Saturday, February 28, 2015

GOP Cave on DHS: One Week Funding Approved

President Obama is head of the executive branch of the Federal government. He has, like it or not, pretty expansive powers to direct or change the enforcement priorities of the executive branch. Arguably he has exceeded those powers in his latest executive immigration policy. The courts will end up making that decision. However the legislative branch, has, like it or not, the authority to determine what the budget is and on what it may be spent. In its own way this power is just as awesome as that of the President. Reckless or not, Congress has the ability to defund executive actions that it does not like. Ultimately this is what happened with the Vietnam War. However for either the President or Congress to effectively wield those powers which they possess they must be willing to say "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" and ignore objections to valid use of those powers. For all the criticism which President Obama has received, some valid, some not, for being a weak vacillating mouse of a man who is too eager to find common ground where there isn't any, on this executive action on illegal immigration, it turns out that at least to this point he's the one with the intestinal fortitude. Faced with the reality of what a DHS shutdown would mean to the country, DHS employees, and to their poll numbers Senate and House Republicans blinked, approving a one week DHS funding bill. President Obama signed the legislation last night.


The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted today to fund the Department of Homeland Security through the end of the budget year — without any restrictions on immigration. The vote is a victory for President Obama as Republicans had wanted to strip funding for the president's executive actions on immigration from the bill.

The measure now heads to President Obama, who is expected to sign it.

Two hours before a midnight deadline, Congress has narrowly averted a shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security for one week, setting up another funding showdown for next Friday.

Hours before a midnight deadline, the House easily approved a one-week extension of the funding. The vote was 357-60. It required two-thirds of members' support to pass.

President Barack Obama later signed the bill.
The move means that DHS will not experience a shutdown at midnight, but it also fails to resolve the impasse created when the House initially lashed together the agency's budget and so-called "riders" that would gut the president's immigration proposals. Some House conservatives said that Obama's actions are unconstitutional and must be stopped - even at the cost of a DHS funding lapse.

This raises the question of what is going to change in one week? So are the Republicans going to throw another temper tantrum and then cave again? Wash, Rinse and Repeat? Another one week extension? What happened to the so-called tough guys who were going to stop the "Kenyan usurper" in his tracks? I'm joking but there are some conservative activists who are asking that very question. Erick Erickson had a bizarre and amusing full gay panic meltdown over at Redstate over the approaching Republican cave-in. The fact that when it came down to it the President was not bluffing while many Republicans were is useful information for future negotiations. There is no reason to take Republican threats seriously because they've shown again and again that they lack follow through. This is basic game theory stuff. If you don't or won't do what you threatened you were going to do your power is much diminished. And by power here I mean masculinity as so much of this fight was understood by all concerned as a brutal test of willpower and manhood. It is of course possible that in one week the Republicans will find a spinal column but if I were the President I would be betting otherwise. Time will tell. Perhaps the Republicans will be so ashamed of their approval of the one week clean bill that they will feel cornered and not back down next time. But again all we know right now is that the Republicans are just like a dull knife that just ain't cutting. They're just talking loud and saying nothing as Soul Brother Number One might have pointed out.

What are your thoughts?

Movie Reviews: Heat Wave, The Phantom of The Opera

Heat Wave
directed by Ken Hughes
This is another of Hammer's film noirs. Heat Wave was in the package my brother sent me. Like many other genre movies Heat Wave owes a lot to The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity. The movie looks grand. It's shot in black and white. It has the typical use of shadow and staging that one expects from such films. Everyone and their mama is smoking a cigarette and throwing down scotch and bourbon. There is the light filtered through the Venetian blinds. There's a fair share of tough guy and tough gal dialogue. I like film noir and usually enjoy watching genre flicks. Yet for all that the story ended up not being top tier. In my opinion, the two leads didn't really have much chemistry together. And the femme fatale was a bit too hard bitten. Camera closeups didn't exactly do her any favors in my view. Instead of being able to easily understand or take for granted how and why the male lead fell so hard and fast for this married blonde I was constantly wondering why he just didn't pursue her much friendlier, prettier and apparently unattached stepdaughter, who apparently had a fancy to him anyway. So that took me out of the film a bit. If you want me to believe that a man will risk everything for lust because if making love to that woman is wrong he doesn't want to be right then you should show the passion more than Heat Wave did. Nevertheless older movies remain interesting time capsule documents of how human nature doesn't change that much over the decades or even the centuries. Lust, selfishness, loneliness, and cunning are constant elements of the human emotional stew. People will risk a lot to get their needs met.
There will always be women who marry older men for money or social status and end up regretting it. There will always be richer, successful men who wrongly think that their wealth and power can purchase love and fidelity. There will always be less successful men who decide that even though they aren't Mr. Right for a wealthy bored lonely socialite, they'll settle for being Mr. Right Now. Mark Kendrick (Alex Nicol) opens the film having drinks in a bar with an unidentified someone. Mark is a man with regrets. He's also a weak man. It was intriguing how often the film made the taller than average (6'1") and athletic appearing Nicol look submissive and indecisive. It was a nice piece of acting and writing. Anyway Mark wants to share his whole story. Mark gives occasional voice over to a tale which is one long flashback. Mark is an American writer living in England. Money is tight. He has enough money left to rent a cottage on Lake Windemere. Mark is suffering from writer's block. Mark hopes that the solitude and natural beauty will inspire him to complete his novel. His advance money is almost gone. He's missed the first deadline to complete the opening three chapters. Mark ought to be writing. But instead he's staring wistfully across the lake at the party that a rich couple is having. He's surprised when the woman of the house Carol Forrest (Hilary Brooke) phones him to virtually order him to bring across some of her friends on his boat. As Mark later learns Carol is not a woman to whom it is easy to say no.

