Saturday, August 31, 2013

Music Reviews-Sonia Dada, Journey

Sonia Dada
What do you get when you combine a socially minded Chicago area billionaire guitarist/songwriter/philanthrophist, some competent but not flashy soul/pop/R&B/rock musicians, and three singers who channel Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, and Muddy Waters, including one who has a seven octave vocal range? Well you get Sonia Dada that's what you get. 
Sonia Dada is (was?) a musical group that was memorable for its singing and songwriting and to a lesser extent its soloists. I think that was by design. There are hardly any Sonia Dada songs where I think you're going to drop your jaw in amazement of the guitarist's skills or unheard of chops. But there are lot of songs where you will hardly even notice until you think about it how well the music fits the lyrics and how seamlessly the band accompanies the singer. And for Sonia Dada the singing and the groove are definitely where the band places the most emphasis. Of course like any other group the guitarists tend to play a little more live where they take some extended solos but that's pretty normal with most bands I think. Sonia Dada was formed when the aforementioned guitarist, one Dan Pritzker, heard Paris DeLane, (of the seven octave range) Michael Scott and Dan Hogan singing in the subway and invited them to become the voices of the band he was putting together.

Musically the band owes a lot to The Beatles, Motown, Stax, and maybe a few people like Billy Joel and Springsteen and of course numerous jazz artists.

You ain't thinking about me is my absolute all time favorite song by Sonia Dada. When I first heard it I liked it but it wasn't until some (ahem) highly unpleasant experiences years later when I realized they must have looked into the future and written the song about me. Hmm. Well I guess everyone feels that way sometimes. It's certainly a song I like to sing along with on my commute. It's crammed to the brink with by now hoary lyrical cliches but it still works for me. Maybe that's because my back's against the wall and I've got one more card to play before I make my last stand, roll the tumbling dice and head on down the road like a good man should. Indeed. I live alone is about a man who's not quite a player but doesn't want to get married either.

Crazy Lady channels Creedence Clearwater Revival and Howlin Wolf to tell the story of a woman every man hopes to meet. Anna Lee uses a Bo Diddley beat to paint a picture of desperate love between a Bonnie and Clyde team. River Runs Slow is a song I'm not crazy about. It seems to be something that would sound good on a soundtrack though. Lester's Methadone Clinic is a place you might visit and find yourself staying longer than you intended.

Deliver Me shows their familiarity with gospel. We treat each other cruel is bluesy.
Lover (You don't treat me good no more) is a bouncy tune that later became a country hit for singer Jerrod Niemann. Listen to  The Jungle Song and hear what a real bass voice sounds like. Planes and Satellites (Live) revisits the Bo Diddley influence. It's a very optimistic song. Screaming John is a rare piece by the band where I like the music more than the lyrics.

As far as I know the band has not released any new studio music since 2004 or so and Paris has sought out other interests. Pritzker has become a socially conscious filmmaker. Still I don't think they've officially broken up so it would be nice to hear new things from this group.

When Carlos Santana invites you to join his group as second guitarist at age fifteen you are probably a pretty damn good guitar player. When your other option was to play with Eric Clapton you are probably a great guitar player. And when you hook up with one of the most distinctive tenors in rock music you're probably Neal Schon, founding member of the band Journey, its only consistent member and possessor of the best Caucasian Afro during the seventies. Journey was sometimes considered to be a "faceless" band. This could be both a compliment and an insult. Not counting their concert attendees the band members were not all that recognizable by the general public. Generally their album covers did not feature their pictures. And by the late seventies and early eighties the band had become synonymous with what critics called bland corporate album oriented rock.

On the other hand isn't it a good thing to be known as it were for your singing and music and not for which actress you're dating or how many times you were on the cover of Rolling Stone or Spin. And even though you could argue that their later music was pop, frankly it was pretty good pop. And I don't see anything wrong with that. Though you may or may not recognize Steve Perry when you see him, you would certainly recognize his voice.

For a period of time in my childhood and early teens it was literally impossible not to turn on the radio any time of day and not find a Journey song playing somewhere within ten minutes or so.
Journey was originally founded by Santana veterans Neal Schon and keyboardist Gregg Rolie. According to Santana they had decided to play simpler more lucrative rock/pop rather than the jazz-fusion-latin Santana was into at the time. Maybe so but both Schon and Rolie still had some talent in jazz inspired music which was expressed in some of their earlier releases. Rolie was the initial singer. These releases didn't sell so well and the band came under label pressure to find a better singer, one who was out front and gave people a focal point. Enter Steve Perry and multiple decades of worldwide platinum success. Perry's voice was (is?) a special thing. He's able to easily sing at the highest pitches of the tenor range. I think he was one of the defining voices for the eighties. Steve Perry has claimed Sam Cooke as an influence. I never really thought about it but some of the phrasing on "Sweet and Simple" is similar to what Cooke would have done. "Loving, Touching, Squeezing" also has a resemblance to some Cooke stuff. Journey had pretty good harmonies as well. Like the group Queen, Journey would double and triple track vocals to give a very full sound in the studio.

Eventually this came to an end as all good things do in various personality conflicts and arguments over money and physical ailments. Band members rotated in and out over the years. I think officially there have been over a dozen different members for what is usually only a five man band. As Journey usually had very prominent keyboards along with such an amazing singer, Schon did not always dominate every song. In fact he usually didn't. He became a great example in my opinion of someone who plays for the song. His solos usually leave you wanting more instead of getting bored and zoning out. Listen to the cuts "Mystery Mountain" and "I'm Gonna Leave You" from their earlier releases (before Perry's arrival) to see just how much the band (and Schon in particular) changed after Perry came onboard. After The Sopranos used "Don't Stop Believing" in its finale the band (without Perry) reconstituted itself with new singer Arnel Pineda and surged forward to new levels of financial success.
"Don't Stop Believing" is a great song but just for the record there is no such thing as "South Detroit". Just saying. If I were to have a soundtrack of my life, Journey would certainly be prominently featured.

