Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Reviews: Known to Evil

Known to Evil
by Walter Mosley
This is book two in Mosley's Leonid McGill series. You can read a review of book one here. Or if you don't care to read an entire other review there are some very basic points which you should understand before reading this book. Mosley thoughtfully weaves them in and out of the story although he doesn't do anything as obvious as an information dump. Leonid McGill is a middle aged New York private eye who's trying to turn over a new leaf morally speaking. He's spent a great deal of his life running in some very dangerous circles and doing business with or favors for evil and dangerous men in both the NYC underworld and upperworld. A few years back McGill underwent a moral epiphany. He decided to only do legitimate private eye work. No more setting up innocent people in insurance scams. No more tracking down witnesses for the Mob. No more fixing juries or paying people to perjure themselves in court. And McGill promised himself to try really hard not to kill anyone if he could avoid it. McGill decided to try to make amends where possible to some of the people he hurt. He also chose, as penance for his misdeeds, to stay with his beautiful wife Katrina, who has given him three children, only one of which is his. Katrina is as faithless as she is striking. She's always searching for something bigger and better. The only reason Katrina may be staying with Leonid is that the years are starting to catch up with her, though she remains stunning for her age. Most of the more successful men Katrina might prefer want younger women. That's what Leonid thinks anyway when he imagines Katrina's motivations, which isn't often. He may still be married to her but it's a loveless marriage as far as Leonid is concerned. Leonid's mind is often elsewhere. It's not as if he were 100% true either. In this book Leonid continues to attempt to make amends but learns that you can't just wash your hands once they've been dirty. He's hired by arguably the most powerful man in New York City, the political fixer Alphonse Rinaldo, to find a young woman named Tara. It's supposedly an easy job with no nasty work required. And even a man as stubborn and as independent as Leonid doesn't like to say no to a man like Alphonse Rinaldo. Even more so than Leonid, Alphonse literally knows where all the bodies are buried. Alphonse has access to power which could greatly help or harm Leonid.

It would be a good and healthy thing for Leonid to do this job for Alphonse and have a favor he can redeem at a later time. Alphonse Rinaldo doesn't like hearing the word "no". So Leonid agrees to find the woman. But what should be an easy job turns out to be more complex. Tracking down the young woman, Leonid stumbles into a double murder investigation. It looks like Tara's female friend and a low level hitman have killed each other. And the police are interested in knowing what business Leonid had with the murder victims and Tara. The police brass want to take Leonid down by any means necessary. The top cops view Leonid as the White Whale who got away. If that's not enough to keep Leonid busy for some strange reason his wife of all people is making goo-goo eyes at him again. Leonid finds this more distracting than erotic. This could be because Leonid's true love Aura is stepping out on him with an arrogant lawyer who's trying to get Leonid evicted from his office building. And Leonid's sons, Dmitri and Twill, are in over their heads with various Eastern European gangsters and femme fatale hookers. There's also a subplot about how Leonid tries and mostly fails to help the hapless victim of one of his earlier schemes, a sad pathetic man who's only become more so after his stint in prison. Leonid's deceased father's voice provides Leonid a moral North but even that is warped as Leonid hates his father for having abandoned the family when Leonid was a child. I liked this book a lot. One of the major themes within and one which presumably animates the entire series is change. Can someone who was by any reasonable moral standard, evil, change himself? And what if by doing so he puts his family at risk? Is that worth it? Does someone who was evil have the right to stop doing bad without paying the cost for his misdeeds? Is saying I'm not like that anymore enough for your victims or do you owe them more? 

Not only is McGill an everyman character, he is as the author has confirmed, something of a stand-in for America itself. What does evil mean? Leonid will protect his wife and children but he really only likes one child, ironically the son who isn't his. He provides for his family but can fairly be described as emotionally distant to them. It's something of a shock to Leonid when he realizes that Aura's infidelity can drive him to insensate murderous rage, a trait the cool-headed boxer Leonid has always viewed as a weakness.  Leonid is not exactly an arrogant man but he is someone who has little fear of anyone on God's green earth, with the exception of his "friend" Hush, a notorious killer-for-hire who may be just as much serial killer as hitman. Many very tough people consistently underestimate the short and seemingly pudgy Leonid. It's not usually a mistake they make twice. You should read this book.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

There's No Crying at Work!!!!

