Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Detroit News Endorses Libertarian Gary Johnson

The Detroit News is the primary conservative newspaper in the Southeast Michigan area. When The Detroit News endorses someone for President it endorses the Republican. This time it decided to endorse the Libertarian candidate for President, Gary Johnson. Now you can probably point out that most people don't decide whom to vote for based on recommendations by a newspaper's editorial board, particularly not a small regional paper such as The Detroit News. And you're probably right. Still the reason I thought this was worthy of note was that no matter who wins in November, the definition of conservative will be changing. The Detroit News editorial board members Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques list the first two (and presumably from their view the most important) reasons not to support Trump as immigration and trade. Johnson is in support of the TPP and is for virtual open borders to the US. Anyone who wants to come in to the US (and is not a criminal) should be able to come in as far as Finley and Jacques are concerned. These positions track well with the free-trade and big business types among conservatives but they are utterly unacceptable to many of the conservative voters who successfully made Trump the Republican nominee. There is a question as to whether the nation's definition is more important or earning money is more important. That is a deliberate reduction of some complex issues of course. And Trump, the consummate internationalist businessman, is hardly the paragon of America First which he portrays himself as before certain audiences. But nonetheless there is a divergence of interests between the nativist, nationalistic, and even racist types who do not privilege earning money over what they see as national or racial interest and those conservatives who are eager to expand trade, transfer capital and labor abroad and welcome different types of people into the US because they see money making opportunities. These differences can no longer be papered over. At this time, I still think Trump will lose the election but regardless of November's outcome the Republican party will not return to a point where the free-marketers get to run it without opposition. The blood-and-soil people are there. They're angry. They're not quiet about it. Going forward there is going to be more infighting about what it means to be a conservative in the US.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

First Presidential Debate: Trump vs. Clinton

Monday night, September 26, at 9 PM at Hofstra University, Presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will meet for their first debate. The debate will run for approximately 90 minutes or so. I don't know that there are a whole bunch of undecided voters left out there but the latest polls show that the race is very close. I think for most viewers the debate will be more about trying to find some "gotcha" moment to rile up their base or confirm their own suspicions about their disfavored candidate. If you are convinced, as he has repeatedly shown in statements, that Donald Trump has no real understanding of foreign or domestic policy, constitutional framework or the workings of our government then I doubt the debate will do that much to change your mind. If you think that Hillary Clinton's theme song as she walks onto stage should be Ave Satani then no amount of displayed knowledge or executive command will serve to change your mind. Still, each candidate has weaknesses which the other will try to exploit. For Trump, as I've written before and everyone has noticed, it's his tendency to take everything personally and respond with ad hominem or in this case ad feminem attacks.This worked in the Republican primary debates because the Republican primary voters are highly unrepresentative of the larger electorate. Voting for Trump was a giant middle finger to the establishment from people who thought rightly or wrongly that they had been sold out by their country. They were looking for someone to hear their pain and give them someone to blame. Trump cannily exploited and amplified these fears to become the Republican nominee. But an angry numerically declining base which is already threatening violence and/or secession should Trump lose isn't enough to guarantee Trump victory. He has to convince more moderate Republicans, independents and a few conservative Democrats that he's not just a bully boy know-nothing with an out of control id. This debate is his first chance to do that. When Clinton attacks him will he deflect, defend and counterattack with facts or will he sneer and say "Look at that face!" ?

