Friday, December 30, 2016

Movie Reviews: Solace

directed by Alphonso Poyart
Solace is a movie which initially makes the viewer think that it is about one theme before fitfully and eventually skillfully revealing another theme altogether. It's not quite bait and switch in my opinion because a lot of the clues were always there, if you bothered to look. I suppose you could be cliched and call this the thinking man's (woman's) thriller. It certainly fits that description, especially in the last third of the film. The problem was that the film wasn't quite as smart as it thought it was. It might have worked a little better to show things from the villain's pov. Although the lead in this movie is Anthony Hopkins, who does his usual masterful work, the other actors/actresses have such strong parts that you could fairly call this an ensemble cast. Depending on your belief system you may or may not believe that there is something in us that lives beyond our time on this planet. What is certain though is that each and every one of us is going to die sooner or later. Hopefully we will die peacefully after a long happy life. But there's no guarantee of that. Parents murder their offspring; good people die of cancer. Entire families are killed by a drunk driver; spree killers pick people at random to murder. Benign tumors suddenly become malignant; a brief lack of attention on the expressway can cause multiple fatalities. That's life. No one can know when and how his life will end. There's a lot of religion and music that suggests (literally) that one day we'll understand it all by and by (presumably when we've transitioned to the next stage just as a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly). Well maybe, maybe not. Job asked God why and was told to shut up and stop asking questions above his pay grade. The point is that on this world and in the time we have we don't have all the answers. We don't understand why evil (random and deliberate) seems to have such power in this world. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Black Woman in Texas Brutalized By Police

I don't really know what to say about this story which recently took place in Forth Worth Texas. A white police officer insulted and arrested a black mother who was trying to make a complaint that a white man had assaulted her seven year old child. This story is a poignant example of white supremacy. This is really no different than what would have taken place in 1925. The only difference is that in 1925 no black person in Texas would have been under the slightest illusion that the police were obligated to respond to their calls for assistance and/or possibly arrest a white assailant. We've talked incessantly about retraining police or protesting or making police live in the areas they serve or hiring more black police or demilitarizing the police or having civilian review boards or so forth and so on. Those are all good ideas as far as they go but as we saw with the Michael Slager mistrial in South Carolina none of things mean a goddamn thing if the jury pool refuses to convict. And while convicting a truly guilty cop for abusing or killing a citizen is of course a good thing, it's infinitely better for the citizen not to be abused or killed by cops in the first place. As cops justifiably have no fear of sanctions for bad behavior from the justice system or their departments or their unions the only thing that will give bad police pause from committing wrongs upon citizens is if citizens start shooting them in the head. It is not normal for anyone to expect that American citizens should tolerate this sort of thing.This country was born in violent revolution from outrage over much lighter offenses.Other revolutions have started from anger over police brutality. The system has failed. 

Movie Reviews: Suicide Squad, Train to Busan

Suicide Squad
directed by David Ayer
I had heard wildly different things about this film, which is based on a DC comic book team of antiheroes. Some people claimed that it was overwrought, poorly written and incoherent. Other people claimed it was pretty good. Still others stated that it was sexist, racist, and any other "ist". After watching it I can safely say yes to all of those claims. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as some people said it was. On the other hand it isn't the "serious" work that The Dark Knight was. I was never a huge DC comics fan so I didn't go into this movie with any familiarity with the characters. If you were a DC fanboy sitting down to critique this film I can certainly understand how you might have looked askance at the page to screen translations. As I wasn't a DC fanboy all of that baggage went right over my head. I didn't have the massive expectations I would have had if I were a fan of the comic book.  I'll have to check with my brother, who has an encyclopedic knowledge all all things comic related, to see what he thought of the adaptations. I was also interested in watching the movie because it was done by the same director who helmed End of Watch, Sabotage and Fury. The film reunited Will Smith and Margot Robbie who had pretty good chemistry in Focus. And it featured a bravura performance by Jared Leto which seems to have been severely and choppily edited. For what it's worth I liked this movie a little better than the last Captain America movie. That may not be saying all that much but Suicide Squad is fun to watch, regardless of some of the logical and moral inconsistencies.

Rudyard Kipling: The Stranger

The British intellectual and Nobel Prize in Literature winner Rudyard Kipling for most of his life was an unabashed pro-imperialist and pro-colonialist who apparently never really gave serious thought to the idea that people, especially non-white people, shouldn't be ruled by their betters, by which he usually meant English whites or at least whites of Anglo-Saxon stock. Kipling had little confidence in the abilities of people outside of that group to rule themselves. He extended this skepticism to the Irish, being an ardent foe of Irish home rule. Kipling justified British rule over the Irish by using the same tropes and dodges that Europeans used to justify their rule over Asians and Africans. It was only later in life after his son was killed in WWI that Kipling may have begun to rethink some of his more jingoistic views.Even though Kipling was criticized in his time and ours for some of his more reactionary ideas, few people ever questioned his literary talent or his devotion to his country. The recent terrorist incidents in Germany, France, Belgium, the UK and elsewhere in Europe which were primarily committed by recently arrived non-Europeans reminded me of Kipling's poem "The Stranger". It's Kipling at his most nationalistic. I'm not a huge fan of this poem. It has a smug tone. All the same regardless of whether you think this piece is a stirring paean to nationalism or an ugly screed to race hatred I think it's important to realize that nationalism and its uglier cousins of xenophobia and racism aren't going away anytime soon. "The Stranger" touches something real in this world. Nationalism isn't automatically an evil thing. There are limits to how many immigrants any country can accept, particularly if the cultures of the immigrant and his destination country are very different. This is especially the case in Europe, where most of the countries have been ethnic homelands of one kind or another instead of open source states like the USA. Theoretically anyone on the planet can become an American. That has never been the case with most other countries. To be a German or an Ethiopian is a statement of bloodlines and ethnicity just as much as it is a statement of geographic origin. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

