Saturday, June 12, 2021

Asian Man in Ypsilanti Michigan Shoots Six Year Old Black Boy: Gets Low Bond And Is Released

Do you remember when you were six years old? Did you play outside with your friends, siblings, and other relatives? Maybe you liked to jump rope. Maybe you liked to play hopscotch and drew multicolored squares on the sidewalk. 
Maybe you played tag. Maybe you played red rover or dodgeball or stickball. Maybe you played with dolls and had tea parties. Maybe you picked flowers. Maybe you dug holes.
Maybe you played with legos or blocks. Maybe you even rode your bicycle or tricycle. 
Chances are, no matter what you did, you likely got on some adult's nerves at some point in time. But the chances are also very good that no adult ever physically assaulted you or tried to shoot and kill you over your play. Unfortunately a six year Black boy named Coby Daniel can no longer make that statement.
YPSILANTI, Mich. (FOX 2) - An Ypsilanti boy is recovering after being threatened with a sledgehammer and then shot as he retrieved his bike from his neighbor's front yard. Arnold Daniel says his kids were outside on their bikes on Candlewood Lane in Ypsilanti when they stopped their bikes and left one of them in front of a neighbor's home. 
When Coby went back to get his bike, Daniel said the neighbor came out with a sledgehammer in his hand and said something to the boy. Daniel said he didn't know exactly what was said but knows his son said something back. After that, the neighbor went back inside and Daniel said he shot a gun through the front window, hitting Coby in the arm. Ring doorbell footage captured children screaming and scattering down the sidewalk of a residential street after a single gunshot is heard.
“He tried hitting me with a sledgehammer but that’s not going to work because I’m too fast,” Coby Daniel told Fox 2. “[Then he] got a gun and BOOM shot me right here.” The bullet went through the boy's arm and he was rushed to the hospital. Daniel said the doctor told him that had the bullet been an inch in either direction it likely would have killed Coby. 

Domestic Violence Against Black Men

Based on my own experience, logic, research, and history I have always believed that the differences that exist between men and women are not moral or ethical ones. 
I have known women who have every moral failing imaginable. I've also known selfless angelic women. Women as a group are no more moral than men. I'd like to believe otherwise but the evidence doesn't support that conclusion. 
Women may express themselves on average differently than men but anyone who holds on to Victorian ideals of female moral superiority is either deluding themselves or trying to trick other people. This even extends to the evil of domestic violence.
Professors like Dr. Tommy Curry and Dr. T. Hassan Johnson, who have actually done the research, have found that domestic violence, particularly in the Black community, is more bidirectional than many of us would like to admit. In other words men and women initiate domestic violence at close to the same rates and for many of the same reasons. 
The assumptions that philosophers hold about IPV and child physical and sexual abuse are really universalized descriptions derived from what social scientists and feminists asserted as causal amongst white families and in white communities. When we look at racial groups, IPV victimization rates between Black, Latino, and Indigenous men and women in the U.S. are roughly equal and have a much different etiology than IPV victimization between whites. Much of the intimate partner violence in racial groups is bidirectional, not unidirectional, as Duluth assumes, meaning that both partners are abusers and victims.
I was reminded of the truth of this statement by two recent hideous instances of domestic violence in which Black men were the victims.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Breaking Point

The Breaking Point
directed by Michael Curtiz
This is a 1950 film noir that feels very modern both in its story and in the treatment of its characters. 
During a time when racial segregation was still very much in effect this movie depicts a black boy and two white girls playing together before they go to school as no big deal. Their fathers are friends.
Considering that in several states such innocuous activities could easily result in violence, legal or otherwise, against a Black boy and/or other nearby Blacks, this part of the movie was something of a political statement, though it's not presented as one. 
The Breaking Point was one of lead actor's John Garfield's last movies. The left-wing Garfield was forced to testify before the House Committee for Un-American Activities and bravely refused to name names. This act of defiance destroyed Garfield's film career. The consequent lack of income and resulting stress may have contributed to Garfield's early death from a heart attack just two years after this film was released. 
Much like the younger actor Charles Bronson, whom I think he slightly resembled, Garfield grew up in an impoverished environment and often played cynical working class heroes. That is very much the case in this movie, which is based on a Hemingway novel, which I may or may not have read before.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Movie Reviews: Georgetown

directed by Christoph Waltz
In both of the previous movies (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds) in which I've seen Waltz, he has played a garrulous grammar pedant and bon vivant who is more dangerous than his antagonists or even the audience first realize. 
In this movie, his directorial debut, Waltz again portrays that sort of smarmy character. The difference with this film is that because it's based on a true story that yet feels stereotypical, it's very obvious from the beginning that Waltz's character has something up his sleeve. 
There aren't too many surprises for the viewer here. What does exist is a sense of frustration and wonder that conmen can so easily prey on the elderly, the lonely, the greedy, the naive, the desperate, or the ambitious. 
Georgetown also made me feel some resignation that age and resulting physical frailties will eventually impact us all, if we are lucky. 
I liked Waltz's interpretation of his character, who like some demonic/devilish entities described in a Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manual, expends a tremendous amount of energy trying to be attractive and charming to whomever he's interacting with at any given time. From time to time the mask slips and the character's true nature is revealed. Sometimes this is played for laughs, but usually it's not so amusing.