Upon arriving Mark is struck by Carol's beauty. Both Carol and her ultra-rich much older husband Beverly (Sid James-a comedian who like Redd Foxx died having a heart attack which people thought was part of his act) separately invite Mark to stay at the party. It becomes clear to Alex that Carol is not faithful to Beverly, ("women don't look at their husbands the way Carol was looking at the piano player" ) a characteristic which Beverly feels incapable of changing. Beverly is likely far past the wild uninhibited monkey sex period of his marriage. He's not healthy. He's older and shorter/smaller than his wife's lovers. Most importantly he still loves his wife and won't divorce her. This last is against the urgent advice of his daughter Andrea (Susan Stephen) who dislikes her stepmother. Beverly has made peace with the fact that everyone just wants money from him. Beverly forgives Carol her affairs. Mark finds himself simultaneously becoming friendly with the fatalistic Beverly and infatuated with the icy Carol. Mark is arguably just as responsible for the film's events as Carol. The film doesn't necessarily judge him.  I didn't see enough beauty or occasional softness from Carol to offset her general unpleasantness. If the actress had been allowed or able to show just a little more generosity or vulnerability, I would have better appreciated why men were drawn to her. Of course the hope of marrying a rich widow after Beverly kicks the bucket is always a motive. Mark is such a cipher that it was difficult to sympathize with him. He just floats along. 

This film was also known as The House Across The Lake. This wasn't a top of the line film noir. Still if you like film noir or are just curious about the style this was an acceptable way to spend a little over an hour or so. Sid James gives the film's best performance. You end liking him instead of having pity or contempt for him. 

The Phantom of The Opera
directed by Terence Fisher
It is interesting from a film history perspective to watch actors that you only know from one movie show their talents when they were younger in a completely different film. I didn't really put it together until about halfway through The Phantom of The Opera but Herbert Lom (playing the title character) was the same man who played Chief Inspector Dreyfus in The Pink Panther movies.  Additionally Patrick Troughton, who had a small role as the ratcatcher would go on to win fame playing Dr. Who and the doomed Father Brennan in The Omen. Go figure. This movie felt overly restrained. That's partially because Hammer's then current distributor informed Hammer after shooting had completed that the film needed to have a family friendly rating. So rather atypically for Hammer there is no over the top cleavage, virtually no spurting blood and only a few deaths. And the damage to the Phantom's face is only shown once or twice in passing and even then only briefly. This movie featured the usual high quality acting, music, sets and especially cinematography that Hammer was known for but the directorial decision to over emphasize the love story and music combined with the relative lack of thrills and chills meant that this iteration of the classic tale didn't really deliver on the horror front. If you are however just a sucker for Victorian period dramas then this could be a decent film for you. The bubbling brown sewers, the carriages, accents, garish red, blue and green lights, the petticoats, and the blue tinged cadaverous hands of the Phantom all combine to make this film a visual and auditory treat. It completely lacks the ugly cynicism or gratuitous sex and violence that would later become virtually required for horror films. 

Lord Ambrose (Michael Gough) is an arrogant, bossy and unpleasant aristocrat who also happens to be a musical composer. He's similar to Dick Cheney in that he will hit a person upside the head with his walking cane and then expect a full apology from that person for hitting his cane with their head. Ambrose is overseeing the opening of his Joan of Arc opera, which has been plagued by mysterious accidents. Ambrose is impatient. He lacks business sense. He relies upon the opera house manager Lattimer (Thorley Walters) and the friendly handsome producer Harry Hunter (Edward de Souza) to do most of the work. He tries to bully and insult them but Harry in particular stands up for himself and gives as good as he gets. When the body of a hanged stagehand swings into view during the climax of the aria the audience is scandalized. The high strung star soprano Maria quits. Harry finds a new soprano, the young and naive Christine (Heather Sears). Although Harry is interested first in Christine's singing talents the dirty old man Lord Ambrose is interested solely in her womanly talents. He invites her out to dinner where he makes it crystal clear that he expects her to be "nice" to him in return for being hired. Because this is before English law recognizes anything like sexual harassment things look dim for Christine until she sees Harry entering the same restaurant. She invites Harry to accompany her and Lord Ambrose back to his city apartment "to work on the music". Recognizing what's really going on and happy to rescue a lady in distress Harry agrees. Obviously this is not at all what Lord Ambrose had in mind for his evening. He angrily departs alone.
Christine finds the younger and chivalrous Harry much more to her liking. They talk over dinner. She tells him of the strange voices she's been hearing and odd things she's seen in the Opera House. The next day when Lord Ambrose fires both Christine and Harry, Harry has more time to investigate strange events both past and current. When Christine is imperiled, Harry must try to rescue her, play detective and save the opera from Lord Ambrose's heavy handed incompetence. I was more familiar with this story through the Phantom of The Paradise reinterpretation so it was funny to see camera shots, film techniques and story lines which I first saw in that film on display here. Many of the Hammer version's themes were recycled from the 1943 film version. Hammer's ending runs a little long. There are some important questions left unanswered. This version of the Phantom is more misunderstood victim than a real bad guy. Herbert Lom spends most of the film acting with just his voice and one eye visible which I suppose is impressive when you think about it. Although Heather Sears was not the va-va voom type actress for which Hammer became known she nonetheless was a good fit to this film's theme.  