For Clinton this debate offers a chance to contrast her command of facts against someone who is pretty proud that he's mostly ignorant of relevant facts. Her job will be to bait Trump into swinging and missing. If Trump makes a few insane off the cuff statements Clinton can either skewer them on live tv in front of millions or just look at the camera and smirk. Clinton's weakness will be her involvement in foreign policy initiatives that haven't worked out well (Libya) and the fact that she's been around for so long. Many people do not like or trust her. There are millions of voters who aren't happy with the status quo. Clinton, despite being identified with the status quo, must convince those voters that Trump is a dangerous and even unacceptable alternative. I still haven't really heard Clinton express a compelling reason WHY she wants to be President. The debate should make for good television if nothing else. In my view it's too bad that one of these people will most likely be our next President. But that's the system in which we live.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Movie Reviews: Keanu, Blood Father, In A Lonely Place

directed by Peter Atencio
I didn't routinely watch the comedy sketch show Key and Peele when it was still running. Every now and then I would see something online by the show stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele and remind myself that I probably needed to watch more of their work. Some of their comedy is really really good but much of it is just okay, nothing special. So when I heard that they were involved in writing and producing this movie, and that the film was directed by their former sketch show director, I watched it. Well the movie was just okay, nothing special. Meh. A theme which runs through Key and Peele's work as well as that of many black artists or creatives of all types is the surreal nature of race in America. In this particular case it's the expectations that people (and this includes all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or sexuality) can often have around black men or for that matter black boys. All of these stereotypes ultimately go back to slavery/colonialism/Jim Crow and may never really be rooted out. Rather than list them all here in gory detail it's probably safer to say that a great many people expect that most black men are hypermacho, supercool, and able to handle themselves physically in just about every situation. While these stereotypes can be embraced by blacks and used to individual advantage (most rap music over the past thirty years) they are more likely to be used by people outside the black community to black disadvantage (witness many black interactions with the police). So Key and Peele use the movie Keanu to investigate in a comedic way how silly these stereotypes are. They do this by simultaneously embracing and deconstructing the stereotypes. YMMV on how successful they were in doing this. This is stuff that goes back to Baraka's Dutchman and Ellison's Invisible Man. It was done better in those works. If the only way to succeed is to do the modern day equivalent of putting on blackface and tap dancing is that admirable? This isn't just a dry academic question. A black comedian referred to the black President with a racial slur. Many black people fell over themselves praising the comedian. Others passionately defended their right to call themselves racial slurs as unassailable proof of their racial bona fides. It's a strange, strange strange world in which we live.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby Kills Terence Crutcher

On September 16, 2016 Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby shot and killed one U.S. citizen named Terence Crutcher. Mr. Crutcher was unarmed. He had no gun on his person or in his vehicle. His vehicle had stalled or broken down. There were no warrants for Mr. Crutcher's arrest. Police did not apparently render any assistance to Mr. Crutcher. They evidently did not put out any hazard lights, offer him a jump, help move the vehicle off the road, try to determine the problem with the vehicle, or call for a tow truck or roadside assistance. These are the things that most citizens who are having car trouble would expect the police to do. After all police are supposed to serve and protect. Unfortunately Mr. Crutcher was a black man. The police immediately saw him as a threat. In no short time after their arrival the police are yelling things at Mr. Crutcher and have him surrounded. Mr. Crutcher has his hands up. A police officer in a helicopter says that Mr. Crutcher "looks like a bad dude". And shortly after that two police officers almost simultaneously tase and shoot Mr. Crutcher. The police don't even bother to tend to the dying man's wounds but instead let him bleed out. They appeared to be more concerned with making sure that Officer Shelby was emotionally okay. Shelby has not been arrested or charged yet. I'm not being fashionably cynical when I write that I will be surprised if she does goes to trial. Her attorney is of course reaching for the tried and true tactic of claiming fear of the "big black man". Quite often this is a literal get out of jail card for white police officers. As many people on twitter have pointed out at this point if someone doesn't understand that there is a problem with police use of force against black people, disproportionately black men and boys, then they don't want to know. Most people will have car trouble at some point in our lives. Imagine running into someone who is so consumed with fear and hatred of you that there is literally nothing you can say or do that will not be interpreted as a threat. Well Mr. Crutcher didn't have to imagine that scenario. He was a Black man in America. He knew the deal. He kept his hands up even though he'd committed no crime. And he still died.