There is a common blues couplet that reads "Crying won't help you/Praying won't do you no good". I tend to agree with the spirit of those lyrics. Leaving aside the very serious events in war there are only a few situations when I would grudgingly concede that it is theoretically appropriate or excusable for a grown man to cry. These times are few and far between but would probably include such traumatic occurrences as the death of a parent, wife, sibling or child, the joyous occasions of a child's birth or daughter's wedding, and possibly such horrific fictional events as the shooting and eventual death of Sounder, Cochise's death or the Red Wedding. Snicker. These are my rules anyway. I'm not saying they should be yours. Humor aside, I am saying that for better or worse a man who runs around crying at every little thing will inevitably discover that he will lose respect from both men and women. A fellow who lets other men, women or life's ups and downs regularly reduce him to blubbering helplessness shouldn't be allowed to call himself a man in my view. There are very few problems that are solved by crying. And no matter what fresh hell we may find ourselves in at any given time it's a certainty that the world is going to keep turning. The Sun rose yesterday despite all the horrible atrocities that occurred to people who aren't you. And the Sun will rise tomorrow if you get some terrible news today. That's just the way the world works. As both of my grandfathers were prone to saying (fortunately jokingly by the time I arrived on the scene), "Hush up that crying before I give you something to cry about!" I view most crying by men, outside of the previously listed exceptions, as an announcement of utter incompetence, childishness and weakness. Life does not reward such behavior in general. As the Godfather informed us it's important to act like a man!! So whatever problems you face in your life remember that other people have faced them and survived. Or to quote an influential local DJ of my teen years , "Whenever you feel like you're nearing the end of your rope, don't slide off. Tie a knot. Keep hanging, keep remembering, that it ain't nobody bad like you." 

So it was with initial bemusement and later something close to growing horror that I read a piece in The Atlantic which argued that men and especially women should feel entitled to cry at work if they needed to do so. In fact women should have permission to cry more than men because equality and grrlpower or something. And looking negatively at people who cry at work is sexist.That was Olga Khazan's argument anyhow.
When the president of CBS News fired correspondent Mika Brzezinski a decade ago, she cried. And she regrets it. “There was no place for those tears in that moment,” she told the Huffington Post two years ago. “If anything, when you cry, you give away power.”
Of the 15 other high-profile women the news site interviewed about crying at work, the majority expressed negative views of some sort. Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts, put it most bluntly: “Tears belong within the family.”
In the office, crying is simply another unexpected emotional cue, like a guffaw or a jump for joy. But unlike those, it’s negative, so it snaps people to attention.
The ignominy of the office cry is still more of an issue for women than for men, because women cry more than men do. In her survey of 700 people, Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, found that in the past year, 41 percent of women admitted to crying at work, but only 9 percent of men did.
Part of the explanation is hormonal: Men generate more testosterone, which inhibits crying, while women produce more prolactin, which seems to promote it. Anatomy also plays a role. Men have larger tear ducts than women, so more of their tears can well in their eyes without spilling out onto their cheeks. The only solution, it appears, is to normalize office crying for everyone. Not unlike other unpleasant things, crying happens. Men shouldn’t reap the unfair advantage of a mid-meeting misting, and women shouldn’t worry that on top of their own embarrassment, they’re being judged as manipulative and incompetent...
Now to be fair the social expectations are just a wee bit different for women. Outside of the workplace I don't view the spectacle of grown women crying with the same disdain I would have for grown men. Is that (horror of horrors) sexist? Perhaps so. I think most honest people will admit that, politics aside, they have slightly different expectations for men and women. It's just how the world works. Men and women are different. And that's a good thing. Still, man or woman, the workplace is not the place to have teary breakdowns. For men, in most work arenas I've been in, the loss of respect will be almost instantaneous and very difficult to retrieve. I don't think women face that exact same issue. A woman would often receive more confused sympathy than contempt. But even so, a grown woman who cries a lot at her workplace will have people wondering about her competence and stability. Ironically, one of the nastiest, meanest, most aggressive and most profane female co-workers I ever worked with was also a huge crybaby. I thought her tears were just another tool in her kit of emotional manipulation though she claimed not to be able to control them. So my thought is that encouraging people to cry at work is a horrible idea. It takes no account of how the world is today. We can argue and debate about how much of the difference in the frequency in men and women crying is due to biology or environmental factors. But regardless of whether you have XX or XY chromosomes, if you are routinely boo-hoo-hooing at work for reasons that don't include a loved one's death trust and believe that in many workplaces you will find yourself slowly marginalized and kept away from challenging or highly visible assignments and promotions.You need to put on your big boy/big girl pullups. Keep punching away at whatever problem afflicts you. If you really feel that you just need to have a good cry then I would strongly urge you to find yourself a private office or a bathroom stall and do what you need to do there. You won't share private moments with co-workers. You won't run the risk of having a crying jag in front of someone who may not know you that well and probably doesn't want to know you that well. Crying in front of a good friend, supportive and empathetic lover or spouse is utterly different from doing so in front of someone who evaluates your work, a rival peer who may crave your job, or an ambitious underling who resents reporting to you. 