HBO Game of Thrones: New Season Five Trailers

Here are two new snippets from the upcoming Season Five of Game of Thrones. In the first clip Brienne seems to be a bit down emotionally while talking to Podrick. In the second Jon Snow is trying to convince Mance to do something. Brienne probably has a lot to be down about. Her first Lord, Renly Baratheon, was murdered. Her next Lady, Catelyn Stark, was murdered. And she has so far failed to save Arya or Sansa Stark. Additionally as you can no doubt infer from the poster this season could see a serious departure from the books insofar as Tyrion will meet up with Daenerys. In the books this hasn't happened yet. Books Four and Five were both the middle of the series. Martin spent more time moving characters around for yet to be determined end games or in some cases feints at end games. When Tyrion does meet up with Daenerys and her dragons (and based both on this poster and previously released trailers it seems almost certain), Season Five of Game of Thrones could wind up cutting out a lot of the more leisurely moments from Books Four and Five. I certainly hope that this turns out to be the case. Some of that was tough reading and probably wouldn't translate well to television. Although I appreciated that Martin spent some time showing the aftermath of war and the impact of war on the common man and woman, I still thought overall that Book Four was a disappointment. It may be that Benioff and Weiss have extracted all of the good parts from Books Four and Five, created some of their own story lines and mixed it all up with yet to be published insights from Martin to create a really good Season Five. This season should reveal many surprises for book readers and show watchers alike as we have heard from the Word of God (Martin) that more characters will die this season who are still very much alive and kicking in the books. We shall see. This is the first year that I am not 100% certain of what will happen or if the story will continue to exist at a high level of excellence. It all goes down on Sunday April 12 at 9 PM.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Federal Racial Discrimination Lawsuit Against Al Sharpton and Comcast

The Reverend Al Sharpton, whatever his other gifts may be, is not a particularly adept television host. His cadence grates. To this Midwesterner he usually sounds as if he's about to punch someone in the mouth. Sharpton mispronounces words and misses cues to open or close segments. He yells all the time. Sharpton's only two emotions are surprise or outrage. He seems to be in a perennial search for the teleprompter. We posted about all this before but Sharpton's shortcomings are obvious to anyone that watches his show for longer than five minutes. For these reasons and many others, Sharpton's ratings on MSNBC have mostly been bad. I can't blame him too much for this. If someone offered to pay me many multiples of my current salary to do something for which I was poorly qualified I might well take the money and cry all the way to the bank. Sharpton has to this point survived the latest reshuffling of talent at MSNBC which saw Joy Reid and Ronan Farrow lose their even less popular shows. This ability to survive purges and even the ability to get hired in the first place had some people shaking their heads and muttering about conspiracy theories. Others laughed at the sheer audacity and tenacity of Sharpton. It takes a lot to survive as a public figure in this world and Sharpton has it. Although his television show is an ongoing dumpster fire I appreciate that Sharpton brings attention to some situations that would otherwise go unnoticed. However someone just recently revealed his belief that Sharpton's hiring and survival at MSNBC was more about corporate payoffs and hiring a spook to sit by the door than it was about Sharpton's hosting talents. So this man filed a $20 billion dollar federal lawsuit.

You may, if you are a certain age, remember Byron Allen as a comedian and co-host of the show Real People. That was a very long time ago indeed but unlike some Hollywood "wasn't that the guy from so-n-so? " fading talent, the Detroit born Allen successfully made the switch into management and ownership. He owns Entertainment Studios, a television distribution and production company which among other things created and Allen and an organization named the National Association of African American Owned Media are suing Comcast, Sharpton's National Action Network, the NAACP, The Urban League, Time Warner and Al Sharpton as an individual, among other entities. The crux of the lawsuit is that Comcast/Time Warner has refused to do business with Entertainment Studios (and other black companies) because it is 100% Black owned. Apparently Sharpton comes in for attack because according to the complaint he and other civil rights organizations entered into voluntary diversity agreements with Comcast/Time Warner which were designed to give the appearance that Comcast/Time Warner was fair minded, when in fact they were not. In short Reverend Al was allegedly selling indulgences for Comcast/Time Warner's allegedly racist business practices. According to this accusation, Comcast, having been criticized in the past for exclusionary actions, decided it was cheaper to buy off Reverend Al Sharpton and associated fellow travelers than to actually change the practices in dispute.

Of the approximately $10 billion in content fees that Comcast pays to license channels and advertise each year, less than $3 million is paid to 100% African American–owned media. Even the token payments Comcast makes to 100% African American–owned media companies are a charade. Comcast pays minimal amounts to license and distribute the Africa Channel, which is owned and operated by a former Comcast/NBC-Universal executive/insider and one of the architects of the MOUs Comcast uses to perpetuate its racial discrimination in contracting.

In connection with its 2010 bid to acquire NBC-Universal, Comcast was criticized for its refusal to do business with 100% African American–owned media. In response, Comcast entered into what it termed “voluntary diversity agreements,” i.e., memoranda of understanding (“MOUs”), with non-media civil rights groups, including the other Defendants herein: NAACP; National Urban League; Al Sharpton; and Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. 

Defendants NAACP, National Urban League, Al Sharpton and National Action Network entered into the MOUs in order to facilitate Comcast’s racist practices and policies in contracting—or, more accurately, refusing to contract—with 100% African American–owned media companies. The MOUs are a sham, undertaken to whitewash Comcast’s discriminatory business practices.

To obtain support for the NBC-Universal acquisition and for its continued racist policies and practices, Comcast made large cash “donations” to the non-media groups that signed the MOUs. For example, Comcast has paid Reverend Al Sharpton and Sharpton’s National Action Network over $3.8 million in “donations” and as salary for the on-screen television hosting position on MSNBC that Comcast awarded Sharpton in exchange for his signature on the MOUs, another blatant example of conflict of interest. 

Read the (lengthy) full complaint here

I have no idea if the allegations which Allen and others are making in this complaint are accurate. This may be something utterly frivolous which will be tossed from the court system. I do know however that it's often important not just to look at the people in front of a camera or the individual people at the lower levels of the organization to see if Black people are getting a fair shake. It's just as important to look at the higher ups, at the decision makers. It's important to see who's making the contracting decisions and if black companies are getting a piece of the pie. Are business decisions about hiring, grooming, and contracting made so that everyone has a fair chance to compete? There are some corporations which are happy to hire a few black executives here or there over the years but which consistently avoid business to business relations with black companies. Although Allen has a few zingers listed in the complaint (a white executive saying that they didn't want to create another Bob Johnson) for the most part the allegations (if true) are examples of how  bloodless racism can work in the corporate world. Few people are going to run around screaming racial slurs or putting up signs. Well, few people compared to forty years ago do those sorts of things. It's just that business decisions that are made which always seem to leave the same people holding the dirty end of the stick. Again, this could all be nonsense. Allen's own company has come under serious attack for hostility to unions and low pay to performers and creators. Allen's said that in a previous interview that he sees his company as "the Wal-mart of television". FWIW, Allen has also stated that nobody ever gave him anything. 