TSA Body Searches Angela Rye

People say that President-Elect Donald Trump will usher in a new era of fascism and lack of respect for rights. And perhaps he will. A man who has said that he will order torture of terrorism suspects, asks why we can't kill the family of terrorism suspects, refuses to admit that the Central Park Five were innocent and speaks approvingly of national stop-n-frisk, no doubt limited to majority Black areas, is not a man who has any great love for individual rights. I don't dispute that. My only issue with those who are suddenly discovering a fervent post-November 8th love for civil liberties is that right now, today, we are living in a country where there is less and less institutional and popular respect for or understanding of civil liberties. And this is happening under a Democratic Presidential administration headed by a former constitutional law professor. People worry about "normalizing" Trump. We have already normalized prison procedures for the entire dammed population that intends to travel by airplane. Like everyone else I have loved ones who I hope live to be as old as Methuselah. I don't want them harmed or killed by some religious nut who thinks God told him to blow up an airplane. But I also don't want them cavity searched by some bully with a badge who literally gets off on humiliating and searching people. I don't want people with "incorrect" political views harassed under color of law. As I wrote about a similar incident around airplane safety I definitely want some level of confidence that the people sitting next to me or mine on a plane have gone through the same boarding procedure as everyone else. But I would question if that procedure needs to include the touching of anyone's reproductive/excretory organs. There has to be a better way of doing this. But if I have to choose between liberty and safety I'm going to choose liberty. 

Godfather Two: Who Opened The Drapes?

In the movie Godfather 2 after a long day of business Michael Corleone finally returns home to his wife and children. Michael's wife Kay has already gone to bed but was either not completely asleep yet or had awoken upon Michael's return. The lamp by the bed was still on. As Michael looks at a picture that his son drew for him his wife Kay looks at him with love but then curiously asks why are the drapes in the bedroom window open. Michael looks at his wife and then looks at the drapes. And he apparently sees the assassins just before they start shooting. He hits the floor and crawls over to throw himself on top of Kay until the shooting stops. Now the reason the drapes were open was to give the would be assassins a better shot at Michael. That's pretty obvious.What's not so obvious is who opened the drapes. Kay asks Michael why were the drapes open. This makes sense because, like most women, fictional or real, then and now, Kay was not an exhibitionist. She would undress in front of her husband but not in front of an open window. There's no chance that Kay would have undressed/changed clothes for bed unless she closed the drapes prior to doing so. So that means that when Kay went to bed the drapes were closed. Someone entered Michael's bedroom and opened the drapes.Who did this?

Music Reviews: When The Levee Breaks

Memphis Minnie (1897-1973) and her husband Kansas Joe were the original writers and performers of "When The Levee Breaks". As you might imagine it was about hard times after a flood that occurred near Greenville, Mississippi. Then as now, most of the people who lived closest to the flood plain were poor people. The song lyrics talk about what happens when the titular event occurs and how people have to find work and lodgings elsewhere. Musically it's a surprisingly upbeat song, considering the subject matter. Memphis Minnie was one of the better known pre-WW2 blues guitarists. She was a huge influence, albeit often unacknowledged, on guitarists who came afterwards. Unfortunately by the time that rock-n-roll begin to take off her particular style of blues was considered decidedly old-fashioned. Also her age and health were starting to work against her by the 1950s. So it goes. Even so her biggest hit, the risque "Me and My Chauffeur Blues" was reworked by Chuck Berry into the raunchy rock-n-roll song "I Want To Be Your Driver". It amuses me how both versions of that song allude pretty directly to subject matter that any adult is familiar with while nonetheless avoiding dirty words. Some songwriters today might want to take a note or two. The titular song of this post was later covered by the British rock group Led Zeppelin. I'm not sure if the group originally gave Memphis Minnie credit but certainly modern releases have her name listed as a co-writer. Most people born after 1950 are certainly familiar with the Zeppelin version, as much for John Bonham's brutal bass drum attack if nothing else. That drum sound would later be sampled by Ice-T for his horror rap track "Midnight". It probably shows up in a few other rap songs as well. 

Andre Johnson Gives Back To The Community

We hear a lot about former or current athletes who have lost all their money, abused their wives or girlfriends or otherwise behaved poorly in some way. It's important to remember that just as with any other job, the jerks, dummies and slobs are most likely a minority of the people that you'll meet. One person who is going above and beyond to help people in life is former Houston Texan wide receiver Andre Johnson. It is important to reach out and help those less fortunate than ourselves, especially if they're children. Children don't own responsibility for their situation. You may not have $20,000 to give away but I am sure there are other ways you can give of your time and resources to those who need and appreciate the help. Retired NFL star Andre Johnson holds nearly every Houston Texans receiving record - but for the past nine years, Johnson has fulfilled a very different kind of streak. Come the holiday season, Johnson brings several children from struggling families into a Toys R Us - and tells them to pick out whatever they'd like.

You'd think there would be a spending cap or limited amount of toys the children can take home, but Johnson has only one rule. Kids, ages 5-16, have to fill their shopping carts in 80 seconds (80 was Johnson's jersey number). Not hard to do when you're, you know, a kid in a toy store.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Clinton's Michigan Mistakes

Rubio was a clown. He never could have outfought Hillary. But what I didn't know until this day was that it was Trump all along.
According to one model of human emotional process, there are five stages of grief which we pass through when a great loss occurs. These stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Most of the more intense Democratic partisans seem to be currently stuck in one of the first two stages. And they don't seem to want to leave those stages any time soon thank you very much. Some Democrats have progressed to the third stage. A tiny number of people are in the fourth stage. But virtually no one has reached the fifth. So it goes. Everyone who voted for Clinton or hoped that she would win will need to deal with Clinton's loss in their own way. In a country where a significant proportion of the conservative voting population dealt with the eight year reality of a black President by insisting contrary to all evidence that (a) he wasn't a citizen (b) wasn't black (c) wasn't Christian (d) was Muslim or (e) all of the above I'm not going to throw stones at anyone who needs more time to process the fact that Donald Trump indeed beat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th President of the United States. Those people should take all the time that they need to take. But for the people who are ready to deal with reality however unpleasant it might be, this examination of how Clinton lost Michigan will be useful, perhaps even required reading. Clinton suffered a close loss in Michigan. You could blame the Clinton loss on third party voters or Russian hacking or any number of other things. But ultimately the buck has to stop with the candidate. 

Woman Dragged Off Plane at Metro Detroit Airport

I don't think that this would qualify as police brutality. If the publicly available information is correct then the correct steps were taken. Of course just based on previous incidents where certain people have gotten out of pocket and have not had force used against them you always have to look at things like this with a very skeptical eye.

