Saturday, March 31, 2012

Television-Game of Thrones S1 Recap and S2 Anticipation

HBO's Game of Thrones FINALLY returns for Season Two tomorrow!!! 
Why did I like Game of Thrones? Because it's adult fantasy. It presents real characters with recognizable motivations and frailties. Few characters are one moral shade. Everyone has their own interests and limited information. Imagine The Wire or The Sopranos meets Middle Earth.
Season One started with the "hero" Ned Stark agreeing to work for the King. It ended with both the King and Ned murdered and Ned's family scattered. I hope you enjoy the Season One Recap below. Season Two Trailers are included within. There are no Season Two spoilers but Season One is detailed.

This is a series with a lot of moral complexity, backstabbing, double dealing, religious extremists, and examinations of the glory and horror that goes on when wars start. It breaks down the costs of honor and how difficult it can be to always do the right thing.
There was an asinine NYT review of Season Two that complained that Ned was dead, things weren't moving fast enough and there were too many characters. NEWS FLASH: Season Two does not complete the story. Season Two is primarily based on the second book of a series which is currently planned for seven. If you want simplistic heroes, quick results and feeble-minded plot lines, go watch a cartoon at the kiddies' table. If you have some patience for Dickensian complexity and appreciate good writing and great production values, check this out.

Season One Recap
Ned Stark, the Warden of the North, was invited by his oldest and closest friend, King Robert Barratheon, to become King Robert's Hand (Prime Minister). King Robert wants Ned's oldest daughter Sansa to marry Robert's son Joffrey. This will unite their families. Ned will be the father-in-law of one king and the grandfather of another. King Robert's wife, Queen Cersei Lannister, is committing adultery with her twin brother, Jaime. Ned's son Bran saw them. Jaime threw Bran from a window. Bran survived but was crippled and comatose. Someone made a second murder attempt. Based on her sister's information, Ned's wife Catelyn tells Ned that the Lannisters murdered the previous Hand, her brother-in-law.

Arya makes a point to big sis

Disturbed, nonetheless Ned goes south with the royals, his feuding daughters Sansa (a very traditional girl) and Arya (a tomboy), and some Northern soldiers. Ned left his castle Winterfell under Catelyn's authority. She and eldest son Robb will watch after Bran and the youngest son Rickon. Catelyn dislikes Ned's illegitimate son Jon Snow. Jon Snow is exiled to the Wall. Although, like most nobles, Ned and Catelyn have an arranged marriage, quite unusually they love, trust and respect each other.

Ned is shocked to discover that the Robert he remembers as a decisive leader and great warrior has become a brutish, lazy drunk who is simultaneously browbeaten by Cersei and regularly abuses and cheats on her. Ned finds that the Kingdom's true power is held not by the King but by (1) his Lannister in-laws, the king's creditors who have entirely too many soldiers around, and (2) the enigmatic royal advisers Varys (a spymaster) and Littlefinger (Treasury head who still carries a torch for Catelyn).

Lady Catelyn Stark
Catelyn Stark finds evidence that the Queen was present where Bran "fell". She thinks the second attempt proves Bran knows something dangerous. Incognito, she travels south to see Ned. Littlefinger tells both Starks that the Lannisters, specifically the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, were behind the murder attempts. Ned asks Catelyn to do nothing rash and sends her back to Winterfell. Ned will investigate. Ned's daughters see that Robert's teen son Joffrey is a mean and vindictive little brat.
King Robert learns that a previous regime princess, Daenerys Targaryen, still lives. Danerys is married to a Eastern king. She is pregnant. Robert wants to murder her. The moralistic and honest Ned disagrees. Ned resigns as Hand, greatly embarrassing and angering Robert.
Returning home Catelyn Stark (nee Tully) runs into Tyrion Lannister. As Catelyn is on her father's lands and close to her sister's domain, in one of Season One's greatest scenes she orders Tyrion's arrest. (This scene was also echoed in Boardwalk Empire)

This proves to be a very bad idea. Although he dislikes his sarcastic, prostitute patronizing son, Tyrion's father, Tywin Lannister is outraged by Tyrion's arrest. Tywin sends his most monstrous soldiers to rape, kill and pillage on Tully lands. Jaime Lannister attacks Ned Stark. Ned is crippled. His bodyguards are killed. The King remakes Ned the Hand.  Ned orders away more of his dwindling troop to defend his wife's lands.

Ned finally realizes that not only is Cersei having an incestuous affair but also all of her children are Jaime's. This is a capital crime. Rather foolishly, but in accordance with his morals, Ned tells Cersei that he knows everything. He gives her 48 hrs to leave town before he informs Robert. Cersei laughs, offers herself to Ned and when that fails, tells Ned she's not going anywhere and if he wants to get in the ring against her he better come heavy.

Cersei has arranged for Robert to be mortally injured in a hunting "accident". Cersei seduced her own cousin to set Robert up. The too compassionate Ned is unwilling to tell his dying friend of Cersei's crimes. Robert's brother Renly urges Ned to seize Cersei and her children and recognize Renly as King. Renly's soldiers will protect Ned and his family. Ned believes that Renly's older brother Stannis is the lawful heir and scornfully declines Renly's offer. Ned sends word to Stannis. Renly flees.
Increasingly desperate for manpower and advice, Ned turns to Littlefinger, who suggests Ned submit and play ball until such time as he can profitably reveal the incest. Ned rejects that idea as dishonorable. Out of options, Ned requests that Littlefinger pay the City Guard to support Ned until Stannis' arrival. Littlefinger agrees.

