Saturday, October 31, 2015

President Obama: No Boots On the Ground In Syria!

One of the things that drives me crazy in any sort of relationship whether it be professional or personal is when someone changes their mind and/or does the exact opposite of what they said they were going to do. That's bad enough. But hey people change. Facts on the ground change. That's life. I can deal with that. We all have to deal. But, to paraphrase H.L. Mencken what can make me spit on my hands, hoist the black flag and start running berserk is when the person who has just changed their mind or reversed themselves has the sheer audacity to lie to your face and tell you that no they're not changing their mind. You just misunderstood them. Apparently you are just that stupid. It's not their problem that you apparently have a leaky brain. Actually they should get a medal for having to deal with your dumb behind. When dealing with people like this, black is white, up is down and good is evil. It literally does not matter what sort of proof you have of the person making declarative statements that they weren't going to do something. You can provide signed and notarized triplicate forms of the person telling you to do or not do something. Rest assured that none of that matters. The person will simply ignore reality until you agree that yes they were right all along. These folks are odious pious devotees of the Church of Cover Thy A$$. No matter what they are always right. If they predicted rain yesterday but it doesn't rain then as far as they were concerned they didn't predict rain. They are always right. Bottom line. It's easier to avoid these sorts of people in my personal life but unfortunately they are tremendously over represented among upper management and Presidents.

Remember that President Barack Obama made definitive statements that he would not put boots on the ground in Syria. Period. End of story. Also remember that after a rather public Hamlet like internal debate President Obama tried and failed to get Congress to authorize ground troops in Syria. Now in a functioning republic that's the end. Unfortunately we lack a functioning republic. We have one in which Presidents (Obama wasn't the first and won't be the last) have seized for themselves the right to attack, bomb and invade countries without any sort of Congressional permission. So yesterday we saw White House spokesman mouthpiece Josh Earnest announce that US Special Forces troops would be on the ground in Syria (they're probably already there). According to Mr. Earnest this didn't contradict the President's prior assertions. Also according to Mr. Earnest this didn't fall under the War Powers Act. Mr. Earnest claimed this was legal despite the fact that the government of Syria didn't invite US Special Forces. Mr. Earnest claimed that the 2001 AUMF gave the President all the authority he needed. That the President believes that a law created for one country and one organization gives him authority to interfere in another country without Congressional or for that matter United Nations approval is telling.

Anyway, here is what the President said on a prior occasion. His hardcore defenders, just as they did with the "If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor" statements will likely tie themselves in knots as Earnest did yesterday, trying to find some obscure loophole that apparently justifies this change. I'm tired of this. There aren't any good options in Syria. Nobody has clean hands. Some of the people we're assisting are Al-Qaeda affiliates. Others are considered terrorists by our NATO Turkish allies. It's okay if the President changed his mind. But he should admit that he changed his mind. Don't p*** on my head and tell me it's raining. And he should get Congressional approval before sending in troops. That is the law, even if no one bothers to obey it any longer. One of the really infuriating arguments which Earnest and presumably President Obama tries to put across is that if Congress doesn't do what the President wants (in this case give him an authorization for military action in Syria) then he has the right to act because Congress has "failed". Again, that is not how our system works.

Book Reviews: Detroit: An American Autopsy, Finn Family Moomintroll

Detroit: An American Autopsy
by Charlie LeDuff
Charlie LeDuff is a local "Caucasian" (more on that in a minute because it is relevant) Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, gadfly, pain in the a$$ and media showman who, after journalistic stints in New York, Los Angeles and a few other places circled back to Detroit to become a reporter for the Detroit News, one of two major local daily newspapers. LeDuff grew up close to Detroit, in the local suburb of Westland or as he puts it, the only city that he knows of that was named after its shopping mall. LeDuff is an inveterate chronicler of the absurd. And there is, was and probably always will be a lot that is absurd in Detroit and the surrounding areas. This book, is both a love letter to Detroit (and the tri-county area) and also a rambling screed about all the crazy stuff that goes on in the metropolitan area. As I've mentioned before and LeDuff points out constantly, this area has always had a tremendous amount of racial hostility and segregation. That colors (pun intended) every bit of news and information about well, everything. So you could read this book and come away convinced that black political leadership is hopelessly incompetent and completely incapable of running a major city. Or you could read this book and be just as convinced that white racism and greed are fatal flaws in the American political arena that will wind up destroying the nation. LeDuff doesn't explicitly let you know where he stands. He's a reporter. He calls it like he sees it. LeDuff is currently raising a little hell by reporting on the fact that Detroit's new white mayor Mike Duggan, has overseen an extremely suspicious rise in the cost of home demolitions by companies that may or may not be connected to the mayor's friends. So LeDuff would likely state that he doesn't care what color you are, if you're not flying right he's going to call you out. Some people might disagree with that. LeDuff has tons of phone and email messages calling him a "n*****-lover" and just as many others making unpleasant references to his whiteness. You'd have to read the book for yourself and make up your own mind. Detroit: An American Autopsy, examines some of the more infamous events that took place around here from about 2004 to about 2012. These would include such things as the Kwame Kilpatrick text message and municipal corruption scandals, Councilwoman Monica Conyers' various public eruptions of anger and foolishness, the near meltdown of the Big Three auto companies, frozen corpses found in abandoned factories owned by scofflaw billionaires, the perpetual and near hopeless battles of teachers, police officers and especially firefighters to get the equipment they need to do their job safely, and many other failures of public and private leadership and probity that kept Detroit and some other localities in the news. 

As a reporter, LeDuff was around for a lot of these events. Sometimes he not only broke the story, but helped create the story, in a manner which irritated some movers and shakers as well as media critics. But the book artfully combines those macro events with the smaller challenges and tragedies that aren't necessarily news. LeDuff mines his own family for many of these stories. His sister was a streetwalker who died in an accident caused by one of her clients. His sister's daughter, his niece, was a junkie who passed away from a heroin overdose. LeDuff writes of his guilt at ignoring her and not reaching out to her earlier. I would guess that every family has some people who don't make people happy when they call. When a relative you aren't crazy about calls you, you might try to rush them off the phone or listen in a resentful silence as you wait for them to get the courage to beg the favor or cash which you don't have to give. That appears to have been LeDuff's relationship with his niece. His brothers struggle with lowered financial expectations. One, being unable to afford a dentist, removes his bad tooth with channel locks and whiskey. Another, having lost his job pimping subprime mortgages, views a degrading and boring $8.50/hr job as something approaching penance. Their stories and a few others echo those depicted in the film Sunlight Jr. The string that ties these vignettes together is LeDuff's argument that Detroit (and he means the city in particular and the tri-country area in general) no longer works for the people who made it possible in the first place. That is you can't really argue with a straight face that if you're willing to bust your butt and put in a hard day's work that you can have a decent middle-class lifestyle while your children could aspire to more. That dream is gone. LeDuff is very angry about that. He doesn't spare himself either. He alternately views himself as a crusading hero for the little guy or just another remora out to make a buck off of the travails of the city. LeDuff details a domestic violence incident between himself and his wife.

