent (often Black or poor) men have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to multiple decades to the hell of state or federal prisons, often by openly racist prosecutors or jurors who ignored exculpatory evidence, for me to uncritically endorse usage of the death penalty. 
Having  written that, I don't think the world needs people who murder children. I DO think such people deserve death. If we had the death penalty for all murderers and carried it out after trial and limited expedited appeals would there be a deterrence impact? Should we only use the death penalty where there is absolutely no doubt of guilt? Or is that morally wrong? I don't know. I'm certain that the perpetrator of the below crime should pay with his life for his deeds.
INDIANAPOLIS — Her family said Jeanettrius Moore worked hard at a beauty supply shop to support herself and two little girls and appreciated the most recent $1,400 stimulus check issued to help Americans recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The father of her youngest baby, Malik Halfacre, thought he should get half.

Book Reviews: Dave vs. The Monsters: Resistance

Dave vs. The Monsters: Resistance
by John Birmingham
Often second books in a trilogy are a let down. Resistance is not a bad book, but the middle of stories are rarely as exciting as introductions or as satisfying as endings. To briefly recap the first book, parts of the United States and other places have been invaded by monstrous insectoid/ogrish looking creatures who have either lived in the planet's interior or are denizens of an alternate dimension that has intruded upon our own.
 The aliens always reach our world by tunneling upwards. The aliens remember humanity as frightened scared cattle. Humans don't remember the aliens at all, although they could be the inspiration for some old legends. 
Although most of these creatures are more than a match for several full grown men, their technology is at Dark Age levels. After the hero, Dave Hooper, defeats their champion, the U.S. military massacres the alien army. The aliens have no words to express what is happening to them. 
The aliens are shocked at what they saw as treachery by Dave; the deal was that that particular alien army could return to the underworld without further bloodshed. The U.S. military was not party to the deal that Dave made and wouldn't have lived up to it if it had been. Dave was initially upset about that. Captain Heath, Dave's primary military contact, makes it clear to Dave that he doesn't follow Dave's whims or film driven fantasies about honor or showdowns. Heath has much more important issues to consider, and so do his superior officers.
In Resistance, Dave has gone Hollywood. Dave spends his free time partying with Hollywood starlets, eating, drinking, and copulating with said starlets and other female members of the jet set. Dave also has hired a lawyer to try to prevent his ex-wife from cashing in on his new found fame and hopeful fortune.

Movie Reviews: Scream Blacula Scream

Scream Blacula Scream
directed by Bob Kelljan
Hollywood occasionally notices that Black audiences exist and would like to watch films in which Black actors/actresses are not always the chaste best friend, comic relief, incompetent bad guy, or useless "red shirts" who die to demonstrate the danger for the (usually white) hero/heroine. 
The late sixties and early seventies were one of those times. Scream Blacula Scream was created during that period. 
Scream Blacula Scream was a sequel to the original, equally unimaginatively titled Blacula. Despite the name, however, neither the original nor the sequel were bland mishmashes of Stoker's Dracula. In the original film--although the time period is off by about three hundred years--- Prince Mamuwalde (William Marshall), leader of the African Abani people, travels to Europe to seek support for ending the African slave trade. 
Mamuwalde asks the help of Count Dracula. Unfortunately Dracula is a racist who supports the slave trade. Dracula finds it ludicrous and offensive that any African could call himself a prince. 
Dracula turns Mamuwalde into a vampire and imprisons him, telling him his new name is Blacula. In the seventies, Blacula's sealed coffin is transferred to Los Angeles where the revived Blacula turns people into vampires while searching for the reincarnation of his long lost love.  This film starts shortly after the first film's events. A religious leader/voodoo Queen is near death. She transfers leadership to her adopted daughter Lisa (Pam Grier) instead of her biological son Willis (Richard Lawson).

Movie Reviews: Clown

Clown
directed by Jon Watts
This movie came out in 2014. Clown was Watts' directorial debut. It's low budget but does its best with what it has. Clown is by turns equally inventive and formulaic. I guess the viewer can decide for himself or herself which description best fits this horror movie. 
Now that I think about it I also wonder if Watts might be using the supernatural evil described in this film as a metaphor for an all too common real life evil. 
This movie really doesn't pull many punches in terms of graphic violence so if that is not your thing then this movie is most definitely not something you should be watching. Most of the special effects appear to have been done without the noticeable use of CGI. That choice gave the film a sense of reality that intensified the emotional impact of the violence. Horror movie viewers know the basic horror movie survival rules. 
If your special rider invites you to a weekend getaway at his/her antiquated isolated family manor you should respectfully decline the invite and end the relationship. If you find an ornate old metal box engraved with ancient silver runes, don't open that box. If a weird old man/woman moves into the crumbling manse next door and neighborhood pets go missing, call the police instead of doing your own investigation.