Robert makes Ned regent and dies. Thus armed with the law, his few remaining soldiers and the City Guard, Ned goes before Cersei, Joffrey and Lannister troops to claim his rights as regent.  Cersei says she doesn't give a flying f*** what Robert said. The only question now is if Ned will bend the knee to Joffrey. Ned says Joffrey is not the true king and orders Joffrey's arrest. But Littlefinger betrayed Ned. The City Guard supports the Lannisters. Ned is captured. His final loyalists are killed. Across the palace, Lannisters butcher Stark people. Arya escapes but Sansa is captured.

Ghost: Jon Snow's Direwolf
 Across the ocean Danerys Targaryen is now the last Targaryen. Her pervy older brother Viserys was upset that his sister's authority had eclipsed his own. Viserys wanted his brother-in-law Khal Drogo to invade Westeros immediately. Viserys threatens to kill Danerys but is killed by Drogo. Drogo and Danerys grow even closer together when the assassination attempt on Daneys fails. Mess with a man's woman and unborn child and you're going to get handled. Drogo promises Old Testament level retribution. 

But some of Drogo's men aren't supportive. They don't wish to go to war overseas for a foreigner. They are vociferously opposed to Danerys ordering them about.
One fool insults Danerys. Khal Drogo must make an example. They duel. Drogo is contemptuous of his adversary's weapon. In an example of "You may get yours but brother don't let me get mine", Drogo fights weaponless and leans into the other man's sword to get close enough to rip out his opponent's throat with his bare hands.

M-A-N indeed. But this Alpha Male Big Dog display costs Drogo. He is now either infected or poisoned and falls from his horse. A Khal who can not ride is no Khal at all in Dothraki culture. Danerys tries to save Drogo's life. She begs help from a witch. The witch "saves" Drogo's life by making him virtually comatose, which is no life for any Dothraki. The witch's sorcery also kills Danerys' unborn child and leaves her barren. Danerys mercy kills Drogo. The Dothraki horde deserts Danerys. She is left with a small core of women, children and Dothraki men who are either poor warriors or liberal/loyal enough not to mind taking orders from a foreign girl. In her first official act as Khaleesei (Queen) she creates a funeral pyre for Drogo and burns the witch alive upon it. Impulsively, she places dragon eggs on the pyre. She walks into the fire and the eggs hatch. Unharmed by the flames she is now the literal mother of dragons-three newborn dragons suckle upon her.

Sansa begs for her father's life
Hearing of his father's arrest, Robb Stark summons the Stark bannermen. As Robb is only 17 or so, some Northerners question his wisdom or authority but after Robb's Direwolf Grey Wind bites off a few fingers, they get with the program. Catelyn reminds Robb that the Lannisters still have his sisters. The Lannisters demand Robb's allegiance. Sansa Stark begs (now King) Joffrey to show her father mercy. Joffrey says he will do so provided Ned retracts his claim that Joffrey is not King and admits to treason.
Locked in a dungeon and in a VERY bad mood, Ned has no intention of doing any such thing. He's been in worse situations. For Ned, truth and honor are more important than his life. Varys, who refuses to help Ned escape, asks if Ned feels the same way about his daughters' lives.

Ned goes before the crowd including King Joffrey and recants his claim that Joffrey is not king. He falsely admits to treasonous acts. Varys has led him to believe that Ned will be exiled. This is Cersei's desire. Joffrey, however, has different plans. From pure spite Joffrey orders Ned's execution. Ned is beheaded while Sansa screams in horror. In a touching scene Ned sees Arya in the crowd and is able to tell a Night Watch man to save her. Bran Stark (who has awoken from his coma with no memory of Jaime and Cersei) and Rickon Stark see their father's murder in dreams. Bran is developing some form of ESP.
Ned's death means war. Good GAWD Y'all!!!

Robb "The Young Wolf" Stark

The North secedes and recognizes Robb Stark as their "King In The North". Robb Stark leads the Northern forces to initial victory against the Lannisters. He captures Jaime Lannister. Jon Snow hears the news. He wants to desert the Night Watch to fight alongside his brother but is convinced to keep his oath. There are strange happenings in the north. The Night Watch intends to ride in force to defeat the wild tribes and any undead creatures. Jon isn't the first prince forced to put Wall duty above family duty.
The sadistic Joffrey makes Sansa look upon her father's severed head and promises her that soon he'll put Robb's head next to it. Sansa responds that maybe Robb will make her a gift of Joffrey's head instead. In response Joffrey has his bodyguards beat Sansa for his enjoyment. They all do this except for The Hound, a brutal killer who murdered Arya's friend, but who evidently likes Sansa.

Daenerys Reborn
Got all that? Good because it will be on the test. Ned's dead. Robb Stark calls himself King but will Catelyn Stark take orders from someone whose bottom she used to wipe? The Starks will seek new allies. Jon Snow is riding North where his loyalty and honor will be tested. Arya Stark is going thru hell trying to get home. Sansa Stark is going thru hell being Joffrey's plaything. Bran Stark has strange dreams. Tyrion Lannister will become his nephew Joffrey's Hand, at Tywin Lannister's command. This puts Tyrion on a collision course with Cersei, who despises him. Cersei rages against the patriarchy but dare not disobey her Daddy. Both Stannis and Renly claim the throne. Daenerys Targaryen has dragons. Season Two will introduce several new characters. Harsh, austere and battle tested Stannis makes common cause with a religious redheaded strange seductive seer from the East while charismatic and militarily inexperienced Renly has Westeros' only female knight watching his back.