Delta Flight 2083 was preparing to depart from Detroit to San Diego early Monday morning when the unidentified woman allegedly displayed aggressive behavior towards the attendants, according to NBC News. Passengers aboard the plane alleged that the woman walked past the gate agents in the terminal without showing a ticket or proper ID to board the plane, which initially prompted Delta personnel to approach her, officials confirm.

Air officials were soon alerted to the incident. After the woman repeatedly ignored the officer's requests to leave the aircraft, security was reportedly forced to remove her themselves. In video taken on a cell phone on the plane, two officers are seen attempting to pick up the woman, who was lying still in the middle of the aisle. It's unclear why the woman was on the floor to begin with, but voices heard on camera suggest she may have been tasered. After a couple of seconds of adjusting, they begin to move her down the aisle and off the aircraft before stopping midway. One officer then proceeded to drag the woman, whose eyes appear to be rolled back, the rest of the way.

Given the post 9-11 extreme caution about who is allowed on planes and under what conditions, I am surprised that someone would think that he or she would be able to get on an airplane without going thru the same procedures as anyone else. I wonder if there is more to this story. But for now it looks as if the still unidentified woman was in the wrong.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Movie Reviews: Don't Breathe, Captain America: Civil War

Don't Breathe
directed by Fede Alvarez
Just because he's blind don't mean he's a saint.
This thriller movie is in many ways an updated version of the 1991 movie The People Under The Stairs. It veers from that movie's message of rebirth by playing with the audience's expectation of who to root for and who the bad guy may be. I couldn't tell you the whys and wherefores of every state or municipal law concerning use of deadly force by the homeowner during a home invasion or break in. I do know though that more states and municipalities have passed laws that give more latitude to homeowners to use deadly force against intruders without fear of criminal or civil liability-if the intruder was actually in the home. If someone breaks into your house why should you wait around to see what their intentions are? "Never mind the dog, beware the owner" is a sentiment shared by many homeowners, particularly those who live in high crime areas. And the city of Detroit is one of the nation's higher crime areas which is likely why this movie is set therein. This film only has four main characters, three of whom we first meet doing what they do best, breaking into homes and stealing goods.  

The crew leader is the blustering Money (Daniel Zovatto) a man who has obviously been listening to Eminem and Vanilla Ice too much. Money's girlfriend Rocky (Jane Levy) has a poor home life. Rocky's abusive mother is lazy. Rocky wants to take her little sister and split for California with Money. Alex (Dylan Minnette) is the brains of the trio. Alex's father works at a home security firm. So Alex has access to keys, electronic overrides and jamming systems, as well as intelligence about a home's contents. Alex has a healthy fear for the law. Alex attempts to minimize the team's chances of getting caught by only robbing empty homes. He knows exactly which crime is a misdemeanor or felony. 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Trevor Noah and Tomi Lahren

You may have heard about this recent interview/discussion/confrontation between conservative media personality Tomi Lahren and Daily Show host Trevor Noah. Using both logic and gentle ridicule where appropriate Noah shot down most of Lahren's talking points. Although I think it's unlikely that Tomi Lahren will change her mind on anything anytime soon I think it's also important to engage and confront people who make bad arguments. One of the things which the right has done much more successfully than the left is to use telegenic seemingly friendly media spokeswomen and spokesmen to sell repulsive ideas. It's true that some of these people are indeed beyond redemption or aren't worth engaging because all they want to do is insult people. Debating your own humanity is a sucker's game. But sometimes people can be too quick to scream in outrage and cease debate when faced with ideas that challenge their mindset. This can be tempting; it's sometimes morally justified. There is no such thing as reasoned debate with a dedicated Nazi or someone who thinks slavery was a positive good. That person has made his decision. But to the extent that plenty of people on the right don't fall into those categories but still ascribe to "deplorable" ideas, as Hillary Clinton might put it, it is important for people on the other end of the political spectrum to engage in spirited debate and show people how and where they are wrong. Lies that go unchallenged can spread more quickly than one might think.

Book Reviews: Monster

by A. Lee Martinez
This is a light hearted book about love, magic, and the possible end of existence as we know it. In this book magic is real, although most people don't realize it. There are three types of humans. The first group is the largest. These people don't believe in magic, don't understand it and if forced to deal with it will create for themselves a reality where magic doesn't exist. For these folks there is always a rational explanation for an odd event. If something magical happens in front of them their brain will create an alternate reason before wiping the event from their memory. The second group of people are slightly more magic-sensitive. They can believe in magic and under certain special circumstances can even use magic themselves. But like the first group they will generally forget supernatural events that occurred, though it might take a little longer for this to happen. They may go insane trying to remember magic. Some of these people spend their whole lives trying to grasp something they saw from the corner of their eye. But they never can quite see it. This is not a matter of hard work or training. It's something you either have or you don't. To paraphrase a snide book character, "You can't teach a monkey to drive a stick shift can you?" It's just genetics. The smallest group of humanity, and this group is indeed rare, is made up of those people who are not only aware of magic but are able to use it and interface with it without going insane or forgetting things that happened in order to save their own sanity. These people really do know what goes bump in the night and who the Boogeyman is. This group of people, despite their genetic ability to recognize or use magic, is otherwise like any other group of humans. They vary widely in their abilities, morals, motivation and intelligence. Monster is a man who falls into the third group. He runs his own pest control agency. This is a crypto-biological removal agency. Monster captures and removes such "mythical" beasts as griffins, centaurs, kraken, ogres, trolls, wendigo etc. Monster has a college degree in this field. However business is not great because of competition, intrusive licensing and regulation, and arduous post-grad training. And getting bit or stung by magical creatures can have unpleasant side effects.

What is Obama's Legacy?