Movie Reviews: The Sentinel (1977)

The Sentinel (1977)
directed by Michael Winner
There was a brief time in the late sixties thru the early eighties when horror movies, despite always being considered cinema's ugly stepchild, were able to attract top of the line actors and writers. 
And even though some horror films always tended toward Grand Guignol, there were quite a few others that relied more on atmosphere and implications of things unseen than on nudity and bloodshed. The Sentinel is somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Some of the nudity is more disturbing than erotic. 
The Sentinel was not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. The lead actress' performance is not that compelling, probably because she is more the object of the story than subject. If a studio ever remade this movie I am sure that the female lead would have much more to do besides a lot of screaming, whining, and fainting.
Still The Sentinel does manage to give the viewer a sufficient sense of unease, fright and occasional disgust while initially avoiding the buckets of blood approach that today too often defines the genre. 
Make no mistake though, some of the film's special effects were considered excessive and exploitive even for the time. The ending sees the director put his foot on the gas pedal in that regard. Your mileage may vary with that. 

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Germany To Return Nigerian Bronzes

William Faulkner wrote that "The past is never dead. It's not even the past." Much of the world today is the result of crimes committed and decisions made by people decades, even centuries ago.
Human nature being what it is, people who have benefitted from certain past actions are often, good natured or not, biased towards not making any changes to rectify misdeeds while those who have been harmed by theft or worse crimes see no reason why the descendants of robbers should continue to live off ill gotten booty. 
There is an entire legal, financial, and diplomatic industry which exists to return various forms of property, particularly art, that was stolen, expropriated, or "bought" from Jews by non-Jews during the years of German Nazi hegemony, WW2, and the Holocaust. I use quotes around bought because of course sell or die isn't really a true free market transaction. 
Art museums, some wealthy private art collectors, corporations, and Nazi descendants have not all been immediately willing to turn over such property to Jewish institutions, claimed heirs, or the state of Israel. There have been disputes. 
The Nazis were in power for twelve years. Depending on when you start the clock European nations have been invading and colonizing African and Asian nations for about three hundred to four hundred years. 

Ravens Stealing Groceries

I no longer patronize certain grocery stores or convenience stores. Maybe I don't like the service. Maybe I think there's an unacceptably high risk of encountering would be robbers. 

If I lived in Anchorage, Alaska, I wouldn't need to worry about people stopping me and stealing my stuff. It's the birds! More precisely, it's the ravens, apparently too smart and too organized for their own good, who have set up their own profitable shakedown racket.

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Some Alaska Costco shoppers said they've had their groceries stolen by ravens in the store parking lot. Matt Lewallen said he was packing his groceries into his car in the parking lot of an Anchorage Costco when ravens swooped in to steal a short rib from his cart, the Anchorage Daily News reported Friday.
“I literally took 10 steps away and turned around, two ravens came down and instantly grabbed one out of the package, ripped it off and flew off with it,” Lewallen said. Lewallen said the piece of meat was about 4-by-7 inches (10-by-18 centimeters) large — a sizable meal for a sizable bird.

“They know what they’re doing; it’s not their first time,” Lewallen said. “They’re very fat so I think they’ve got a whole system there.” And once he got back home, he noticed that one of the ravens had taken a poke at another rib but did not rob it.
“I cut that meat out and started marinating it and my wife said, ‘That’s gross, we should take it back,’ ” Lewallen said. “Costco actually took it back even after we had started marinating them and gave us a full refund.”