I mean if I had a boss who broke down sobbing because another boss said something mean to him on the Tuesday conference call going forward am I really going to trust Fearless Leader's judgment and mental balance? No. No I am not. Although it is impossible to completely separate work from your emotions the bottom line is that you are at work in order to make money. All the emotional stuff needs to take a back seat while you're at work. Don't try to pretend it's not there. But don't start having crying fits at work either. I'm not interested in comforting you if you are a man; trying to comfort you if you are a woman could be misinterpreted by HR. Please keep your crying to yourself.

But that's just my take. What's your view?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Movie Reviews: Secret in Their Eyes

Secret in Their Eyes
directed by Billy Ray
This film with an A-list cast was based on a Argentine novel which was previously made into an Oscar winning Argentine film. Unfortunately I suspect that a little was lost in translation. Every actor and actress in this version does a good job but they never quite make you completely forget that it's a movie. As thrillers go this film might also have been hamstrung by its PG-13 rating. There are a few subject matters and themes that actually are better served by an R rating. This film needed to be able to stretch out a little more than it did. So if you're someone who likes thrillers but doesn't care for unending stylized grotesque depictions of violence, don't worry. This film doesn't have them. I liked the film marginally more than I disliked it but again this isn't a film which will leave a mark on you or leave you wanting more. It definitely has its exciting moments. There are the requisite set piece scary moments. But despite the film's seeming focus on externalized evil it's really about the impact that evil has on its victims and survivors. I had no problem with that decision. I just thought the film could have done a better job of examining that internal damage.  One character has tons of motivation but is strangely absent from huge swaths of the film while the other keeps everything so tightly wrapped that you don't know why they got up in the morning. This is a film with three leads. It starts thirteen years prior to the current day. It's just after 9-11. The national law enforcement/intelligence community is embarrassed, humiliated and angered about having missed the 9-11 conspiracy and attack. The word from the top is to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. The means that law enforcement grunts like FBI agent Ray Kasten (Chiwitel Ejiofor), US Attorney's investigator Jessica Cobb (Julia Roberts) and local LA Detective Bumpy Willis (Dean Norris -Hank from Breaking Bad) are supposed to spend their every waking moment tracking down leads on Middle East inspired terrorism. 24-7. They aren't supposed to be wasting time surfing the net, sneaking out early to baseball games or writing blog posts. 

