Friday, February 28, 2014

Feminist Marriages: More Equality, Less Sex?

I wanted to write on this quite some time ago but the person who reviews my paid work had different ideas about my priorities. So this is a modified and much mellower version of the original post. The idea expressed in the post title is something that's been floating around the blog-o-sphere for quite some time. It finally penetrated the firmament of the New York Times Sunday Magazine. When I read this recent article I thought I was in a real life Geico commercial. Because I thought everyone already knew that. It seems that whatever the benefits of "egalitarian" style marriages may be, more sex and less divorce aren't among them. Surprisingly, it appears that heterosexual women may have some unacknowledged preferences for a certain level of well, difference and maybe even virility or dominance (shut your mouth!!!) in their husbands. As this finding very much does not comport with the modern progressive orthodoxy regarding house husbands, 50/50 sharing of chores, lean in bromides and the fiction that men and women are exactly the same except for internal plumbing, some of the people quoted in the article seemed to be suffering from very bad cases of cognitive dissonance.

I wrote previously on how there are some household tasks which are (often arbitrarily) considered more masculine. It seems that some women, or at least some married women agree. Whether we believe that it's mostly biological, mostly cultural, or imo some combination of the two, it appears that men and women appreciate each other's differences and look for a partner that exhibits divergent characteristics. According to the fascinating article quoted below a husband who becomes too similar to his wife or to put it another way a man who is too complaisant and gallant runs the very real risk of discovering what a Stephen King character ruefully noted in the book Joyland : "What I know now is that gallant young men rarely get *****. Put it on a sampler and hang it in your kitchen".

A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.
The chores study seems to show that women do want their husbands to help out — just in gender-specific ways. Couples in which the husband did plenty of traditionally male chores reported a 17.5 percent higher frequency of sexual intercourse than those in which the husband did none. These findings, Brines says, “might have something to do with the fact that the traditional behaviors that men and women enact feed into associations that people have about masculinity and femininity.” 
As Sheryl Sandberg encourages women to “lean in” — by which she means that they should make a determined effort to push forward in their careers — it may seem as if women are truly becoming, as Gloria Steinem put it, “the men we want to marry.” But these professional shifts seem to influence marital stability. A study put out last year by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that if a wife earns more than her husband, the couple are 15 percent less likely to report that their marriage is very happy; 32 percent more likely to report marital troubles in the past year; and 46 percent more likely to have discussed separating in the past year. Similarly, Lynn Prince Cooke found that though sharing breadwinning and household duties decreases the likelihood of divorce, that’s true only up to a point. If a wife earns more than her husband, the risk of divorce increases. Interestingly, Cooke’s study shows that the predicted risk of divorce is lowest when the husband does 40 percent of the housework and the wife earns 40 percent of the income.

Of course studies are like opinions. Everyone has one. And statistics only apply to populations, not individuals. There must be a wife who is ecstatic to have her husband darning socks, fixing dinner, making quilts and cleaning the toilet while she changes the oil in the family car, cleans the gutters or installs the new sump pump. And I know for a fact there are husbands who are pleased as punch that their wife earns multiples of what they do, giving them the opportunity to stay at home with the kids or work for years on the Great American Novel that they somehow never complete. 

Stories like this reinforce why I think the great feminist dystopia "utopia" will never arrive although some people continue to argue that if we just use more corporate and government coercion incentives we'll get there. Although in total men and women are much more alike than we are different, we do seem to prefer different characteristics in our significant others. This is primarily biological in my view although different cultures express it differently. And these different preferences, minor though they are overall, drive marriage, mating, and what sort of jobs people look for.

In other words, women and men bear equal responsibility for how social relations work. It is logically impossible for women (as a group) to want total pay equity in the workplace but continue (as individuals) to be attracted to men who earn more money and/or express more dominance than they do. The incentives don't match. What is good in the public arena of work is apparently not so good in the private arena of relationships. I think that the best that society can do is to ensure workplace equal opportunity regardless of gender, race, sexuality, etc. Equal results, based on how they are defined, may remain ephemeral. And that may be ok.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Racism and Ted Nugent: Then and Now

Asa Carter Then:

Ted Nugent Now:

Any Questions?
The enemy is the same as it's always been. I'd like to know where are the Republicans who constantly bleat that the base of their party is not in large part animated by racism. Where are the politicians and media types who hounded President Obama to denounce, disassociate, and differentiate himself from people like Jesse Jackson, Reverend Wright, Cornell West, or any other bĂȘte noire of the day? Where are Nugent's high profile friends or media enablers like Mitch Albom or Nick Cannon? Will they denounce such language?
Probably not. I'd like to think that people would reject and shame white right-wingers who say things like this but it very rarely seems to work that way. We'll see.
At the time of this writing the only high profile Republican political operative to openly criticize Nugent's hateful speech is Senator Rand Paul. So far no one else has the stones. Either that or as is more likely they agree with him regarding President Barack Obama. Just as Klansman Asa Carter ultimately lost the fight to keep segregation and ban rock-n-roll, the Republican party is doomed to keep losing national elections unless they separate themselves from the extreme right-wing fringe. There just aren't enough angry white men with fecal matter for brains to keep voting Republican. Nationwide, that is. Texas is apparently a different story.

Movie Reviews: Ender's Game

Ender's Game
directed by Gavin Hood
Ender's Game was based upon the book of the same name by the author Orson Scott Card. I had not read the book so I watched the movie with no preconceptions. There were some people who said they would avoid the movie because of Card's political and religious views but as a fan of H.P. Lovecraft it takes a whole lot to get me to boycott art, as has been discussed before. Although I can't say for sure I think that there was a lot left out from the book. There are a lot of dead ends and things left unexplained in the movie that I imagine might have been clear to me had I read the book. In some very real ways Ender's Game is a morally didactic movie. It definitely has a message of tolerance and understanding. All the same the message is muddled and bent. Perhaps it's the problem of translation from one medium to another. Perhaps it's the danger inherent in having child actors, although I doubt it. The young man playing Ender is pretty accomplished in his field, despite his youth. I also doubt it's the director as he has won Oscars for some of his previous work. Maybe it's just the sadness and a little ugliness in the source material. I'm not sure. I am sure that this was not a must-see film despite its A-list cast and impressive special effects.