I mentioned that LeDuff is "Caucasian". That's important in the framework of this book both because some of his city sources who were eager to leak embarrassing information about the city brass may not have shared such information with someone who wasn't white and because Leduff has relatively recent African-American ancestry. (And Chippewa ancestry too for that matter). LeDuff thinks that Detroit is America's future if wide sweeping changes aren't made. But he doesn't detail what he thinks those changes should be. He's just telling a story. As he writes "It's about waking up one morning and being told you are obsolete and not wanting to believe it but knowing it's true. Go ahead and laugh at Detroit. Because you are laughing at yourself".

This is a good book to read. It's not quite the ruin porn I thought it would be though obviously there are some people who see it as that and/or enjoy it on that level. Detroit still has a busload of issues but it's not as horrible as it used to be. It's not as nice as it used to be either. No matter if you think LeDuff is a muckraker who is needed to keep people honest or a leech who makes money from heartbreak you will find your opinion validated by this book. Fun fact , LeDuff, whose personal and familial encounters with alcohol permeate this book, recently avoided charges of assault, public drunkenness and urination.

Finn Family Moomintroll
by Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson was a Finnish writer and artist of Swedish descent. She was one of my favorite authors as a child. Like many of the best children's authors she was able to capture whimsy and fancy while not writing down to children. Also although her initial works are probably best enjoyed by children they still have things to say to adults. Her later works, while theoretically children's books, were either written for incredibly mature children or more likely adults. There was a lot going on. Finn Family Moomintroll was one of her earlier works in her Moomin series. The Moomins are a family of friendly, artistic, chaotic, bohemian trolls (many characters were modeled after the author's friends, family and love interests) who look like hippos but walk on two legs. This was one of the first books translated into English though it's not the first in the series. There are some people who do not like starting series except at the very first book but Jansson's style here allows a reader to get up to speed very quickly. Moomintroll is the child of Moominmamma and Moominpappa. Moomintroll has some of his father's restlessness and somewhat less of his mother's good sense. With his parents, he also lives with his friends Sniff and Snufkin. As Jansson writes "Moomintroll's mother and father always welcomed all their friends in the same quiet way, just adding another bed and putting another leaf in the dining-room table. And so Moominhouse was rather full--a place where everyone did what they liked and seldom worried about tomorrow. Very often unexpected and disturbing things used to happen, but nobody ever had time to be bored, and that is always a good thing." In some respects you could argue that the Moomins and their friends are idealized incarnations of Rousseau's beliefs. Snufkin in particular is a wanderer and good person who doesn't like authority one bit. He doesn't believe in it, doesn't understand it and will rarely if ever allow someone to tell him what to do. Sniff is a nervous little creature. There is also the Hemulen, who enjoys collecting and labeling things, something Snufkin doesn't care for. And there is the Muskrat, a lazy philosopher who believes everything is useless but is rarely late for meals.  In this particular story the gang finds a magical hat belonging to the Hobgoblin. This hat transforms anything placed inside of it in often unpredictable ways.

This is a fun read that is amazingly silly at some points. It sends up the legal system, the concept of private property, young love, loneliness, friendship and many other ideas and themes dear to adults and children alike. For those of you who don't care for winter there is a monster who is the literal incarnation of winter sadness and depression. But on the other hand she may be horribly misunderstood. This book has a fair amount of slapstick. Very few of the characters take themselves very seriously and those who do are often gently (or not so gently) mocked. This is a wonderful book that brought back childhood memories. And for those of you who never read this author before, this book may briefly put you back in touch with your inner child. Jansson had a very vivid and oft surreal imagination. This book is less than 200 pages.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Ben Carson and Donald Trump Watch the Democratic Debate

It is possible, albeit not likely that either Trump or Carson will be the next President of the United States. For the first time in the race, Carson is moving ahead of Trump in the Iowa polls. Generally the two men have ignored each other. That has started to change. For different reasons I think each man is unqualified to become President of the United States. Trump seems to think that he can run roughshod over the concept of separation of powers (and other countries' interests) by force of his personality and intelligence. Carson believes that the problem is that the previous Presidents have lacked morality and common sense.  From Carson's point of view being President isn't exactly brain surgery. Of course it's hard to always suss out what Carson believes due to his tendency to mumble. Either way the Republican race will continue to be more entertaining than the downright soporific Democratic race. You may have heard that candidate Lincoln Chafee dropped out of the race. His ten supporters were devastated. Everyone else spent about five seconds trying to remember who Chafee was and why he was running in the first place. Anyway, as you might expect Donald Trump did not take the news of Carson's Iowa surge well, first retweeting a snarky comment about Iowans' intelligence and then saying he didn't believe the polls, while taking a shot at Carson's super laid back demeanor.  MIAMI (AP) — Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump dismissed polls that show him trailing Dr. Ben Carson in Iowa, calling the retired neurosurgeon "super low-energy" before a boisterous crowd in Miami on Friday night. The Iowa polls are a rare setback for the billionaire businessman's campaign. He's leading polls nationally and in other early primary states. Mimicking a television journalist reporting the breaking news of Trump slipping behind Carson, Trump ridiculed his GOP rival. "We informed Ben, but he was sleeping," Trump joked. The crowd roared. He also said the polls in Iowa "are wrong" and said most pollsters "don't like me at all."
I wonder what Carson and Trump thought of the recent Democratic debate? Fortunately there is footage of their discussion concerning that.

Television Reviews: The Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom
This new BBC America series is based on Bernard Cornwell's series of historical novels set in 9th century England around the time of King Alfred the Great. In some aspects it shares DNA with James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking/Last of the Mohicans tales in that the series' primary character is a man who has mixed allegiances, based on the clash between his birth and his upbringing. It's also similar to Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles, which were reviewed earlier here. And like George R.R. Martin, without whose successful Game of Thrones adaptation this television series probably wouldn't have been made, Cornwell has not yet completed the books. Although I suppose being based on history there won't be too many surprises to be found in the remaining novels. I mentioned Game of Thrones. Like that series this series, at least based on the premiere doesn't intend to stint on the violence and general gray-blue tint which has seemingly become required for hack-n-slash dramas set back in the days when men were men and before anyone had discovered electricity or anti-perspirant. But the series also has or to be fair may have enough emotional involvement to hook viewers who otherwise might be bored silly watching some bearded men (or women for that matter) swing a bloody sword and declaim at length about how at long last their time for revenge/justice/payback has arrived. I'm not sure this history is well known outside of a relatively small group of English history buffs but 9th century England was (before the rise of Alfred) a place that was under constant attack by and slowly falling under the domination of the Vikings. 