Lights  Opened the Door  Feeling That Way  City of the Angels Sweet and Simple
Who's Crying Now   Faithfully  Open Arms Loving Touching Squeezin'
Mystery Mountain  I'm gonna leave you  Any way you want it  Lady Luck
Don't Stop Believin'

Friday, August 30, 2013

Detroit Cops Get More Than They Bargained For

To the police I'm sayin f*** you punk 
Reading my rights and s***, it's all junk
Pulling out a silly club, so you stand

With a fake *****d badge and a gun in your hand
But take off the gun so you can see what's up 
And we'll go at it punk, I'ma f*** you up
"F*** The Police"
Too many times police act outside of their legal authority. Most of the time when they do this custom, law and simple self-preservation indicate that the person who is not a police officer submit and follow orders. If they can, they should remain calm, document the abuse while trying to survive it and attempt to finish the fight in court. After all most judges (I hope) are not going to tell you to shut the f*** up before they tase you or pull out a gun to shoot you because you supposedly made a furtive move. Police of course, have no problem doing just that. However this country was not created or built (theoretically) on citizens meekly submitting and following orders from agents of the state.  It was built on much the opposite in fact. And although discretion is often the better part of valor when dealing with armed aggressive people  who don't mind sending you to the hospital or graveyard there does indeed come a line in the sand where submission to invalid authority is destructive and deadly to a sense of citizenship, manhood, womanhood or to your life or bodily integrity. Or as one writer put it much better than I could speaking of a similar situation
Injustice of any kind depends upon fear, upon backing down. In other words, bullies and monsters count on never running into a warrior. But here's the point: when one generation stands up, more of the NEXT generation survives. Being a man, being a warrior, increases the risk for that man, but decreases the risk for future generations, can you grasp that? This has ALWAYS been true for warriors: if you stand up, you might get shot down. But if you don't stand up, the forces of evil will take and take and take until there is nothing left. And then they will grind you into the gutter, and **** on you. And then they will say: "look at that broke, broken, stinking thing in the gutter. That is his natural state. He must LIKE being like that. Tsk tsk.

Recently in Detroit two brothers were going into a Coney Island to get a bite to eat and well, just watch the entire video. Detroiters aren't going for any sort of stop and frisk. I don't like cops at all but I do know they are necessary. Again, if I am not breaking any law I want the agents of the state to leave me alone. Mind their own business. And I'll mind mine. I don't know the legal answers to the questions I ask. Hopefully The Janitor or Old Guru will chime in. But I'm interested in everyone's responses. Please chime in. Is probable cause now "Well he looked grim"? 
h/t Darrel Dawsey

Fox 2 News Headlines

Who was in the right or wrong?

Does/Should a police officer have rights to lay hands on you absent arrest?

Do/Should you have the right to refuse to provide identification?

Is this profiling? Was probable cause or reasonable suspicion met?

War on Syria??

Syria has been undergoing a bloody civil war. Over 100,000 people are said to have died. There are numerous rebel groups which are opposed to the Assad regime. However these groups are not exactly all a ragtag bunch of reluctant revolutionaries who sadly took up the gun and look forward to ending the war to return home and peacefully live out their days on a Tatooine moisture farm. Many of them are a pretty nasty bunch, who when they aren't enjoying such activities as cannibalism on government troops or gang rapes of women (and boys/men/girls too for that matter), are often seeking ways to impose Islamic rule over the previously secular Syria. Well that is Sunni Islamic rule. The Assad regime, despite being secular, is from the Alawite branch of Islam, and is considered akin to apostate or heretic by some fundamentalist Sunnis. This conflict isn't only a political revolution but also has ethnic and religious undertones. This last is of course being funded and fanned by our very good friends, the Saudis. Ironically of course the Muslim Brotherhood and associated groups, whom we claim to despise in Egypt, form some of the opposition in Syria. So does Al-Quaeda. Hezbollah, a Lebanese primarily Shia group, has come to the aid of the Syrian regime, without asking the Lebanese people if that was a good idea. Israel has bombed what it claimed were Syrian weapons transfers to Hezbollah. Iran and Syria have threatened Israel. Syrian Kurds, unpopular with and worried by all of the sides in the conflict have been fleeing to Iraq. Well, that is they've been fleeing to the northern portion of Iraq, which is heavily ethnically Kurdish and has enjoyed a sort of de facto home rule from the rest of Iraq. Greater numbers of Kurds could eventually pull Iraq back into a new civil war if the northern section gets emboldened to declare formal independence. Syrian refugees of all ethnicities and faiths have been fleeing the country. Both the rebels and the government have committed atrocities.

Allegedly the Syrian government used chemical weapons. I doubt that claim. It wouldn't make sense as they've been winning the war as of late. There are some issues with the evidence, not least of which is that the Secretary of State can only publicly offer youtube videos as casus belli. It's unclear as to who used chemical weapons and even if they were used. Still anything is possible. The US may or may not attack Syria in the next few days or even the next few hours. I don't know. I'm not invited to the meetings where those decisions are discussed. Neither are you in all likelihood.