In the not too distant future Earth has been attacked by a race of interstellar insectoids known as the Formics. Millions of people die. The Formic invasion is only halted by the self-sacrifice of pilot Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley), who just like Randy Quaid in Independence Day, rams his aircraft and its payload into the unprotected belly of the Formic mothership, destroying it and causing other Formic ships to either crash or flee.

Since that time Earth has been obsessed with the possibility of a new Formic attack. It appears that the military has taken political control from civilians and silly little things like nation states have dropped by the wayside. And parents need permission from the state to make whoopie or at least make the kind of whoopie that results in another human being joining this world. I don't know if this is from the book or not but that was my impression from the film.  A new way of war is being propagated. I thought it barely made sense when you think about who spends time playing video games. The new style of warfare requires massively integrated intellectual capacities combined with fearlessness and intuition. These are characteristics which are disproportionately found among children. These children will be trained as if they are actual warriors but their "fighting" is done via computer screens from which they control drones, fire systems and ships with actual adult men and women in them.

So the Armed Forces are always on the lookout for a few good boys and girls. One such boy is Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield). Ender combines a sharp intelligence with an appealing amorality, especially when he's placed in bad positions. He intends to win and will do what he has to do. As a young cadet he comes to the attention of Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) and Major Anderson (Viola Davis) who place Ender in difficult circumstances to see how he responds. Something which appeals to Anderson but irritates/intrigues Graff is that although he can be extremely ruthless and pragmatic, Ender nonetheless has a well developed (and equally well hidden) conscience and just as strong of a dislike of any illegitimate authority. This kicks off a series of set action/drama pieces which sees Ender promoted to greater level of responsibility, have more intense training and have deadlier confrontations with bullies. Ender does not like bullies and does not like being manipulated. However the higher he rises in the Armed Forces the more he runs into both. Interestingly enough, perhaps because Ender is supposed to be even younger than he looks, there is no love interest of any kind. Ender's interest is primarily in ensuring the safety of his older/protective sister Valentine (Abigail Breslin) though he does make good friends with another girl who initially outranks him, Petra (Hailee Steinfeld).
This movie features the slight Ender dealing some serious pain to bullies but at the same time I'm not sure you would root for the character in part because it looks like Ender also has some coldness/darkness within him that he struggles to keep on a chain.  Ender could just as easily be the hero or the precocious kid that uses a graduate level knowledge of physics and chemistry to murder the entire school. Davis and Ford don't have a whole lot to do. Their characters are pretty much defined in the beginning of the film and don't change a whole lot. Davis' character worries about Ender's emotional wellbeing while Ford's role requires that he constantly snarl "I don't give a damn what he feels like. I need him trained!!" Sergeant Dap (Nonzo AnozieXaro Xhoan Daxos from A Game of Thrones) has a small role as the drill sergeant who must beat these kids into shape. There is room for a sequel to this film but I doubt there will be one. The big surprise is telegraphed too early. And as mentioned earlier it was difficult for me to empathize with anyone in this film. This kinda bothered me a little but it is what it is.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Self-Defense In Detroit Home Invasion

A Detroit mother opened fire Monday night when three suspects broke into her home. Surveillance cameras caught it all.The mother tells 7 Action News she "didn't have time to get scared." When she heard the door to her home on Woodrow Wilson being kicked in, she immediately warned the three teenage intruders and then opened fire. One of the teens dropped a handgun on his way out the door. He then tried to get back inside the house a second time, but was again met with gunfire. Once again, he took off and all three were arrested shortly after the incident by Detroit Police.  These young criminals were indeed fortunate that they were not killed as they tried to break into this woman's home. Although incidents like this may indeed be statistically rare if you are the person confronted with this behavior that's small comfort indeed. Notice that the woman defended herself and her children with a scary looking "assault rifle". Unfortunately there are people in this world who are "bad", "warped", "bent", "evil" or whatever other pejorative word you wish to use. Ultimately I suppose you could pity such people but in my view such pity can only be doled out once they're safely behind bars or six feet under the ground. If one happens to be unfortunate enough to run into such miscreants bent on taking something that is yours, immediate and massive counter force is the only thing which they will respect. Incidents like this are why I am unsympathetic to people who tell us we don't "need" guns to protect ourselves or that no one "needs" a magazine capacity with more than an arbitrary number of rounds. As far as I am concerned the only bad thing about this incident was that the mother didn't light up all of the home invaders. Please note that although the police arrived quickly after the fact and arrested the criminals it was impossible for the police to be there at the moment that the thugs decided to break down the door. We are ultimately responsible for protecting ourselves and those we love. Watch video here.

Obama Administration: DHS Proposal for National License Plate Tracking

If you're like millions of other people, you probably woke up this morning, had breakfast, and performed the usual toiletries that clean, psychologically normal and healthy people perform. You then bustled yourself off to yet another exciting day of work, school, raising your children, enjoying your retirement or any other number of productive or leisurely activities. One thing you probably didn't do is stop by your local police station or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) office and provide those kind men and women a detailed, hour by hour itinerary of your plans for the day, how long you thought these things would take, who you'd be seeing and where you'd be for most of the day. I know that you're probably pretty busy. Perhaps the critical importance of letting the government and its running dog corporate lackeys know where you were slipped your mind. Never fear. DHS has got you covered.