In ancient or medieval times (as well as in the 20th century) when a new king or queen took control, the previous ruler's closest relatives, friends, business associates or lovers would often make themselves scarce or even leave the country or kingdom. It could be hazardous to one's health to have a valid competing claim to the throne or to be seen as too friendly to the previous leader. If the new ruler was a paranoid, vindictive, vengeful sort who enjoyed nothing more than bullying people or eliminating perceived threats, he or she might kick off a set of purges. Sometimes the new ruler hated the old ruler so much he or she would forbid the populace from speaking the old ruler's name. If the new ruler was particularly egocentric, fame hungry and thorough he or she might order the elimination of the previous ruler's public works and the striking of the previous ruler's name and accomplishments from history books. Well we don't live in a society where the new President can go quite as far as the kings, queens, pharaohs and emperors of old. Barack Obama's name will live on despite the fact that he will turn over the Presidency to a man with whom he appears to share nothing but mutual disgust. But his accomplishments? That could be a different story. After Trump's inauguration the Republicans can kill ObamaCare, as they have threatened to do many times. President's Obama's executive actions or agency decisions on climate change, immigration and wage policy will all be under the gun. The Iran nuclear deal may be tossed or greatly modified. What is done with a pen and a phone may often be undone with a pen and a phone. Much of President's Obama's legislative or executive achievement could wind up like that puppy dropped off at a shelter by a bored callous family. There's a new sheriff in town, one with rather different priorities. But all may not be lost. A President Trump may well value policy continuity more than we realize. Some Obama initiatives are popular with anti-Obama voters as long as they don't know Obama was behind them. 

Family Abandons Dog For Dumb Reason

Depending on what sort of dog you purchase or adopt you are looking at taking care of another living being for anywhere from six to sixteen years, give or take. The dog didn't make the decision to come live with you. You did. So why in the world would you break a commitment to an animal that if it's known for anything at all is known for its unbreakable loyalty? That stinks. But the world is full of callous people who can't be bothered to do proper research on what sort of pet they want or even if they are pet people in the first place. Fortunately in this instance it appears that the dog in this story wound up better off. Certainly that is no thanks to its previous family.  People should think things through more carefully before they decide to have a pet live with them. Pets aren't toys to be casually discarded when you lose interest. On Monday, Desi Lara, a shelter volunteer at the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control Downey, posted a video that will absolutely destroy you. It shows a 2-year-old German Shepherd named Zuzu, who was picked up by Animal Control after getting loose and hopping the fence into her neighbor's yard. When her family arrived at the shelter shortly after, Zuzu got super excited, thinking they had come to take her home. "With her fast wagging tail seeing her owners Zuzu lit up like a Christmas Tree," Lara wrote in the caption. "She looked like the happiest dog."
But her happiness was short-lived, when she realized that they weren't there for her. They were there to get another dog. Apparently, Zuzu had become too much of a downer since her father passed away. "Their reason was because she was crying and sad since her father passed away. She wasn't a happy dog anymore," Lara wrote. "Their solutions for her unhappiness was just leaving her here! And go get another dog."

On Tuesday night, the Downey Animal Care Center announced that Zuzu had been taken in by a rescue organization, and will be leaving Downey on Friday, which is the first day that she is legally allowed to be adopted

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Electoral College Fallout

In the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential Election there has been a lot of noise coming from both traditional and social media about the fact that Clinton won the popular vote. When I first considered writing this post Clinton's popular vote margin lead was somewhere between 1 and 2 million votes. Now her popular vote victory margin is above 2 million votes. There are a lot of stories, gifs and memes being passed around about this news. I think about half the people on my Facebook feed have posted something about this information. I guess they wanted to make sure that I knew about it. The obvious implications are (1) that Clinton really won the election (2) that the Electoral College is unfair (3) Trump will be illegitimate as President. Some people are calling for the electors to change their votes because they see Donald Trump as uniquely dangerous and unqualified. Other people are threatening some electors with violence if the electors don't do the right thing and vote Clinton. I've been clear that I don't like Trump. But the implication that Trump is illegitimate because he lost the popular vote is not correct. In 1992 Bill Clinton was elected with only 43% of the popular vote, not a majority. Bill Clinton had more support than each of the other candidates but it's also true that most voters chose someone else. But that's irrelevant. Hillary Clinton and her supporters knew the rules of the contest before November 8th. We have 51 separate popular vote elections which then determine electors. It's not as if we were going to use the national popular vote to decide but Trump changed the rules at the last minute. Ironically before the election it was Trump who was petulantly making noises about the election being rigged and Clinton bannermen who were responding with scorn. We talked about the "faithless elector" issue here.

We don't choose the President by the national popular vote. We choose the President by who receives the most electoral votes. The popular vote and electoral vote normally line up together (just like points scored and total yards in a football game) but when they don't it's the electoral vote which is key.

Now there are ways short of changing the constitution by which we could ensure that the popular vote and electoral vote agree but these changes would require every state and both major political parties to agree. That is unlikely. States could agree to allocate electoral votes proportionally instead of winner take all. So if that were the case in states where Clinton won by huge margins, like California or New York her share of electoral votes wouldn't lessen drastically but in states like Michigan or Wisconsin where she barely lost, her share of electoral votes could have gone up just enough to help her win the election. The problem is that California Democrats, knowing they probably have that state in the win column for the foreseeable future might oppose a plan which would give their candidate fewer electoral votes. And the same calculation would be true for Republicans in say Alabama. And who's to say that a political party wouldn't agitate for proportional electoral allocation in states they are likely to lose but attempt to keep winner take all electoral allocation in states they are likely to win?

We could scrap the Electoral College completely and choose solely by national popular vote but that is definitely not what the Founders have in mind. Of course just because the Founders didn't like that idea doesn't mean very much. They were odious in many ways. But choosing the President by national popular vote would mean that California, New York, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio would decide national elections for everyone. For ever. No thanks. And the Electoral College is part of our system's fabric. If you get rid of it then there's no real reason to have states. And if there are no states then why have a Senate? Why have governors? It's a slightly different discussion but we do have a federalist system. Some people don't like that states like Wyoming or South Dakota get the same Senate representation as California or New York but that is how our system is set up. There has to be a balance between majority rule and mob rule. We live in a republic not a democracy. None of the more sparsely populated states would have any incentive to change the system to allow Presidential elections by popular vote. And there is no way to make them do so. A certain level of states rights is baked into the system. Like it or not the Electoral College is here to stay. If we start pulling too hard on that string then the whole fabric unravels. 

Maybe we should blow everything up but Democrats didn't say much about dropping the Electoral College before they lost the election. The Democrats must appeal to more people across the US-not just in the Northeast and urbanized areas. Or perhaps some brave pioneer Democrats need to move to some "red" states with smaller populations and change those state's voting patterns. Democrats are really really good at snark and outrage. But continuing to obsess over the popular vote when Democrats control exactly nothing in the Federal government and very little among the states is not a productive exercise. It isn't going to help Democrats focus their attention on winning the future.