Movie Reviews: Strangers On A Train

Strangers On A Train
directed by Alfred Hitchcock

I was only familiar with this film via the later spoof Throw Momma From The Train which starred Danny Devito and Billy Crystal. So when I had an opportunity to watch the original I decided to check it out. It wasn't a dark comedy like the DeVito film. 
This was a serious noir film. It was based on a novel by Patricia Highsmith, who also wrote the novels The Talented Mr. Ripley and its sequels. 
Many of these books were also adapted into films. Highsmith was a lesbian. This would not be relevant but for the fact that Strangers On A Train seems to contain some gay subtext. The viewer can decide on that for himself/herself. I haven't read the novel to see if Hitchcock turned up this subtext or if it was present in the book. I suspect that it was exaggerated in the film. 
Guy Haines (Farley Granger) is an up and coming tennis star with women problems. Big ones. He's married to a woman Miriam (Kasey Rogers, later seen in the tv series Bewitched) who not only gets around with anyone and everyone, she's pregnant. 
And Guy is definitely not the Daddy. Guy is, as you might suspect, a bit bummed out by this development. He wants to get a divorce so he can marry his own sidepiece, Anne Morton (Ruth Roman), the daughter of a US Senator. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Movie Reviews: Fatale

Fatale
directed by Deon Taylor
This new thriller is a neo-noir which compares well with the forties and fifties noir films that are its ancestors and somewhat less so with the Shannon Whirry and Shannon Tweed eighties and nineties erotic thrillers that are its more immediate antecedents. The title (and much of the story) reminded me of the femme fatale often found in such films and the Michael Douglas/Glenn Close movie Fatal Attraction. You have seen the themes and plots in this movie before. However, as some storytellers insist, perhaps ultimately there only a few archetypes which are repeatedly shared. I thought that this story was well acted and generally well written. 
There are a few things which are obvious to the viewer which aren't obvious to the protagonist. In these movies the protagonist is not usually a man who is filled with rectitude. He's a man who makes mistakes.  You might even say that he's a man who indulges some sins. But in noir films the protagonist is often not the worst person depicted on screen. He's usually a man who thinks, often accurately, that his choices are few or constrained. Thus, like many people in real life, the noir protagonist has to choose what he sees as the least bad outcome. 

Movie Reviews: Shot Caller

Shot Caller
directed by Ric Roman Waugh 
I remember the righteous living and doing all I knew for good
/If I could change this corruption you know I would if I only could." Up in Heah" Ike &Tina Turner
A Shot Caller is the person or persons in a prison gang who has the authority (keys) for his gang for a particular yard, building, prison complex, group of prisons, or even entire state. What this person says goes. Challenging his authority or otherwise disrespecting him isn't wise. While a specific shot caller won't necessarily have defined authority over other races or prison gangs, depending on how numerous, vicious, and/or well connected his particular gang is, a particular shot caller could be the dominant boss.
If you are in a prison of 3000 and 2500 of the inmates belong to your race or gang then the shot callers for other races/gangs probably don't want too many problems with you. Or vice versa, if your 500 out of 3000 are known to be unified and insanely hyperviolent, you could punch well above your weight in terms of prison power and influence.
Shot Caller examines the fall of California stockbroker Jacob Harlan (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau , Jaime Lannister from HBO's Game of Thrones) from naive yuppie to a prince of darkness. The film has too many flash backs and flash forwards. It made sense at the end for reasons I can't discuss here but I think a traditional narrative would have been equally powerful. Physics hasn't given us the definitive answer for whether time travel into the past is possible. I think most people have wished that we could go in back in time to change a bad decision. Jacob certainly wishes he made better choices.

Georgetown Law Professor Fired

Adjunct Georgetown Law Professors Sandra Sellers and David Batson were caught on Zoom discussing the less than stellar performance of some Black law students. It appears that Sellers did the talking while Batson nodded. I thought that this was another Amy Wax situation in which a smug white professor jeered the low performance of Black students, argued that they shouldn't be in her class breathing up all of her white woman's air, opined that their low performance was because of intractable biological or cultural inferiorities, and ended by screaming the N-word. That's hyperbole. Professor Wax didn't do ALL of that but her blunt hostility to Black students was crystal clear.

We didn't see that extreme contempt here. Sellers said she was frustrated (she used the word "angst") that most of the Black students were consistently among the lower performing cohorts. The professor identified a pattern. There is a HUGE difference between noticing a phenomenon you don't like and saying you think Black people are intellectually inferior because of their race.
(CNN)One Georgetown Law professor has been fired and another placed on administrative leave after one's comments disparaging Black students were recorded via Zoom.
Sandra Sellers and David Batson, the two professors, had a conversation regarding Black students' performance in their classes at the end of a lecture last month. Their comments were included in the recorded lecture, said Hassan Ahmad, a student at Georgetown Law who posted a snippet of the video on Twitter.