In a sad reminder of just how far government has sunken and how contemptuous many governmental bureaucratic or law-enforcement types are of a citizen's right to privacy and to be left alone, the DHS confirmed that it is seeking a private agency to assist it in building a database of every US license plate and its real time location.

The Department of Homeland Security wants a private company to provide a national license-plate tracking system that would give the agency access to vast amounts of information from commercial and law enforcement tag readers, according to a government proposal that does not specify what privacy safeguards would be put in place.The national license-plate recognition database, which would draw data from readers that scan the tags of every vehicle crossing their paths, would help catch fugitive illegal immigrants, according to a DHS solicitation. But the database could easily contain more than 1 billion records and could be shared with other law enforcement agencies, raising concerns that the movements of ordinary citizens who are under no criminal suspicion could be scrutinized.
The agency said the length of time the data is retained would be up to the winning vendor. Vigilant Solutions, for instance, one of the leading providers of tag-reader data, keeps its records indefinitely. Nationwide, local police as well as commercial companies are gathering license-plate data using various means. One common method involves drivers for repossession companies methodically driving up and down streets with cameras mounted on their cars snapping photos of vehicles. Some police forces have cameras mounted on patrol cars. Other images may be retrieved from border crossings, interstate highway on-ramps and toll plazas.

Customs and Border Protection, another DHS agency, and the Drug Enforcement Administration, which is part of the Justice Department, also have deployed cameras along the country’s borders. But DHS’s effort appears to be the first time a federal law enforcement agency is seeking such extensive access to a broad repository of data capturing the movements and images of American motorists from metropolitan ­areas...
If you've read this blog for more than a month or so you know where I stand on civil liberties and privacy. So you can probably guess what I think of this idea. Very simply this is bovine excrement. Wet stinky greasy foul bovine excrement. This is precisely the sort of thing that we read about states like Communist China or the former East Germany doing. A government that tries to know what its citizens are reading, with whom the citizens are communicating via phone, email, letter, and where the citizens are traveling and why is not a government that I have any respect for. It's a government that needs a radical haircut in its powers and so-called authority. If someone from the government wants to know what I did today they could ask me. And I could tell them to go  attempt airborne copulation with a rapidly revolving pastry. Unless I am under formal government control via imprisonment, parole or probation, who I talk to, why I talk to them, who I sleep with, where and why I travel, who my friends are and so forth and so on are none of the government's business. If the government REALLY needs to know, get a warrant. This is most definitely not a partisan issue. The great problem as I see it is that these increasing attacks on civil liberties and stepped up surveillance of citizen movements are sort of a Nixon to China moment. It took a right wing politician to attempt to woo China into the capitalist marketplace and make diplomatic concessions to the Chinese. This neutralized and isolated the rabid right-wing base that would have otherwise fiercely opposed such an action by a centrist or left leaning politician. Similarly if it had been widely reported under a Republican Administration that the FBI/DHS etc were seeking to maintain records of individual travel by all Americans, I suspect that many more left leaning activist groups and politicians might have slightly more than a few mild concerns to express. But because Obama is behind it you won't hear more than a few mumbles from most progressive people. This is wrong. Everyone should oppose these steps.

There are some fair minded people of goodwill who nevertheless still wonder why civil libertarians were so angered by warrantless wiretapping, metadata gathering, email and social network monitoring. They claim that as long as the government keeps us safe what's the big deal. To those people I would say that the big deal is exactly that giving the government a pass on the above activities, as we have largely done, just emboldens the government to take other bites out of our freedom. This really is a slippery slope.  People who come up with these sorts of ideas never ever have enough information. There's always someone out there who may have some fig leaf of privacy left. That bothers control freaks. There are many people who were alleged to have said this but it really is true that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.  If you're still not convinced that this expansion is problematic I'm not sure what to say to you. The opportunities for abuse are endless in such a system. We know that the government already targets people with political views that it doesn't like. Is it such a leap to believe that armed with a real time database of people's travels that further abuses would proliferate?  Let's imagine for a moment that there is that is a pugnaciously righteous attorney general or governor of a large east coast state. This man has numerous bitter rivals and enemies among the political and financial establishment. So his detractors monitor his movements until they realize this pompous populist gadfly is spending quality time at a brothel or house of a woman not his wife. So the politician's rivals then try to blackmail this man into softening his stances or failing that charge him with a crime thus destroying his ability to seek higher office or threaten established financial power. Of course nothing like that would ever happen would it? I'm just being paranoid...

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Game of Thrones Complete Season Three Offer

We have four copies of HBO's Game of Thrones Complete Season Three. There are two Blu Ray/DVD copies and two DVD copies. Some special features include deleted/extended scenes, introductions to new characters, backgrounds on Westeros/Essos groups, cast/crew reactions to The Red Wedding and interviews with and commentaries by actors, producers, directors and Martin. We'd prefer to give these discs away to regular contributors to thank them for reading our blog. You must have commented on this blog at least twice during the past 120 days. These items will be given away to the first four people (non blog moderators) to send the correct answers to the below questions, along with their blog id, mailing address/name*, and their preferred version (DVD or Blu-Ray) to our email address.  Please use subject line "GAME OF THRONES GIVEAWAY". Answers must be received today before 5 PM EST. Answers should be as specific as possible. Proper names are preferred. A correct answer is "X is so-and-so's brother", not "His brother is that guy with the big nose who dresses in black". Ties will be resolved by blog management. 