It's ironic that the key tool by which Democrats can short-circuit the Republican legislative agenda, the Senate filibuster, is one which some Democrats were only too eager to eliminate a few weeks ago when they thought that Clinton would win and Democrats would retake the Senate. What a difference a day makes. Democrats need to find a way to take their case to the American people for 2018. This will require less lecturing or preaching and more listening. I have no doubt that Democrats will win again, perhaps more quickly than they think. That's just the way our political system is set up. Republicans will overreach and upset some people. But the sooner the Democrats stop focusing on how popular they were in California and start asking why that popularity didn't translate into enough votes in Wisconsin or Pennsylvania the better off they will be.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Take, Law Abiding Citizen

The Take (aka Bastille Day)
directed by James Watkins
Stringer Bell and Robb Stark team up only to discover that they're probably better off apart.
This is another action film that continues the practice of using British actors in American roles. Some people (Idris Elba) can pull this off pretty seamlessly; others really ought to stop. There's not in my opinion, in most European based stories a compelling reason why a protagonist needs to be American. Done properly Americans will line up eagerly for films or series with European national protagonists (James Bond, Downton Abbey or Harry Potter anyone) -especially British ones. So why continue this practice of forcing British actors to try to take on American accents. Some of them just can't or even when they can are already so thoroughly identified with roles reflecting their own nationality that seeing them trying to pretend to be American immediately takes me out of the fictional story. Well whatever. You may feel differently of course. Acting is about new challenges and pretending to be someone else after all. The Take is a solidly made but altogether generic action movie that never quite lives up to the hype generated by the two male lead actors. It also suffers from not having a strong female lead. I don't mean strong as in physically or verbally combative. I mean that the lead women characters don't really have a lot of motivation on their own or for that matter have much meaning to the lead male characters. They could have been played by anyone. They didn't have a lot to do. There is a a small but noticeable lack of chemistry between the men and women. I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot was left on the cutting floor with at least one of the women characters. When the women are in danger I didn't feel anything other than "ho-hum". This is probably not a good thing. And for goodness sakes, when someone casually tells you "Thank you for bringing this to my attention. By the way did you tell anyone else about this?", the correct answer is always "Why yes. Yes I did. I told everyone and shared my itinerary with them as well!"

Book Reviews: Chaingang

By Rex Miller
I reviewed one of the late Rex Miller's books before here. He was not an author for the faint of heart as the saying goes. He was writing deliberately shocking ultraviolence before similar modern artists like Tarantino did the same on the movie screen. Like Stephen King Miller could cheerfully go for the grossout but he didn't have quite the same gift at creating believable human characters that stuck with you after the book had finished. No one is perfect of course. Miller's most memorable character was one Daniel Edward Flowers Bunkowski. He introduced this character in an earlier book Slob, in which it appeared that the hero, Detective Jack Eichord, put an end to Bunkowski aka Chaingang. But much like with Arthur Conan Doyle bringing back Sherlock Holmes from the dead, Miller evidently had more stories to tell about old Chaingang. The book Chaingang takes place in the early nineties. The title character is a serial killer. But he's not your run of the mill serial killer. He's a man who stands 6'7" and weighs close to 500 lbs. A Vietnam War vet, Bunkowski served as a special assassin for the government on various classified black jobs throughout Southeast Asia. Both before and after his government service he has killed so many people that he's lost count. He's extremely dangerous, not just because of his size, strength and sheer malevolence towards all humanity but because his intelligence is off the charts. He's able to use more of his brain than most people and maintain conscious control over functions that are automatic for most of us. His abilities to detect and anticipate danger verge on the supernatural. Bunkowski's brain is a literal library; his memory is massive. The kinds of activities Bunkowski thinks of as fun are things I won't mention here. Bunkowski's only saving grace is that he has a soft spot for animals in general and dogs in particular. Bunkowski grew up under horrific sexual and physical abuse from his foster parents. Bunkowski's only childhood friend was a dog who similarly suffered. At the book's beginning Bunkowski is detained at the Marion Federal Prison. For reasons that line up exactly with some of the real world evil our government has committed for the so called greater good, Bunkowski is released in the vicinity of a small Missouri town. 

Sam Perkins, a realtor in that town, has convinced a number of nearby residents to sell their land at inflated prices to a secretive out of town consortium which states that it's going to be building an environmentally friendly industrial park. When Sam disappears after these sales are completed his wife Mary gets the run around from both the local authorities and the FBI. In desperation she turns to her former main squeeze Royce Hawthorne for help. Royce and Mary go way back and had something even more intense before Mary decided to wed the boring but attentive Sam. Mary thinks highly of Royce or at least of the Royce she used to know in the days of yore. Modern day Royce has substance abuse issues and other, well problems, that he tries to hide from Mary. Trying to live up to who Mary thinks he is is a challenge but one that Royce is desperate to accomplish. When he starts looking into Sam's dealings he finds some things that don't add up. And that's when Royce and Mary come to the attention of people they're both better off not knowing. Royce is no Detective Jack Eichord. So without a morally good or believably competent character to identify with this book is not as ngaging as it could have been. Perhaps for this reason, Miller had Bunkowski run into (and deal with severely)  many morally dubious people (mercenaries, dog fighting ring operators) but because Bunkowski is just as bad if not worse than the worst people he meets there's not any satisfaction at seeing a bad person get his just deserts. 

You could make the argument that no one deserves Bunkowski. This book was only a little over 200 pages but it felt longer. It needed Eichord in it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Trump: Now What?

So Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. Imagine that. I didn't think he would pull it off but he did just that. To the extent that you are worried about what a Trump Presidency could accomplish in a wholly negative sense I share those concerns. But I would also question then why should any President have that much power. Since at least WW2 there has been an accelerating bipartisan tendency to concentrate power in the Presidency. People only seem to care about this when it's not their guy in the Big Chair. That is unfortunately just human nature. If people thought about this some more they then might discover that that is one of the exact reasons why the Founders created a form of government where power was split between several competing and independent branches. From my perspective the silver lining in an otherwise gloomy prospect of a Trump Presidency is that perhaps some people on the left will rediscover a fierce commitment to separation of powers, federalism, a Senate filibuster and states rights. It's surreal that before the election people in the media and on the left were warning Trump supporters that they needed to accept the results. Now some Clinton supporters are writing about the need to secede from the nation. This is real. Papers have been filed.