Danish, Norwegian and even a few Swedish raiders and armies all invaded England or successfully extorted huge sums from English(Anglo-Saxon) nobles and rulers in order to put off an invasion.The English were not necessarily outnumbered but had no navy and little ability to coordinate defense against swift and sudden Viking attacks. The English were also divided and just as likely to fight each other as the VIkings. In the Kingdom of Northumbria, which is where this story starts, an English nobleman (Matthew Macfayden) whose demeanor virtually screams out Ned Stark, grimly tries to mount a defense of Bebbanburg, his piece of Northumbria. He doesn't get any help from the other lords, who have either made a separate peace with the Danes or dislike him so much they refuse to help even against the pagan. But things don't go well. His older son, whom he commanded to perform reconnaissance, instead tries to give battle and is killed. Undeterred the lord renames his younger son Uthred (the traditional name of the first born son), makes him heir, and rallies his men for battle. Despite their numbers the English lack battle sense, fall for Viking tricks, and are flanked and slaughtered. Uthred, disobeying orders and sneaking out to watch the battle, sees his father die. In insane grief the boy tries to fight but is obviously no match for grown men. Fortunately the Vikings are more amused than threatened and take Uthred as a thrall (slave).
After a bit of rape and pillage the Danes depart along with Uthred and an English girl his own age named Brida. Adding insult to injury Uthred's uncle claims rulership of Bebbanburg for himself, though the claim legally belongs to Uthred. Uthred's new Viking "owner", Earl Ragnar (Peter Ganzler) proves to have something of a soft spot for Uthred, as do his wife and father. Considering that in battle Ragnar is both vicious and merciless this is considered humorous by many. Ragnar prevents Uthred from being sold back to his uncle once he learns that the uncle intends to murder the boy. Uthred (Alexander Draymon) grows to manhood and is considered a son by Ragnar and company. He carries weapons and is greatly trusted. This is even more the case because Uthred protected his adopted sister (Ragnar's daughter) from a rape by the son of one of Ragnar's retainers. Ragnar dispenses a harsh justice. However no good deed goes unpunished. After a horrible bit of Viking-on-Viking treachery Uthred and Brida (Emily Cox) once again find themselves cast out with their adopted family murdered or enslaved. Uthred will need to find out who he really is. Christian or pagan? Saxon or Norse? Which father will he follow? Can his mixed identity be the key to saving England from the Danes or helping the Danes to stamp out the last vestige of English independence. One thing that Uthred already knows though is that he wants revenge.
Because a great many of the names sound like the noise somebody makes when you punch them in the solar plexus, the story can occasionally be hard to follow. The story is adept at looking at people from different points of view. Ragnar is a harsh, even brutal man but he's not even close to being the worst of the Vikings. And he gives good reasons (well good from his perspective) as to why the Danes have to do what they do. This is worth watching every now and then I think but I don't yet think it's must see TV. Time will tell.

Friday, October 23, 2015

RushCard Ripoff and The Vampire State

Driving home the other day and being atypically uninterested in whatever show the Sirius old time radio station was playing I turned over to a station which was playing Karen Hunter and caught the second half of her interview with Ryan C. Mack, a financial adviser, stock broker and author among other things. The topic of the moment was the financial problems currently going on with the RushCard, a prepaid debit care that has musical entrepreneur and well known celebrity Russell Simmons as an endorser/owner.  His celebrity doesn't matter. What is important is that the RushCard technical infrastructure was having some problems which temporarily (for ten days no less) prevented users of said card from having access to their money. But as Ryan Mack pointed out, considering the not so hidden costs of the RushCard, temporarily losing access to this debit card could be a blessing in disguise to millions if this made them reconsider using the card. Let's explain. As we've pointed out before there is a lot of money to be made from poor people. There's especially a lot of money to be made from poor black people. Although usury is technically outlawed in most states while consumer banks have been under greater legal and regulatory pressure since 2008 to reduce junk fees or at least make them more obvious to the user, there are many other such businesses who skirt or even outright flout usury laws by calling their prices "fees" or "charges" as opposed to interest. These include such institutions as rent-to-own stores, check cashing stores, payday loan stores, and pre-paid debit cards such as the RushCard. Very few people who have true wealth or for that matter even a decent salary which allows them to routinely put money aside are ever caught dead in such places. Very few people with an average to good understanding of personal finances patronize such firms. 

No. These businesses make money from people who are poor, often ignorant of the law or common business practices, are scared to stand up for themselves, or who for whatever reason can't or won't obtain a normal bank or credit union checking account. Unfortunately Russell Simmons has chosen to align himself with a business that makes money this way. Now as Puzo wrote in The Godfather, each man has to measure his own greed. Russell Simmons has a lot of money and wants more. I also want more money. There's nothing wrong with that in and of itself. But before someone does something as massively stupid as getting a RushCard, he or she should at least understand what they're getting for their money. Hint, Russell Simmons is not doing you any favors. Much like Bernie Madoff did with his ethnic group, Simmons is using his in-group and celebrity status to peddle products which are poisonous to personal prosperity. Spending money on nonsense like this is a major reason that black median wealth lags behind white median wealth. Now it's fair to counter that Simmons, like all of us, should be more concerned about his own wealth than someone else's. That is certainly correct. No one should live for other people that he doesn't even know. But just because I don't think someone should always be altruistic doesn't mean I think someone should be given a pass for ripping people off. There is a difference between me being indifferent about your finances and sticking my hands in your pocket to rob you. Here's some examples of some of the fees associated with the RushCard (this is an older example but gives you a great idea of the business model we're dealing with)
If we compare the fees affiliated with the Rushcard compared to the typical bank offered debit card, we can clearly see the advantage of the cards offered by the banking institutions.
Rushcard vs. Typical Bank Card
Activation Fee: Rushcard = $19.95 Typical Bank Card = Free 
Convenience Fee: Rushcard = $1.00 Typical Bank Card = Free 
ATM Cash Withdrawal: Rushcard = $1.95 Typical Bank Card = Free (At Branch) 
ATM Balance Inquiry: Rushcard = $.50 Typical Bank Card = Free 
Bill Payment: Rushcard = $1.00 Typical Bank Card = Free 
Inactivity: Rushcard = $2.95 Typical Bank Card = Free 
Refund of Rushcard/Bank Card via Check: Rushcard = $5.00 Typical Bank Card = Free 
As you see, there is no financial reason for one to choose the Rushcard over a typical banking institution which offers debit cards as a part of their services. With the continuous onslaught of technology, it is becoming increasingly easier to open bank accounts.
Ryan Mack's Open Letter
At every conceivable point of contact between the RushCard and the customer (excuse me that should read sucker) money is removed from the sucker's pocket and transferred into Rush's pocket.  Without fail. And it's not as if Mack was the only person who noticed the shoddy and shady business practices that Russell Simmons was using. Financial columnists have long pointed out the buyer beware nature of the prepaid debit card market. Hopefully as Mack has stated perhaps some people will decide to move on from pre-paid debit cards. Unfortunately some of the people who rightly do so will go to a different rip-off artist, the check cashing store. 
Denise Miller, who works in social services in Philadelphia, has not been able to pay her rent. In an especially embarrassing moment, her card was declined at McDonald’s when she tried to buy breakfast.“I am so angry,” she said. Erica Phillips, a 32-year-old autoworker who lives in the Detroit area, said she first experienced a problem with her RushCard on Oct. 10, when she noticed her money had been moved from her existing account to an expired RushCard account. Her weekly paycheck is loaded on her card by direct deposit, and she said she was unable to access that money all week. “I’ve been borrowing from everyone,” she said. “People at work have given me food.” Ms. Phillips canceled her direct deposit and plans to cash her paycheck this week at a local check-cashing store.
What can be done? I'm not sure there is a legal or regulatory remedy in the short term. The long term solution is of course to build a society in which poor people have more solid financial understanding and are not disproportionately black. The businesses I've listed are basically vultures and hyenas who are attracted to financially sick people. The best thing we can do in the short term is share the information about how these companies work with our brothers and sisters who might be tempted to use these services. Just say no! Ryan Mack video