Other Houses must decide who to support. Some are just happy to see rivals wasting manpower and money.
Season Two New Character
There will be oodles of violence, sex, love and hate. In Season One HBO used dogs for the Stark Direwolves. Per books the wolves are large/dangerous enough even as pups to worry Stark enemies. As adults -and they grow quickly - they are supposed to be almost as large as small ponies. In Season Two the Stark Direwolves will be represented by a mixture of dogs, CGI and animatronics. I'm looking forward to this. Wow you read all this??? I would have quit a long time ago. =)  Well in reward for your patience here are some trailers for Season Two and a feature from Season One.
Season Two Trailers
The Cold Winds are Rising Trailer  
The More You Love Trailer   Price for our Sins Trailer 
Nowhere to Hide Trailer  Seven Devils Trailer
Arya Stark Feature

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Detroit's Last Stand

As you may have heard about or read here in a previous post the City of Detroit is broke. The Mayor and Council have been unable and unwilling to fix the problem. The state review board has certified that Detroit is a hot mess. This started the legal process for Governor Rick Snyder to seek either a consent agreement between the city and state or to impose an emergency manager. The consent agreement is "emergency manager lite". Under a consent agreement the mayor and council would still have some fiscal influence, just not very much. A financial board would be set up to run the city's finances. Members would be appointed by the governor, the mayor and the city council. Union contracts could not peremptorily be thrown out. Under an emergency manager law, the mayor's and council's authority to do anything would be eliminated, not trimmed and union contracts could be reopened or rejected. Detroit has just a few days left before the city is obligated to either be in an consent agreement or the governor must impose an emergency manager. 
As you might imagine, this being Detroit nothing gets done easily or on time. Although the governor has said he doesn't want an emergency manager, he has refused to rule it out. But the Detroit political establishment also doesn't want a consent agreement and has so far refused to sign the agreement offered by the state. They are working on a different document, which they call a financial stability agreement but is a consent agreement by another name. This could come out today. This document pointedly refuses to give any review board final say over finances. So this is, obviously a sticking point. City Council member Kwame Kenyatta said the state-city relationship was akin to a "master-slave" one.

There were public meetings on the process to declare a financial emergency and of course people showed up to comment as is their right. One such person who got some attention was local activist, gadfly and New Black Panther Party member Malik Shabazz who said, well, just listen:


As you might imagine this didn't go over very well with many people in or outside of Detroit. The general response from outside of the city about threats to burn it down seemed to fall into three categories:

  • Go right ahead
  • That's how we know you're insane
  • How would we tell the difference?

SE Michigan remains one of the more racially divided population tracts in the US. It is what it is.
So after all the shouting, moaning, and testifying is over Detroit is really stuck with a number of unpleasant choices

  1. Bankruptcy
  2. Consent Agreement
  3. Emergency Manager

That's it. Of course this being SE Michigan it is possible that the numbers are all awry and that Detroit actually has enough money to make it for another 3 months or another 6 months or more. It is possible that the state or federal government might create a bailout plan. 
It is possible that some liberal billionaire could write a check to bail the city out. 
It is also possible that I may win the lottery today.

But planning on such things is not how intelligent people organize their life.
There is of course no guarantee that a consent agreement or even an emergency manager will solve the problem. Detroit may be too far gone for that. The unfortunate truth is that there is not enough income and too much out-go. This spiral of higher costs and lower revenue has been obvious for at least the past decade. One needn't sign on to every last single right-wing austerity meme to recognize that unlike the Federal government, Detroit can't print money and can lose high numbers of citizens to areas that have better services, lower taxes and lower levels of crime.

Racism scars people. I understand that. It is extremely unpleasant for Detroiters to consider a future in which their elected officials have their authority trimmed or eliminated. But as I've said before, getting upset about such things now is like getting peeved when the bank decides to repossess the car that you haven't made payments on in 6 months. Sure, you can contact a bank rep and call her all out of her name if you like. It may make you feel better. But it doesn't change the underlying reality. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson can continue talking about what the state owes Detroit. But no one who cares is listening. It's EXACTLY like having a boss who promises you a raise but then the company runs into trouble and your boss leaves for greener pastures. The new boss tells you that not only are you not getting a raise but that pay cuts are imminent. I've been there. Ranting on and on about what you're owed doesn't make a dime's bit of difference. And for what it's worth it's not (just) a race thing. A predominantly white Detroit suburb may be getting an emergency manager as well. Things are tough all over.

1) If your city was at the brink, would you rather burn it down than accept an emergency manager/consent agreement?
2) Should the state of Michigan have refused to get involved?
3) Is bankruptcy a better option than state control?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Book Reviews-LA Confidential, Why is Sex Fun?, Weapons of Choice

L.A. Confidential
by James Ellroy.
I don't know what James Ellroy really thinks of black people or what he's like in real life. Absent other evidence, as readers we should be really wary of assuming anything about authors. On the other hand I think that over time you can and indeed must make some judgments about people based on what they write. It's tricky though. SM Stirling quote:
"And a special acknowledgment to the author of Niven's Law: There is a technical, literary term for those who mistake the opinions and beliefs of characters in a novel for those of the author. The term is 'idiot.'"