Giving a tour of Entertainment Studios’ newly leased 75,000-square-foot production space in Culver City, Allen says he built his empire from scratch, in part because, as a black man, he had to. “Over the 20 years, I’ve seen my white counterparts have access to enormous amounts of capital, and in 20 years nobody’s ever offered me a nickel,” he says. “It made me stronger, it made me work with different disciplines.”

To conclude, again this could be a pure shakedown initiated by Allen using Sharpton's name for publicity. Sharpton certainly thinks so. He said that the lawsuit was frivolous at best. He also claims that his organization did not receive $4 million in donations from Comcast but instead less than $1 million. Well. Detractors and even supporters of various advocacy organizations concerned with issues of race, gender, sexuality, animal rights etc. have stated that when an advocacy group accepts "donations" from the same organizations it is supposed to be monitoring, it can sometimes find itself politically neutered. Did this happen to Sharpton? Hmm. Is Allen just being a whiner? 

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Politeness takes a beating

We've talked previously about how politeness and chivalry are wasted on some people. Case in point, recently I went to a doctor's appointment. The admitting nurse took notes and asked me questions as nurses are wont to do. Now it's important to point out for reasons that become important later in the paragraph that this nurse was obviously significantly older than I am. She might not have been of an age with my mother's or father's generation but she wasn't that far from it either. As most people who know me offline would tell you I am normally nothing if not polite. When I was raised I was trained and expected to ALWAYS say sir and ma'am to my parents. Not doing so was a sign of grave disrespect. And if you were a child in their house you did not want to disrespect my parents. Outside the house I might occasionally throw in a sir or ma'am to an older person with whom I was interacting but unlike with my parents THAT honorific was optional. It depended on if I was in a good mood or the older person was being polite or if I knew their last name and could instead call them Mr. or Mrs. so-n-so or a million other reasons or no reason at all. Spending time down south with my maternal relatives made me even more polite because my grandfather usually said sir or ma'am to everyone, old or young. So being the polite man that I am I answered one of the nurse's questions with "no ma'am".
Judging by the nostril flaring firestorm that ensued that was a mistake.
"Why are you calling me ma'am?"
"I'm not THAT old."
"That's offensive!"
And blah blah blickety blah. Rinse wash repeat. Alrighty then.

Now I won't say what I was thinking that I SHOULD have called this woman after this little display but I did think that this was a humorous example of exactly why politesse and chivalry may be on the decline if they are. There are simply too many people who have made it crystal clear that they value and desire neither. If I call someone sir or ma'am it's not a negative value judgment on their age but merely a signal of respect. But if strangers don't appreciate that then that is fine. I just think it's a shame when people look for offense in everything or can't appreciate good manners. But whatever. It's the world in which we live.

Book Reviews: Quarry's Choice

Quarry's Choice
by Max Allan Collins
Max Allan Collins is an Iowa based writer of various mystery stories and graphic novels. He's probably best known for Road to Perdition. His Quarry series is also popular. Each book stands alone. This isn't a series in which it's essential to start from the beginning because Collins provides the same sketchy origin details in the first few pages of each book. As you might surmise from the slightly risque cover of Quarry's Choice, this story is a detective/gangster novel written with a nod to the style of the pulp fiction dime store novels from the 30s thru the 70s. For lack of a better word the writing style and themes which Collins uses in Quarry's Choice are unabashedly masculine. You may be intrigued, excited, unimpressed, disgusted or bored by that. I can't call it. But Collins' prose is miles apart from that of say something like Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. Collins was influenced by pulp fiction godfather Mickey Spillane, creator of the Mike Hammer character. Collins worked with Spillane and even finished a few Spillane stories. That Spillane sway suffuses the text. Sex is integral to the story. The protagonist likes sex. He likes women. And he's not shy about trying to determine a woman's interest or availability. There's a lot of sex in Quarry's Choice, tender and otherwise. The story is set in the early seventies. The titular hero is not really a hero in the classic sense of the word. He's a hitman who's not too particular about his employers provided he's paid on time and in full. He is particular about rules though. His word is usually his bond. If he ever takes altruistic steps he'll probably look back on them as a mistake. Quarry is a former Marine sniper and Vietnam veteran, who upon returning home and dealing harshly and permanently with his wife's lover, discovered that the only thing he was really good at was killing people. 
Quarry finds no moral difference between killing people for the State and doing so for criminals. Quarry doesn't want to know his targets. He only wants to know when he gets paid. Quarry may or not be a sociopath. But he's usually not a danger to the everyday civilian. If you're not a criminal or someone with a lot of influence the chances that you will run into Quarry are almost nonexistent. Quarry is not someone who kills or terrorizes people just for fun. He keeps a very low profile. Anonymity is good for his bank account and for his chances of dying peacefully in old age.
This low profile becomes strained when Quarry, meeting with his boss and middleman, a man only known as The Broker, almost becomes collateral damage from an assassination attempt on The Broker's life. Well The Broker and Quarry take that very personally, very personally indeed. The Broker makes some inquiries and discovers that an overly ambitious Dixie Mafia gangster was behind the attempt. So Quarry heads off to Biloxi. The gangster's similarly ambitious and resentful number two can get Quarry undercover as his boss' new bodyguard long enough so that Quarry can do the job. But neither the job nor the situation are simple. Quarry doesn't like complexity because complexity can get you killed. Quarry's Choice is told in first person. It gives an intimate view of the small southern bars, hotels, strip clubs, restaurants and other low rent venues that are where many members of the local criminal element make their home. Collins is a very descriptive writer who can enable you to smell the fried chicken, sweet iced tea, deep fried donuts and biscuits and gravy fare that make up the local Biloxi diet. You can hear the seventies era rock soundtrack and television shows. This is a fast moving hard-boiled book with an anti-hero that you may not like. There are a few cliches employed, most notably the just this side of legal young naive stripper and hooker with the heart of gold. Against his better instincts, Quarry lets this broken angel (her name is Luann) get close to him, which adds to the aforementioned complexity. I liked this book. It was a fun read if you can temporarily put aside some of your moral judgments. People die. Quarry kills many of them. Collins deftly draws characters with very light strokes but they all feel real. This is a plot driven story, not a character based one. Did I mention that there was a lot of sex? Because there is. A lot. Sex. Constant. 