This is, to quote noted foreign policy expert Yogi Berra, deja vu all over again. I don't have time or interest frankly to list all of the arguments against US involvement. You can read some of them here in the post on Libya. I'm trying to write shorter posts anyway.

No I will just raise a few issues here.
First off I agree with the man who said this :
The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation. As Commander-in-Chief, the President does have a duty to protect and defend the United States. In instances of self-defense, the President would be within his constitutional authority to act before advising Congress or seeking its consent
Imagine if we had such a person in office today
  • By what authority does this President muse attacking Syria?
  • Next what is the point of attacking Syria? What is the US interest? Syria has not attacked the US. I have no doubt that the US can successfully drop bombs/fire missiles anywhere in Syria with zero or minimal US casualties. Then what?
  • What is the political impact of bombing Syria? Is that going to make Russia and China more or less amenable to listening to us on issues where we need their assistance? Will other countries decide that they need to either upgrade their air defense forces or more likely go nuclear? After all, you must have noticed although North Korea has a fat crazy dumpling of a Fearless Leader, nobody is talking about bombing North Korea. North Korea has nukes and deliberately gives off the impression that they're itching to use them.
  • Does the fact that Russia is moving additional warships to the Eastern Mediterranean concern anyone? 
  • The American people are overwhelmingly against it. Is that of any interest to politicians?
  • There are many violent struggles in the world, including some against rulers we support. What makes this one our business?
  • If the US does attack Syria would it be time to just drop the pretense and admit that some of us don't think that the people in the Middle East are smart enough to run their own affairs?
  • Do the people claiming that only a barbarian uses chemical weapons feel the same about nuclear weapons usage? If not why not? Why is it okay to incinerate people and not okay to gas them? Similarly why is it a bad thing to line up people against a wall and gun them down but just fine to drop bombs on them from three miles up and never see, hear or smell the effects of what you do? Are chemical weapons worse than depleted uranium usage? Why or why not?
None of this is meant to defend the Syrian government. But I'm not sure Syria is any nastier than Saudi Arabia, Qatar or Bahrain or any of the other nations funding the rebels for their own reasons. The Middle East is not exactly a region known for toleration of peaceful dissent. And no matter how they gained power there are few governments anywhere in the world who won't respond in kind when peaceful dissent turns violent. I say if other countries wish to intervene in Syria and likely bring about either a new military dictatorship or a fundamentalist Islamic state they are free to spend their own money, resources and lives. I'm not seeing why the US needs to be involved. And thanks to democratic blowback over a rush to judgment in Iraq, it looks like the UK may be prevented from tagging along this time as well. I think that it's past time that Congress put its foot down and wrestled back war making authority from the Executive Branch. But as always I could be woefully wrong. Let me know.

What's your take? 

Should the US do something? 

Was there a chemical attack? 

Do we owe something to the Syrian people?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Who Makes Medical Decisions for You (or your kids)?

I have a bit of a libertarian left leaning streak when it comes to private decisions around your life, health, sexuality and so on. Basically if you're not bothering anyone I think the government should leave you alone. That's true whether you're a black New Yorker walking down the street or a white twenty-five year old who doesn't see a need to purchase health insurance. And I feel even more strongly about someone coming between a parent and a child. However intellectual honesty compels admission that there are some cases where government not only has the right but the duty to interfere with your decision making and/or that which impacts your children. We don't look kindly on heroin addicts. We look even less kindly on heroin addicts who share their drugs with their children. I don't care if someone wants to be a sex worker. If that person wants to recruit their underage child into their line of work then they should be as Bo Diddley sang, placed "so far back in the jail that they'll have to pump air in". You can't open a factory and dump lead in the water. And so on.

Those are obvious calls though. Medical care decisions are more complex.

Doctors and scientists have knowledge and information that the rest of us lack. There's nothing magical about that. It's their line of work. A doctor would likely look just as out of place in your line of work if you're not a doctor. If a doctor suggests an action plan for a particular disease you're probably going to listen to him/her..again assuming you're not a doctor yourself with the same or greater knowledge as the bozo who barely made it through medical school and has his papers routinely rejected by scientific journals.


The doctor does not own you. You can ignore the doctor's advice and continue doing everything the doctor told you not to do. None know the hour or day of our death. Ignoring the doctor's advice is probably a bad idea (lung cancer patient continuing his three pack a day habit, diabetes or gout sufferer continuing to eat second/third helpings at dinner and TONS of sugary desserts), but again, there are people who do just that and against all odds live longer and healthier than they should. There are some diseases for which the cure is almost as bad as if not worse than the disease. If the doctor tells us that we need to have a limb amputated, have our reproductive systems removed, have our digestive systems altered so that we have to use a colostomy bag or have chemotherapy, some of us might decide that we'd rather live with the disease instead of taking the cure. At least we might want to consider options. So we'd tell the doctor no thanks and keep it moving.

But what if the doctor smiled nastily and said, "No dummy I don't think you understood. That wasn't a request.You're getting the treatment whether you like it or not!"