I would like to provoke ambiguous responses in my readers. That's what I want. There's part of me that would really like to be one of Dudley Smith's goons and go back and beat up some jazz musicians, and there's part of me that's just appalled. I figured out a while back that I'm an unregenerate white Anglo-Saxon Protestant heterosexual. So are my men. Their racism and homophobia is appalling, but it's germane to their characters, and people will either get that or not get it. That's that.* Ellroy Quote
Also, so that we would know exactly what he thinks of people that have a problem with his prose style Ellroy thoughtfully shared this
In L.A. Confidential, Ellroy tells a multifaceted story of good and evil (perhaps lesser evil and greater evil or better yet different kinds of evil) in post-war Los Angeles. His primary protagonists are three LAPD officers. They make Daryl Gates look like Michael Dukakis. The men also almost exactly line up with id (White), ego (Vincennes) and superego (Exley) and rather less well with the old D&D alignments of Chaotic Evil (White), Neutral Evil (Vincennes) and Lawful Neutral (Exley)
These three generally unlikable men all have some small commitment to justice. There's Officer Wendell (Bud) White, a frightening enforcer who lets his fists and nightstick do his talking. White is among the LAPD's most violent cops. The department leaders use his skills to obtain confessions from hardcases or send a message to criminals. Out of town mobsters who arrive in LA are given a brutal meet and greet by Bud White and other members of an anti-hoodlum squad set up by Captain Dudley Smith and tolerated by Chief Parker.
As a boy White watched his father murder his mother. Now White spends his spare time visiting men paroled for domestic violence and putting the boot to them. White may not even bother "talking" to them. He always has a throwaway gun ready to plant on someone he killed in "self-defense". White is well aware that his bosses see him as a dumb brute. He hides that he's smarter than people think. White wants to be a detective. The quickest way to get hurt badly by White (besides calling him Wendell) is to insult or harm a woman. God help you if you raise a hand to a lady in his presence.
Chief Parker:LAPD

There's Lieutenant Detective Edmund Exley, a strait laced police officer and war hero who is caught up in Oedipal competition with his father Preston Exley, a former police officer and wealthy businessman.  Unlike White, Exley prefers doing things by the book. He usually avoids open profanity, racial slurs or abuse of authority, certainly not because he thinks any more of certain despised groups (blacks, hispanics, gays, prostitutes, etc) but rather because he has extreme confidence in his own intelligence and ability to get what he needs from people without the rough stuff. Exley and White hate one another because Exley testified against White and White's partner in a savage Christmas beating (this happened in real life) of defenseless Hispanic suspects. Exley's no nice guy though. He manipulates the rules to help his own rise and harm that of his rivals. If he does the right thing it's usually because that's what the law or code says he should do, not because he has any huge desire to protect citizens. When pushed to his limits his ability for violence may rival White's.
Lastly there's Sergeant Jack Vincennes aka Trashcan Jack. Jack is neither an open thug like White nor is he obsessed with rules, procedure and doing the right thing like Exley. Vincennes is a narcotics detective who works the Hollywood beat. He is the LAPD liaison for a Dragnet like TV show. He uses his film and music industry contacts to enrich himself and his friends, most specifically Sid Hudchens, the owner and publisher of the gossip magazine Hush-Hush. Blackmail and information is Vincennes' stock in trade. He knows which stars are drug addicts, rapists, pedophiles, or closeted homosexuals. He knows who's engaging in adultery or miscegenation. He knows all the pimps, prostitutes, pornographers, junkies and pushers. 

Vincennes channels this information back and forth to Hudchens and others, both for personal profit and to smear political rivals. Vincennes is pleasantly corrupt and goes along to get along whenever possible. He's self-interested and doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize collecting his full pension upon his swiftly approaching retirement. Vincennes is an alcoholic and not above sampling the drugs he confiscates. He has other more shocking hidden dirt. He may even have a hidden conscience.

James Ellroy
All three men are pulled into a nightmarish and complex case which starts with a gangland style massacre at the Nite Owl restaurant. Black hoodlums are blamed and soon after killed. This should be the end of the story. However for different reasons and at different times, all three cops pursue leads that suggest that the black hoodlums weren't the killers. In fact there may be a nexus of multiple conspiracies between the LAPD, business leaders and local organized crime that really explains what happened. Ellroy anticipated the Gary Webb Dark Alliance story. Eventually the officers team up and then the pillars of heaven start to shake. All three men have to compromise and change to crack this case. It requires each of the trio's special talents.
This is a very deep book. There are at least 7-8 different storylines that are going on. It's easy to get lost. Ellory has a staccato writing style. He uses short direct sentences. L.A. Confidential has so much going on that like the classic noir novels it's modeled on and surpasses, you may have to go back and reread a few chapters. Things are never what they seem. Just when you think you've got something figured out Ellroy writes a twist that shows you that no you didn't. I like that sort of writing. A recurring theme is that justice may require getting your hands dirty. There aren't always easy answers. Sometimes evil is required to defeat evil. Exley's father warns him that if Exley is, as he says, unwilling to shape a case as the prosecutor sees it, shoot a fleeing felon in the back, plant evidence on a guilty man, or turn a blind eye to brutality then he needs to find a line of work where he won't have to make those choices. Everybody gets a little dirty in the world of L.A. Confidential. Hypocrisy is the name of the game.