Friday, February 20, 2015

Creepy Joe Biden and Mrs. Carter

Who's your Daddy?
Once a year I have to take and pass an online course that covers inappropriate personal behavior in a corporate environment. A big part of this is just reading how not to harass, intimidate, insult or discriminate against your fellow workers. It's mostly pretty insanely freaking obvious stuff that can basically be boiled down to "Don't tell me no lies and keep your hands to yourself". The Company probably wants to make sure that no would be player can do anything stupid, get caught and try to blame the company by claiming that no one ever told them that their actions were wrong. Because that could end up costing the Company money and bad publicity. Sadly it looks like Vice-President Joe Biden could do well to take a similar course that shows him the right way and wrong way to act. Over the years I've seen more than a few people retire, get promoted or be otherwise honored in the workplace. Sometimes they even bring their spouse or significant other along for the announcement or celebration. Generally though, unless specifically invited to do so, it's usually a good idea for the boss of the person being honored to refrain from pawing, grabbing, kissing, stroking, fondling, hugging, patting or otherwise engaging in intimate touching with someone else's spouse. Such things are reserved for (obviously) the spouse or in some cases relatives or in-laws. Not bosses. Bosses get a lot of perks but pawing other people's spouses shouldn't be one of them. I learned that in a 45 minute online course. Biden hasn't learned that in 45 years of political service. Interesting.

There are always people who are more touchy-feely than others of course. I happen to be a person who believes that physical contact has little if any place in the workplace. Not everyone feels that way. I doubt that Biden meant anything but the optics just aren't good. The risks of giving offense are too high. If Biden were anyone else and/or if the lady got upset Biden might be looking for a new job next week. If Biden really just had to touch Mrs. Stephanie Carter, wife of the new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, perhaps a firm vigorous handshake would have sufficed. Because in some circles I frequent, Vice-President or not, putting your hands like that on someone else's wife can initiate some negative feelings or even start a fight. I'm just saying.

What do you think?

Doctor refuses to treat baby of lesbian parents

We posted before on how some business owners have come under pressure to serve same sex clients in what they see as expressive and more personal services such as renting a wedding suite to a same sex couple, creating photographs or video for a same sex wedding or providing a cake celebrating the same. To the extent that some extremely religious or extremely bigoted people have balked at customers requesting such services they have usually lost their case in court IF their state happens to have laws forbidding such discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. However not every state has such laws. Michigan for example does not. A local lesbian couple found that out the hard way when a pediatrician refused to see their child and referred the family to another doctor in her practice. Now medical coverage is just a wee bit more important than buying a cake or photographs from someone but the principle remains the same. I'm not sure there is a logically consistent method by which the state government could say we will allow market discrimination in that sector but not this one. Or is there? Is this an all or nothing sort of situation?

Last September when the expectant mothers first met Dr. Vesna Roi at Eastlake Pediatrics in Roseville. She was recommended by their midwife.

"We were really happy with her," Krista said. "The kind of care she offered, we liked her personality, she seemed pretty friendly. She seemed pretty straight up with us."
The Contrerasas were told to make an appointment with Roi once Bay arrived. The baby was born at home and when she was six days old - they went in.

But instead of seeing Dr. Roi, another doctor greeted them.
"The first thing Dr. Karam said was 'I'll be your doctor, I'll be seeing you today because Dr. Roi decided this morning that she prayed on it and she won't be able to care for Bay," Jami said. "Dr. Karam told us she didn't even come to the office that morning because she didn't want to see us."
The new mothers were shocked, hurt and angry. Bay's parents proceeded with the appointment with the other doctor then found another pediatric group for their baby.

The child did get medical attention. The practice and recalcitrant doctor are receiving a lot of bad publicity. That's probably not good for business. At the same time there are some businesses which are more expressive and personal where I am slightly more sympathetic to the idea that if someone really doesn't want to do something, for whatever reason, it might not be the best idea to force the market interaction. The pure libertarian will say that the market will work it all out and to stop worrying and coddling people. Well the history of Jim Crow shows that's just not the case. The market can just as easily codify discrimination as overturn it. Libertarians are wrong about the efficiency of the market. On the other hand I'm not 100% supportive of forcing a small privately owned devoutly Catholic greeting card company to handle all the invitations for a same sex wedding. But this is a child's health we're discussing. Is there a middle ground? Should Michigan pass a law to make the doctor's behavior illegal? Would you want to patronize a business where the owner made it clear that he or she didn't much like you? Because I wouldn't. If the law allows someone to decline to treat a child isn't that a bad law? Watch the two women talk about their experiences.