An appeals court has sided with a hospital that wants to force a 10-year-old Amish girl to resume chemotherapy after her parents decided to stop the treatments. The court ruled that a county judge must reconsider his decision that blocked Akron Children's Hospital's attempt to give an attorney who's also a registered nurse limited guardianship over Sarah Hershberger and the power to make medical decisions for her. The hospital believes Sarah's leukemia is very treatable but says she will die without chemotherapy.
The judge in Medina County in northeast Ohio had ruled in July that Sarah's parents had the right to make medical decisions for her. The appeals court ruling issued Tuesday said the judge failed to consider whether appointing a guardian would be in the girl's best interest. It also disagreed with the judge's decision that said he could only transfer guardianship if the parents were found unfit. The family's attorney, John Oberholtzer, said Wednesday that the ruling essentially ordered the judge to disregard the rights of the parents. Andy Hershberger, the girl's father, said the family agreed to begin two years of treatments for Sarah last spring but stopped a second round of chemotherapy in June because it was making her extremely sick.
"It put her down for two days. She was not like her normal self," he said. "We just thought we cannot do this to her." 
Sarah begged her parents to stop the chemotherapy and they agreed after a great deal of prayer, Hershberger said. The family, members of an insular Amish community, shuns many facets of modern life and is deeply religious...
I'm usually going to follow my doctor's orders. But there have been people quite close to me who have died from cancer. And it's my firm unyielding belief that the treatments killed them just as much as the disease did. If I ever got a cancer diagnosis I would think long and hard about my treatment plan. I've also known loved ones who, despite being repeatedly told that their diet and lifestyle would literally kill them, stubbornly refused to make changes and promptly died, just as the doctors told them they would.

For me the fundamental question is who decides on the course of treatment, the doctor or the patient? I believe that freedom requires that the patient decides. 

And if the patient is too young to decide her fate, then her parents get the last word. If the parents happen to be moronic that's unbelievably unfortunate, but as most parents are not moronic I don't want the government stepping in to override medical decisions unless the decision is obviously insane and the person will die immediately. For example, some devout fundamentalists of various religions do not believe that a woman should be viewed (naked, without her hair/face covered, at all) by any man except her husband. Let's say there was a car accident and a badly injured woman was trapped in a burning car. The only way to save her requires cutting through her outer garments. She will temporarily be only partially clothed. Her husband (sitting safely on the curb) objects on religious grounds. Clearly emergency personnel should ignore him and rescue the woman before she's burned to death. If that same woman goes to the doctor, is told she needs a hysterectomy and declines it on religious or personal grounds, I don't want the government overriding her choice and sending her to the surgeons. 

But those are adults. What about kids? Isn't that different? Doesn't the government have a role to play?

Parents, not the government, are the primary and best caretakers. They have responsibility for their child's medical care. Obviously they will need help on occasion. There are many decisions that parents make regarding their children. This includes everything from when, if or how to tell them the facts of life, to their diet, to what sort of social activities they engage in, to which books they can read, to when or whether to take them off life support after they've been in a coma. It's truly an awesome responsibility. So absent some immediate certainty of death, provable neglect or irrationality, I think the parents should have final say. Choosing not to undergo chemotherapy is not to my mind the same thing as drilling a hole in your child's head in order to let the demons out. It's not an easy call to watch a parent make what I think is a bad decision but I think it's the right one. Of course I could be full of it. It wouldn't be the first time. 

What do you think is the right decision here?

Who should have the final word? The state and/or hospital or the parents?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Book Reviews-Erasure, Hell to Pay, Tough Luck

by Percival Everett
This book is by turns funny, sad, hilarious and sobering. It is reminiscent of Vonnegut in many aspects. Very mordant. I bought Erasure at a going out of business book sale. I had heard good things about this author and his wife, the author Danzy Senna. I couldn't find her work but picked this up, one of Everett's older novels. Well I'm glad I finally read the book. I may never finish my reading list before I shuffle off this mortal coil but it's a good thing that I was able to cross this story off my "to read" list. It's a satire of among other things, ghetto lit. It also sends up the arrogance of many writers and their total divorce from real life concerns.

WEB DuBois wrote of "double consciousness".
It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
You shouldn't judge yourself using metrics that weren't designed for you. To use a different paraphrasing of a hoary joke, if you tell a credulous turtle that it is a failure if it can't outrun a cheetah, that turtle may accept its inferiority. If faulty beliefs become widely accepted, then for all intents and purposes they are real. Then it is a brave man or woman indeed who can reject the perceived reality for the actual reality. And yes that is a reference to Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which along with double consciousness provides a critical theme in this story.

Thelonious Ellison (for obvious reasons everyone calls him Monk) is an African-American novelist. He has had little success not just because he's black but because he's chosen to write intricate dense novels. His novels are novels about writing, retellings of Greek myths, parodies of French poststructurialists,  investigations into reality. They are literary works, not popular ones. But Monk is being true to himself. He wasn't born to a single mother. He didn't grow up on welfare and hearing gunshots. He doesn't have multiple children by multiple women. He graduated from Harvard summa cum laude. His grandfather, father, brother and sister were/are all doctors. He prefers woodworking and fly fishing to basketball and football. White book reviewers snidely tell him that his work has nothing to do with the black experience right before praising performance artists who pose as lawn jockeys on politician's lawns.
Monk is having a midlife crisis. His father's suicide seven years prior is increasingly on his mind. His unpleasant brother Bill is coming out of the closet (and undergoing a divorce). His sister Lisa needs help with their mother who is showing signs of Alzheimers. Lisa runs a women's health clinic and is in constant danger. Publishers have rejected all of Monk's recent novels. His agent is hinting that it might be time to part ways. Monk can't even find energy or interest to have sex with an angry groupie/even less popular writer at a conference he's headlining.