Before the election people in favor of "immigration reform" were smugly reminding opponents that states and municipalities didn't get to make their own immigration law. Only the Federal government could create and enforce immigration law. And if the Federal government didn't want to enforce a particular immigration law there wasn't anything a state or city could do about it. Immigration was Federal policy. We couldn't have fifty states and thousands of cities creating immigration policy. But now some people who said that have seamlessly switched their view and are stating flatly that federal law or not, their particular city or state will resist any enforcement of immigration law that leads to deportation of illegal immigrants. So much for that whole federal supremacy idea, eh? We have people on the left endorsing what amounts to nullification! Apparently people, despite their partisan divides, aren't quite as different as they may think. It's ironic that it took Trump's election to bring that out.

I do believe that Trump is a racist and a bigot. I don't think that everyone who voted for him is one. A vote is a summation of many different values and concerns. Some people argue that all Trump voters are racist and that the Electoral College is racist. In this telling it was the racism of the American voter that cost Clinton the election. Trump certainly used dog whistles and even bullhorns to get the white racist vote. There's no doubt about that. The modern neo-Nazis are excited about Trump's election. Trump is taking advice from Steve Bannon, a man who has made selling racism a successful business model. Post election, we've seen a number of racist incidents. So I definitely understand the concerns. The problem with the "It's all racism!" explanation about Trump's victory is that it overlooks the fact that Trump won over over Midwestern and Pennsylvania white voters who had previously voted for Obama, in some cases twice. I'm not saying that just because you voted for Obama that means you're not racist. But I also doubt that Obama ever won over the hardcore explicitly racist voter. It's a safe bet that the people who were sharing monkey memes, joking about assassination and trading conspiracy theories about Obama's birth probably weren't voting for him. But many other working class and middle class white voters did vote for Obama. Clinton should have done better with those voters.

So in an election where Obama wasn't on the ballot, to blame the Democratic loss on racist white voters seems to violate Occam's Razor. If race is the sole or even primary voter motivation for everyone Obama never would have won relatively non-diverse states like Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Ohio. This leads to the next point. The world is full of racists. I have worked with some in the past. I currently work with some. I have worked for some. You likely have as well. Usually I can't point and shriek "RACIST!!!" until that person either does what I want or stops being racist. That method only works where I have absolute control over that person. This is not the case with political parties. Political parties need voter support. This means that occasionally parties will have to appeal to white voters who are either racist or racist sympathizers. The Democratic party can not allow white people in regions like the Midwest and South to write off the Democrats. Some of those people heard, or were told by Fox News and talk radio, that Democrats don't care about people like you. If Democrats don't consistently challenge that misconception or worse, appear to confirm it, well then they're going to continue to have problems. And Democrats even saw turnout fall among their base.

The Democrats need to face that, President Obama, aside, large portions of their message are simply not resonating with the American electorate. There has been an over emphasis on cultural/social issues at the expense of class/economic ones. The Democrats lost the Presidency and with it the ability to name at least one and perhaps as many as two or three Supreme Court Justices over the next four years. The Republicans hold the Senate and the House. The Republicans hold the majority of state legislatures. The Republicans are the majority of state Governors and Attorneys General. In short at both the state and federal legislative and executive branches the Republicans are ascendant. This dominance is not just a matter of voter suppression or gerrymandering. The idea that changing demographics (the browning of America) would lead to a permanent Democratic majority turned out not to be true--at least in the short run. I think the Democrats forgot that. I think they got too comfortable with the (to them) self-evident horror of a Trump administration and decided that they didn't have to engage certain voters. 

It is tempting (and occasionally even accurate) to chide some white voters as racist and dismiss them as people who simply need to evolve. But if you are trying to win someone's political support, then insulting them or continually telling them that they're yesterday's news is a losing strategy. The Democrats have become too over identified with the coasts and with the cities. When the Democrats ran a lackluster candidate with limited personal charisma and high negatives they got rolled. But all is not lost. The election was very close. Since Truman it has been very unusual for one political party to win three Presidential elections in a row. George Bush last accomplished it in the 1988 election. It's difficult to run as a change candidate after eight years of your party holding the Presidency. That in and of itself was probably enough to make Clinton's campaign challenging, even before all of the noise about emails and deplorables.

The Democrats are not dead. They just smell that way. What they really are is mostly dead. And as Miracle Max would tell you there's a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. The Democrats need to regroup and rethink both their approach and policy emphasis. What seems eminently reasonable on the coasts may be a harder sell in the Midwest or South. As Senator Sanders is pointing out it's not enough to emphasize sex or racial status as change agents in and of themselves. Those things must be integrated with class and cultural components. This Democratic regrouping is not going to be easy. But it must start with Democrats listening to people they may disagree with or even despise and explaining to them why voting Democratic makes sense. "Racist/Sexist/Homophobic" can't be shorthand for "you're an evil irredeemable person who is not worth engaging". The Democratic regrouping has to include the realization that demographic change won't necessarily be the party salvation. Despite taking a hard line on illegal immigration and insulting Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, the largest Hispanic group in America, Trump got 30% of the Hispanic vote. Romney got 27%. Trump also received a higher level of Black support (8%) than Romney did (6%) despite a long history littered with allegations of housing discrimination and racially tone deaf statements. So the Democrats can't just assume that not being as bad as the Republicans will bring their base out to vote for them. It's time for some soul searching on what it means to be a Democrat. I think the Democratic next moves should include getting rid of the current House leadership and cleaning house at the DNC. Trump can do a lot of short term damage. Trump will be President with all of the power that our constitution and his predecessors have given that position. But the Republicans have only the slimmest Senate majority. This can easily change in 2018. And if Trump is as malevolent and incompetent as advertised he could be a one term President. But first the Democrats have to understand why they've lost so much and change tactics accordingly. 

Rutgers Incident: Keep Your Hands to Yourself!!!