Michigan Deer Stampede

I wouldn't say this is a common sight in Michigan. But it's not rare either. Good thing no humans or deer were harmed.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Georgia Republicans Attack Black Voting

A constant in American politics and society is that white racists create rules to exclude Black people from enjoying benefits or from accessing certain constitutionally guaranteed rights. 

When Black people figure out a way around, over, under or through those roadblocks the racists retreat to a prearranged rally point and create new rules to continue doing (exclusion and prevention) what the older rules can no longer legally accomplish. The mid 20th century Civil Rights movements removed many of the explicit anti-Black rules. But there was always a backlash. 
Forced to let Black people into public pools? Close down all the public pools. Forced public school integration? Depart districts with Black residents or send your children to exclusive private schools which can legally discriminate. Forced to hire Black people? Hire some but make things so unpleasant that they leave on their own. 
Forced to let Black people vote, as if they are American citizens or something? Can't bring out the dogs, thugs, and firehoses as much as you would like? Well change the rules to target Black voters. We should remember the intellectual Godfather of post WW American conservatism and founder of the National Review, William F. Buckley, made a name for himself by opposing voting rights for Black people:

Saturday, March 6, 2021

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo Under Fire

That smell you detect coming from the East Coast is the unwrapping of Governor Cuomo's diaper. As long as he was a marshal of the "Resistance" against Trump I think that some people were willing to overlook Cuomo's dominant and domineering personality and infamous rivalries and feuds with other elected Democrats. 

But now that Trump is gone perhaps folks are okay with taking a closer look at some of Cuomo's behavior. You may have heard that Governor Cuomo has been accused of inappropriate behavior and/or sexual harassment by three women. Two of the women worked for Cuomo. FWIW I believe those women. Their stories do not rise to the "Give me some or you're fired!" level of harassment but the allegations, if true, demonstrate that the Governor has at best poor judgment. The third woman did not work for the Governor, but accused him of trying to hit on her at a wedding. I think the third story is weak sauce. 
Men and women do flirt with each other and make moves on each other at weddings---and other places at well. I don't think we should or can criminalize or stigmatize most of this behavior when it occurs out of the workplace. It's part of life. Sometimes people say no. Other times they say yes. There is a huge difference between a boss talking to a subordinate about what he or she likes romantically/sexually and someone using the exact same lines with a stranger at a bar, wedding, or other social environment. 

Movie Reviews: Redemption Day

Redemption Day
directed by Hicham Hajji
It's rare to see films where the Black lead gets to be the hero, kick some butt, and win the girl. So I was predisposed to like a film that was set up to do just that. Unfortunately although this movie attempted to hit all those points, it was a bland mix of plots and themes that were better done in video games. 
The leading actor and actress did okay with what they had to work with I suppose but the writing and cinematography didn't offer them any support. I also had the sneaking feeling that a lot of the story was a compromise among the director, writer(s), and producer(s). There were too many plot lines left dangling like a worm on a hook. Some important themes started but ended abruptly. The film had a number of internal contradictions, the most obvious of which was that in my opinion the leading actor was a bit too old for his military rank. Gary Dourdan is extremely well preserved for his age but he is fifty-four years old. I don't think he could pass for much below forty.
My understanding is that even forty something is older than the normal age range for a Marine Captain. It seems as if Dourdan's character, if active duty, should have been a major or lieutenant colonel. Of course it's possible that some of the flashbacks were meant to be twenty years prior but they were ineptly done. In any event Marine Captain Brad Paxton (Dourdan) has returned home after some stuff went really wrong in Syria. Brad saved lives and prevented things from getting worse. He was decorated for his actions and is viewed well by the military brass. 

Movie Reviews: Deadline At Dawn

Deadline At Dawn
directed by Harold Clurman
Deadline At Dawn
was based on the novel of the same name by the famous pulp writer Cornell Woolrich aka William Irish aka George Hopley, some of whose work appears in The Big Book of Pulps, which was earlier reviewed here. Woolrich had a pretty interesting life in some ways, tragic in others. 
Filmmakers adapted a lot of Woolrich's work for the big screen. The most famous films made from Woolrich's novels or short stories were probably Alfred Hitchcocks's Rear Window and Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black
There are always secrets within secrets in Woolrich's work, in print or on screen. Likely this had something to do with his own life and secrets. Woolrich was a repressed guilt ridden diabetic gay man who after a failed marriage lived with his mother until her death. Woolrich was also one of the greatest pulp writers to exist, with a keen if oft cynical insight into human nature. Pick up any of his works if you are into pulp/noir fiction.
Deadline At Dawn is an excellent film by Harold Clurman, though as befitting his stage background it often feels like a play. It loses something by being shot almost entirely on soundstages. The hurly burly of mid century New York City doesn't always come across. 
What does come across is the mixture of love, lust, greed, altruism, revenge, and forgiveness that mark us as human and which we all have in various proportions. As with the best films, Deadline At Dawn is timeless. It could very easily be set in today's time with minor changes. People might dress differently and speak differently but the core challenges of being human are more or less the same as they have always been.