If no one is interested or can answer the questions correctly then perhaps we'll just keep these items for ourselves. Otherwise winners will receive their copy within seven to ten business days. Comments are/will be disabled for this post so please don't place your answers here, the contact page or anywhere else on the blog. Doing so may lead to executions bannings. I'm sure as an upright honest person you'd be fine with the Stark honor system. But it might be a tragic mistake to remain honorable and spend precious time searching your fading memory while your more pragmatic Littlefinger type competitors search Google (or posts on this blog) and thus win "your" prize. Well winning isn't everything. It's the only thing. You saw what happened to Ned when he tried to be righteous. Good luck, whichever road you choose. Snicker.
*If you really prefer not to use your government name because the Mob is looking for you that's perfectly ok as long as you can provide us a valid mailing address. PO Boxes are fine.

  1. Including Jon Snow, match each Stark child (living or deceased) to his or her direwolf (living or deceased).
  2. Which character is derisively called "halfman" by his allies and routinely threatened with having his manhood chopped off and fed to the goats?
  3. Which house uses the song "The Rains of Castamere" as a warning to its enemies?
  4. Who was Renly Barratheon's lover (not his betrothed)?
  5. Who constantly says "You know nothing, Jon Snow!"
  6. Who is the Hound's big brother? Nickname or partial name is acceptable.
  7. Which house has the words "We do not sow".
  8. Bonus Question: If you get this correct you can get some other questions wrong and still win (if you are among the first four respondents). What is Littlefinger's sigil?

Monday, February 17, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Season Four Trailer: Vengeance

Payback is a mother...... or so some people say. Other people say that you set out for revenge you had better dig two graves. Still others were known to say that when winter comes and the cold winds blow the lone wolf dies but the pack, the pack survives. Robb and Catelyn Stark are dead and gone but the Stark wolfpack, while scattered and young, is a long way from destroyed. Is this the season of their vengeance? Time will tell. And what's Danerys up to? Is she going to get back to Westeros and take what is hers with fire and blood? We shall see. 
Enjoy clip below but as usual if you know what some of these scenes entail or book derived answers to the above questions, please keep them to yourself. Thanks! 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Tom Perkins: Return to Aristocracy

There has been a lot written of late about inequality. Unsurprisingly people on the Right tend to defend inequality in general and the massively increased inequality of the past 40-50 years as a good thing. People on the Left tend to consider increased inequality a bad thing while some go so far as to consider virtually any inequality as problematic. The Right, or at least corporations and the monied class have been winning this argument for a very long time. To the extent there is increased energy on the Left about this it's a last ditch stand or cynical media posturing by politicians who'd like to change the subject from their own complicity in the workings of the machine while keeping those campaign contributions rolling in. But there are some people of the Right who are not content with being wealthy, not content with paying relatively low taxes by historical American standards or by the standards of other First World industrialized nations, and not content with having money treated as speech and having political bribery virtually legalized. Some people, aristocrats in all but name, are starting to wonder why those damned peasants have the right to vote at all.

I mean if you're so awesome and so intelligent that you've built or expanded multinational corporations, discovered new medicines, increased the limits of knowledge about the universe, or at the very least made yourself and your family more money than could be spent in one lifetime, is it really fair that some sap who hasn't even made a million dollars gets the same vote as you do? Some rich people think that they should have more say in society while more of us peasants should have no say. Venture capitalist Tom Perkins, last heard from comparing the wealthiest 1% Americans to Jews hunted and exterminated during the Holocaust, is such a man.

"The Tom Perkins system is: You don't get to vote unless you pay a dollar of taxes," Perkins said. "But what I really think is, it should be like a corporation. You pay a million dollars in taxes, you get a million votes. How's that?" 

The audience at the Commonwealth Club reacted with laughter. But Perkins offered no immediate indication that he was joking. Asked offstage if the proposal was serious, Perkins said: "I intended to be outrageous, and it was."

It is hard to overestimate how profoundly undemocratic and unAmerican this proposal is. There is always a tension between the private sector in which the boss can more or less operate as he sees fit (especially without unions) and the public sphere of democracy and a republican form of government in which everyone has a say and both private power and public power are limited by constitution and law. Evidently Perkins doesn't like our system any more. Perhaps he should consider leaving the country and resettling in a place like Afghanistan or Somalia where whatever the local Big Man says, goes. He might be much happier. The entire swath of American political history has tended towards expanding the franchise, not limiting it.

Perkins offers no reason as to why it would be a better thing if only rich people voted or had even more of an outsize impact on elections than they already do. I guess to him it's self-evident. But I think he's going to have to come up with a better argument than "I'm rich and dislike the current President."
An aristocratic system tends not to last if you have other elements like an educated middle class, social safety nets, unions and other non-government support groups, etc. Because sooner or later people without the vote or with limited political say realize that they greatly outnumber the rich and have no need to bow and scrape before them. But to be an American is not to bow and scrape before anyone NOR to want anyone to do that before you. Perkins should learn how to be an American. I think he was apparently born in the wrong country and wrong century. If nothing else, Perkins should realize that a society that moves too far towards plutocracy and autocracy eventually gets balanced out by a Robespierre...

Book Reviews: Black House, Ricochet

Black House
by Stephen King and Peter Straub
This is a sequel to the book, The Talisman, penned all those years ago by the same two authors and good friends. It is not necessary to have read The Talisman in order to enjoy Black House. The Talisman was, briefly, a story of a 12 year old boy who has to travel to an alternate reality in order to obtain the titular object, a source of immense magical power, and also save his dying mother. This reality, which the boy, Jack Sawyer, calls The Territories is similar to our own except that magic works and the world is smaller. Time and distance are also somewhat warped so that travel in The Territories doesn't match up exactly with travel in our world. Most people in our world have an alternate self or "twinner" in The Territories. These alternate selves are not necessarily aware of each other but usually have the same desires and goals. They are also linked. What happens good or bad to one version of a person usually happens, albeit in a different way to the other version. Jack is unique or at least rare in that he doesn't have a twinner. He survived his twinner's murder. He can thus physically flip between the two worlds (most people can't do that). Ultimately Jack is able, after much heartache and loss of life, to save his mother, prevent his murdered father's partner Morgan and Morgan's twinner from obtaining The Talisman or stealing his father's company, and save the life of the Queen of The Territories (his mother's twinner).