The racism, sexism, and contempt for homosexuals is of the times.  Reading this I was wondering if Ellroy was trying to prove that he could use every racial slur against blacks that had ever been invented. If he didn't reach that goal, it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. Again though this is appropriate when writing a story about the 1950's era LAPD. So, if you like hardboiled noir, where the cops are tough, the hoods crack wise and the dames are all playing different angles, this could be for you. But if you like stories with clearly defined good guys and bad guys where everything is neatly wrapped up then this is definitely not a book for you. It is however a masterful piece of writing. The movie was excellent in a different way but definitely softened the uglier attitudes that are present in most of the characters.
*Ellroy Quote

Why is Sex Fun?
by Jared Diamond
This question might seem to answer itself of course but someone like Jared Diamond isn't satisfied with just leaving queries like that on the table. Diamond is a biophysicist, biologist, anthropologist and in general an all around smart guy. I suggest reading his book Guns, Germs, and Steel.
In Why is Sex Fun?, Diamond seeks to answer that question by looking at the total path of human sexuality. He examines how sexuality, posture, and brain capacity make us different from our nearest relatives, the great apes.

You don't have to have science degrees to understand this book as it appears to be quite deliberately written for the non-scientist. It's a very short fun read that tries not only to solve the title question but offers investigation into which animals have the oddest sex life, what men are good for, what signals we send purposely and unwittingly, why humans even have sex when there is no chance or desire for reproduction, why we have concealed ovulation, why privacy is important and several other questions or quirks that make humans quite different from other animals and other mammals. Why is paternal care for the young so rare among mammals?

This was written back in 1997. It has a very strong helping of evolutionary biology which some people may find problematic. Some of the information may be dated. But that's an argument for another day. Culture and biology work together and feedback to and reinforce each other. Diamond tries to avoid "just so" stories, which is what a lot of evolutionary biology is accused of being.

People with the relevant scientific backgrounds or of political persuasions that leave them skeptical of evolution or biological differences may find holes in some of this book's examples, logic and reasoning. It is a short book. It's just 160 pages. But I found it cogent, concise and well argued. YMMV.

Weapons of Choice 
by John Birmingham
Time travel may well be theoretically possible (at least going into the past) but as far as we know no one has ever done it. But what if someone did? And what if that someone were a 2021 multinational and multiracial carrier force, led by Americans and full of Navy and Marine personnel, that was sent back to 1942 just before the American - Japanese Midway battle?

You've likely seen stories like this before but Birmingham does a bang up job of making this book (the initial in a trilogy) really come alive. He does this by the simple fact of including human nature as a character in his book. The Americans from 1942 are initially happy to have assistance from the Americans of 2021 while the modern Americans are delighted to give it.

However this starts to change almost immediately as many of the 1942 Americans have zero use for feminism, racial equality, modern fitness techniques, non-smoking or any of the other ideas we take for granted. They become very wary of and coolly hostile to their countrymen and countrywomen from the future. They view the idea of taking orders from women of any race or blacks of either gender with profoundly deep disdain. They don't get why a carrier is named after a woman President (The USS Hilary Clinton)  And they are desperate to prevent these ideas from spreading. For their part the modern Americans think that the 1942 Americans all sound like actors from old Warner Brothers movies and are generally eager to change things as quickly as possible.

However not all of the multinational ships made it through the wormhole in one piece or under American or allied control. The 1942 Japanese, Germans and Russians have gotten their hands on some of the modern military technology and worse yet, on history books. So Stalin, Tojo, Hitler and others are able to see what mistakes they made. And the countries that had nuclear programs or were thinking about them are ecstatic or frightened to find out that not only are such weapons possible, but the future Americans have them.

This entire book is an example of chaos theory in action on political, scientific, military and even romantic relationships. Some members of the 2021 multinational force that came through the wormhole are Japanese or Indonesian. They're not sure they want to be fighting their own great grandparents or fighting on the same side as the 1942 British and Dutch who intend to reestablish white colonial rule in SE Asia. This was a really fun book that was crammed with realistic characters. You can probably pick it up for cheap. I did.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gene Simmons Attacks Rihanna