Dollar Store Meat: Good Deal or Dirty Meal??

I have been financially worse off than I am currently. However I have never been so desperate or so cheap as to need to purchase food from a Dollar Store or similar establishment. I can not imagine that anything edible at the Dollar Store would be truly worthwhile. After all, you often get what you pay for in this world. Recently I ran across this video by a person who prepared and consumed some Dollar Tree meat. The experience turned out as I expected it would. Although this is humorous because the person who created the video evidently has enough income so that he doesn't HAVE to purchase such "food", it's not that funny if you think about people whose only choice is to take chances on food like this or not eat at all. It is unfortunate that a hundred years after Upton Sinclair's The Jungle turned an eye on unregulated capitalistic slaughterhouse and distribution practices, such "food" is still allowed to be sold.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Michael Che Joke: Fragility and Reality

If someone protested against or made sarcastic jokes about apartheid in South Africa, housing discrimination in the United States, or racist soccer fans in Italy or Spain, most of us would not immediately say that the person is anti-white/anti-Afrikaner/anti-Italian/anti-Spanish. They very well could be of course but that wouldn't change the fact that there are/were problems in all of those areas which need(ed) to be addressed.
Most people recognize that it's a dishonest tactic to accuse the person drawing attention to bias of being biased himself or herself. Nobody likes to have their particular group or even a representative of their group in the spotlight for something negative. Just human nature. But no group and especially no government or nation is above criticism. Governments and even nations are not synonymous with ethnic, racial, or religious groups. There is a huge difference between criticizing a government for what it does and criticizing a group for who it is.
Unfortunately the state of Israel and its US partisans have expanded and weaponized claims of anti-Semitism to include anyone who criticizes the appalling treatment that Israel doles out to non-Jews in areas under its control, particularly the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. SNL comedian Michael Che recently made a minor joke about this and was accused of being the second coming of Hitler by some Jewish organizations.

Television Reviews: 30 Coins

30 Coins (Season One)
directed by Alex de la Iglesias
This is a Spanish language supernatural thriller that finished its first season on HBO Europe. It's subtitled for American audiences. I don't know if there will be a second season or not. The completed first season smartly tied up loose ends but also left viewers plenty of "Wait what is going to happen to so-n-so?" cliffhangers.
The last episode was marketed as a "series finale". At first I thought it was more of a season finale but after thinking about it some more and remembering how disappointing the 2nd and 3rd installations of The Matrix were in comparison to the original film, I would be content if this turned out to be a one off sort of deal. There were only eight episodes. There was very little narrative fat in this series. 
The show has something to attract everyone. There are attractive women and men who are both occasionally seen without much clothing. There are a few soap opera storylines which seem designed specifically to bring in women viewers. Those viewers who are keen on alternative or secret histories, who think that there are conspiracies carried out at society's highest levels, or who eagerly read Dan Brown books will find much to enjoy in 30 Coins. 
There's not a tremendous amount of bloodshed in most of the series but what there is is emotionally engaging. It's not just popcorn mayhem designed to meet a quota of severed limbs. Lastly, the film has some very deliberate nods to H.P. Lovecraft-both his worldview and his fictional creations. 

Movie Reviews: Destry

Destry
directed by George Marshall
This 1954 Western remake movie starred the famous WW2 hero and single most decorated soldier of all time Audie Murphy in the title role. Destry gives us a protagonist who just wants to be left alone and to do right. Unfortunately life intervenes with the man's plans.
Given that Murphy had put two hundred or more enemy soldiers in the ground there is some minor irony here seeing him as a man who eschews firearms and violence in favor of peaceful discussion and adherence to the law above all else. 
However, the 5-5 Murphy was in real life, like his character here, soft spoken, calm and quiet. That is until you tried to mess with him or his. Murphy was once tried for attempted murder after getting into a fistfight (and apparently winning) with a 6-3 dog trainer who had made the mistake of groping one of Murphy's female friends and abusing her German Shepherd. Murphy didn't deny attacking the man but basically said that if he had wanted to kill the man he would have. The jury agreed and acquitted him. So, Murphy was not a man to mess with.
Destry was, like Shane, a didactic movie. It feeds into and defines the American image of a real man as someone who doesn't go looking for trouble but doesn't run from it either. 
In Destry the sheriff of a small Western town dies unexpectedly. Very unexpectedly. The official word is heart attack though some people have their doubts. But unless those people want to have a heart attack as well they are well advised to keep their thoughts to themselves. After all, nobody asked them did they? 