And they DEFINITELY (cough *Ray this means you* cough) aren't supposed to be flirting with or making goo goo eyes at the leggy Harvard Law School grad new assistant DA Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman). Ray claims that he's not interested in Claire in that way because she's supposedly engaged. Ray can't help it that her fiance is on the east coast while Claire is in Los Angeles. Things just work out that way sometimes. However there are only so many times that you can eagerly offer to walk an attractive lady to her car or get caught staring at her in a pencil skirt before your co-workers (and obviously the target of your interest) know what you're thinking. And given that Ray's effective boss, the US District Attorney Morales (Alfred Molina) might have his own designs on Claire, Ray needs to be careful. Jessica playfully suggests he man up and go for it. But before Ray can stop lying to himself and make a move, tragedy strikes. The team has a radical mosque under surveillance. Local police discover a murder victim in a dumpster next to that mosque. So the feds are brought in on the investigation. It's a horrific crime. Maybe it has something to do with the mosque? The victim turns out to be Jessica's daughter. Ray views Jessica as something akin to a big sister and thus looked upon her daughter as his niece. So he takes this almost as hard as Jessica does. Ray starts to look around and ask people some questions. And sometimes he's not always nice about how he asks those hard questions. Getting on the bad side of an FBI agent with a vendetta is almost always a very bad idea.
After a while Ray settles on a shady character named Marzin (Joe Cole) as the prime suspect. But as Morales and some other FBI agents try to explain to Ray, things aren't that simple. This kicks off a thirteen year sojourn of lonely obsession, lost love and vengeance. You may think you'd want vengeance but how many of us could eagerly visit evil upon evil upon our enemies. On the other hand how many people would NOT want vengeance if one of their loved ones was brutalized and murdered. This could have been a better film. Nicole Kidman brings legs. Chiwitel Ejiofor brings earnestness and intensity. Julia Roberts is deliberately deglamorized and seemingly make-up free for most of the film. You wouldn't know that she and Kidman are the same age. Roberts looked old throughout the movie. Her role is quiet. You can miss some things if you're not looking for them. Unfortunately Kidman and Ejiofor don't have a lot of chemistry together. Kidman is ice to Ejiofor's fire. So you never get insight into what's really driving Kidman's character. She's mostly backdrop to Roberts and Ejiofor. All in all this was an ok movie if you have nothing better going on for just under two hours or are a fan of pencil skirts. But this is not something you need to go out of your way to watch. The cast was better than the direction and writing. I am considering trying to track down the Argentine film version or reading the novel. Secret in Their Eyes has multiple interesting storylines (possible office romance, utilitarian morality, horrible crime, twisted desire, law vs. justice) but ultimately they don't coalesce in a very satisfying way. 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Book Reviews: The Stranger

The Stranger
by Harlan Coben
I have an older relative who apparently considers it his sacred duty to share unflattering details about even older kin, most of whom are no longer around to contradict, challenge or clarify his statements. He claims that the younger generation needs to know certain things. Well maybe we do and maybe we don't. My view is that if I didn't ask there's a good chance I didn't want to know.  And even if I did want to know, the semi-public nature of Facebook makes it a poor arena for learning that Great-Grand Uncle Mendacious Mike did this or that wrong or stole this or yada yada yada. Of course when your older relatives have departed this plane of existence, learning some unpleasant facts of their lives may not matter much when all is said and done. Bottom line is most of them did the best that they could do with the limited resources they had. So I can view their alleged foibles or misdeeds with equanimity. Those things don't really impact me for the most part (I mean besides learning that second cousin Pookie Mac stole your Grandfather's fledgling business back in 1959 and that's why that branch of the family never shows up at family reunions). But what if instead of having an older relative trolling you on Facebook about people who are usually long gone, you were minding your own business when out of the blue a stranger walked up to you and told you something ugly, shocking and true about someone close to you who is still living? Let's say you discovered something very nasty about your husband, wife, father, brother, mother, sister, son or daughter. What would you do with that information? Would you try to live just as before and pretend that nothing had changed? Or would doubt and suspicion inevitably worm their way into your soul, harming the relationship with your loved one or making you boil over with anxiety and anger?  Or maybe you'd see this as justification to do something illicit. There are some things that your loved one might be doing in secret that are really none of your business. But there are other activities which may have great impact on you. Could you forgive any transgression by a loved one? Coben's thriller The Stranger introduces the reader to a New Jersey yuppie lawyer Adam Price. Adam appears to have the world on a string, at least by the standards of the upper middle-class semi-rich circles he inhabits.

Adam has a good job, plenty of money and a house in the suburbs where nothing bad like break-ins, robberies, sexual assaults or murders ever happens.  He has two sons with his attractive intelligent wife Corrine. Adam has what he thinks of as a good relationship with Corrine, a high school teacher. Like any other couple they've had their ups and downs but they've worked through them. They are very much still physically and emotionally drawn to each other. Adam would lay his life on the line for Corrine, not that he thinks such a sacrifice would ever be required in their neck of the woods. So you can imagine Adam's shock, when at his son's lacrosse game a stranger who knows his name and some other things he shouldn't know, tells Adam that Corrine faked her recent pregnancy which ended in a miscarriage. The stranger gives Adam the name of the company Corrine used to accomplish this. The stranger suggests that Adam double check to ensure that his sons are really his. After all, you can't be too sure can you? After some denial and anger Adam checks the couple's bank and credit card statements. He does some more research. He discovers that yes Corrine really did pay for what appears to be a faked pregnancy. When Adam confronts Corrine with this information she doesn't deny it but says that Adam lacks context. Corinne says she needs a few days before she can talk to Adam. But Corrine disappears before their planned confessional dinner meeting. All Adam gets from Corrine is a text message telling him she needs some more time apart. Well Adam can't abide by that for long as obviously his sons know something is up between Mom and Dad. He simultaneously tries to find his wife while also using all of his connections, legal and otherwise, to learn the identity of the man who told him Corrine's secrets. What's the stranger's motivation? How did he know? Is Adam bringing unwelcome attention to himself?