But similar to how C.S. Lewis detailed the Narnia series, children grow up and unlearn the wisdom of their youth. A little over two decades after the events in The Talisman, Jack is a thirty something retired LAPD officer who had been on the fast track to Chief of Detectives and likely even Chief of Police. He has no memory of The Territories, the heroic role he played there or friends and enemies made in that realm. The only qualities he's retained from his time there are a very reliable intuition, an ability to quickly read people and an ever so slight foresight. These, along with a rock-solid moral sense and disdain for bullies help his meteoric rise in his chosen profession. But when a case in LA unknowingly reminded Jack of things he had forgotten, he abruptly decided to walk away from his career and retire to French Landing, Wisconsin. He assisted on a case there once and immediately made a friend for life in the decent but overwhelmed Police Chief, Dale Gilbertson. 

But there's no rest for the weary. There is a killer loose in French Landing. The worst kind of killer is roaming free, one who kills children. This man models himself after the serial killer Albert Fish and is thus known as The Fisherman. Dale begs for Jack's help, recognizing that whatever is going on is beyond his ability to prevent or solve. Jack initially refuses. But Jack is having dreams, both when he's asleep and when he's awake. He can't understand them or explain them. Ultimately the man who first summoned Jack to the Territories, Speedy Parker (a blues musician in our world and a relentless gunslinger/marshal in The Territories) is able to break the wall in Jack's mind and restore his memory and ability to flip between the two worlds. And Jack finally learns what King/Straub reveal almost immediately to the reader, that these killings are not the work of a human, or at least not something that is completely human. There has been some slippage between our world and The Territories. Battle is joined.
This is very hardcore horror so if that is not your thing ordinarily I'd advise those not so inclined to pass on this book. But the writing is so sublime that even if you're not into horror it would be a mistake for you to skip this book. Of course I am a fan of horror and King and Straub so take that recommendation with a rock of salt. It is interesting to read this and try to pick out which parts were written by King and which were written by Straub. They usually have pretty distinct voices but here they seem to have melded into one super-writer. There aren't any jarring discontinuities. Straub is from Wisconsin. I think he provided a lot of the descriptions of that area. I would also bet that Straub wrote most of the jazz stuff (much of the action takes place in a senior home where blind DJ Henry Leydeen plays jazz and pop music for the residents) as Straub is known to be a jazz aficionado but other than that it's anybody's guess. The book is seamless and quite rewarding. The story has been retrofitted to include references to King's Dark Tower series. As is usual in most of King's work, the everyday and prosaic is so very well depicted that when the supernatural appears you are so invested in the tale that you have no choice but to believe it.

by Ovid Demaris
Some gangsters like Carlo Gambino, Meyer Lansky, and Sidney Korshak generally stayed in the shadows. These men were either lucky enough or smart enough to avoid imprisonment or murder and die of natural causes as free men. Other gangsters like John Gotti, Albert Anastasia or Bugsy Siegel disdained living quietly and so aroused the ire of law enforcement or their fellow mobsters. These men often died in prison or were removed from the planet in a much more abrupt manner.

Nicky Scarfo, former boss of the Philadelphia Mafia Family, belonged in the second category. He became boss after a period of internal and external strife in and around the Philadelphia organization. Philadelphia mobsters hoped that Scarfo would return the group to its days of quiet profit under the late Angelo Bruno. Well that didn't happen. Scarfo was, like Gotti, a loud brash man who loved killing and public recognition. He even ordered the murder of a judge who had doublecrossed him. Ultimately Scarfo's violent reckless nature -- he enjoyed being present at actual murders ---a no no for a boss, caught up with him. Scarfo's preferred solution to problems was to kill people. People inside the family started worrying they would be next, especially after, (shades of The Red Wedding) Scarfo murdered the Family's putative heir because the man backed out of an arranged wedding with the daughter of a Scarfo ally. Informants proliferated. Scarfo received multiple sentences for murder, extortion and RICO.

Ricochet fictionalized Scarfo as Tony Allio. Tony Allio is a short quick tempered patricidal mob boss who is good with a knife. He's a bully and a thug. He's got his little fingers in prostitution, narcotics, extortion, and everything else that goes on in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. Tony seeks revenge on the book's protagonist, one Frank Conti. Frank and Tony have known each other since childhood and never liked each other. In high school, Tony already had a dangerous reputation and his own group of budding mafia wannabees. Frank stepped in to protect his girlfriend when Tony's friends attempted to molest her. Tony and company beat him to within an inch of his life. Frank ignored his policeman's father's pleas to either let it go or let the police handle it. Frank recovered and bided his time until he got Tony alone and returned the favor in spades, afterwards fleeing into the Army and the Vietnam War. 