Happy Dog

 Always remember to be kind to other living creatures as often as you can.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Philadelphia Teen Girls Assault and Carjack Elderly Cancer Patient

From time to time people tell me that there is never any excuse for violence against women. My response has always been that that supposed axiom is untrue. There are some women who initiate violence against other people. I think everyone has the right to self-defense. Period. End of story. 
All of my grandparents are now deceased but if someone were to have assaulted either of my grandmothers in my presence I can safely say that I would not have hesitated to defend them, with deadly force if need be. I wouldn't have worried about the criminal's gender. I want to stop them from hurting me and mine.
Although the majority of violent criminals are and likely always will be men, anecdotally it does seem as if women are becoming more aggressive in their violence. Thugs come in both genders now. Recently in Philadelphia three young women attacked a 78 year old cancer patient. 
The women doused the victim with pepper spray, punched her in the face, and threw her to the ground, before stealing her vehicle. The victim temporarily lost sight in one eye and had a heart attack. 
Two of the alleged perpetrators have been identified and arrested. Just another day in the big city I suppose. If the old woman's daughter had shot the assailants to defend herself and her mother I am pretty sure that some people would be crying and saying that she didn't need to do that.

Neera Tanden For OMB?

Did you ever joke about or insult someone at your job? Maybe you forwarded nasty comments about them over company instant messenger or email. Maybe your friends love your hilarious impression of a co-worker's nasal accent or the funny way they walk. 

Maybe you catalogued this person's mistakes or dumb ideas and gleefully referenced them whenever the person's name came up in business discussions. Maybe you didn't care if the person heard your jokes, putdowns, or criticisms because you didn't report to them. You never foresaw a time when that person or his/her friends would have any authority over you or influence over your next assignment or promotion. Life can quickly change. Sometimes the person you called a malodorous bird brained blockhead is appointed to the committee considering your hire, pay raise, or promotion. Or he or she has good friends who are on that committee. 

You will face some tough questions about your previous comments. What happens next depends on how badly you want the hire, promotion, or pay raise. If you want it, you will swallow your pride and abase yourself before the committee. You denounce your past comments.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Racist Neighbors in Grosse Pointe Park

This is just your daily reminder that racism occurs independently of a person's income or wealth. Although Grosse Pointe Park is not the wealthiest or least educated Detroit suburb, it's far from impoverished. 
If you have some minor unpleasantness with your neighbor and they immediately negatively reference one of your immutable characteristics it's not that you did anything wrong. They were just looking for an excuse to do so. In America the most charged examples of this are usually, or rather, almost always, racism against Black people.
A racist display has a community outraged in Grosse Pointe Park after a white resident displayed a KKK flag in the window of a home facing their Black neighbor Tuesday.
"I said, I know there's not a klan sign in the window next door," said Jedonna Dinges. "And I opened the curtains and I looked and sure enough, there was a klan sign in the window next door."
She initially called state and federal authorities and shared the picture of the flag on her Facebook page before local police got wind of the situation and went to the neighbor's house, urging him to take it down.

Movie Reviews: Greenland

Greenland
directed by Ric Roman Waugh
This is a disaster movie. But it's not just a disaster movie. It's a possible world ending, extinction level event disaster movie. With these sorts of films there are usually two choice the writer(s) and/or director can make. One choice usually involves some square jawed hero solemnly intoning we will not go gently into the night. Along with his ragtag group of scientists, rogues, military and a dog, the protagonist desperately attempts to avert the Apocalypse by any means necessary while also trying to reconnect with his estranged wife or child. 
The other choice takes it for granted that there is nothing that can be done. The film then has the protagonist spend the entire film's running time talking to his loved ones and examining the mistakes he or they have made with each other before the inevitable happens. In either film there are usually a number of impressive effects that show the impending doom's progression. Maybe the asteroid gets closer and smaller pieces of it hit places across the world. Maybe the ozone barrier is pierced. Each day the earth's temperature climbs or drops but gets nearer to a point where humans can't survive. And so on. 
Greenland is a hybrid of these two types of films. Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps because of the relatively low budget, it doesn't have a lot of iconic disaster scenes. It concentrates much more on the struggle to survive--even if survival may literally just mean one more day.