I don't understand why it is so difficult for some people to understand that if you go around hitting people you will eventually run into someone who will hit you back. Fighting should be your last resort. It should only be done in self-defense. Although I can appreciate that certain insults can make a man or in this case a woman feel that honor requires them to lay hands on someone I would remind people that when you get into a fight with someone--especially when you start it--you're essentially signing up for whatever comes next. I think it's an utter obscenity for men and women to fight-whether it be in a domestic violence context or in a street brawl as in this case. There used to be an understanding in society that gentlemen did not hurl sexual assaults at ladies and that ladies did not attempt to fight gentlemen. Unfortunately many of those conventions have been lost with our insistence on equality as the highest and only good. Equality is necessary but it is not the whole of human experience. But in a country that insists upon placing women in combat is there any reason to be upset at this situation? I think there probably is though as a society we no longer have the vocabulary to explain why. So all I can say is morals aside, from a strictly pragmatic POV, this is why it is a very bad idea for most women to start a fight against most men. The difference in strength, speed and endurance is too great. And the law apparently doesn't protect people who start fights, regardless of their gender, even if they do wind up with a cracked skull.
No charges will be filed against the man caught slugging Emily Rand in the face with a right hook so hard that she was knocked unconscious when her head hit the sidewalk. “We’ve finished our investigation and interviewed the individual you see in the video, as well as a lot of other people. At this time there’s not going to be any arrests or any charges,” New Brunswick Police Capt. J.T. Miller told New Jersey 101.5 of the incident that took place around 1 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 29. “It’s a mutually exclusive fight between the individuals.”

The incident was captured on video, which was posted online.

Miller said that the 19-year-old Middlesex County College student from South Amboy struck the man first and “there is evidence that she was aggressive towards other people before the video starts.”
Other people involved with the video do not want to pursue charges against Rand, according to Miller, who did not disclose the identity of the man. Rand has been at Robert Wood Johnson University Medical Center and was in a coma following skull surgery to relieve pressure in her swollen brain. Her aunt, Debbie O’Connor, said Rand has started to breathe on her own this week and will soon begin physical therapy.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Movie Reviews: Purge: Election Year

The Purge: Election Year
directed by James DeMonaco
If I had known that Mykelti Williamson played a prominent role in this movie I probably would have skipped it. Everyone has to eat I guess but something about many of Williamson's roles just rubs me the wrong way. If you're looking for a black actor to spout some cringe worthy dialogue then Williamson's your man. I've always looked a little askance at him since his turn in Species 2 where he grabs a machete and says he wants " get African on some alien a$$" (and where coincidentally he's the only male human the sex hungry female alien has no desire to mate with). In the latest Purge installment Williamson's character is basically the Wise Old Negro who serves no real purpose except to provide service to other (non-black) people. He gets to have wonderful dialogue like saying that his team is like "a bucket of fried chicken about to be attacked by hungry negroes" or telling other black people that he "likes these white folks so I'm not going to let you negroes kill them". Hmm. We all have different things that annoy us I guess but a lot of the dialogue and assumptions in this movie seemed more than a little reactionary to me. Williamson is not exactly a desperate young actor who's willing to take any role to get his name out there so he can stop living in a studio apartment. I would have thought that a black actor with his success could have requested some script changes but who knows. His sensitivities are not mine. Ultimately it's all just pretend fun and games, right? Anyhow my hangups aside The Purge: Election Year is not a great movie, either in execution or in the meaning behind it. It's heavy handed and over the top. Every now and then there is a good scene but usually it's something that viewers have seen before, whether it be from Death Wish or strangely enough Jaws. If you are a person who is sickened by cinematic violence then this probably isn't the film for you. It's not super explicit but it does have more than its share of mayhem. But as this is the third installment in this series most of us have figured out by now that there's bloodshed in this film.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Night SNL Skit

President Trump. Wow. Depending on the vagaries of the Day Job and the insistent demands of merciless supervisors there might be other more detailed and substantive posts on the election results, political parties and what all of this means at a later time, but for now I did want to put this out there for your consumption. I thought it was humorous. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Book Reviews: Bad Guys, Red, Here There Be Monsters

Bad Guys
by Anthony Bruno
This novel was the debut fiction offering of now deceased true crime and mystery author Anthony Bruno. It is also first in a series. It was pretty quick reading with very little fat. I did find it a little over descriptive at times but on the other hand Bruno was able to bring you into a story which had only a few well drawn characters. Everyone else was more of a stock type in some aspects. But Bruno did make you feel like you were actually in the New York and New Jersey neighborhoods which he described in such detail. This book was just under 300 pages in paperback and can likely be found in any of your better used bookstores. It's set in the eighties so some of the references (pay phones, slow computers, video cassettes) can feel a little dated. The story is something that you've read a million times before -two cops who are wildly different in both morals and personality must work together to bring down a bad guy. The difference here is that one of the cops may be the real bad guy. This book tries and I think succeeds in having it both ways. It definitely doesn't make heroes out of the organized crime people who are the book's primary antagonists. There's no love for any of the mafiosi, who are depicted here as uniformly greedy, corrupt and personally dangerous. On the other hand the younger protagonist is indeed breaking the law. The fact that he's an FBI agent who values doing what's right more than he values upholding the law can leave the reader feeling a bit conflicted, which presumably was the author's intent in creating the character. It's the 80's and one Richie Varga, counselor to at least three New York based crime families has provided evidence and testified against his former bosses, helping to sentence them to life terms and destroying large portions of the East Coast Mafia. Varga has since disappeared into the Witness Protection Program. But word on the street is that Varga is also the man responsible for the grisly murder of three undercover FBI agents, although no one can prove it.