When announcing their tour together KISS frontman/bassist Gene Simmons and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee found it necessary to gratuitously attack Rihanna for alleged lack of musical ability.
"We're sick and tired of girls getting up there with dancers and karaoke tapes in back of them," Simmons told the crowd at the press conference, reports "No fake bull***t. Leave that to the Rihanna, Shmianna and anyone who ends their name with an 'A.' "
The ironic thing of course is that although KISS was a fantastically commercially successful band in their heyday they were not considered then or now to be excellent or frankly even good musicians. They were known for exalting the stage show above any other consideration. Simmons (born Chaim Witz) in particular was known to be a greedy SOB who cared much more about the dollar signs and over the top stage performances than anything having to do with music. In short they were EXACTLY what they are accusing Rihanna of being.
And that goes DOUBLE for Motley Crue who really were the 80's equivalent of The Osmonds, The Partridge Family, Peter Frampton, etc. :something musically lame but that was loved by many teen (mostly white) girls and sold bazillions of records because of that. Few people speak seriously of Motley Crue's skilled musicianship. Motley Crue had about as much musical talent as your average saltine cracker. People talk about the various groupies they had, what they looked like in their tight pants, eye liner and long hair, and their copious consumption of drugs and alcohol. They were EXACTLY the sort of band that was mocked and (temporarily) killed off by the 90's grunge movement. They were known as hair bands and replaced by groups like Soundgarden, Nirvana, Alice in Chains, etc.
I am not a Rihanna fan. I don't like or dislike her music. It's just not my thing. She's very easy on the eyes but I just haven't heard much of her music. To each their own.
But there is an underlying racism and jealousy that you see in a lot of white rock bands. On the one hand they claim to be of greater musical integrity as compared to pop/dance. But on the other they are insanely jealous of the fact that dance-pop/R&B is what is in right now. It must be somewhat frustrating to have spent all your time ripping off people who ripped off people who ripped off black musicians only to find out in your old age that tastes changed.
Jazz, blues or classical musicians could make the same accusations of musical fraudulence about rock in general and KISS/Motley Crue in particular that Simmons and Lee are making about Rihanna. Music is not a competition. The fact you like one type of music doesn't prevent me from liking a different type of music. I may think your tastes pedestrian or silly but I don't necessarily need to share that with the world or insult you or your music.*
The underlying idea here, and this goes back a while, is that any music which is danceable is by definition less challenging and of little utility. Race plays a HUGE role in this. Post Beatles, most white popular music or rock has not been danceable. There's also a dose of sexism there to boot. Many of the greatest musicians are men but great singers are found equally in both genders. And most of today's greatest singers are women. I don't know if Rihanna is a great singer or not. But I know she's better than Simmons. Listening to him sing is like listening to a drunk hippopotamus break wind. I mean you could do it but why would you?
A band that is primarily known for the number of porn stars or Baywatch stars they slept with and the multiple sex tapes they made with these stars doesn't get to impugn the talents of a singer.
A multimillionaire senior citizen who dresses up in makeup, leather, high heels and spits fake blood and fire has no room to say anything about someone else's musical integrity.
And anyone with the mellifluous moniker of "Chaim Witz" certainly has no business making fun of anyone else's name.

Give it to me straight doc!
Well Shady on the last trip to Budapest you must not have protected yourself. You have Chaim Witz syndrome. It's incurable...
*Unless it's country or certain forms of rap music which have been scientifically proven to primarily be listened to by people who are missing chromosomes and/or the normal number of teeth...
1) Why do people feel it necessary to tear down other people in the same business?
2) Have you ever listened to any Motley Crue or KISS songs?
3) Does Simmons have a point? Is modern pop too fake?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Companies Demand Facebook Passwords!

"We're watching you"
One of the nice things about being a blogger or frequent blog commenter is that you get the opportunity to build an online persona and interact with people literally all over the world. This online persona may be close to your "real life" personality or it may be 180 degrees apart. You may decide to be totally and completely transparent with readers and co-bloggers or you may hold on fiercely to your "secret" or "online identity" and associated privacy.
Now imagine if a would be employer did an online search for you and found your Facebook page. They looked at the public views and didn't find anything objectionable: no racist jokes and calls for bloody revolution, no fond memories (and pictures) of Copenhagen orgies, no five star reviews of Tijuana brothels. You're good to go right? Not so fast. Let's say that the would be employer is not convinced that you're not hiding something. After all EVERYONE is hiding something. And this employer is a watchful, distrustful sort.

So the interviewer politely asks you for your various and sundry passwords from your Facebook/disqus/yahoo/gmail/hushmail/google/linkedin/amazon/etc accounts so that they can log on as you and review all of your private pages, emails, instant messages, associates, and what you've been viewing, reading or watching in your personal time.  
  • After all, you might be a terrorist or worse, an ACLU member. 
  • You might have friends of friends who said something negative about the company two years ago. 
  • You might belong to "problematic" political or cultural groups.
  • Maybe you've sent naughty instant messages to your spouse, significant other or friend with benefits. 
  • You may have neglected to mention certain medical conditions you have.
  • Maybe you got a thang going on with Mrs. Jones.
Like I said, EVERYONE is hiding something. But if you're NOT hiding anything then of course you won't mind the company looking, right? RIGHT????
SEATTLE (AP) — When Justin Bassett interviewed for a new job, he expected the usual questions about experience and references. So he was astonished when the interviewer asked for something else: his Facebook username and password. Bassett, a New York City statistician, had just finished answering a few character questions when the interviewer turned to her computer to search for his Facebook page. But she couldn't see his private profile. She turned back and asked him to hand over his login information..
Bassett refused and withdrew his application, saying he didn't want to work for a company that would seek such personal information. But as the job market steadily improves, other job candidates are confronting the same question from prospective employers, and some of them cannot afford to say no...
Back in 2010, Robert Collins was returning to his job as a security guard at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services after taking a leave following his mother's death. During a reinstatement interview, he was asked for his login and password, purportedly so the agency could check for any gang affiliations. He was stunned by the request but complied.
"I needed my job to feed my family. I had to," he recalled,
After the ACLU complained about the practice, the agency amended its policy, asking instead for job applicants to log in during interviews.

Robert Collins
I think this is just a sad state of affairs. As so many people have been apathetic or quiet about the government invading their privacy without cause whether it be NYPD/FBI spying, FISA or Patriot Act or TSA searches, it only makes sense that companies would want to get in on the act.
I can't imagine working for a company that would even have the nerve to ask me something like this. The answer would be no. I would end the interview.  Of course I'm not currently desperate for a job and I matured before online personas had become so ubiquitous. What would I do were I younger or if I needed to get some money pretty doggone quickly to avoid eviction or repossession? I would still stand on principle and tell them to attempt airborne copulation with a revolving pastry. I've got to be free. But that's just me. How about you? You may need to think about this.