  Fox 2 News Headlines

Dinesh D'Souza, President Obama and Racism

As we discussed previously there is a certain type of person, often but by no means always, non-black, who feels qualified to circumscribe and negatively judge what blackness is. This is an ongoing theme in American society. It arises from slavery, Jim Crow and the resulting American tradition of policing what is "white" and what is "black". Some people once criticized Spike Lee movies because they felt he wasn't focusing enough on black drug addiction. Others blasted The Cosby Show for showing two upper-middle class black people happily married to each other and presiding over achieving children. Occasionally people criticize out of ignorance or even well-meaning condescension. However some other people question or insult someone's blackness from pure malevolence, racism and fear. Such men or women are threatened, confused and ultimately angered by any Black person who doesn't fit their stereotypes. For them Blackness means always and only to be the permanent outsider, to be less than, to be impoverished, to be criminal, to be unworthy of respect, to speak incoherently and act ridiculously, to dress in a loud fashion, to be the grinning, shucking, jiving, spear chucking, incompetent, sex obsessed, perpetually late, lazy, dumb, Mandingo/Mammy/Jezebel/Uncle Ben/Nat Turner/Sapphire who haunts their worst nightmares or fevered fantasies. 

Dinesh D'Souza is such a racist. 
It's ironic that an immigrant from Mumbai, India somehow thinks himself eminently qualified to engage in discourse on President Obama's "blackness". But I shouldn't be too surprised. From virtually the unfortunate moment he slithered onto our shores D'Souza has taken heed of the cynical saw that the quickest way to become truly American is to ensure that everyone knows you hate Black people just as much as they presumably do. Not content with having previously suggested that President Obama's mother was a sex crazed fat tramp with a dislike for her own race, the felon D'Souza recently claimed that President Obama didn't have the black experience and referred to him as a "boy". If the Klan or Nazi party ever opened up membership to South Asians look for D'Souza to be first in line to lynch himself. There are PLENTY of valid reasons to criticize President Obama and his actions as President from various political perspectives. That's fair. We should not aspire to behave like some partisans (cough *Al Sharpton* cough) who check to see if President Obama agrees that the sun actually rose today before they talk about the beautiful sunrise they're watching. But there are people like D'Souza who find that President Obama's original unforgivable mortal sin is his race. Most of these people fall on the conservative side of the political spectrum. It is what is is. 

Most black voters will never vote for conservatives as long as conservative public figures and intellectuals such as D'Souza remain happily wed to ugly anti-black animus. Life doesn't work like that. Who knows how much of D'Souza's racism was imported from his mother country and how much he picked up in the USA. The United States is far from the only country to have issues with racism. But a slug like D'Souza provides an example that the much ballyhooed "browning of America" won't necessarily engender a lessening of anti-black attitudes. It's almost humorous that an adulterous felon like D'Souza can fix his mouth to say anything about the President of the United States. How are you going to call someone ghetto and you're in a halfway house waiting for your next urine test? If I were a president of a religious school who got caught practicing Kama Sutra positions with a woman not my wife I would slink away and deal with my moral failings instead of spewing bigoted bile at President Obama. Not D'Souza. His slimy racism just oozes out of him everywhere he crawls.

By the way, whatever you may think of affirmative action MLK vociferously supported it. Lying conservatives like D'Souza want to pretend otherwise. But MLK made his feelings clear on many different occasions. You can actually go look this stuff up for yourself if you're so inclined. D'Souza shows the utter incoherence of his racism. From one side of his mouth he claims that President Obama hasn't had the black experience and thus can't really identify with Black Americans. From the other side he calls the President a "boy" and links him to THE GHETTO (insert scary music). There are many adult black men who have had to deal with racists calling them "boys" or making cracks about "ghettos". So I guess the President really has had the black experience after all.


Saturday, February 14, 2015

McDonald's Meltdowns and Wal-Mart Head Butts

I work in a white-collar office environment. It's air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter. I don't have to punch a time clock upon arrival, when I go to the bathroom, or upon leaving for the day. There is not a lot of cursing and yelling going on most days. Not every white-collar environment I've been in has been like this. A boss with a reputation for bullying once yelled something nasty at me. I had a very short, direct, and serious discussion with him where the upshot was he apologized. I later heard that he expressed admiration that I was willing to stand up to him. Whatever. Some former co-workers were quite passionate about their job and would routinely get into very LOUD profane nasty shouting matches with each other. They once got into it in front of a visiting company director. I don't know if they were disciplined or not but I do know that neither one was ever promoted. They're doing the same job today for close to the same pay that they were doing fifteen years ago. So you can connect the dots there I guess. I do not usually work with outside customers. I'm more adept with the written word than with verbal communication so this is probably for the best. There are many angry, frustrated customers who are eager to vent their spleen to an easy target, like say an employee who has certain rules to follow lest he or she lose his job. Having to take this sort of abuse coupled with just the normal problems and issues of work can cause some employees to lose it. The three below videos show some examples of what's really going on the front lines of customer-employee interaction. 

In the first video a Michigan area McDonald's customer is angry about an incorrect charge/wrong order and starts insulting the clerk in the harshest of language. In the second video a Texas Wal-Mart customer named Jessica Albitz is angry about something a tax preparer said to her, comes back the next day and (you guessed it) head butts the employee. Yeah. A scuffle breaks out. The unrepentant Albitz was charged with assault. If you're going to call someone out of her name I don't think you can get upset when she responds in kind. In the last video a Twin Cities teen McDonald's worker is apparently upset about his hours and money. He throws a temper tantrum in front of customers. He destroys company property. The teen and his manager were fired. The adult manager, Brandon Roberston, says it was unfair that he was fired because his possible responses were limited. Robertson could not put his hands on the teen. Robertson called police and did his best to calm the young man. I don't know what this says about our society but I do know there was a reason I don't patronize McDonald's or Wal-Mart. Seriously though I can't abide anyone (customers or fellow employees) yelling at me or cursing at me. It's not that kind of party. Although I am very protective of my job and have done some things I didn't think I would do in order to stay employed there are red lines for me. Verbal abuse crosses those lines. A boss can tell me I'm the worst most useless employee that she or he ever had and it won't get to me. But if someone yells or curses at me then we have an issue. But we're all different.