One man who thinks he has all the proof he needs is renegade FBI agent Mike Tozzi. If Tozzi wasn't an FBI agent he would have been a mobster. He's got the looks, connections, aggression and disregard for rules. He also has an overdeveloped sense of vengeance and justice. Alleged criminals who were found not guilty or who escaped indictments because of political connections (a Congressional pedophile) are turning up dead. Everyone believes Tozzi to be responsible. Tozzi's looking for Varga. And he's probably not trying to deliver roses to Varga. The Special Agent in Charge of the Manhattan FBI office brings back Bert Gibbons, Tozzi's former partner, from retirement. Gibbons is ordered to find Tozzi and stop him by any means necessary. Ivers hopes that Gibbons' long experience with Tozzi will give the Bureau the inside lane on catching or teminating Tozzi. Ivers wants to get Tozzi tagged and bagged as soon as possible. Ivers has career plans that would be derailed permanently if news about Tozzi's alleged activities becomes public. But the straitlaced Gibbons may be more loyal to Tozzi than he is to the concept of law and order. And Gibbons notices some irregularities within Ivers 'office. Someone is watching his every move. And someone is rebuilding an underground Mafia family. Gibbons must decide what's the right thing to do when all of his choices look bad. And Tozzi must not let his quick temper and weakness for women influence his at best shaky judgment. Tozzi has tracked down Varga's wife Joanne, who did not follow her husband into witness protection. Tozzi's sure that his good looks and charm have convinced Joanne to help him in his search for Varga. Gibbons wonders if his ex-partner is letting the wrong body part do his thinking for him. This was a good read that you can finish in 1-2 days. Don't expect more than that and you won't be upset.

By Jack Ketchum
This is another older book. The best way to describe it is a cross between John Wick and Gran Torino. I was a little leery about reading it if only because the author has a well deserved reputation for over the top violence. I wasn't in the mood for that. So it was good then this wasn't that sort of book. There is violence -the entire story kicks off from a senseless act of brutality- but the author didn't rub the reader's face in it. I thought the story was very realistic in that there was nothing supernatural involved. And if we want to live in a certain type of society we agree to let the justice system handle our grievances. Overall that's probably a good idea. Otherwise the weak could never bring the strong to justice. But obviously even though a justice system may work for all of us on a macro basis there are many times when it fails on an individual basis. There are many times when the strong, wealthy or political elite may corrupt the justice system to use to their own malicious ends. So when that occurs the only justice may be found in an individual taking the law into his own hands. It's a paradox. Red is about that sort of situation. Avery Ludlow is a semi-retired widower who lives alone in Maine. His only companion is his fourteen year old dog Red. Ludlow's in his late sixties. His late wife gave him the dog for his birthday shortly before she died. Just as Ludlow is slowing down, his dog Red is as well. Red is positively ancient by canine standards. Red has serious arthritic and ocular issues. But as dogs tend to be Red is still loyal to and protective of Ludlow. Ludlow likes taking Red with him when he goes fishing. One day when Ludlow is out with Red he's waylaid by three teens who claim to be hunting. Well maybe. But what they are actually hunting for is the pure pleasure that comes from hurting people weaker than they are. Angered when they discover Ludlow has no money for them to take, the boys shoot and kill Red. 

After they leave, Ludlow embarks on a quest for justice. It's important to know that this is not just about the dead dog nor is Ludlow a homicidal time bomb waiting to be triggered. There are however incidents and reasons in his background that the reader slowly learns about which show that the three boys made a very very bad mistake. There's only so much a man can take. Ketchum takes his sweet time drawing all of the characters, especially Avery Ludlow. This is just a much a character study of a aging man living with tragedy as it is a revenge novel. It's also a novel which may make you think about the relative value we put on human and animal life and why we do so. Laws vary by jurisdiction of course but as the police explain to Ludlow most district attorneys are not going to spend a lot of resources pursuing those who commit crimes against animals, particularly when the penalties are very low. The love and affection of an old half-blind dog may be priceless to Ludlow but prosecutors and judges and the law don't put much value on that. Ketchum teases the reader with a class resentment theme which I thought could and should have been brought out more. At least two of the teens who assault him and kill his dog are spoiled rich kids. And their wealthy father shows that the rotten apple didn't fall far from the tree. Ketchum also shows some links between the kind of people who would harm animals for fun and the kind of people who do the same to humans. The two sets have a lot of overlap. If you aren't a big horror fan or don't like constant explicit written depictions of violence this book might be just the thing for you. Ketchum showed that he's not reliant on the gross-out to get the reader to feel things. Ludlow's loneliness and sense of loss is as much a part of the story as his murdered dog.

Here There Be Monsters
By Tim Curran
This is a fourteen story collection of short stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft. Some are better than others, as is true of any collection but almost all of them are good, which is pretty unusual. There's no huge clunkers here. There is a fair amount of humor as well. The stories all range across different places and times. Some stories are written in a deliberate pastiche of Lovecraft's verbose style ("A shuttered and silent place was Kobolddamn, one that inspired a sense of claustrophobia, a sense of macabre foreboding. At first look I would have thought it deserted, such was its inexplicable  aura of degeneration and rot.") while others reference 1930s and 1940s tough guy patois (" But I didn't want Brennan's badge. He was strictly small potatoes. After facing off with that sweetheart up in the steeple, guys like Brennan were strictly small potatoes. I was sore and pissed-off but the only thing broken was my pride.") My favorite story here is undoubtedly "Eldritch-Fellas" which is as you might suspect a parody of the movie Goodfellas. Here Cthulhu is the wild enforcer with a quick temper and a mean streak who takes deadly offense when one of the other Dark Gods has the temerity to tell him that he's funny. This story will amuse anyone who's watched Goodfellas or who has a familiarity with some of that film's most intense scenes. "Six Feet of Moldering Earth" is more of a gothic tale which details the events which happen when two antiquarians and occultists open the grave of a wizard, hoping to make a Hand of Glory. Something in the grave isn't dead and needs a new host. "The Shadow of the Haunter" is a classic hardboiled detective story in which a beautiful woman wants a private eye to look into her brother's death. She doesn't think he was killed by lightning.  "The Procyon Project " finds a WW2 vet suffering from PTSD taking a job as a security guards at a Defense Department research facility. "The Naming of Witches" imagines an entirely different reason for the witch trials at Salem and elsewhere. "The Seal of Kharnabis" is about as generic as Curran gets in this collection. It's a somewhat prosaic tale of curses and death brought back to America by an expedition that opened an ancient Egyptian tomb. "The Wreck of the Ghost" details the adventures of a whaling ship crew who slowly discovers that something extremely dangerous is hunting whales and them. "The Eyes of Howard Curlix" revisits Lovecraftian themes about links between cutting edge physics and banned 12th century magic. "Nemesis Theory" tells of a problem in a max security prison where the inmates are horrified to learn that something else is locked in with them. There's little flab on any of these stories. They move quickly. I have seen Curran's name around in a few places. He's from Michigan. I'm going to be looking for some of his other work.