Speaking of bloodsuckers, whereas Russell Simmons is a figurative one, the State of Alabama in the person of one Circuit Court Judge named Marvin Wiggins (seen on the right in this picture) is a literal bloodsucker. Yes, it seems that old Judge Wiggins, rather than questioning why the state is running what can amount to extortion rackets over petty crimes committed by poor, often black people, has decided to put his own twist on the whole process by requiring indigents to give blood if they are temporarily unable to pay fees, fines or court costs. Now I suppose if you tend to be unsympathetic to lawbreakers you might reason well I guess they shouldn't have broken the law. Leaving aside the idea that having the court take part of your body against your will for a misdemeanor or civil infraction seems at the very least to be unusual and highly unethical, wouldn't you object to this order if the company taking your blood had been found responsible for giving someone HIV from a botched blood transfusion? I mean sure, maybe they've cleaned up their act now. Maybe. But do you want to be the next oops?  MARION, Ala. — Judge Marvin Wiggins’s courtroom was packed on a September morning. The docket listed hundreds of offenders who owed fines or fees for a wide variety of crimes — hunting after dark, assault, drug possession and passing bad checks among them. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” began Judge Wiggins, a circuit judge here in rural Alabama since 1999. “For your consideration, there’s a blood drive outside,” he continued, according to a recording of the hearing. “If you don’t have any money, go out there and give blood and bring in a receipt indicating you gave blood.” 

For those who had no money or did not want to give blood, the judge concluded: “The sheriff has enough handcuffs.” Carl Crocker, who was among those who owed money to the court, recounted seeing one older man pass out after his blood was taken. Another defendant, Traci Green, said that one young man became so angry about the choice he was given that he was taken out of the courtroom. Mr. Crocker, 41, who made the recordings of Judge Wiggins, also recorded the employees of the mobile blood bank, who seemed fully aware of the sentence-reduction arrangement. Mr. Crocker said he grew even more uncomfortable later, after he recognized the blood bank, LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, which had recently lost a $4 million judgment for an H.I.V.-tainted blood transfusion. “It’s just wrong for them to utilize people who are in the court system and essentially extort blood out of you because you owe traffic tickets, misdemeanors, felonies, whatever you’re there for,” Mr. Crocker said


I don't much care for the sense of entitlement that some judges seem to have in their courtrooms. Fortunately I haven't had reason to spend any time in courtrooms. I don't mind a judge who tries to bring some levity to the process or make individualized punishments fit the crime. And though it would irritate me greatly were I the defendant or convict I don't really mind judges who feel the need to provide a lecture to the person who's about to go away to prison. That's all inbounds I think. But coercing someone to give blood is in my opinion way out of line. That should not be allowed. No one should agree to that. Someone needs to tell Judge Wiggins just what he can do with his order to give blood. I would hazard a guess that most of the people who are appearing before Judge Wiggins are not the well off and politically connected. I thought these stories were examples of the current ways in which the wealthy and powerful continue to extort funds and literally blood from those who have less funds. Both are quiet obscenities in their own way.

What do you think of these stories?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

#RIP Corey Jones

A Black man is killed by a police officer off of I-95 in Florida. Scratch that. Corey Jones, a drummer at his church, is killed by a non-white police officer who was in plain clothes in an unmarked car. We here at The Urban Politico were alerted to this story Tuesday morning. We read about it, discussed it in an email exchange, and took no action until today when you began reading this post late in the afternoon while wasting time at your day job.

So why the delay?

Honestly, I thought it would go away. I naively wished the story would go away. I stuck my fingers in my ear, sang La La La La La La La loudly and off key and willed Corey Jones's name to not enter my subconscious, to become a here today gone tomorrow news story I could forget in a week. But I know better. Corey Jones was in deep in my brain with all the others like him who had gone before him. So here we are today with another name, another blog post, another hashtag, another Black man slain at the hands of people who are supposed to serve and protect everyone, and the only thing the Black community has to show for it is the injustice of paid administrative leave.

The one difference between Corey Jones and the Mike Brown's, Eric Garner's, Sam Dubose's, Christian Taylor's and others is that he was probably armed when he was shot down by Nouman Raja. I say probably because Corey Jones's gun, that he bought three days before he was killed, was found at the scene, but there's no other evidence to suggest how he was holding it, or even if he was holding it at the time of his untimely death. The second amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees all people of this great nation the right to bear arms. But apparently that right doesn't truly apply to everyone.

Real Talk. If some strange man was nosing around your car after you broke down at 3:15 in the morning wouldn't you be wary of their presence? Real Talk. If you were armed while said stranger was nosing around your car after you broke down at 3:15 in the morning wouldn't you feel the least bit safer if you unholstered your gun and held it at your side? I don't know what happened in Corey Jones' final moments. No one does. Conveniently dash camera wasn't working, a body camera was not worn, and the only other witness to what transpired in the seconds Jones confronted Raja, or Raja confronted Jones, and Raja shot scared is dead.

I understand that we as civilians are supposed to respect the lights, the badge and the uniform, but in this situation there were no lights. Officer Raja was in an unmarked car. There was no uniform because Officer Raja was in plain clothes, undercover. With that said, I want to know how long was an unidentifiable Officer Raja in fear for his life from Corey Jones before he unholstered his own gun and shot the drummer who broke down on the side of the road, and was waiting on his family to come through for a ride? Did Officer Raja even identify himself? Did he ask Corey Jones to put the gun down after doing so? Or did he just unload because he felt like he had the right because he was a scared police officer? Did it ever cross his mind that maybe Corey Jones was scared of the unknown man nosing around his car at 3:15 in the morning? Does anyone ever ask what the Black man fears? Right now, I bet it's police officers.