Book Reviews: A Flash Of Red

A Flash Of Red
by Clay Harvey
I think I read this book before. I bought this book from a now closed used book store. There are, as the Clint Eastwood Gran Torino character Walt Kowalksi put it, occasions when you mess with someone that you really should have left alone. A Flash Of Red gives the reader a 300 page example of that. North Carolina resident Tyler Vance is a successful author and magazine contributor. Vance is a widower with a four year old son. Vance likes classical music and life's finer things, but he's no stranger to hard physical labor. 
Vance drives to his local bank ATM to conduct some business. But there's a bank robbery in progress. Vance can't escape. One of the getaway drivers has seen the police coming and left. When the two bank robbers exit, Vance's truck is the closest to them. They try to carjack Vance. A robber points a gun at Vance's face, ordering him out of his truck. Well threatening Vance was the robbers' last and worst mistake. Vance is never unarmed. Vance has the speed and reaction time of a cobra.
I now had two viable options, in my view. One I could drop the .45 onto the floorboard and relinquish my truck, hoping he wouldn't shoot me, pistol-whip me, or secure me as a hostage. Such an alternative went against my gut feeling, my knowledge of human nature, my philosophy of social decorum, and my extensive--albeit long-past---training in handling violent confrontations. I went with option two. I shot him in the beard.
Vance wins the ensuing gun fight with the Uzi equipped second robber.  The police aren't happy. One cop is an ego driven bully who despises citizens who defend themselves. This man is peeved that Vance doesn't bow down to his authority. The higher ranking and more intelligent police officer immediately recognizes that the coolly competent Vance must have had some military or intelligence training. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Movie Reviews: Let Him Go

Let Him Go
directed by Thomas Bezucha

This is a combination Western/vigilante movie. I usually enjoy both of those genres. So I was set to enjoy this one. It hit most of the points that you expect to see in either of those types of films. But something was off. It took a minute for me to realize it but my problem was that the good guys in this film were not only breaking the law, but their reasons for doing so were weak. 
There have been some legal cases where a set of grandparents, or an aunt, uncle, cousin or other relative have attempted to obtain visitation to or custody of a child over the objections of that child's biological mother, father, or legal stepmother or stepfather. Usually absent some rather serious and chronic physical or sexual abuse, financial or medical incapacity, the parent(s) will win the case. Grandparents or other relatives do not have the right to see their minor relative unless the parent agrees.
Purely from spite a parent could take their children out of the state and refuse to let their grandparents visit. Such an action might be vile and malicious or it might be well considered and the right thing to do. But aside from the above exceptions, usually the state won't get involved.

Gorilla Glue Girl

Many people remove unwanted hair from areas of their body. But when people do that they tend not to use paper shredders, cheese graters, or weed whackers for the job. Most people shower or bathe at least once a day. But when people do that they usually don't use sandpaper for a washcloth.
Many folks use some sort of hairspray, grease, pomade or gel to style their hair, to give it the "body" they want, to give it moisture, to hold it down or make it stand up. But when most people do that they usually avoid using motor oil or industrial strength glue. 
Unfortunately Tessica Brown is not most people. You may have heard about this story. I didn't comment on it earlier because I thought no one could be that stupid. I thought the story was a hoax. It wasn't a hoax.
The last few weeks have been a roller coaster for Tessica Brown, the Louisiana woman who used Gorilla Glue instead of hair spray one day in January.
She catapulted to internet fame last week after posting a video on TikTok in which she called the decision to use the adhesive spray a “bad, bad, bad idea.” 
More than 30 million people have viewed it there, along with countless more on Instagram and Twitter. They have clamored for updates and flooded her posts with words of encouragement (and criticism), all while piling on suggestions for how to help. But nothing worked. Finally, more than a month after her mishap, Ms. Brown had the glue removed from her hair, thanks to a Los Angeles plastic surgeon who spent hours on Wednesday using a homemade solvent to get the job done. 

Movie Reviews: The Set-Up

The Set-Up
directed by Robert Wise
This is a taut 1949 film noir by the man who would later go on to direct The Sound of Music. But The Set-Up is not something which is going to have anyone breaking out into song. The Set-Up is set in the brutal world of boxing. Here there are no excuses or explanations, just results. And very few of the boxers achieve anything resembling long term success. 
Many wind up barely better off than they would have been in a 9-5 job while a significant minority are worse off. The boxers are ripped off by the sport's parasitical promoters, managers, and mobsters. Some boxers end up with permanent health issues. Glory and the ability to say they took the best their opponent had to offer and kept moving forward are the motivators for all of these boxers.
Film noir mainstay Robert Ryan is aging boxer Bill "Stoker "Thompson. Stoker's no bum. He's had some ups and downs in his career, but more downs than ups. At thirty-five he's become an old man by boxing standards. He's getting hit more often than he used to, something that has not failed to escape the attention of his loyal wife Julie (Audrey Totter). Julie thinks that Stoker needs to get out of the game before he gets brain damage. 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Movie Reviews: While The City Sleeps