But Monk doesn't hit bottom until after having applied for and received the cold shoulder about a low paid English lecturer position, he reads fawning reviews about and sees a television interview with the author of the bestselling novel We's Lives in Da Ghetto, Juanita Mae Jenkins. The college educated Jenkins has never lived in the ghetto. The book allegedly comes from her memories of a brief childhood visit to some Harlem relatives. Nonetheless her book has become the definitive tome on black American life. The heroine is Sharonda F'rinda Johnson. She lives "the typical black life ". She is fifteen and pregnant with her third child by a third father. She lives with her mentally deficient brother Junebug and her drug addict mother. Junebug is a basketball player who is killed in a driveby when bullets pierce his autographed Michael Jordan basketball...
"Yo Sharonda, where you be goin in a hurry likes dat?" D'onna ax me when she seed me comin out da house.
"Ain't none you biznis. But iffan you gots to know, I'se goin to the pharmcy"

"The pharmcy? What fo?" she ax.
"You know", I says.

"Naw", she say. "Hell naw. Girl you be pregnant again?"

"Mights be"
A thinly disguised Oprah character tells Jenkins that this is really good writing. When Monk sees this he screams. Angered and frustrated beyond human understanding, Monk writes a parody response to Jenkins' book. He titles it My Pafology. He uses the pseudonym Stagg R. Leigh and submits it to his agent. My Pafology is so crude and SO FAR over the top that no one in their right mind could miss that it's a (very angry) parody of black pathology porn and racist expectations of the "real" black experience. However things go awry. The agent sells the novel for a sizable amount of money, enough to allow Monk to take care of his mother in her last days. A Hollywood producer wants to meet the mysterious Mr. Leigh. The producer's attractive assistant wouldn't mind (ahem) "getting to know" the apparently virile Mr. Leigh. NOBODY understands that this was a parody. Monk must decide how far to take this and if in his attempt to send up racist stereotypes he's actually helping to perpetuate them. Excellent book and very very funny. It reminded me of the movie Hollywood Shuffle and Dave Chappelle's experiences.

Hell to Pay
by George Pelecanos
With a few missteps this could have been just the sort of book that Everett is railing against. I don't think it got there but it came close a few times. Certainly some people (Ishamel Reed anyone?) might think that it had. Pelecanos also had a parallel career as a writer and producer for The Wire, which is what made me pick up this book. I'm not a huge fan of dialect in my reading. It always feels as if the author is making fun of the people he's created. That wasn't the intent here by any means, I don't think but everyone has different sensibilities. You'd have to read the book for yourself and/or be familiar with the vernacular and tones of inner city Washington black youth circa 2002 or so to make that call. Decide for yourself I always say.

Anyway this book continues the story (I have not read the previous books in the series) of salt and pepper private investigator team Derek Strange (black) and his associate Terry Quinn (white). Both men are former cops. They aren't quite tough guys any more. Strange rarely carries a gun. Quinn does on occasion but likes to settle things peacefully if he can but with his fists if he must. They also volunteer as football coaches for the neighborhood youth. This gives them, mostly Strange as Quinn's race sets him apart, the opportunity to dispense some wisdom, straighten a few hard cases out, and provide a male role model to those boys who lack one. This is very very important to Strange.

Strange and Quinn met each other under difficult circumstances but found that they have a lot in common, especially a taste for old school music and style. They're analog in a digital world. They're dinosaurs and they know it. But this doesn't stop them from doing or trying to do the right thing. This last is an ongoing issue for Strange as despite being in love with his girlfriend (and employee) Janine, he occasionally gets his physical needs met in Asian massage parlors. This bothers him a great deal. A major subplot is if he will find the strength to stop and the decency to be honest with Janine.
A trio of young drug dealers, Potter, Little and White decide that a man named Lorenzo Wilder who owes them money must be taught a permanent lesson about the dangers of not paying his debts. Meanwhile an interracial distaff detective duo, Karen Bagley and Sue Tracy, are looking to rescue a young girl from the notorious pimp Worldwide Wilson. They hire Strange and Quinn to help them. Quinn is quiet but he's not shy. He immediately starts making a play for Sue. They're both Irish Catholic and Quinn uses that as a pickup line. Smooth. But in a rescue attempt of the young prostitute, Wilson unmans Quinn in front of Tracy. Quinn can't be having that. He's looking for some payback. Lorenzo Wilder is the ne'er do well uncle of a boy on Strange's football team. But Potter, Little and White don't care who's around when they kill Wilder. And they don't know or care  to whom Wilder or his nephew are related. And they certainly don't realize who Strange is. These are all serious mistakes.

This is predominantly sad yet ultimately optimistic book. It was quick reading. Strange and Quinn are realistic in that the years are starting to catch up to them. They're not superheroes. They make mistakes and have blind spots. Pelecanos gives a better characterization of Strange. Quinn is not really a cipher; he's definitely the secondary character though. It's just under 400 pages and would be a decent book to read if you have to travel or spend time in a hospital lobby or something similar.

Tough Luck

by Jason Starr
This book is very similar to the previous Jason Starr book I reviewed here. So if you liked that one you will like this. It's only about 250 pages. I don't want to give spoilers but this is quite formulaic. I don't mean that in a bad way. I'm just saying that this book follows the time honored pattern of a guy who thinks he's got it under control and is a bit nicer than he should be, getting mixed up in a situation where he's not in control at all. In this book the protagonist is one Mickey Prada, a young man just on the verge of adulthood. He works at a Brooklyn seafood market and has decided to delay college for some time to help his sick and possibly dying father. He has a Jewish boss Harry who doesn't pay very much and messes with him all the time. He's good friends with his black co-worker Charlie, something that causes the Italian-American Mickey some issues with his tribalistic racist Italian-American buddies, Fillippo, Ralph and Chris. Despite the normal issues that any desperate young man might have, Mickey has been able to put some money away and is looking forward to going to college and getting in the pants of his new girlfriend, Rhonda...not necessarily in that order.