Movie Reviews: Bullets or Ballots

Bullets or Ballots
directed by William Keighley
This is not really a noir film though it does have noir elements. It's an old school crime drama and something of a love letter to the police, most especially a particularly brutal and arrogant real life NYPD detective, John Broderick, known for harassing, and assaulting striking workers and criminals (alleged or actual).
Although he was known at the time as being a "tough cop," considering that that most of the people Broderick assaulted weren't able or willing to fight back against an officer of the law, I think Broderick wasn't so much a tough guy as he was a bully. He beat one man taken in for parole violations so badly that the man was crippled for life. The judge ended up letting the man go, stating that he had suffered enough. 
Still, in 1936 as now, it was good business for Hollywood to depict a heroic cop battling bad guys. Bullets or Ballots was the first of five films to star Edward Robinson and Humphrey Bogart together. 
Not only does this film take strong inspiration from the "adventures" of John Broderick, it also references the then notorious exploits of people such as Lucky Luciano, Madame Stephanie St. Clair, and Dutch Schultz.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Some Indians Try Cow Dung for Covid Cure

Every single group of people has some belief systems that are not only not backed up by testable hypotheses and science but also are often flatly contradicted by those processes. It is what it is. 
This is apparently just part of human nature. It doesn't matter whether we're discussing Flat-earthers, white evangelicals who claim that Covid-19 is no worse than the flu, Black people who argue that the vaccines developed to protect against Covid-19 are actually part of a racist population control plan, East Africans who think that albino body parts bring good luck, East Asians who swear that rhino horn cures fevers and impotence, or for that matter Republicans who are convinced that Trump won the 2020 election.
Everyone can believe ridiculous things, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, etc.
Sometimes a sufficient number of people who accept untrue facts can have a serious deleterious impact on everyone else. As the aphorism attributed to comedian George Carlin goes, "Never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups!
The problem with Covid-19 is that everyone's safety can be endangered by large numbers of people who refuse to or are unable to engage in best practices.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Mother Defends Children Against Racist Home Invasion

I do not think that every single person should own a firearm. And I know some people who own guns who in my opinion probably shouldn't. But I have never understood those who claim that only police or the military should own guns. 
I have zero respect for that position, not only because there are plenty examples of government officials harming unarmed people, but also because there are even more instances of criminals seeking to harm unarmed people and/or those whom they perceive as weaker than themselves. 
Whether we like it or not, the world is full of human predators. Although most of us will likely never encounter such folks there's absolutely nothing wrong with being prepared if we do.
Three white people allegedly threatened to kill a black family — including two children — during a violent home invasion in Michigan, prosecutors said. 
The suspects — identified as Branden Odegaard, Michael Graves and Maci Pietryga – were arrested after cops responded to a 911 call on April 26 in Walled Lake, where witnesses said the trio “threatened to kill the occupants” and used a racial slur, the Detroit News reported.

If Dog Breeds Were People

A friend shared this on Facebook. I thought it was sufficiently amusing to pass along. I have had some of the dogs portrayed in this skit. The skit was accurate as far as I could see. 

Saturday, May 8, 2021

SALT Deduction Cap Fight

I play chess. I hate when my opponent manipulates me into a situation with no good choices. I don't think that former President Trump and his merry band of sycophants are good chess players but they did box in the Democrats on an issue that divides people along class and regional lines. 
I am referring to the 2017 tax law which capped the individual federal tax deduction for state and local income and property taxes or SALT at $10,000. This deduction was previously unlimited
So before 2017 someone who owned a mansion or other expensive property as their primary residence could deduct the entire state or local property tax or income tax owed from his or her federal income tax liability. But they can't do that today. 
Some people who pay high local income and property taxes don't like the new law. Not one bit. Many of the people most impacted are well off or wealthy Democrats in politically Democratic or "blue states".  
It's ironic because much of the Democratic messaging is that the well off should pay their fair share, which is in part what the SALT $10,000 deduction cap does, even though that's NOT why Trump and Republicans put it into place. I think the issue is probably the perceived unfairness that someone with a million dollar home in say Texas or Alabama is, all else equal, paying less in overall taxes than someone with the same priced home in California or New York. 

Movie Reviews: Night Vision

Night Vision
directed by Gil Bettman
The older movie Night Vision starred former NFL player and blaxploitation leading man Fred Williamson and noted martial arts performer Cynthia Rothrock. The idea wasn't that bad, if completely unoriginal. A burned out older cop with personal issues who is about to be fired is paired up with a younger female cop with a patchy history. 
Together the unlikely duo must confront an insane evil mastermind who has a personal grudge against the older cop. Eventually the two cops find that despite their differences they might actually (ahem) "like" each other. 
So we've seen this story before. Unfortunately Night Vision was poorly acted, poorly shot, had bad music, bad writing, bad lighting, and most unforgivably, bad action sequences. This is a bad movie. Horrible. Pointless. 
Although Night Vision was released in 1998 the soundtrack is an inept knockoff/parody of the 1980s Jan Hammer/Tangerine Dream style of synth pop used in the TV series Miami Vice
Dakota Smith (Williamson) is a divorced former detective who has been demoted to motorcycle patrol in part because he's an alcoholic but also because (1) he tends to shoot first and ask questions later and (2) doesn't mind telling his bosses to go f*** themselves. 