While The City Sleeps
directed by Fritz Lang
This is a 1956 crime film noir directed by the famed Fritz Lang, who also helmed such films as M, Metropolis, and The Big Heat, among many many others. Although the film opens with a murder, which provides the surface basis for the story's events, in fact that's really something of a red herring. 
This movie is more concerned with the political and moral battles, internal and external, of a group of media conglomerate executives--think Fox News. There's also a fair amount of romance and sexual skulduggery. 
Although we may often think that women's film roles were always limited and stereotypical in Hollywood's Golden Age, actually the women in this film all have their own agency, get pretty good lines, don't take any stuff off anyone, and exude sex appeal without taking off their clothes. There are some modern directors who could learn from this. 
The film's point of view is that although men and women will often get on each other's last nerve, normal men and women like and need each other. This is in direct contrast to the murderer.
Amos Kyne (Robert Warwick) is an elderly and ailing news mogul who leads the company he founded and which bears his name. His company has three divisions: television, newspaper, and wire service. As are many such men in his position, Amos is a hard charging Type A personality who doesn't take no for an answer. Amos demands that things be done the right way--his way.

Television Reviews: Salem's Lot (1979)

Salem's Lot (1979)
directed by Tobe Hooper
This is the three hour television miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name. Although it was directed by the man who became famous for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this movie was tasteful and restrained in its use of violence and sexually charged imagery. There's very little. What there is turns out to be all the more impressive because of its rarity. It's certainly toned down a great deal from King's book, where there are detailed descriptions of gore and exactly what certain perverted bus drivers or preachers want to do to the teen girls they encounter. 
Obviously a lot of these changes were for television, but I never felt the movie was holding anything back either. It manages to scare and occasionally titillate without nudity, much cleavage, or long takes of blood spurting everywhere. It also prunes away and/or combines many of King's characters, simplifies or flattens many of those who remain, and completely alters the novel's urbane but dangerous master vampire to a wordless snarling monster who can never ever ever be mistaken for anything else. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Snowy Owl In Central Park

I wonder if climate change has anything to do with snowy owls being seen more often outside of their normal Great White North habitat. I've only seen one up close a few times. It's an impressive sight. Recently a snowy owl briefly visited NYC and caused a slight commotion. 

In the winter of 1890, a snowy owl was spotted in New York City’s Central Park, part of what a contemporary account called an “unusual abundance” along the East Coast of the large, strikingly beautiful predators that make their home in the Arctic tundra. “Unusual” is right. A snowy owl, according to birding records, did not show its fluffy self in Central Park for another 130 years. Then came Wednesday morning.

A birder who runs the Twitter account Manhattan Bird Alert read about an owl sighting on a tracking site and sounded the alarm. “A SNOWY OWL, a mega-rarity for Central Park,” he wrote, “is now in the middle of the North Meadow ball fields.” The owl also got the attention of the park’s avian residents. A flock of crows flew down to harass her and try to drive her out (owls sometimes eat crows). A red-tailed hawk buzzed over her head (hawks are fiercely territorial and do not abide trespassers).

But the birder behind Manhattan Bird Alert, David Barrett, a retired hedge-fund manager who started the account in 2013, said he was performing a public service and building support for conservation efforts. “If you want people to care about nature,” he said, “you should show them that it’s there and let them appreciate it for themselves.” 

By Thursday morning, the Central Park snowy was nowhere to be found.
“I’m not surprised it moved on,” said Paul Sweet, manager of the ornithology collection at the American Museum of Natural History. “It wasn’t being left alone — it was being quite bothered.” (
He was referring to other birds, not people.)

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Movie Reviews: American Skin

American Skin
directed by Nate Parker
I have written before of how I despise sexual assault double standards wielded against Black men. Kobe Bryant hadn't even had a funeral yet before one white actress was calling the untried retired athlete a rapist while conveniently leaving out her gushing adulation of musician David Bowie, who allegedly seduced/raped a thirteen year old groupie. 
Similarly some people have trashed this movie by referring to Parker's acquittal from rape charges two decades ago when he was a college sophomore as a reason not to watch this film or as an argument that this is a bad film. Although we are free to believe anything we like I think that we should also try to judge art on its own merits as much as possible. I try to do that whenever I can. I will certainly do that as long as there are such racial double standards.
So, just going by the actual film itself and not what I might think of the actor, was this a must see movie? No. No it wasn't. It was uneven. It was a little bit of bait and switch. Ok, make that a lot of bait and switch. 
This might be the subject of another post, but as other people have pointed out, it is difficult to find many mainstream Hollywood films where the Black man is the hero, defeats his enemies, overcomes other internal/external obstacles, gets the girl, is not comic relief, and survives at the end. 
Also, and likely not unrelated to that phenomenon, many of the African-American heroes and great men or great women we learn about in school were those who turned the other cheek, suffered indignity after indignity, and generally went along to get along.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Trump's Coup Attempt