In his Brooklyn neighborhood, you can hardly avoid knowing people who know people. Mickey's no different. From time to time to supplement his income, Mickey will take bets for a bookie. He places these through an old family friend Artie. He's never had any problems as he keeps things low key. However a new customer named Angelo Santoro starts placing bets through Mickey. Angelo loses but refuses to pay. It seems that Angelo is a made man in the Mafia. Artie doesn't care about that and neither does Artie's boss. Artie starts to show his less than pleasant side to Mickey, insisting that Mickey is responsible for the losses. But Angelo won't take no for an answer when he stops by to place more bets. Are you ready to tell a mafiosi to go f*** himself? Because that's what would be necessary. On the other side of things ultimately Artie answers to people who are also connected. They have no patience in hearing Artie's explanations of Mickey's sob stories.

Mickey is in a hard place. He decides to go along on a caper that Fillippo and Chris have planned, so that he can pay Artie back. And you can probably guess how that caper turns out. This was a trade paperback of about 250 pages. It didn't take long to read however and felt real enough. The characters are not very deeply drawn but they don't have to be. It's the plot which moves this book.

Friday, August 23, 2013

US Accent Map

I'm from Michigan where we have no accent. (Smirk) The way we speak is actually the way that American English is supposed to be spoken thank you very much. We drink pop, not soda. Mary, Marry and Merry all sound the same to me. Gratiot is pronounced "grass shut". Inland North!!!!
From time to time I have had cause to travel to some other states, generally outside of the Upper Midwest, where for whatever reason the residents feel the need to mangle the English language so much that it's occasionally hard to understand them. They just don't seem to realize that they're speaking incorrectly. I mean why can't they sound like people from Michigan so that I can understand them?? Snicker. Whether it's people from Boston dropping "r's" every chance they get, people from the South taking ten to fifteen seconds to pronounce each and every vowel they come across, or people from New York throwing "au" vowel sounds seemingly randomly across their speech and trying to break North American land speed records for number of words spoken within ten seconds, accents have always been fascinating to me. I like hearing different people speak and trying to figure out where they're from.

Check out this dialect map and find your particular accent. Do you still have the accent that the map claims you do? Have you changed your accent since childhood? Do you switch back and forth between accents depending on to whom you're speaking?

HBO Game of Thrones: Race and Representation in Fantasy and Sci-Fi

This post was originally supposed to run four to five weeks prior but other events happened and a little thing called paid work reared its ugly head. So it's quite different than the first draft. We've noticed that there seems to be a consistent level of modest interest in the Game of Thrones posts we've done so hopefully this may spark some discussion. It's a long wait until next April when the wolfpack gets its revenge..or not (cue evil laughter).
In case you missed it the character Oberyn Martell aka The Red Viper was recently cast for Season Four of HBO's Game of Thrones. It's difficult to discuss this without too many spoilers but I'll do my best. As always if you've read the books or know exactly what this character does, please keep it to yourself. Let's just say that Oberyn is a fan favorite. He's a Dornish noble who has a serious grudge to settle with the Lannisters. Oberyn Martell has relatives of various complexions. Martin has written in A Storm of Swords that Dorne itself is home to people with differing skin tones and features.                                                                       
The salty Dornishmen were lithe and dark, with smooth olive skin and long black hair streaming in the wind. The sandy Dornishmen were even darker, their faces burned brown by the hot Dornish sun. They wound long bright scarfs around their helms to ward off sunstroke. The stony Dornishmen were biggest and fairest, sons of the Andals and the First Men, brown-haired or blond, with faces that freckled or burned in the sun instead of browning.
This description of the different Dornish phenotypes gave some readers hope that a definitively non-white actor, likely Middle Eastern or North African or perhaps even South Asian or African-American or of other African descent might get a chance to play some Dornish roles and more specifically the role of Oberyn Martell, who is simply put, a bada$$.

But the HBO Game of Thrones producers cast Chilean actor Pedro Pascal to play Oberyn Martell aka "The Red Viper". As you may have noticed Mr. Pascal is relatively light skinned. Some might even call him white. Other writers already had some concerns about Martin's handling of race. When the news of the Martell casting broke a certain faction of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire fans hit the proverbial roof and were not exactly mollified by Martin's statements on the matter.

So let's talk about the internet controversy about Oberyn. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I commented on my blog. You can find a more studied response there. I made a couple of comments as to what people said about that. I always pictured Oberyn Martell in my head as a — what I call a Mediterranean type. I know people attacked me for that by saying "He's ignorant, he doesn't know that Africa is on the Mediterranean." No, I know Africa is on the Mediterranean. But in common parlance, when you say Mediterranean. you are thinking Greek, Italian, Spanish. When you are thinking Moroccan or Tunisian that’s North African. That’s the way people talk about that. I always pictured the Martells and the salty Dornishman as Mediterraneans, so the casting I think is perfectly appropriate with what I wrote in the books.
I do sympathize. I mean, I understand. Some people have written me some very heartfelt letters, and I've tried to respond to them, about how they wanted to see someone who looked like them in the books, and how they were [disappointed]. They had pictures of the Martells looking like them, and they were disappointed. I understand that, but it still wasn't my intent to make... Even the terminology here is such a land mine. I don't even know what words to use here "black" or "African." I used African at one point, sort of like African American. [But] if you use "African," you are guilty for saying all Africans are the same. I don't know.
I am drawing from history, even though it's fantasy. I've read a lot of history, The War of the Roses, The Hundred Years War. The World back then was very diverse. Culturally it was perhaps more diverse than our world, but travel was very difficult back then. So even though there might have been many different races and ethnicities and peoples, they didn't necessarily mix a great deal. I'm drawing largely on medieval England, medieval Scotland, some extent medieval France. There was an occasional person of color, but certainly not in any great numbers.