The usual suspects are already lining up to defend the police and claim that if only Crutcher had done x, y, and z then he'd still be alive. Whatever. This is the pure essence of racism-the ignorant unreasoning and unconstrained loathing of blackness. Shelby and company constructed a threat in their minds that did not exist and then acted on it. If you are so racist that blackness itself is a deadly threat then you shouldn't have the authority of the state or be able to carry weapons. This is not a training problem. This is a consequences problem. For the record you can watch the videos below. So far the people who were blasting Colin Kaepernick for his protest about police killings and brutality haven't had too much to say. Mr. Crutcher's family and their attorney speak in the last video.

Attorneys and Family Press Conference Video

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Book Reviews: Chin, Party Music

Chin: The Life and Crimes of Mafia Boss Vincent Gigante
by Larry McShane 
Mafia boss, clotheshorse and media junkie John Gotti sought and received attention during his rise and short stay as head of his organization, the Gambino Crime Family. But the Dapper Don was not as powerful or as wealthy as Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, secretive boss of a different New York based organization, the Genovese Crime Family. Unlike the flashy, vain and extroverted Gotti who was insistent that everyone in or outside of the Mafia know he was boss, Vincent Gigante or "The Chin" as he was known in some circles (the nickname was a shortened form of his Italian born mother's pronunciation of Vincenzo) shunned the spotlight. He rarely left the neighborhood in which he had lived for years. He did not like people knowing he was boss. In fact Gigante initially didn't even let many people in his own organization know when he became boss. He kept his advanced status a secret from other families for years. Gigante used cutouts and front bosses to misdirect law enforcement. Because Gigante was very worried about surveillance and betrayal he announced that anyone in his family who used his given name (and eventually even his nickname) in conversation was risking a death sentence. If a mobster needed to refer to Gigante that mobster was supposed to either touch his chin or say "this guy". Even mobsters in other families were advised to follow this edict. But Gigante was most infamous for perpetrating a decades long scam to fool law enforcement and the medical establishment. Gigante pretended to be crazy and possess diminished capacity. Sometimes luck can put a man on a different path. In the late fifties Gigante was a low level thug who got the assignment to murder Frank Costello, gentleman gangster and boss of the Family once led by Lucky Luciano. The man who gave Gigante this assignment, Vito Genovese, wanted to be boss. And the brutal Genovese had the backing of a sizable portion of the Family's roughest crews. Gigante dutifully shot Frank Costello but didn't finish the job. Costello survived. Unusually, for some reason Genovese didn't follow his normal procedure and have Gigante murdered both to set an example about the perils of failure and remove any link back to him. Genovese was notorious for this sort of devious maliciousness. According to mob turncoat Joe Valachi,  "If you went to Vito and told him about some guy doing wrong, he would have the guy whacked for doing wrong and then he'd have you whacked for snitching!". At the ensuing trial Costello claimed to have no idea who had shot him. Gigante was acquitted. 