And the sign said "Long-haired freaky people need not apply 
So I tucked my hair up under my hat and I went in to ask him why  
He said "You look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you'll do"  
So I took off my hat, I said "Imagine that. Huh! Me workin' for you!"   
1) Would you agree to give a company passwords to your Facebook, emails, blogs, etc?
2) Should this be illegal?
3) Do you think a company would ever have any valid reason to ask for this information?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Movie Reviews-35 and Ticking, Lucky, Attack the Block, Quarantine 2

35 and Ticking
directed by Russ Parr
Nicole Ari Parker is one of the world's most beautiful women. She's not a bad actress either. Given those two facts I'm befuddled as to why she hasn't had at least as much success as similar or lesser talented actresses like Zoe Saldana, Thandie Newton or Halle Berry. Good Roles for black actresses are hard to find though.

So when I saw her on the DVD cover I had to check out this romantic comedy. 35 and Ticking has an ensemble cast which includes people such as Megan Good (another actress of noticeable beauty), Mike Epps, Keith Robinson, Jill Marie Jones, Tamala Jones, Kevin Hart, Clifton Powell,  Kym Whitley, and Wendy Raquel Robinson. The story is older than dirt but I liked the execution. Or maybe I just liked Nicole Ari Parker. Either way this was a humorous movie with a few over the top events. It wasn't quite at the level of "gospel plays" or some of Tyler Perry's less subtle work. It's not really lowbrow but it's not afraid to occasionally go for a few cheap laughs. OK, maybe more than a few.

It follows the adventures of four childhood friends, who having reached their mid thirties, have discovered that they aren't quite where they'd like to be in life, either professionally (in some cases) or romantically (in all cases).
Phil (Keith Robinson) struggles gamely along as a hard working water delivery driver and extremely dedicated father and husband, who silently suffers and broods over his wife Coco's (Jill Marie Jones) intensely disrespectful and dismissive attitude.
Zenobia (Nicole Ari Parker) is an unmarried local TV sports anchor who is always getting hit on by obnoxious entitled sports stars like Nick West (Darius McCrary), but is so picky that she worries she may have priced herself out of the marriage marketplace.

Victoria (Tamala Jones) is married but it's not exactly a happy union as her husband Austin (Dondre Whitfield) has done just about everything short of taking out a newspaper ad to announce to the world that he does not want children. Victoria wants children very badly. The group's last member is Cleavon (Kevin Hart). He's a single man who doesn't really have romantic problems because he's usually too shy to talk to a woman, let alone convince one to be his girlfriend. There's also the little matter of Cleavon not having a job. He makes his living by legal but rather pathetic methods (this is the source of much of the movie's cheap humor and was actually used a few times too many). Mike Epps and Wendy Raquel Robinson also provide laughs as a perpetually battling and reconciling couple who live across the hall from one of the four major characters. Is there anyone who does deadpan better than Mike Epps?

 Yeah You!!!!!
I'm glad I saw this movie. It reminded me of Hav Plenty and Loving Jezebel. It's not often that we get to see black people on screen just being people with all of the good, bad, and ugly that that implies. Although the Nick West and Coco characters come close there aren't really any over the top sexual stereotypes. Watch for Clifton Powell in a hilarious cameo as an older man trying to impress his date. This was not a super high budget movie but neither was it a film that looked like something a pushy cousin is trying to sell you at Thanksgiving either. I suppose you could say the whole thing could have been an elongated Friends or Seinfeld episode but sometimes that's okay.  TRAILER

directed by Gil Cates Jr.
The normal way to describe independent films like Lucky is to say that they are quirky. So, yes this is a quirky film. It's weird. It's offbeat. It's clapping on one and three in one measure and two and four in the next. It worked for me, not just because of the acting which is never anything but natural but also because of the writing which takes a LOT of chances. Not all of them pan out but enough do. So I thought the film was worth mentioning. Similar to 35 and Ticking, this is not a big budget movie. However because I liked the writing and acting I never noticed any other issues.

Lucy (Ari Graynor) is a plain jane executive assistant at an accounting firm. She is also the side dish of one of the firm's up and coming young partnership track go-getters. Lucy is a very material sort of girl. She's not deceptive. She's just open and honest about being attracted to male ambition, status and money.
Lucy's childhood acquaintance Ben (Colin Hanks-who looks almost exactly like his Dad) also works at the same firm but he's even lower on the totem pole than she is. He delivers mail and fixes printers. Ben has always carried a torch for Lucy but she only notices him when he's in her way. Well life is like that sometimes. Ben is a wimp and loser. Lucy doesn't go for wimps or losers. Ben has no ambition or status. And he certainly doesn't have any money.

But things suddenly change. Lucy's paramour thinks he can do better and drops her. This sets her off in a ranting screaming temper tantrum. Lucy is later terminated when she decides to crash a meeting chaired by her former flame so that she can share some highly unpleasant personal and sexual details with everyone in the room. But soon after her termination, Ben wins $36 million in the lottery. Dollar signs in her eyes, now it's Lucy who starts doing her best to show up on Ben's radar. This doesn't take long, as Ben is pretty desperate to have female intimate contact. He still lives with his enigmatic mother Pauline (Ann-Margret in a role that shows that for some women beauty fades with age but never quite disappears). In short time, Lucy and Ben are married and have a regal home of their own. For most stories that would be the end but not here.