Brandon Robertson: Lonnie Johnson Confrontation
Jessica Albitz: Alice Keener brawl
Michigan McDonald's Cursing

Have you ever been in a serious employee-customer or workplace dispute?

How did you resolve it?

Was McDonald's right to fire Robertson?

Are people angrier in public these days?

Movie Reviews: Fury, Rob The Mob, The Raid: Redemption

directed by David Ayer
"Better a Russian on your belly than an American on your head".
If American Sniper depicted the true life tale of a righteous soldier in what many Americans thought was a bad war, Fury tells a fictional story of flawed soldiers in what most Americans, Patrick Buchanan aside , still think of as the good war. People beatify the Greatest Generation and tend to overlook their foibles. They had the same flaws as any other human who must adapt to killing and other forms of brutality exercised in the cause of "good". Only someone who has actually been there or has studied what war does to people can speak authoritatively about what actually happens but humans are very observant. Since the times of the ancients, people have noticed that war changes people. War can take a mental toll on the surviving participants. Every veteran deals with this in different ways. Many have no issues reintegrating themselves into society. Others struggle. And a minority are never quite the same. There may be glory in war. But there is also fear, cowardice, viciousness, savagery, rape and any number of ways for soldiers or civilians to die slowly, painfully or suddenly. It's a sudden death which opens Fury. A German officer rides a horse through a smoking battlefield littered with debris, wreckage, shell casings and corpses. He is set upon from above and quickly and coldly dispatched by an American soldier who was playing dead. This soldier is Staff Sergeant Don "WarDaddy" Collier (Brad Pitt in high testosterone mode), commander of the Sherman Tank named Fury. It's early 1945 and much to WarDaddy's chagrin the Germans won't stop fighting. He's been killing them in North Africa, Italy, France, The Netherlands and now Germany but those slimy SOB's just won't quit. 

The WW2 era German tanks generally had an advantage in both armament and armor over the American tanks. There were numerous reports of American tank shells bouncing off the front armor of German tanks while a direct hit from the higher powered 88mm German gun could immediately disable or destroy an American tank. The Americans are nonetheless winning the war through attrition. While this may be acceptable to the American generals and politicians who have the luxury of seeing the big picture it's not something that the American enlisted men, junior officers and NCOs who do the majority of fighting and dying like to think about. They are beyond ready to quit and go home but their job isn't done. Against the odds WarDaddy has mostly kept his tank crew safe. This team includes "Gordo" (Michael Pena) the Mexican-American tank driver and primary machine gunner who dresses in what has come to be perceived as a stereotypically East L.A.Hispanic style, "Bible"( Shia Laboeuf) the ostentatiously religious tank gunner who thinks that Jesus will save the souls of the Nazis he kills, and "Coon-Ass" (Jon Bernthal) a thuggish bullying southern man who handles repairs, loads the tank gun and helps navigate. Fury is down a man, Red, who was lost in the opening battle. So WarDaddy is assigned Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman) to be his new assistant driver and second machine gunner. WarDaddy and his team are not happy about this. No one likes rookies because rookies can get you killed. When the unit learns that Norman was previously the battalion typist (a job they consider somewhat effeminate) and discovers that he's unable to meet approved standards for ruthlessness they move from dislike and suspicion to outright contempt. Norman is upset at being plucked from relative safety to fight on the front lines against enemy soldiers too dumb to know they've already lost and too fanatical or vicious not to employ atrocities. Norman is initially shocked and bewildered that people are actually shooting at him.

The not so merry crew of Fury has new assignments to complete. Norman will have to deal with his new role as best he can. Fury has some very obvious similarities to Inglorious Basterds and Saving Private Ryan but this movie has its own messages to send and questions to raise about the nature of war and its effect on men. The quote at the top of this post is a darkly cynical joke which was supposedly shared by German civilian women during the waning days of World War Two. We should all remember that the capricious horrors of war are not just experienced by uniformed soldiers. Total war, which was taken to extremes in World War Two, impacts everyone, man, woman and child, soldier and civilian alike. Fury takes care to bring this to our attention in a tense set piece that is open to different interpretations. But whatever gender we're discussing, Fury is a very violent film. The fanatical SS have forced or recruited women and children to fight. The viewer may be repelled by the tank crew. In different ways they are all hard to take. WarDaddy leads his unit not just because of the stripes on his arm but because he will kick a disobedient soldier's teeth out. And for some people WarDaddy believes that's the best way to communicate. As WarDaddy constantly reminds us he is there to kill Germans, not have philosophical debates. He is a very pragmatic man. In his job he has to be. I enjoyed this movie immensely. Any movie that can make Shia LaBoeuf look like a tough guy and not make me immediately break out laughing has something going for it. Fury featured the world's last working German Tiger tank so that was a treat. This is one of the better war movies which I've seen in a while. For my money it's right up there with Saving Private Ryan. Obviously I generally like war movies so if this isn't really your genre you may see this film differently. Some people got sidetracked by gender role discussions. Others couldn't tolerate the violence. 

The writing and pacing are taut. People only rarely do stupid things to move the plot along. A fair criticism of Fury could be that we already know that war is hell. Some might claim the film doesn't have much more to say than that. I still think it's worthwhile though. And you would have to see it for yourself but I believe there is a kernel of humanism buried deep in this movie, although it's somewhat heavy handed.

Rob the Mob
directed by Raymond DeFelitta
Pound for pound an individual mob member isn't necessarily any tougher than any other criminal. A lot of very powerful mobsters aren't really physically that imposing. Many are middle aged or even elderly. Quite a few are overweight. There are no bulletproof mobsters. John Gotti could talk a lot of racist smack when he was surrounded by his friends and flunkies in Howard Beach. When he did the same thing in prison he caught a pretty bad beating from a black inmate who evidently did not give a single flying Fibber McGee who Gotti was. What historically gave the mob its power wasn't just its recruitment of tough guys but its ability to corrupt public officials, its noted institutional capacity to always obtain revenge no matter how long it took to do so, and of course its size, secrecy and unity. If you were a forward looking mob leader you might eschew open violence as plebeian and costly. Once you have a solid multi-generational reputation for unparalleled savagery you can pension off most of your shtarkers and just take it easy. However you can't get rid of all of the mouth breathing low IQ leg breaker loyalists because criminals being criminals there will always be a few ambitious cold eyed men (and women!) who think that they have what it takes to knock you off the top roost. Most of these people are stupid, incompetent and mistaken. But a few of them are individuals that the wise mob boss would do well to keep a eye on.