This is a TV show based on Martin's fantasy series. Martin said Pascal is close to his concept of Oberyn Martell. Martin has pointed out before art is not a democracy. He alone creates and describes his characters in his books. Benioff and Weiss get to interpret them for their television adaptation. Those are the rules. If you don't like it, go home. Or better yet, create your own best selling stories, have a coke and a smile and shut the f*** up. Pretty simple, right?

Well, yes and no.

Reading the books I never really thought that Oberyn Martell (one depiction to the left) looked much like Isaac Hayes if only because Martin tends to get incredibly, predictably and occasionally offensively specific when describing a black character. His black characters are super dark skinned. IIRC none of them so far have had any POV chapters. And the other characters who do have POV chapters can't go three pages without commenting on how different a black character is. In the book Martin is somewhat coy about how Oberyn Martell looks other than saying he's relatively dark compared to the more northerly Westerosi. Oberyn Martell has relatives of differing complexions. More importantly in the book Martin gives a description of Prince Oberyn from Tyrion's POV that makes it clear that although Oberyn is "dark", he is also clearly within the middle spectrum of Dornish complexions.
The princeling removed his helm. Beneath, his face was lined and saturine, with thin arched brows above large eyes as black and shiny as pools of coal oil. Only a few streaks of silver marred the lustrous black hair that receded down his brow in a widow’s peak as sharply pointed as his noise. A salty Dornishmen for certain. 
But because in America at least, "white" can range from someone as pale and light eyed as Tilda Swinton to someone as dark and dark eyed as Caterina Murino, you would think that the HBO producers might realize that "black" can also include people as light as Wentworth Miller or Jennifer Beals. Both Miller and Beals could easily fit the book's description of two out of the three Dornish types described while someone like Michael Ealy could believably fit into one of the three. Heck, from pure acting ability as well as eye candy for the ladies, Idris Elba could have played Oberyn Martell. He's certainly got the bada$$ intensity for the part. It wouldn't be that much of a stretch and would go a long way towards making the series even more popular among some demographics that might give it a side eye. Oberyn Martell is supposed to be someone that ladies like. A lot. Although Isaac Hayes didn't automatically come to mind for Oberyn Martell or the Dornish people, the musicians of Tinariwen certainly did. But maybe that was just me. 

The issue here is that people want to, need to, desire to engage in stories that involve people who look like them. Maybe not all the time, but definitely some of the time. I think a big part of the reason that a hack like Tyler Perry has been so successful with a large segment of the black community is that he shows black people on screen. It's just that simple. Usually at this point some people of good will and even a few of perhaps not such good will, will question why does race need to be brought into everything? That is the stories being told in A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones are indeed universal so why does it matter if most of the characters and so far all of the important characters are Caucasian? Can't we just enjoy the show and books and not worry about real life race issues? I mean it's not like GRRM, Benioff or Weiss are racists like HP Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard. Can't people just stop nitpicking? I mean really come on now!!!
That's a legitimate question, even if it is often used to peremptorily dismiss problematic casting issues. I'll address it by pointing to the long history of whitewashing non-white fictional and even real life characters for Hollywood movies. This was most ridiculous when applied to the EarthSea trilogy by legendary fantasy author Ursula K. LeGuin. LeGuin, who is white, deliberately wrote her books as a corrective to the widespread presumption of default whiteness. In her trilogy, almost all of the protagonists are non-white. But in the film adaptation, this was changed to the reverse, over LeGuin's objections. Whether it's a question of racist Hollywood producers or amoral businessmen/women making sober judgments about what will sell, the fact remains that the predominantly white market seems most comfortable with watching protagonists that look like them, even if the source material must be changed to reflect this. So people claiming that there must be 100% fidelity to source material don't seem to object when the material is changed to their presumed benefit, as it was in the "brown and black people worship their white savior Daenerys" finale. The slaves in the book are literally from every race in the world. But in the TV show no one seemed to notice that making the slaves all people with high levels of melanin might have some unfortunate implications. You almost wonder where people might have gotten the idea of changing source material to fit their own ideas of what is good.

The Oberyn Martell character was and Dorne still is a good opportunity to bring some legitimate (not that different from the book) diversity to the Game of Thrones cast. So while it was nice to hear that the British-Indian actress (and babeIndira Varna will be playing Ellaria Sand, Oberyn's paramour, I still have to ding the show for missing the opportunity to make a leading House and many of its leaders people of color. 

To quote frequent commenter Webb
Boardwalk Empire on HBO is going to feature a whole story line about HARLEM this season and Black Gangsters Galore!!!
Unlike Game of Thrones...where the only black character of significance last season was named "worm" and really a eunuch with about five lines of dialogue--and then call that diversity?!?!?
Another blogger went in on GRRM here for what they saw as his contradictory statements regarding Dorne. It's a great read and I don't have too much more to add to it. Webb raises a good point though I would note that in the books that Grey Worm, Salladhor Saan and Xaro Xhoan Daxos weren't black. The black characters who have so far been dropped from the TV adaptation were arguably either MORE offensive than Grey Worm or they were relatively minor figures. But the show may have inadvertently(?) created more problems by depicting black men as eunuchs, pirates and greedy merchants. This changes in book five.