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Jim Webb Quits Presidential Race

Well that didn't take too long and really wasn't that surprising. Jim Webb announced today that he is dropping his race for President -- as a Democrat. He is not willing just yet to say no to the idea of running as an independent. As we discussed earlier, Jim Webb no longer fits with the soul of the national Democratic party and hasn't for quite some time. His relative lack of charisma and complete lack of funds didn't help matters either. It remains to be seen if there are a number of independent voters who are yearning to breathe freely and vote for Jim Webb for President. I would doubt it. I don't think that Webb did himself any favors in the Democratic debate by constantly complaining about his perceived lack of speaking time or attention. But some of that rancor no doubt arose from Webb's rounding error level of polling support. Watching the debate it seemed that Webb was just as frustrated by the fact that no one seemed to know who he was as by the moderator's alleged dismissals. Webb is famously proud of his supposed touchiness. And it was on display again today.
Webb isn't completely out of the 2016 mix just yet. He said he is still considering an independent bid for president."How I remain as a voice will depend on the kind of support I'm shown," said Webb. "Though I'm not going away, I'm thinking about all my options." That would be an uphill climb for the underfunded former one-term senator. Raising money to fuel a run is only half of the problem; getting on the ballot in all 50 states would be an expensive proposition. He should not be completely discounted, however — Webb's home state is Virginia. The swing state has been especially crucial in recent presidential elections, and if he peels off even a small percentage of the vote, that could be a problem for Democrats. As for whether Webb still considers himself a Democrat, Webb paused and told a reporter, "We'll think about that."

The more interesting question to me is not whether Webb runs or not. He is irrelevant. He was never going to be President. The more interesting question is can the Democratic party continue to win nationally while continuing to lose the votes of white men or more specifically of a certain class of white men. These are the people for whom Webb tried to position himself as speaking for, albeit with decidedly mixed results. As the two major parties ready themselves for a post-Obama election it will be fascinating to see if the winning Obama coalition will hold together without him on the ballot or if the class and racial polarization in this society makes each major political party almost completely identified with and subsumed by parochial interests. So Webb's departure may be seen as utterly meaningless or as the canary in the coal mine incident. Right now I'm leaning towards utterly meaningless.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Television Reviews: Power (Season One), The Strain (Season Two)

Power (Season One)
This was a gift from my brother. I liked it more than I thought I would although it was crammed full of plotholes, unrealistic writing and leaps in logic. Nevertheless it sort of grew on me like a mosquito bite. You could say that this series was a reworking of Superfly and many other blaxploitation films but I suppose you could say that about a great many movies or tv shows. In this story, as in many other stories, the hero -or to be accurate-the protagonist is faced with moral conflicts, challenges and betrayals. The action of the story comes from how he deals with these issues or in some cases if he even knows about them. The setup is simple enough. James St. Patrick (Omari Hardwick) is the owner of a very popular and extremely profitable NYC nightclub named Truth. Truth has become the "it" place to be among the NYC beautiful people class. Models, actors, musicians, wannabes, heirs and heiresses and anyone who wants to be seen as coming up all try to get into Truth. James is a dedicated and hands on owner. He leaves nothing to chance. If there's a problem he's on it immediately to fix it. Nothing is beneath his notice. However his zeal for work is starting to cause a problem with both his wife Tasha (Naturi Naughton) and his best friend/business partner Tommy (Joseph Sikora), albeit for slightly different reasons. Tasha is concerned that James is neglecting her and the children for his club work. Her mother (Debbie Morgan) warns Tasha of the temptations that a sharp dressed wealthy man like James faces. Tommy is concerned that James is abandoning him for a higher class of people and forgetting why they (Tommy is a secondary and silent partner in the club) opened the club in the first place. You see James, known as Ghost to his wife and Tommy, and Tommy aren't just club owners. Tommy in particular only cares about the club to the extent it allows him to run game on women. No James and Tommy are partners (James is the leader) in one of the city's largest drug distribution rings. James originally opened the club as an avenue to launder money. His wife is fully aware of her husband's activities. She provided both detailed and some unspecified assistance to James when he was coming up. Tommy is constantly irritated that James is skipping out on business meetings/sitdowns to handle club issues.

A chance meeting with Angie (Lela Loren), a woman he grew up with and more importantly The Old Flame Who Broke His Heart And Got Away, causes James to ponder what he's doing with his life, what he wants and what it all means. Needless to say it also causes him and Angie to take up where they left off. Whatever was there before was still there. They both have an itch that needs to be scratched. And they scratch it often. In the morning. In the night. Lying down. Standing upright. On the floor. By the door. Against the wall. In the hall--well you get the idea. The problem with this, besides the little matter of James' marriage vows, is that neither of these two lovebirds know what the other one really does for a living. Angie tells James that she's a lawyer but in fact she's an assistant district attorney involved in a task force to take down a Mexican drug kingpin who just happens to be James' main supplier. And Angie is good at her job. And obviously James isn't going to explain that his club is just a front, particularly since Angie is incredibly impressed that he's left his old knucklehead days behind. I found this to be a little unbelievable. If your long lost girlfriend tells you she's a lawyer chances are you'd ask at which firm. The chances are also quite good that James, who shares some of the same social networks as Angie, would have heard about her hiring as a prosecutor or I don't know SEEN HER IN ACTION WHEN SHE'S TRYING TO CONVICT SOME OF HIS ASSOCIATES!!! You would have to be the DUMBEST drug dealer in NYC not to know who the prosecutors were, especially since that is all public information. And a Hispanic woman prosecutor would be news, even today. I guess we're to expect that James never heard of Facebook or Linkedin. 
Anyway sleeping with the enemy isn't even James' biggest problem. His network is under attack. Some of his dealers have been murdered. If he can't find out who's doing it and stop them his dealers may turn on him, turn on each other or find different suppliers. And his Mexican boss makes it clear that if THAT happens James and Tommy will not be long for this planet. James gets advice from his incarcerated mentor Kanan (50 Cent). The show has a few interesting points to make about quiet racism and microaggressions. Some of James' upperworld white business rivals can barely hide their amazement that a black man can tie his own shoes without help. Power has a lot of eye candy for both genders. Perhaps it's explained more in Season Two but it also seems unrealistic that neither James nor Tommy have seemingly spent any time in prison. It's difficult to get where they are and not have been busted a few times. But even if they hadn't been, quite often police or other law enforcement groups know who the players are. I would have liked to see the show go down that path more. This is very slicky produced by 50 Cent. We're definitely meant to identify with James. With a few exceptions we don't see the negative impact of the drug life. We don't see addicts. Most of the settings are filled with beautiful people with tight bodies, white teeth and expensive clothes. Tasha is a bit pushy though I guess she has her reasons. This is nowhere near The Wire or The Sopranos in quality but is fun. Sikora's Tommy is brimming over with energy while Hardwick's James tries to think things thru before reaching for the gun. You definitely want a Tommy on your side if things go down hard, but he's not the one you want making executive decisions or being required to do too much thinking. On the other hand James isn't as smart as he thinks he is either. This is a glossy semi-soap opera that can probably appeal to anyone looking for some escapism.