Rob The Mob is the fictionalized tale of two real life small time criminals (husband and wife) named Tommy and Rosemarie Uva who decided that it would be a great idea to knock over Mafia social clubs. Tommy (Michael Pitt from Boardwalk Empire) is an ex-con who carries around massive grudges and abiding shame because as a child he watched Mafiosi humiliate, intimidate and beat his father, a struggling florist who was either behind on loan repayments or balked at paying extortion. When Tommy is released from prison he is delighted to hook up with his partner in crime, girlfriend and eventual wife Rosie (Nina Arianda). Rosie's gone straight and manages to get Tommy a job working the phones with her at a debt collection agency. But Tommy's restless and looking for bigger things. Skipping work to attend the John Gotti trial Tommy learns from turncoat Mafiosi Sammy the Bull Gravano's testimony that a lot of gambling occurs at Mafia social clubs but guns are strictly forbidden. A light goes off in Tommy's head. Tommy can scarcely tell one end of a gun from the other. But to prove to himself and Rosemarie that he's a real man, to attempt to support his estranged struggling mother and brother, to avenge his father's humiliation and finally for the cash and excitement, he convinces Rosemarie to join him in robbing Mafia social clubs and gratuitously degrading mobsters across Queens and Brooklyn.

Andy Garcia is a mob boss who understands that the old ways are gone. But he also knows that if you're gonna live in the jungle you are better off being a lion than an antelope. If other criminal groups get the idea that the Mafia can be robbed with impunity the entire underworld structure will come crashing down. Even an old lion can still bite. I remember when Garcia was playing the leading man or the well dressed up and coming youngster. Well he's still sartorially splendid but now he's playing grandfathers. Time waits for no man. The FBI also gets involved in the story. This movie was uneven but I liked the Uvas' emphatically blue-collar dreams and aspirations. Rob the Mob is a poignant film. Even small scores are big money for Tommy and Rosemarie. They don't make much money at their legal jobs. They aren't master criminals. They lack long term goals, something that crime reporter Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano as a fictionalized Jerry Capeci) tries to point out to them. Their big plan is to move to Florida to open a floral shop. In terms of acting, lighting, and sets this film is gritty and dark but not at all very explicit or violent. It has a small look which really fits the story. This film ran a little long but as far as I can tell (I'm not from New York) it did a good job at capturing the less wholesome flavor of late eighties and early nineties New York City. From what I hear from friends and relatives who are NYC residents, much of Manhattan and the outer boroughs has been transformed demographically and physically from just a few decades ago.

The Raid: Redemption

directed by Gareth Evans
Imagine ducking dozens of gunmen trying to turn you into pink slime, a thug trying to to kick you right in your muyerfuying head, a criminal throwing power packed punches with VERY bad intentions to your gonads and an insane crackhead attempting to chop your face off with his machete. And if you somehow manage to escape all of that some other goon is trying to throw you down three flights of stairs just because he doesn't like the look of your face. Now for some people that's just the normal Thursday office status meeting. But for the rest of us who live more staid lives, the closest we will come to such activities will probably be seeing them depicted in films like this. And that's likely a good thing. The Raid is a throwback to those Saturday afternoon kung-fu movies that I enjoyed watching when I was growing up way back in the day. There isn't really much plot or acting. This is action distilled down to its simplest core. Kill the bad guy before he kills you. This film is virtually a live action video game. I don't mean that as any kind of insult. This movie doesn't pretend to be much more than that. So if you're in the mood for no hold barred do or die beatdowns where you have to put your back to the wall and sneer at your enemies to come and get one in the yarbles, if they have any yarbles, then this is definitely a film that you need to see.
In Indonesia a police officer named Rama (Iko Uwais and that is the only actor I care to name) is practicing his silat (martial arts) moves while his pregnant wife sleeps. He's getting serious with the heavy bag. When his wife wakes up she asks Rama to promise he will return to her. Rama's a man on a mission you see. The greenlight has come down from the very top. The police bosses and ranking politicians have had it up to here with crime lord/drug dealer Riyadi. Riyadi has taken over an entire apartment building and filled it with various violent lowlifes, all of whom are armed and eager to prove their loyalty to their boss. Rama, his team and supervisors have been tasked to infiltrate the building and bring Riyadi in. They're supposed to try to take him alive but dead is fine. Riyadi has two dangerous lieutenants who are almost as vicious as he is. One lieutenant is named Mad Dog. You have to earn that name. I mean no one is going to nickname you Mad Dog unless you really are a savage bloodthirsty killer who enjoys punching a cop in the solar plexus, ripping out his liver and making him eat it without benefit of fava beans or a nice chianti. So the police try to quietly enter the building. But you know what they say about the best laid plans of men. I really liked the way this movie was shot. The action and camera work are frantic and even paradoxically realistic (well realistic for a kung-fu movie). When the action stops intermittently the suspense cranks up quite a bit. 

There are some moral questions raised which are usually more applicable to soldiers than to police. Do you kill a child lookout who could give away your position? If you're hiding from the bad guys and your mortally wounded partner is about to scream from pain and let everyone know where you are, what do you do? Do you ease him into the next life or say the hell with it and come out blasting? You might be surprised by what you can use as a weapon when necessity dictates. The film's dialogue is available in the original Indonesian or dubbed English. There is also the choice of English subtitles.