Now Frank is back in South Philly, a decorated vet and former Green Beret who's a rising corporate banker. But Tony Allio didn't mind waiting decades for payback. He has plans for Frank. He intends to hurt Frank and his family thru Frank's wife Nancy. Nancy has a gambling problem. And Tony is all too happy to indulge her. But Tony forgets that pushing the buttons of a Green Beret isn't smart. There is an interesting subplot with Joey Bucci and his girlfriend Joyce. They are mob hangers on who get close to Allio and find themselves getting in too deep. You won't feel sorry for Joey although you might empathize with Joyce. Joey is a walking example of how one bad decision leads to many more until you're at a kill or be killed crossroads. Demaris was a detective novelist and reporter who had written multiple investigative exposes on organized crime. So he knew his stuff. His storytelling skills were not to the level of King or Straub. This book was a little less than 300 pages but was a very quick read. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mary Barra Discriminatory Pay Hoax Story

Shortly after Mary Barra became the new GM CEO and the first person with two X chromosomes to hold that title the usual suspects promptly came out of the woodwork to charge GM with the crime of paying Ms. Barra less than her male predecessor and of doing so because she was a woman. This accusation was duly repeated as if it were fact, not just by bloggers but also by reporters for sites supposedly a fair bit more reputable than a run of the mill blog operated by unpaid people in their spare time.
There were numerous blog posts and news stories bemoaning the fact that Barra was making less money than the man she replaced. People's jowls were quivering in outrage that this particular millionaire CEO wasn't going to earn as much money as another millionaire CEO. As Nora Caplan-Bricker wrote in The New Republic  "In the past few days, Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors and the first ever female CEO of a major car company, has morphed from a symbol of success to an embodiment of the fact no amount of ambition and labor guarantees a woman equal treatment. It's hard to muster too much sympathy for a woman pulling in $4 million a year. But, in at least a general sense, Barra's problem is every American woman's problem—magnified by a larger sum."  
Strong stuff! From reading this purple prose I honestly expected that Barra would be opening her first leadership meeting by singing this song. I mean she's got it hard! The world is a ghetto! It's another attack in the War on Women! To the barricades comrades!!!!

Well not so fast. As it turns out all of the outraged news stories and blog posts were based on incomplete and thus fundamentally inaccurate information. Actually Ms. Barra stands to earn 60% more in her first year on the job than former CEO Daniel Akerson earned on his final year on the job. That's right, MORE.

Mary T. Barra, chief executive of General Motors, will earn as much as $14.4 million in compensation during her first year on the job, the company said on Monday. The amount of compensation revealed in January — $1.6 million in salary and $2.8 million as part of the company’s short-term incentive plan — will most likely be a small part of Ms. Barra’s earnings, but it was used by media outlets as a baseline comparison to the about $9 million Mr. Akerson earned in compensation last year. 
The total package Ms. Barra stands to receive in her first year as chief executive represents a 60 percent increase over what Mr. Akerson earned in his final year on the job. As a new C.E.O., Mary’s total compensation is in line with her peer group and properly weighted so that most is at-risk,” G.M.’s chairman, Theodore M. Solso, said in a statement on Monday. “The company’s performance will ultimately determine how much she is paid.”

So I fully expect that the folks who were hooting and hollering about unfair gender bias against women because they thought that a woman wasn't making as much money as a man certainly now will start flapping their gums about unfair gender bias against men because a woman is making a lot more than a man. I mean we know that gender chauvinism fairness and equality is all such people are concerned about. That's what they constantly tell us and surely they are the best judges of their intentions. I know that the people who jumped the gun and made false claims, incorrect insinuations, and bad assumptions will all ruefully admit they were as wrong as two left shoes and publicly promise to do better next time. I have belief in the goodness of people. Yes I do. And if a sample size of one was enough to indicate unfairness towards women surely the reverse is true about unfairness towards men. Right? Right??? Ha! Or maybe, just maybe, there might have been non gender related reasons for Barra's and Akerson's compensation packages. Hmm. You know, reasons like that federal auto bailout, capped compensation and market share thingy. 

The purely ideological are rarely swayed by evidence and likely won't be in this case either. However this non-story should remind the rest of us living in the reality based community to at least try to take the time to find out what's going on first before we go off the deep end and start making assertions or jumping to conclusions. And the media failed in that job here. It makes you wonder what else they get wrong. After all, as Mark Twain may have said, " A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes".

Sunday, February 9, 2014

HBO Game of Thrones Season Four: A Foreshadowing

Well, this looks like fun. It's always interesting to hear actors' interpretation of their characters or storylines. And I am happy to hear that unlike in previous seasons, the penultimate episode will not necessarily be the big WTF moment for the entire season. As usual if you have any spoilers to share..DON'T.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book Reviews: Faerie Tale, Fevre Dream

Faerie Tale
by Raymond Feist
I had heard good things about the fantasy author Raymond E. Feist over the years. So I was interested in reading his work. But I wasn't really in the mood for starting another fantasy series. I don't have the interest or time at this moment. So Faerie Tale, an older book by Feist, was exactly what I was looking for. This book mixes the thriller and fantasy genres with just a minor touch of horror near the end. Compared to today's gore fests it's very mild indeed. It's a blink and you'll miss it sort of thing. I thought the story was lengthier than it needed to be but that impression may have had more to do with things going on in my life than the author's pacing. You may feel differently. I was interested in what happened next but to me this wasn't a page turner which I'm staying up late to read or reading at every opportunity during the day. So it took me a little longer to get thru the book than it usually does. I did think that this book would be ripe for a cinematic treatment, as Feist is very very good at invoking the pleasures and fears of an old house with plenty of secrets and even older woods where strange things lurk. In Faerie Tale, a very successful family decides to move from California back to upstate New York. Phil Hastings is a famous screenwriter, movie producer and author who would like to reinvigorate his literary career outside of Hollywood. His wife Gloria is an actress more known for character and stage roles than lucrative leading famous ones. 