The Strain (Season Two)
To say that this was something of a disappointment would be an egregious understatement. Even to say that it was a dumpster fire of a season wouldn't fully capture the horrid nature of the writing (and less frequently) acting on display here. I can't believe that the uneven but potent promise of Season One deteriorated into the mess that was Season Two. It's even more unbelievable because the people who wrote the books were also intimately involved in creating and producing the television series.The fundamental problem with this story is that it lost its internal logic. There were wild and wide shifts in characterization depending on what the writers or show runners wanted to do in any given moment. The viewer should be prepared to accept some B-movie shoddiness. That was actually part of the initial charm in Season One. As I wrote previously the major theme of The Strain was that it was a shift back to vampire as monster. It was a reaction to the overdone current idea of the vampire as bi-sexual goth pretty boy/girl or moping Byronic love interest of a misunderstood heroine. That was all well and good but once you got past that welcome change, The Strain had nothing much to say. And it continued the horror genre convention (or maybe this is just a Hollywood convention) of having weak African-American characters who are either stereotypes or die quickly. For example in two seasons or so the primary African-American characters have been (1) A rock star's female manager who was last seen running away, (2) an incompetent, cowardly, weak and possibly corrupt mayor who blusters a lot and dies, (3) a holier than thou Sacrificial Negro who dies to protect one of the most irritating child characters ever conceived and (4) a greedy thug with silver teeth who has evidently watched Escape from New York too many times and fancies himself to be the Duke. And that's pretty much it. Out of all the black people in NYC and the surrounding areas the only black people who get more than a few lines are clownish, thuggish, cowardly or apparently eager to sacrifice themselves for white people. This is about par for the course. Although this stuff irritates me more and more as I get older I might have been more willing to give The Strain a reluctant pass were the stereotypes a few discordant notes in an otherwise exquisite symphony of horror. No such luck.

Do you remember the panic over Bird Flu and more recently Ebola? Although the impact on American citizens proved to be less than minimal, many people (to be fair including yours truly) were worried about transmission of these diseases into the United States and to their loved ones. The President was forced to address the nation and be seen to be taking action, though each crisis was largely a false alarm. Now I want you to imagine a world as described in The Strain, in which NYC, the financial capital of the world and the largest city in the US, has been placed under attack by a confirmed "virus", if you like, that raises people from the dead, can turn living people into ravening monsters with six foot tongues, has no cure, is not stopped by any natural immunities and is spreading like a proverbial wildfire. Imagine sudden and persistent attacks on online and electronic systems which make communications difficult and cause stock prices to plummet. Now wouldn't you think that all of this together just might get the attention of the New York Governor and the President of the United States? Wouldn't the Army and National Guard be in the streets? Wouldn't you think that the proven display of people rising from the dead to feed on their loved ones would have religious figures tripping out?  Not to mention that billions of people watching this all occur on live television might start secondary panics of their own? Wouldn't transportation be even more hopelessly snarled than before as millions of New Yorkers tried to leave the city?

Well apparently in the world of The Strain, everyone gives a ho-hum and leaves NYC to its own affairs. Even New Yorkers are still trying to go about their business. One Indian-American family is still trying to run their restaurant-including night time delivery service. Yes, the city is overrun with vampires who come out at night but these brain surgeons are still offering night time delivery. There's a quarantine, except when there's not one for the writers' purposes. At the end of Season One the intrepid vampire hunters discovered that the head vampire was apparently immune to sunlight (at least in small quantities). Depressed they dealt with this in different ways. Professor Setrakian (David Bradley) spends all of Season Two searching for a legendary magical book about vampires which he is sure is conveniently hidden in NYC somewhere. Dr. Eph. Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and his main squeeze Dr. Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) try to create a disease that will kill vampires. Renaissance Man Vasily Fet (Kevin Durand) likes killing vampires by hand because that means he gets to show off his large phallic weapons to hacker/cliche action girl Dutch (Ruta Gedmintas). Unfortunately for Fet, Dutch goes both ways and is unsure if she's ready to drop her girlfriend for Fet. Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde), the old billionaire financing the vampires' attack on NYC discovers love with his personal assistant/secretary, the ridiculously named Coco (Lizzie Brochere). He also starts showing a bit too much independence for the liking of the number two vampire, Eichhorst (Richard Sammel). And Sammel might tell the ominously named Master. Sammel is the best thing about this series. Well that's not hard to accomplish because he's about the only good thing. City councilwoman Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) attempts (generally successfully) to bypass the mayor and impose her own vampire fighting plan.  Never mind separation of legislative and executive authority! A stereotypical Mexican gangbanger named Gus (played completely charisma free by Miguel Gomez) rounds out the main cast. His primary role to is look tough and snarl "Say what white boy?" every so often. Well I should say he rounds out the main adult cast. Goodweather has a pre-teen son Zach (Max Charles) who must be the single most irritating and unwholesome youngster in the history of television. 

Despite knowing that his mother Kelly (Natalie Brown) is a vampire and seeing her KILL people, Zach spends the entire season alternately blaming his father for not saving his mother and attempting to get his father to reunite with his mother. This includes actions like opening the door of their hideout to vampires. Personally I would have thrown young Zach to the wolves a long time ago. Even for a kid he's insufferably stupid. This sarcastic little s*** gets people killed. Key plot points are raised for one episode and forgotten the next. For example the vampires all carry millions of tiny worms. Just being touched by a vampire, let alone being close to a wounded one with worms spurting out of its body is deadly. The worms can infect you without a vampire bite. Despite this our mostly unlikable heroes spend the season in close combat with hundreds of vampires. For the most part only the secondary characters get infected. This is about as plausible as engaging in a boxing match without getting your opponent's sweat on you. The aforementioned idea of infecting vampires is inexplicably dropped after initial success. Finally there is a retread plot from Del Toro's Blade 2 but it's not worth detailing here. I won't be watching Season 3. The pacing, writing, and themes just weren't very good. This worked better when it was medical bio-horror mystery and not lesbian love triangles.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Recap: The First Democratic Debate

Five democratic candidates for President of the United States took the debate stage in Las Vegas last night to face off over the issues for the very first time. Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O'Malley introduced themselves to the American people and then got down and dirty in the political mud.

No topic was off limits. Gun control. Hillary Clinton's Emails. Benghazi. Syria. Russia. The Economy. Black Lives Matter. The candidates covered it all. Well, at least some of them did, and that is where we have a problem, if you don't like your candidates chosen for you.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders clearly had more debate prep than any of the other candidates on the stage. And by debate prep I mean Clinton's failed 2008 run when she endlessly debated then Senator Barack Obama despite having no chance at the nomination, and Clinton and Sanders' storied histories in the halls of Congress. As for the other candidates, they barely registered in the key arguments being put forth in the debate. It was the Hillary and Bernie show.

One of the most contentious issues early on was gun control. The gloves came off between the old Senate fellows. Hillary Clinton said Bernie Sanders wasn't tough enough on gun control. Bernie tried to argue that there is a difference in the perception of guns in rural areas versus more urban areas, and while he is technically right, that technicality doesn't matter when you consider the students and teachers of Sandy Hook were teaching and learning in a rural area when they were massacred by a madman.