This is a fast moving well paced thriller that might make you a bit paranoid about how much information about you is publicly available. You also may wonder how well you know the people in your circle of trust. This book also works as a mystery. Some important clues are hidden in plain sight from the first chapter while others are cleverly disguised and slowly teased throughout the story. I recognized the author's name so I may have read some of his work before. This is the first book of his that I remember reading. Everyone has secrets. The reader will enjoy figuring out who's lying, who's misdirecting and who is mixing lies and truth together. Once you start this book I think you will want to keep reading it. There are a lot of twists and fakeouts. It's a good entertaining book. Keep this in mind for the next time you have to wait at a hospital or auto dealership or anywhere else where you have to hurry up and wait.

What a Friend we have in Dog

On the weekends I run many different errands. Over the past weekend I stopped at the vet to retrieve some medicine and specialty food for my German Shepherd. While I sat in the reception room waiting for my order to be fulfilled, I noticed that there was another gentleman there with his dog. His dog was a male 14 year-old Beagle. That is positively ancient for just about any dog. This Beagle was completely blind. He had suffered some sort of disease that required his eyes to be removed. The medicine (or maybe it was just the age and stress of surgery) had also caused his fur to turn completely white. Nevertheless despite his advanced age and blindness the beagle was still lively, running around to sniff everything. Obviously this was a bit problematic because he would often bump into things or me. This is probably why his owner had the Beagle wrapped in a thick doggy-sweater in order to minimize bruising. Talking to the owner I could see that he had a lot of love for his dog. He described changes that he and his family had made to their daily routine, two story house and yard in order to ensure that their dog could go about his daily affairs with a minimum of discomfort. The man's face shone with love for his pet. I thought this was interesting because in the old days for many people dogs were more utilitarian than they are today. Down south my grandfather had Beagles which he used to assist him in hunting. I don't think people forty or fifty years ago would have been willing to spend thousands or even hundreds of dollars on extreme health measures for an old dog. People probably would have done a quick cost-benefit analysis which placed high emphasis on the costs and not so much on the benefit to the dog. Obviously veterinary science has improved since the sixties but even so we view our pets differently than we used to do. This man was willing to spend no small amount of money on surgeries and medicine to save his dog's life and ensure that his dog would be as comfortable as possible in the short time that remained to it. I think that is a good thing.

Although we may view our pets more favorably than we used to it seems as if police officers are more frequently looking for reasons to shoot and kill our pets. There is a continuous stream of stories about police officers shooting dogs on private property regardless of whether the officer is in danger of being bitten or not. I think too many police officers get off not just on killing animals but from the pure power rush of messing with people. Society needs to do a better job of screening people who apply for any job where the worker can exercise legal or physical power over other citizens. The Hupp family called the police to their property to deal with a dispute with a neighbor. Apparently the police officer doesn't like dogs. Tiffanie Hupp ran to stand in front of a police officer who was on the verge of casually shooting her family's chained dog, after the dog ran towards the police officer. The police officer attacked and arrested Mrs. Hupp. She was charged with obstruction of justice. She went to trial after refusing a plea deal. The officer lied and claimed that Mrs. Hupp menaced him with a crossbow, something which the video clearly shows was not the case. Fortunately Mrs. Hupp was acquitted of the false charges. Even more fortuitously she wasn't shot. It should be clear to most rational people by this time that there is a culture of bullying and sadism that occurs in too many police departments. I suppose what you think of Mrs. Hupp's actions depend at least in part on what you think of dogs. I don't think that volunteering to sacrifice your life for that of your dog is a particularly smart move but neither could I stand by and watch some preening thug with a badge kill my dog just because he felt like it. Something would have to be done right then and there. The fact that the officer was going to shoot Mrs Hupp's dog and tried to confiscate anything which could have been used to record his actions shows once again that too many cops use their badge not to serve the public but to bully it. The fact that Mrs. Hupp was willing to risk her life to save her dog and prevent her children from seeing the dog killed shows once again how much people love their dogs.
A West Virginia woman who stood between her dog and a cop who was about to shoot it was acquitted by a jury of obstruction charges on February, 29th, 2016. West Virginia state trooper Seth Cook testified that he was not afraid of the dog, but was following training that required him to kill all dogs that approach him, even if it was chained and wagging its tail as Buddy was doing in this case. 
And because Tiffanie Hupp tried to stop him from doing so, she was arrested...
Cook had just talked to her neighbor’s and had stepped onto her family’s property when Buddy began barking and approaching the officer, reaching the end of its chain.That’s when Hupp’s husband, Ryan Hupp, 25, began recording.
“If it wasn’t for him recording, there’d be nothing,” Hupp said.“He knew about police brutaty before I did. But that’s why the camera is shaking, because of the adrenaline. When they read those words ‘not guilty’, we were relieved. It’s hard to describe the feeling unless it’s actually happening to you. Justice is good, though.”
As Buddy approached and began barking at Cook, he pulled out his gun on the dog. And that’s when Hupp stood between the two.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Trump's Fascist Rallies and Violence