Phil has three children. His eldest, Gabrielle, his teen daughter by Phil's first wife, is an heiress whose wealth upon maturity will far exceed Phil's own. Gabrielle's mother comes from old money but Gabrielle's grandmother disinherited her daughter in favor of Gabrielle. Phil also has two young sons by Gloria, Sean and Patrick, enthusiastic young baseball fans. In moving back to New York, Phil is not only looking to get some writing done but looking forward to being closer to his now elderly graduate adviser, Aggie, one of the first and most important people to believe in and encourage Phil's writing career.
So everything looks good. Of course if all was really good there wouldn't be much of a story. The mansion which Phil and Gloria purchased was originally owned by a turn of the century German immigrant named Kessler. Kessler was involved in some shady religious rituals in Europe before fleeing to America. Phil and Gloria learn this from Mark Blackmon, one of Aggie's younger associates, though she dismisses a lot of his work. Mark tends to write or edit a lot of books about alien encounters, archaic religions, alternate history, and pre-human races. Aggie thinks his evidence gathering is not rigorous though she grudgingly admits that he knows more than people give him credit for. As Mark seems harmless enough, though somewhat secretive, Phil and Gloria allow Mark and his research assistant Gary to search through the house for anything Kessler may have hidden as well as research Kessler's library. Mark has been eager to get into their house for years.

Meanwhile Gabrielle and her brothers have encounters, some of which seem very real with things that can't be there. Adults, with the exception of Mark, tend to ignore what the children tell them. But things reach a fever pitch when Gabrielle is assaulted by someone who fits the description of Puck. Having found a handy local drunk who has an encyclopedic knowledge of Irish myths, Sean and Patrick think they know what they're up against. But again, besides Mark no one believes them. Mark knows that the stories told don't begin to capture the malice and majesty of the creatures known as The Fair Folk. As it is close to Midsummer's Night those people will be on the move. But this time the being known as The Fool thinks the time may be right to restart an ancient war long forgotten by humanity. I guess you could place this in the urban fantasy genre, that is magic interacting with people in our modern world. Overall it was an ok read but as mentioned the pacing didn't quite grab me. This book was written a while ago and people's expectations have likely changed. There are some erotic themes as the virginal Gabrielle has met the man she intends to marry. But the young lady also seems to attract the attention of more malicious creatures. I liked how the story posited an underlying truth that's hinted at in various myths and religions across the world.

Fevre Dream
by George R.R. Martin
This is one of Martin's earlier works. It was written long before A Song of Ice and Fire Series. I originally read it WAY back in the day. Then because I was curious to see how he had changed as a writer, I reread it about three months back. The most obvious difference between the Martin of then and now is that he was much less verbose. This book is just under 400 pages but it feels like less than that. The plotting is very tight and the story, while not quite breakneck, doesn't spend a lot of time on what I thought of as irrelevancies. As far as the theme, there's not a lot of similarities between this and his later work except that the protagonist, much like Tyrion Lannister, is a remarkably ugly fellow with a sardonic sense of humor. Good and evil are more sharply defined than you would expect given Martin's oft cynical voice in his other creations. There are characters for whom you will be rooting to win and those for whom you will have nothing but contempt. 
The story takes place in antebellum America, mostly in the South and lower Midwest so if realistic depictions of racist characters offend you why would you read this book. The most racist characters are the most morally debased in every way so there's that. The supernatural elements are in no way as horrific as the casual and widely accepted racism. Although the subject matter and a few harrowing scenes make this a horror novel, again just like Faerie Tale, this could be understood as dark fantasy. Ultimately Fevre Dream is an optimistic book. 
Abner Marsh (think Mark Twain) is a steamboat captain who's fallen on hard times. He doesn't have the capital to keep up with his competitors. He's very good at what he does and still has some fire in his belly but not much else. He is anti-slavery and does what he can behind the scenes. In 1857 Marsh is approached by a polite and eccentric man named Joshua York who has researched Marsh and his business. York wants to partner in an investment to build the biggest fastest steamboat the Mississippi River has ever seen. It will be called the Fevre Dream. Marsh will be captain and York will be the silent partner with all the cash. York has enough capital to make this dream a reality. The frank but shrewd Marsh decides to accept the offer. But York is a strange sort. He is quick to command Marsh, sleeps all day and is incredibly furious when Marsh wakes him up during daytime, refusing to leave his darkened room. And York's friends behave as he does. Marsh doesn't like anyone telling him what to do and is concerned about never seeing York out and about during the daytime. It's obvious as to what sort of story this is to the reader before it is to Marsh as Martin very early introduces a "man" named Damon Julian, who is York's opposite number. Living in New Orleans, Julian is an enthusiastic slaveowner who doesn't hide his true nature as well as he should. He is completely opposed to everything York stands for. When things get a little too hot for him in New Orleans and he hears of York's attempts to "fix" their kind's nature, he decides to set his will against that of York's to see just who will be the true Bloodmaster. 
Julian likes slavery in part because he views it as humanity's attempt to imitate his kind. Julian very much believes in superior and inferior groups and individuals. And to him trying to change something that is "natural", such as his people being at the top of the food chain, is insane, blasphemous and ultimately impossible. Martin has some insights into morality here. He does not stint in describing slavery's ugliness or the foulness of humans who would hurt other humans just for fun or a chance to advance. Julian's aide-de-camp, Sour Billy, is just as much of a monster as later Martin characters such as Gregor Clegane or Ramsay Bolton. Marsh is a stand in for the reader as he is forced to make a decision about doing the right thing and helping the "man" who would become his friend, Joshua York. This has some strong horror scenes in it, both supernatural and otherwise, so if that's not your deal then you know what to do. If you are into this stuff there was also a graphic novel version but I prefer the original novel.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Corporate Welfare or Good Business Sense???

I'll take any mother*****'s money if he giving it away!!!!
-Clay Davis
Regardless of race, gender, political affiliation or geography, when you say "welfare", many people probably still think of a person who looks and sounds like this. Such a wretched individual makes an easy target for people who are tired of other people putting hands in their pocket while having the nerve, the audacity to claim that they are somehow entitled to do so.