As it turns out Ben didn't actually purchase that winning ticket. No, you see Ben is a serial killer who takes items from his victims, who are all young blondes, just like his wife. On their honeymoon, Lucy discovers this unpleasant fact about her hubby. The film's balance depicts Lucy's internal struggle between greed, morality, self-preservation and most irritatingly, love. It also shows that Ben, killer though he is, also instinctively understands some things about love and commitment. After all, isn't marriage about living together for better or worse and learning how to deal with another human being's failings? This won't be everyone's cup of tea but if you don't mind something different check this out. The violence is generally not explicit. The sound was pretty good. Sometimes that's a problem with indie films like this. I liked the soundtrack as well. Mimi Rogers and Jeffrey Tambor also have small roles. TRAILER

Attack the Block
directed by Joe Cornish
This is a British sci-fi/horror/comedy film that combines some social criticism with alien invasion and "kids save the world" storylines. This can occasionally be jarring as the film lurches back and forth between very explicit R rated violence, humor directed at or about children, understated sarcasm, and sci-fi cliches. It takes place primarily in and around a South London council estate, what Americans would recognize as "the projects" and what the residents refer to as "the block".

A multiracial group of teen thugs, led by Moses (John Boyega), mugs a young white woman Samantha (Jodie Whittaker), who had just moved into the block. The mugging of Samantha is interrupted by a car crash which heralds the arrival of a tiny (3 foot) alien creature, which is quickly and efficiently beaten and stomped to death by the gang. Sam takes the opportunity to escape and call the police. Eventually the police arrest Moses (his mates escape) and he is identified by the outraged Sam. However, while Moses is being packed away into the police van a new alien group arrives in force. These aliens are much larger and nastier. They're either the adult or male counterparts of the alien that was killed. They want payback. They kill the police and only miss killing Moses because of the intervention of Sam and his gang. The aliens start to rampage in and around the block, looking for the kids.

For these kids an alien invasion is just another day at the office as they already spend their time trying to avoid run-ins with bigoted police and violence prone older gangsters. They especially want to avoid the brutish Hi-Hats (Jumayn Hunter), the murderous local top hoodlum who is exactly who Moses will be in about half a decade or so if he doesn't smarten up. There was an unfortunate misunderstanding with Hi-Hats. So in addition to the aliens, Hi-Hats is also hunting the teens. Time will tell if Moses, his group, Sam and a few comic relief young kids looking to make a name for themselves can hang together and survive the night.

This movie wasn't as smart as it thought it was. There are more than a few holes in logic and pacing. I wonder if Boyega can avoid future typecasting as a surly thug.
The humor and violence are an uneven mix. But all in all it wasn't a bad film. I'd say it's a worthwhile rental. The accents were occasionally a little hard to get but weren't that bad. Lots of apparently current British slang was used but the meanings are generally apparent from context. The funny parts are funny, which is all you can really ask for from a movie, right? It's produced by the same people who did Shaun of The Dead so if you found that movie humorous you could do worse than check this one out. TRAILER

Quarantine 2
directed by John Pogue
Sometimes sequels are better than the original but usually not. Despite an interesting beginning and good premise, this movie wasn't as good as the original. The original itself was a remake of the Spanish film Rec

When I was growing up in the Pre-Cambrian era, flight attendants were called stewardesses. They were generally younger attractive women. Unfortunately (from my POV) before I was old enough to do anything about this, times changed and so did the demographic profile of stewardesses flight attendants. It happens. Quarantine 2 evidently takes place in an alternate universe where nothing like this took place. Two young shapely stewardesses are in the back of a limo being driven to the LAX airport. They are changing clothes and putting on makeup as evidently they are also groupies, who just did the usual activities to get backstage and party with their favorite rock band. I always thought that's what stewardesses did in their spare time and now I have proof.

We like do this all the time
The brunette, Jenny, (Mercedes Masohn) who is the only actor I even care to identify by name here, is tasked with watching over a young teen passenger (of course he's too smart for his age) who is visiting one of his divorced parents. She and her blonde partner in crime also make goo-goo eyes at the young doctor on the plane. The rest of the plane's passengers pretty much touch on all the demographic cliches-there's old cat lady, old couple, yuppie scum couple, fat guy, foreign couple, black chick, black guy, and maybe one or two others I've forgotten. BTW, if your name is black chick or black guy in a cheap horror film, you probably won't make it out alive. Just some friendly advice.

What do you mean no more peanuts!!!
The plane's co-pilot has a cold. The doctor has a case of rats (he insists they're hamsters) which he somehow got past security. As the plane is leaving LA someone notices that there was a quarantine at a LA apartment building and states how they're glad to be getting away from that. Of course they aren't getting away from it. It's already on board in the form of an infected co-pilot and someone else. This infection turns people into drooling raving berserk cannibals. In short you could call this "Zombies on a Plane".  Believe it or not if they had stayed on the plane for a while longer and ramped up the tension, this movie might have worked. But the claustrophobia and paranoia drops dramatically once the plane makes an emergency landing and so did my interest in this film. Jenny has to try to keep her head and protect her charge. She's dealing with zombies on one hand and government agents enforcing a quarantine on the other.  The first movie was better done. The camera work was more realistic and made you think you were there. If you like zombie movies this one might marginally be worth checking out but just barely. Masohn does her best with limited material.  TRAILER