If you have ever wondered about the sort of people who attended lynching parties in the America of the 20s, 30s or 40s and asked yourself how could they watch, cheer and participate in the brutalization, torture and murder of their fellow human beings you can satisfy your curiosity by looking at a Donald Trump rally. Human fecal emission John McGraw, 78 years old, thought that he would be a big brave man by throwing an elbow to the eye of 26 year old Rakeem Jones. Jones was being led out of a Trump rally. Unsurprisingly immediately after the assault the police swarmed on Jones, the victim of the crime and not McGraw, the perpetrator. At 78, McGraw mostly missed out on the classic period of American lynching, in which lynchings were announced days beforehand and whites sent each other postcards and other memorabilia to commemorate the event. But McGraw is the perfect age to have been one of the people protesting the desegregation efforts of the 50s and engage in some of the violence that took place then. I wouldn't be surprised if we find out that McGraw was among those who flocked to Woolworth's sit-ins to insult, spit on or attack civil rights protesters. Trump has consistently exhorted his followers to violence against protesters in his rallies. He's talked about how things would have been handled back in the day. Trump initially refused to disavow David Duke and the KKK. So it's not at all surprising that his supporters, riding his rhetorical wave of hatred, have felt emboldened to lash out against the other, that is anyone not supporting Trump, especially black people. People can talk about Trump's position on trade or illegal immigration or whatever. But it's clear that for a not insignificant number of his supporters, their support arises from the fact that Trump panders to their worst instincts. They want to beat up people who disagree with them. They want to torture or kill the families of terrorism suspects. And they want to kill dissenters. There is no reasoning with people like McGraw. McGraw's a coward of course. He never would have put his hands on Jones were they mano a mano on the street. But there are a lot of people like McGraw in this world. They get courageous when they and likeminded people outnumber you 10,000 to 1. However there is a solution. North Carolina and several other states are stand your ground states. Jones and other protesters should obey the law but make it clear that anyone illegally laying hands on them won't get a chance to do so again. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Michigan Primary Results

Last night Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders managed to beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the March 8 Michigan Democratic Primary by 49.83% to 48.3%. This slim margin of victory for Sanders was astounding given that polls shortly before the vote showed that Clinton was ahead by double digits. Michigan has a primary which is closed (technically defined as closed because you have to declare party affiliation before you can get a ballot) but there is not a requirement that you are a registered member of one party or another. So there might be some sour grapes among partisans of one party or another who are convinced that their preferred candidate only lost because of those rascally rapscallions of the other party who lied about their party affiliation just to cast a vote in a different primary. But at this point there is no evidence of that. Michigan is different from the southern states which Clinton was winning handily (like Mississippi which Clinton won 83-17) in that (1) there are still white Democrats in Michigan, (2) there is still an active (but dying) union movement, and (3) Michigan lacks a huge Hispanic or Asian population. Sanders' attempt to make his case to Black voters paid off in Michigan. He got roughly 30~35% of the Black vote, which coupled with a more competitive percentage of the white vote allowed him to win. In Michigan in particular there's a strong undercurrent of discontent over NAFTA, "free trade" and globalization which was likely more fertile ground for Sanders' message. Michigan is ground zero for the loss of high wage middle class manufacturing jobs. In any event Sanders still has an uphill battle for the nomination but last night showed that it's not time for his political funeral just yet. Clinton will need to alter her message a bit so that it can resonate with a few more male voters in the Midwest, especially white ones. I think it's interesting that Clinton has mostly run up the score in states that will almost certainly be in the Republican column on election day. Michigan is whiter than the nation as a whole but it's also a state which usually leans Democratic. That Sanders won here after being down by such a huge margin has to give pause to some people in the Clinton camp. The big question will be if Michigan is just a bump in the road to the inevitable Clinton nomination or is it a harbinger for a comeback which hasn't been seen in modern times.