The bottom line is that I think that GRRM has the right to create his own fictional world as he sees fit. You have the right to enjoy it or not. I think that GRRM and HBO could have done some things better. I think that people who want to see different or more inclusive images must support the people trying to create those images. That is one reason that I contributed to Barnes-Due crowdsourcing of their film Danger Word.

What do you think?

Is this controversy much ado about nothing?

Are you able to enjoy stories featuring people who don't look like you?

Will the Starks ever get revenge?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Military Coup and Violence in Egypt

Imagine that the US Armed Forces, whose officer class generally tends politically conservative, lose patience with President Obama. The generals don't approve of what they see as his Constitutional end runs, his recess appointments, or his defense policies. Troops surround the White House, easily and casually disarm, subdue or eliminate any laughably outgunned loyalist Secret Service/FBI agents/DC police officers. They take the President and his associates into custody. The military shuts down unfriendly media. Liberal supporters lead marches or sit-ins but the military brass has given the green light. Protesters are arrested or killed by the dozens. The military also issues arrest orders for hundreds of other Administration supporters, who flee overseas or go underground. 

The military appoints John Boehner temporary President. But Boehner is a patsy. Reporters speak to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the real boss. The Chairman speaks vaguely of future elections but won't commit to a date. He won't even admit that he initiated a coup. He claims that his actions were necessary to save democracy. The Department of Justice finds new crimes with which to charge former President Obama. 

Undeterred, the deposed President's supporters organize a massive sit-in at the Washington Monument. They are surrounded by police and military personnel in tanks. After 10 days of peaceful protest, one morning without warning the military and the police move in. This time instead of dozens being killed, it's hundreds and possibly even thousands. People are gunned down from helicopters without regard to age, sex or actual threat. Snipers target protest leaders. Those who are lucky enough to get arrested face charges that could place them in prison for decades. There are then bloody revenge attacks on police, military and civilians who are believed, rightly or wrongly, to support the coup. Fox News, Investors Business Daily, The Washington Times, The WSJ, The National Review, and other "responsible" media speak of the need for stability and the necessity of fighting the liberal-socialist threat.

Well that is what has been going on in Egypt over the past six weeks. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, supported by the Muslim Brotherhood, was heading down a political path that was unpopular within broad segments of the country, though it's unclear whether the majority wanted him out. Unfortunately for Morsi however, what he saw as reforms or political consolidation, was seen as unacceptable by the military, who overthrew him on July 3. Defense Minister General Abdel Fatah-el-Sisi gave the order. I do not wish to defend Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't care one way or the other about them. But whether the US liked it or not Morsi was the freely and fairly elected President of Egypt. There is a system by which Morsi can be checked and/or removed from office. Military intervention should not be part of that system.

US law clearly indicates that US military aid is not supposed to go to a nation which has had a coup. In a move that is sadly typical, the Administration has claimed that although that may be the law, it is not required to determine if a coup has taken place. Additionally Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the generals were "restoring democracy".

This weak response may well have emboldened the Egyptian military establishment to give the orders for the latest bloody assault on the protesters and also for the apparent murder of 36 prisoners who were alleged to support the deposed President Morsi. At least 1000 people have died so far. Most of them were apparently demonstrators.
CAIRO — The Egyptian government acknowledged that its security forces had killed 36 Islamists in its custody on Sunday, as the country’s military leaders and Islamists vowed to keep up their fight over Egypt’s future.
The deaths were the fourth mass killing of civilians since the military took control on July 3, but the first time so many had died while in government custody.The news of the deaths came on a day when there appeared to be a pause in the street battles that had claimed more than 1,000 lives since Wednesday, most of them Islamists and their supporters gunned down by security forces.
The Islamists took measures on Sunday to avoid further confrontations, including canceling several protests over the military’s ouster of a democratically elected Islamist-led government.
While confirming the killings of the detainees on Sunday, the Ministry of the Interior said the deaths were the consequence of an escape attempt by Islamist prisoners. But officials of the main Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, described the deaths as “assassinations,” and said that the victims, which it said numbered 52, had been shot and tear-gassed through the windows of a locked prison van.

Both the country of Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States have lobbied the US not to cut off military aid. The second group has even offered to make up any loss in aid to Egypt out of its own pocket. After all the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia wouldn't want its own subjects to look at successful democracy in Egypt and start to get big ideas about political changes. There are also US interests to consider. These include favorable access to the Suez Canal, overflights and refueling over Egyptian airspace, as well as concerns about the nature of the state that Morsi or other Muslim Brotherhood backed politicians might seek to run. I mean, judging by some of their supporters' actions, religious freedom and safety for minority points of view or minority public safety don't appear to be high on their agenda.

So there aren't any good answers. But there is a right answer. The US simply can't try to gin up support for the overthrow of Syrian President Assad by piously claiming "He's killing his own people" when Egyptian generals are doing the same thing. The US can't claim to support democracy and lecture other nations on free and fair elections and then turn a blind eye to a military coup. The lesson that the US and its Arab client states are teaching opposition movements is clear. Elections don't matter. If you win we will try to get rid of you via other means, including violence. So opposition movements will not try to engage in electoral politics, rationally deciding that such things are meaningless. This means more radicalization and violence in the long term. Now this is good if you happen to be the world's largest arms dealer like the US, but I'm not sure it's actually good for living beings who aren't weapons merchants. The US should follow the law and suspend the military aid (which is frankly a subsidy to US military contractors) Also I don't think it's in the US interest to let any client state dictate what our response should be. The tail doesn't get to wag the dog.