However it has never ceased to amaze me that the more you need money the less likely people are to give it to you while the less you need it, the more people break their neck trying to give it to you. I was reminded of that by two separate recent events, one national and one local. If we take our focus off "welfare" as money given to "underclass" mothers and/or other loud obese moochers and expand the term to include well off people, we might be surprised by how much government assistance the rich get, even for doing things they would already do. There have been books written on this. This is a tremendously inefficient use of government resources. And it's unfair. I don't mind paying taxes if those taxes can prevent someone from starving to death or being homeless. I do mind paying taxes when those taxes are given to individuals or companies that are not so troubled.

Michigan billionaires, Mike and Marian Illitch (net worth around $3 billion), owners of Little Caesars, The Detroit Tigers, The Detroit Red Wings, various land development companies and Motor City Casino (under Marian's name for business reasons) have decided that they want a new arena for the Red Wings. The current one, Joe Louis Arena is not quite decrepit but is definitely outdated.

Well in a so-called free market when you want to take a risk and build/buy something new you pony up the dollars and either get the rewards or take the losses. But that's not how things work for billionaires, especially in sports. Despite the fact that tons of evidence exists that public financing of sports arenas rarely brings the ROI that supporters claim it does, the City of Detroit and the State of Michigan have come together to ensure that the Illitches get public land for essentially nothing in order to build their new stadium/entertainment complex. That's how things work, not just in Detroit, but in many cities. The subsidy is bad enough but what made this deal stand out to me was that the Illitches, or rather their company, will keep ALL revenues from the stadium. There will be no sharing with either the state or the city. Additionally Olympia Entertainment will pay no property taxes on the new stadium. Even the building of the stadium itself will be 60% publicly funded. Now does that sound like a win-win deal for the city
In one of the largest land transfers in the city’s history, the Detroit City Council agreed Tuesday to hand over 39 parcels of land along the Cass Corridor to transform what was once a blighted, crime-ridden strip near downtown Detroit into a $650-million entertainment venue that will include a new arena for the Detroit Red Wings. The vote authorizes the city to sell the public land for $1 to the Detroit Downtown Development Authority, which will own the arena and lease it for up to 95 years to Olympia Development of Michigan. The company is owned by the Ilitch family, which owns the Red Wings. The essentially free transfer of public land — with an assessed value of about $2.9 million — is the city’s chief contribution to the development.
As proposed, construction of the arena itself would be 58% publicly funded and 42% privately funded. No Detroit general fund dollars would be spent; the state is contributing the bulk of the public investment. Olympia has agreed to pay $11.5 million annually for about 30 years to help pay off the construction bonds. Olympia will own the arena’s naming rights and will keep all revenues from arena operations, including parking fees and concessions sales. The city will not collect property taxes on the arena.

The second instance of corporate welfare which caught my ire was the agreement over the latest farm bill, which President Obama is going to sign into law today, likely at Michigan State University, that center of agricultural higher learning better known as Moo U. I hear that the President will also be treated to a demonstration of the correct techniques of cow artificial insemination and 101 uses of cowpies. But I digress. The bill, soon to become law, has all sorts of goodies included into it, most of which are going to insurers and agribusiness, not "farmers". Think less Tom Joad and more Monsanto.

The bill stinks. And given that it also cuts food stamps can Democratic partisans stop talking about how the evil Republicans are behind this. If the food stamp cuts really bothered the President he would veto the bill. He's not doing that. Take from that what you will. I learn from people's actions, not their words.
WASHINGTON — No one was happier than Danny Murphy, a Mississippi soybean farmer with 1,500 acres, when the Senate on Tuesday passed a farm bill that expanded crop insurance and other benefits for agribusiness. “It’s a relief,” Mr. Murphy said. Few were as unhappy as Sheena Wright, the president of the United Way in New York, who expects to see a surge of hungry people seeking help because the bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps over a decade. “You are going to have to make a decision on what you are going to do, buy food or pay rent,” Ms. Wright said.
The nearly 1,000-page bill, which President Obama is to sign at Michigan State University on Friday, among other things expanded crop insurance for farmers by $7 billion over a decade and created new subsidies for rice and peanut growers that would kick in when prices drop. But anti-hunger advocates said the bill would harm 850,000 American households, about 1.7 million people spread across 15 states, which would lose an average of $90 per month in benefits because of the cuts in the food stamp program.
Unlike the food stamp program, the federally subsidized crop insurance program was not cut. The program, which is administered by 18 companies that are paid $1.4 billion annually by the government to sell policies to farmers, pays 62 percent of farmers’ premiums.
So the rich will get richer and piggish private interests will continue to feed from the government trough, only pausing long enough to wipe the crumbs from their snout and mumble "free market" or "individual responsibility" to the rest of us, before continuing their gluttony. Such is life I guess. I would like to know though where is the conservative outrage over such transfers of public monies to private hands? Why are some conservatives silent about this when businesses are the recipients? And flipping the script would liberals be quiet if it were a President Bush cutting food stamps in the economic environment we have now? Somehow I doubt it. But look over there! Chris Christie!!! Benghazi!! Birth Control Pills!!!!!!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Joakim Noah Meltdown

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah provides unimpeachable evidence that I am not the only person in the world who occasionally gets irritated with his co-workers and supervisors. I can't and don't do what Noah did when I lose patience with annoying people. It's not my personality nor am I that important to my firm. At worst Noah will lose a small piece of his salary and/or be asked to stay away from work a day or two. Generally speaking I find such hyper emotional displays somewhat childish. I've worked with people who have had regular meltdowns during work conflicts. If the powers that be like them it's written off as passion for their work. If the powers that be don't like them it's considered insubordination and they're written up or terminated. But when you have the exceedingly rare skill set that Joakim Noah possesses you can do things like this on occasion. Noah may well have had a point. I don't know. I just thought it was funny how Noah wanted to make sure each referee knew exactly what he thought of them at that point in time. I guess if you're gonna get ejected you might as well get your money's worth.