Donald Trump won the Republican Primary in Michigan with 37% of the vote. I also think he won in part because of his nationalist stance on trade issues. I think he will be the Republican nominee. Cruz came in second at 25% while Ohio Governor Kasich finished third at 24%. Marco Rubio finished fourth with just 9% of the vote and lacks any reason to keep going other than spite. Rubio did win in Puerto Rico but of course Puerto Rico provides no electoral votes. Perhaps Rubio will soldier on until the primary in his home state of Florida but he's currently behind there. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones: Season 6 Trailer(1)

Well this was unexpected. Enjoy the new Season 6 HBO Game of Thrones trailer. Very interesting. It looks as if some unanswered questions from last year will be addressed. And what's up with Bran standing? Dreams I would guess but who knows? And it looks like the Cersei we know and hate is ready to show the Faith Militant that you don't mess with live lionesses. We shall see. There's a lot to unpack in this short trailer. Hopefully there will be more to come. The fact that Daenerys is walking among a people who think that to walk when you could ride indicates low status doesn't bode well for her standing. All in all I think the trailer raises more questions than it answers, which is exactly what it should do, right?

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Movie Reviews: Black Mass, Fatal Instinct

Black Mass
directed by Scott Cooper

This is a horror film masquerading as a gangster movie. I don't mean that it does so because of the explicit violence. Compared to some Tarantino and maybe even Scorsese films this movie is not all that explicit. 

Of course that said I am likely a little inured to cinematic mayhem so maybe you should take that last statement with several grains of salt. When I compare this to a horror film I mean that Johnny Depp, portraying pitiless South Boston Irish-American gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, does masterful work depicting the soulless cold black hole of a human being that Bulger was during his days of dominion over Boston. Bulger is less a human being than a ghoul. He's something almost unnatural. Depp's Bulger kills at will from cold calculation. 

He inspires others to kill, often out of pure fear. If nothing else Depp's version of Bulger will put you in mind of Nosferatu. His Bulger is all bulging forehead, bad teeth, stringy hair and arctic blue eyes. He's a predator of other humans. His gravelly voice commands, insults and frightens. Bulger is rarely kind to anyone other than his aged mother, sickly son, brother and less occasionally his wife. Everyone else he regards as someone to be ignored, used or consumed. When Bulger loses two people close to him he sheds all but a thin veneer of humanity. 

HBO Game of Thrones Extras

There is a new Game of Thrones season starting up in a little less than two months. So far HBO and the involved actors, producers and writers, perhaps stung by last year's leaking of multiple episodes, have been a bit more reticent (with the notable exception of new cast member Ian McShane) about providing information on the new season. Usually by this time there have been one or two trailers which show various teases from the new season. I'm sure that we'll get something as the premiere of Season 6 approaches. But for now there's been bupkis, as my high school chemistry teacher might have said. So what's a fan to do? As it turns out the DVD/Blu-Ray of the past season will be available in a few days. Both to stir up interest in that release and get you excited for the new season HBO has put some of the extras from that package online. These include Ser Barristan Selmy remembering how Robert's Rebellion got started and some more detailed information on the Many Faced God (God of Death). This is as you recall whom Arya Stark is supposed to be serving, that is once she can forget that she is Arya of House Stark and instead become no one. I rather doubt that is likely. Much like Inigo Montoya, Arya Stark has an overdeveloped sense of vengeance. Blind, crippled or crazy I expect her to continue seeking to get some payback on those who destroyed her family. Anyhow please enjoy the two short videos below. They give some greater context to people who haven't read the books. They also provide reminders to those who have read the books but have forgotten one detail or another from roughly two million words of text. In April both book readers and show watchers will pretty much be starting from the same point..