The debate on gun control quickly devolved into a debate about war and who would be a better Commander in Chief. Hillary Clinton was painted as too quick to press the button considering her voting record on Iraq. Bernie Sanders was painted as a pacifist, and the other three candidates pontificated about how they would have voted had they been in Congress, and what they will do once they become the President of the United States. Only Jim Webb could really speak about what it's really like to be at war considering his Marine background, but he squandered his chance to silence, and then complained that he didn't get enough time to speak.

From war the natural progression of the debate led to Syria, Russia, and Benghazi. This brought the marquee moment of the debate when Senator Bernie Sanders exclaimed, "We're tired of hearing about the damn emails." Hillary Clinton appreciated the vote of support from her socialist rival. The debate carried on and came to two of my favorite topics. Let's start with the economy.

On this topic the Democrats did what the Democrats always do. They blamed the Republican. In this case they blamed Bush. The campaign tactics of 2008 and 2012 when Obama ran were employed in earnest with a couple new twists. When the conversation turned to restoring Glass-Steagall all the candidates supported the move except Hillary Clinton. I wonder why? The obvious and only reason that Mrs. Clinton cannot support the restoration of the one piece of legislation that would keep investment banks separate from commercial/community banks is because it is the key piece of legislation her husband took pride in dismantling in the name of deregulation, trimming the fat, cutting the tape, and balancing the budget. While I'm sure President Clinton was well meaning in his actions back in those roaring 90s, it got us Millennials a lot of heartache in the aughts.

Instead of supporting the restoration of Glass-Steagall Mrs. Clinton promoted the failed pansy bill that is Dodd-Frank and promoted progressive capitalism with checks and balances. Bernie Sanders called her on her B.S. and Martin O'Malley, Lincoln Chafee, and Jim Webb wept. Or at least they should have for their silence.

Last night's debate was hosted by CNN in conjunction with Facebook. That means questions were taken from real people to see if the candidates truly know what's going within the pulse of the country. The first question posed was a simple one, but an important one (especially to this here blogger) "Do Black Live Matter or Do All Lives Matter?

All of the candidates stated why Black Lives Matter. Whether they believe in the movement and goals of the grassroots civil rights campaign or not they gave politically correct answers. All except for maybe Jim Webb. He stumbled around his work with the Black community and came up with I've been working with African Americans and their situation... Mr. Webb, what exactly is our situation?

The Black Lives Matter questions raises a broader issue, not just among the Democratic candidates but for the entire 2016 campaign on both sides of the aisle. Unless the next President is Ben Carson, then our next President will be forced to have a "black agenda." An agenda President Obama could not, does not, and can not outwardly have for the simple fact that he is Black. For the first Black President to have an explicitly Black agenda, while necessary, will be to some too explicitly racist and at very least pandering. I know. The psychology of our country is backwards. However, what Obama had to do through Attorney General Eric Holder, and now Attorney General Loretta Lynch Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump can do on their own. They can put forth a plan to promote the equality of minorities among the greater hegemony and by "pandering" if you will they get the minority vote they are looking for.

It's still a long road to go for both the Democrat and Republican ticket, and though I hate to admit it Hillary Clinton was the strongest candidate at the podium last night. I don't like her sense of entitlement, and I don't care for her deceptive scandals but she did make several compelling arguments and the other candidates, save for Bernie Sanders didn't put up much of a fight against her machine. Especially Martin O'Malley. He's running for Vice President. I'm sure of it.


1. What did you think of the Democratic candidates' debate performance?
2. If the election were today who would you vote for?
3. Do there need to be more candidates in the race?

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Book Reviews: Dead Men's Boots

Dead Men's Boots
by Mike Carey
I like authors who work magic and the supernatural into the everyday mundane affairs of modern humans. Jim Butcher, Nicholas Kaufman and Neil Gaiman are some of the better writers who can do this. Mike Carey also deserves notice as part of that crew. Carey has created a timeline in our world where a great many of the things that scare people are real. Ghosts, zombies, were-creatures, demons, devils, the whole nine yards. Carey's trick is that most people aren't all that disturbed by this, at least after a few years of hysteria. So this series (written in first person) is really more of a detective/mystery series than something which requires a tremendous suspension of disbelief. Carey's sardonic smart mouth world weary hero is straight out of classic noir. He's not particularly wealthy, good looking or fast with his fists. But Felix Castor is one of the UK's best exorcists. He's one of those rare people who are able to see ghosts and what's more bind them or dispel them. Every exorcist does the binding and dispelling in different ways. Some wordy people like to use long incantations. Some more physical people may use interpretive dance. Felix's particular interface with the supernatural revolves around music. He's able to get a fix on a supernatural being through music: rhythm, harmony and melody. Felix likes to use a whistle to play the song to dispel a ghost but in a pinch almost any instrument or surface will do. He can even sing the melody himself. Like most detectives Felix has a strained relationship with the police. One senior detective uses Felix on some important cases but another detective has made it widely known that she would be very happy to use fair means or foul to put Felix in jail. Her dislike stems from a misunderstanding about a murder case which wasn't what it seemed. Even though Felix was innocent Detective Basquiat is not a woman who likes smart-alecks or lets go of grudges easily. And she's surprisingly handy with her fists. Felix can also count on, well at least as long as his interests don't conflict with theirs, occasional assistance from his friends associates Nicky and Juliet. 

Nicky is a hacker's hacker who pretty much believes every conspiracy theory and has proof of a lot of them. If you looked up paranoia in the dictionary there would be a picture of Nicky. And since Nicky became a zombie he's only become more suspicious and watchful. For obvious reasons, zombies usually aren't too friendly with exorcists or the living (as zombies try to avoid all viruses, bacteria and anything else biological because exposure increases the rate at which their bodies rot). Nicky has so far made an exception in Felix's case but that could easily change. Juliet (that's a translation of her real name) is a blindingly beautiful woman who can have any man or woman she wants. She's also a 17,000 yr old demon from hell. Juliet is a succubus who feeds on male lust, bodies and souls. Having sex with her is the most wonderful thing and the last thing any man will ever do. She was originally summoned to kill Felix. After he managed to temporarily defeat her a few times, in desperation Castor cut the chain which bound her to the summoner. As demons always hate the person who enslaved them more than their target, this act somewhat endeared Juliet to Felix. She agreed not to kill and eat him (or other men) and he agreed to train her to be an exorcist. This deal has so far held. In this book Juliet has her own exorcism business. And she has even found something approaching love with another woman. 
All the same, Juliet is not human and has little patience for or understanding of most human emotions or practices outside of lust. And she takes everything very literally. This is both a cause of amusement and fear to those around her. Dead Men's Boots has three seemingly disparate storylines. But you know in detective novels nothing is every truly independent is it. Felix ignored calls for assistance from a fellow exorcist, John Gittings, partly because he never liked the man, partly because he was busy and partly because he used to have a thing for Carla, John's wife. But shortly afterwards John killed himself. And now, a strange lawyer has showed up to claim the body over Carla's outraged objections. Carla asks Felix for help. He can't say no this time, particularly as John's ghost is haunting Carla's home. Felix also gets hired to consult on a murder case in which all the evidence points to an American serial killer who's been dead for years. Felix must stop a possibly innocent man from going away for life. Felix is fighting to keep his friend Rafi (who's possessed by the devil Asmodeus) from being taken away for scientific experimentation. And oh yes, there's the little matter of someone trying to kill Felix. I liked this book. Felix is burning the candle at both ends throughout. The more he peels away the mystery the deeper the foulness seems to go. There's a lot here in this book about the hurt that people do to each other. Juliet in particular gets fleshed out as a character. You may even sympathize with Juliet on occasion as she struggles to understand a particular human custom or practice. Carey provides a lot of back story about ghosts and why they might attempt to hang on to the physical world. The only weakness is that Juliet might be used a bit too much as the cavalry coming to the rescue. The story addressed this somewhat by bringing in other characters from below who are not at all scared by Juliet. This book was pretty good though it occasionally beat you over the head about some social issues. If you are a fan of detective stories this is worth having in your library. It is third in the series but stands alone. You can definitely read this without having read the prior two books. Carey brings you up to speed very quickly.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Movie Reviews: Playing It Cool, The Impostors