I take a few weeks off from this site to concentrate on the Day Job and what happens? The Orange Buffoon tries to incite the overthrow of the US government. And since it didn't work he denies that he tried it.
I don't have too much to say about this that hasn't already been said more eloquently by plenty of people on Facebook and other places. Let's review a few points that are important to keep in mind.
Soon to be former President Donald "Grab em by the p****!" Trump lost the election to Joe "If you don't vote for me you ain't Black!" Biden. It wasn't even all that close. Plenty of people on both sides came out to vote but more Americans voted for Biden. More importantly, more people voted for Biden in the precise combination of states needed for victory. 
The Republican Party is uncompetitive nationally in the Northeast and coastal West. It's starting to show weakness in the Southwest. It lost ground in the Midwest. And even in its Southern stronghold, there were some growing hairline fractures, specifically in Georgia and Virginia. Biden won by 306-232 in the Electoral College with a popular vote margin of seven million votes. 
It was a solid victory for Biden. 

Movie Reviews: Gilda

Gilda
directed by Charles Vidor
This film noir really put the actress Rita Hayworth on the map in terms of exciting sex appeal though by modern sensibilities visually the movie is at worst PG-13. Still, regardless of the times, people are always going to respond to swivel hipped women in high slit sleek evening gowns singing somewhat risque songs. So there is that if you are looking for it. In many aspects this film was a Casablanca knockoff.
There's the not so femme fatale, a nightclub operator with a hidden conscience/soft side, and threats from bossy Germans. There is also some subtext which probably wouldn't have been too far out of place in many modern films. But in modern film it wouldn't have been subtext at all. I was a little surprised to see it. More on that in a minute.
Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford) is a devil may care American gambler and hustler. You can take that second description any way you like. Johnny has made his way down to Buenos Aires, where after having won a lot of money cheating at craps, he is rescued from a mugging and beatdown by an older gentleman. This older fellow scares off Johnny's attackers by brandishing his (ahem) walking stick outfitted with a hidden sword. The man admires Johnny's gambling skills and tells him about the best casino in town. But the man advises Johnny not to cheat there.

Casu Martzu: Maggot Cheese

Different cultures have different ideas of what is considered permissible to eat. What is kosher in one culture could be considered disgusting in another. There are too many examples of this to mention. Sometimes even the smell or description of a food which people in one culture consider a delicacy can sicken people from another culture. Some folks get on their high horse and accuse anyone who feels this way of being racist or intolerant or xenophobic. I don't think that's quite accurate. There are individuals with contemptuous feelings towards everyone who is not the same as them who nonetheless enjoy eating at a different ethnic restaurant each week. There are those who believe in all the wonders of multiculturalism who wouldn't be caught dead trying anything too far removed from their teenage palate.

I do know this, though. Although I enjoy many of the various kinds of Italian and for that matter Mediterranean cuisine I am not, repeat NOT eating any kind of food that relies upon the digestive and reproductive processes of flies to give it what some consider a wonderful taste. If I purchased some cheese from the supermarket and upon preparing to consume it, discovered maggots writhing all about inside, I wouldn't be very happy. And the store clerks, managers, and corporate bigwigs would hear all about it. But apparently if there aren't maggots in the cheese Casu Martzu, you just aren't getting your money's worth.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Last Shift

The Last Shift
directed by Andrew Cohn
This indie film is worthwhile watching despite some occasionally muddled themes. I appreciated that this movie didn't neatly resolve everything like an old episode of Scooby Doo or one of those ABC Afternoon Specials. Life is not like that. Sometimes the bad guys win. Sometimes we don't know or agree on who the bad guys are. I thought The Last Shift was realistic, both in casting and in the character depiction and reactions. 
The writing sagged near the end. As mentioned, if you like solid conclusions where everything makes sense and everyone gets what he or she "deserves" then this movie is not that. The Last Shift is also, purposely or not, an extended herky-jerky exposition on why the "class first" focus of people like say Bernie Sanders, doesn't often work in the American political economy. 
This film is set in Albion, Michigan. Stanley (Richard Jenkins) is the night manager of an Albion location of a regional fast food franchise, Oscar's Chicken and Fish (and apparently burgers as well). 
In what could be a nod to co-actor Ed O'Neill's role of Al Bundy, Stanley took this job more or less right out of high school and has remained there for the next forty years or so, give or take. Starting at just over $3/hr back in the day, Stanley has managed to grow his salary to the princely rate of just over $13/hr. Real ambitious hard charging dude, Stanley is. Not.