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Ma'khia Bryant Shooting

I rarely have nice things to say about the police. I think police are a necessary evil. Often conservatives and racists (which is almost redundant phrasing these days) defend obvious police brutality and misconduct against Black Americans by piously bleating that police save lives, make split second decisions, and are legally authorized or occasionally obligated to use force, even deadly force.
This is true, but irrelevant in the cases conservatives champion, which often involve police officers using force when it's not required simply because they feel like it, don't like Black people and/or want to make the point that Blacks have no rights police need to respect.  
Conservatives who champion this gratuitous anti-Black violence are often the same people who claim that they will shoot any police officer who attempts to take their guns or enter their home without a warrant. It is what it is. But even a broken clock is right twice a day. 
When I first heard about the Ma'khia Bryant case I assumed it was another case of a white cop reacting to a non-existent threat, flexing on unarmed Black people to feed a racist fragile ego, or shooting someone by mistake. But it wasn't any of those things. Ma'Khia Bryant was trying to stab another Black woman when Columbus Police Officer Nicholas Reardon shot her four times and ended her life.
Let's repeat that. Bryant was trying to stab someone. You can't handwave that away.

Movie Reviews: Jakob's Wife

Jakob's Wife
directed by Travis Stevens
Barbara Crampton is horror/B-movie royalty and has been since her work in Re-Animator as well as her more recent turn in the inventive You're Next. I liked Crampton's acting, but I didn't care for this movie as much as I thought I would. 
There are many reasons for that but I think the most relevant one is that Jakob's Wife is not as much a horror or thriller movie as it is a pandering would be feminist treatise about the evils of marriage for women. A second reason is that even if I freely grant that horror movies can, have been, and even should be used as social critiques and political consciousness-raising tracts, I though this film didn't deliver a good mix between entertainment and commentary.
The filmmaker must make the antagonist worse than a morally dubious protagonist to win viewer sympathy. The Godfather did this well. Though Coppola depicts only criminals, he deftly shows us events through the Corleone eyes. Coppola details antagonist sins but not the Corleone crimes. The viewer identifies with the "good" Mafia Family. Coppola was reportedly concerned by how thoroughly he accomplished this; he therefore went out of his way in the sequel to emphasize that the Corleones were the bad guys. 
Rob Zombie pulled off  a similar trick in The Devil's Rejects. His protagonist family is evil but the members love and sacrifice for each other. The final reason I wasn't that impressed with Jakob's Wife was that once again the Black person (in this case a Black woman) died first.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Movie Reviews: The Big Heat

The Big Heat (1953)
directed by Fritz Lang
This earlier film starred film noir standouts Gloria Grahame and Glenn Ford, who were later seen together in Human Desire, also directed by Fritz Lang. 
It is one of the better noir films narratively and visually. 
Although the film is set during a time in what later generations view as either a wonderful highpoint or ugly nadir of male supremacy where women stayed in the kitchen and men made all the decisions, The Big Heat's male hero compliantly washes dishes, does other household chores, and apologizes to his wife when he gives offense. 
The man may be bringing home the money but if he rules the roost, it's only because that's how his wife wants it. It's pretty clear who makes most of the final decisions at home and it's not the man. The hero views his role as provider and protector, not necessarily as boss. 
Although the hero talks tough and upsets the applecart because he's set on justifiable revenge, it's the women whose actions drive the story and make things happen. It's also, for good or bad, the women who often pay the price. This last is so pronounced that one could make an argument that the hero is something of an unwitting "femme fatale" ( homme fatale?) himself. 
Many people are worse off for knowing him. The hero tries to do the right thing, even when he's on his roaring rampage of revenge, but he often inadvertently makes things worse for other people, especially women

Tax Preparer Pulls Gun On Customer

You know, for most people who aren't millionaires, independently wealthy, earn a living from profits, rents, and interest instead of salary, or have business interests, income, and property in multiple states and nations, I have never thought that it made much difference whether they did their tax returns themselves or paid for professional tax prep.

Everyone wants to minimize their taxes owed, whether they are barely surviving or have so much wealth that they forget how many cars or homes that they own. 
But when you're a salaried schlub, the government usually already knows to the penny how much income you earned last year. In that case, I don't see much value in paying anyone significant amounts of money to prepare your taxes. Still, many people do.
However, if I were to hire someone to prepare my tax return, giving them my social security number and other privileged information, I'd want to ensure that this person was trustworthy. I wouldn't hire someone who had recently been in prison for robbery. But we all have different risk preferences I guess.

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

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

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

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

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?