Playing It Cool
directed by Justin Reardon
Romantic comedies are usually pretty cliched. You (with the occasional exception of films like Annie Hall, 500 Days of Summer or Don Jon) pretty much know how these things are going to go down before you even start to watch them. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy has to do some serious self-examination and internal rework. Boy has to do something desperate or humiliating to win girl's love again. This last part normally includes a sprint through the train station, bus station, airport or for films set in earlier days, the port so that he can tell his baby just how he feels before something horrible happens and the star crossed lovers are forever separated. So for the most part when you watch movies like this you probably aren't looking for too many surprises, violent conflict or really out of left field writing. Most romantic comedies are formulaic. The skill on display with romantic comedies, as with similar seemingly simple styles such as haiku or blues music, comes with being able to say something new and entertaining while using a relatively limited palette of emotions, story lines and characters. Playing it Cool did this well enough. It will definitely remind you of similar entries in this field. I don't know that it stands head and shoulders above its counterparts. If you can't stand this genre then obviously don't even bother watching this film. I can't stress strongly enough how much this film relies on a number of well worn cliches and tropes. To the extent that it works it does so because of the relentless cheerfulness and completely unconscious narcissism of the lead character, only ever identified as Me (Chris Evans).

He's a screenwriter/novelist who hangs out with a circle of writer friends of varying levels of success. This group includes his depressed and nihilistic ex/friend-with-benefits Mallory (Aubrey Plaza), Lyle (Martin Star), an itinerant who lives in his van, Scott (Topher Grace) a gay man whose gaydar doesn't work as well as it should, and Samson (Luke Wilson), an older writer with some grudges and some wisdom. These people all argue incessantly and don't necessarily always like each other. But they provide advice and commentary for each other's struggles, professional and romantic. When the chips are down they're there for each long as one of them doesn't have a really hot date. Evans' character is not a man who believes in love, primarily because his mother abandoned him when he was a child. Raised by his crusty grandfather (Phillip Baker Hall), he's a resolute devotee of the love em and leave em style. But this starts to change when he meets a woman only ever identified as Her (Michelle Monaghan). She's beautiful, witty, and sexy. The problem is that this woman already has a fiance (Ioan Gruffudd) But does any hero worth the name let a little thing like a woman being engaged to someone else stop him from running his game? And it just so happens that this man, who previously didn't believe in love, has also been tasked by his agent (Anthony Mackie) to write a romantic comedy screenplay. The quality and progress of the screenplay vary with the couple's happiness or sadness.

Humor and cliches ensue. The lead character is only able to listen to other people's stories by imagining himself in their positions. This is funny. Sometimes. He also imagines that his heart is a chain smoking black-and-white film noir tough guy who is always apart from himself. This was a decent movie but certainly nothing earth shattering or that reworks the genre. It throws a few curve balls here or there. If you're in the mood for something light and frothy this might work for you.

The Impostors
directed by Stanley Tucci
Speaking of light and frothy this older homage to 1930s and 1940s screwball comedies is a funny film that I like a lot. It's not perfect but with one or two exceptions has aged pretty well. The writing is tight, the acting delightful and everyone looks like they're having a lot of fun. With so many American comedies trying their best to be as crude and disgusting as possible it is somewhat refreshing to look back to a film like this and realize that there is a different way to get laughs. Now make no mistake, I wouldn't claim that this is a roll on the floor belly laugh type film, though there are one or two scenes that get me, at least. And it is a R rated film though by today's standards it would be PG-13.  But whatever the film misses in outrageous setpieces it more than makes up for in just general craziness. The story is more Laurel and Hardy, Marx Brothers or Charlie Chaplin than Three Stooges. The film is set in the 1930s but with very minor changes it could happen at any time. The stories and situations are timeless. There are always going to be depressed people, people in love, people with secrets, desperate starving actors, silly people, crazy people and people who are completely clueless to everything that is going on around them. Tucci's direction, much like his work in Big Night, (this movie shares some of that film's cast) is that of someone who really likes film. Very little is rushed.
Arthur (Tucci) and Maurice (Oliver Platt) are best friends, roommates and actors whose acting career hasn't really worked out that well. They have little money and less food. And to quote bluesman John Lee Hooker, their landlord doesn't need to be bothering them about the back rent. Heck their landlord is lucky to get any front rent! They protect their egos, as many do in such situations, by reasoning that they are ahead of their time and have too much integrity to lower their acting chops to more pedestrian standards. They also protect their egos by attending performances by much more successful but wholly untalented actor Jeremy Burtom (Alfred Molina) and disrupting them or making fun of Burtom. However Burtom is as unstable as he is untalented. When Maurice makes a particularly broadly humorous interpretation of Burtom's bad acting, Burtom loses it. Seeking to avoid a beatdown or worse and reasoning that they could deal with a change of scenery anyway, Arthur and Maurice stowaway on an transatlantic ocean liner. Of course as it turns out that happens to be the same ocean liner Burtom will be travelling on. Arthur and Maurice try to avoid Burtom. In the meantime they make an ally out of the forward looking feisty ship social director Lily (Lili Taylor). The ship first mate, the German (and Nazi) Meistrich (Campbell Scott) is on the lookout for the stowaways. He's also trying to put the moves on Lili, who has no use for him. There are some funny subplots involving a mad bomber (Tony Shalhoub), a sad exiled queen (Isabella Rossellini), a clinically depressed lounge singer (Steve Buscemi), a gay deranged tennis pro (Billy Connolly), the distracted audition director (Woody Allen), a depressed debutante (Hope Davis), a gangster (Richard Jenkins), and an African prince (Teagle Bougere). Arthur and Maurice aren't the only people pretending to be someone that they aren't. There are any number of plots and plans going on that Arthur and Maurice don't know about. This film always brings a smile to my face when I watch it. The film's fun is not necessarily in its dialogue but rather the situations.