Costello "retired". Genovese became boss. However via Costello's political machinations both Genovese and Gigante would be arrested and convicted on possibly fraudulent drug charges. Genovese would die in prison. Gigante was released in the mid sixties and returned to his Greenwich Village haunts. The former boxer gradually became a feared power in what became known as the Genovese Family. During a few encounters with his parole officer and other law enforcement officials Gigante started complaining of exhaustion or other unspecified sickness. He would voluntarily check himself into hospitals--often when some investigation or arrest warrant was occurring. Eventually he claimed to hear voices and talk to God. In his later years relatives or criminal subordinates would lead Gigante around the neighborhood. Gigante stopped showering or shaving every day. He would usually be seen in public in a ratty old cap and bathrobe. As a result for years after Gigante became boss law enforcement really did believe that he was too unstable to be the boss. Gigante avoided indictments and prosecutions where other men didn't. It's worth mentioning that as Gigante's public behavior became more eccentric other Mafia leaders in New York and beyond were assured that it was all an act. This was important because the Mafia's typical solution to dealing with an unstable, talkative or unreliable member is murder. In private Gigante was anything but crazy. He had made a reputation for himself as a violent enforcer, prized earner and stickler for the rules in the sixties and seventies. Upon becoming boss in 1981 Gigante continued to ensure that what he said went, in his family and even beyond. Gigante ordered at least one assassination attempt on John Gotti in revenge for Gotti breaking the Commission rules. Gigante was popular among the Genovese Family members at least in part because he wasn't greedy as bosses went, defended Genovese turf against interlopers and didn't require constant public displays of loyalty. Gigante avoided meetings, internal or otherwise, as much as possible. John Gotti, on the other hand, upon becoming boss required everyone in his family to check in with him regularly at his social clubs, despite law enforcement surveillance. Refusal to do so was an insult worthy of death. The FBI and Justice Department were thus able to identify Gambino mobsters they had no idea existed.
I was already familiar with this topic but still enjoyed the book. The book had a fair amount of detailed investigation about Gigante's relationship with violent mobbed up businessman, Morris Levy, who ran Roulette Records and was,willingly or not, a money launderer for several East Coast Mafia luminaries. Although Levy was a corrupt and physically dangerous hoodlum he was submissive to his Mafia overlords. Vincent had a Catholic priest brother who was, depending on the storyteller, a loving defender of Vincent or a cunning enabler. Ironically just as Gigante's rise came from an unusual act of mercy from the otherwise merciless Vito Genovese, Gigante's fall came from his atypical refusal to sanction the murder of one Peter Savino. Savino was a business partner with Gigante and other mafiosi in an extortion scam of NYC schools. Gigante's fellow mafia big shots warned him, correctly as it turned out, that Savino was an informer who needed to be handled. Gigante liked Savino, and did not give the order. Along with some others, Savino provided testimony that proved that Gigante wasn't crazy and was the boss. Gigante was finally convicted and ultimately died in prison just like his mentor Vito Genovese. There are discussions from other Mafia turncoats about their encounters with Gigante. All told this was a solid look at a criminal and a crime organization that did their best to stay out of the limelight.

Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music
by Ricky Vincent 
This title claims to offer a lot. But as the saying goes it ain't boasting if you can back it up. This book is quite enjoyable. I think it's less about the Black Panthers band or The Lumpen and more about that heady time from 1964-1975 where black music was overflowing with creativity and self-love. This book is best understood as a sequel and a more scholarly expansion on Vincent's previous excellent book Funk. It is just as much a history tome on social movements and political struggles as it is a look at an unknown band. The detailed information and history about the band and their ups and downs is pretty small portion of the book. As anyone who has tried to organize or educate people knows it's often not just enough to lecture people or harangue them. You have to entertain them and relax them, make them feel good about the message you're trying to get across. In the late sixties and early seventies the most effective way to do this in the Black community was to wrap your messages in the popular music of the time, funk and soul. The Black Panther hierarchy believed that the lumpen or lowest of the low, could, once properly educated and motivated, be the catalyst for revolutionary change. Certain leading members rejected the idea that all Panthers were humorless doctrinaire brothers and sisters who wouldn't be caught dead doing anything as frivolous as singing or dancing. Other leaders worried that the inherent apolitical nature of the music industry would corrupt any Panthers who became involved. They thought that a Panther needed to be learning his/her Fanon and Marx, not practicing music. Fortunately for The Lumpen, the Black Panther Minister of Culture, the famed Emory Douglas, believed in the idea of using art and music to educate and inspire. With Douglas as a patron the band became a fixture at events for Party faithful and for the larger community. Many of their songs were reinterpretations of current soul or funk hits or of pop standards. For example they reworked the show standard "Old Man River" into "Old Pig Nixon". The members of The Lumpen were well aware that not everyone in the Party was a fan of an official Black Panther band. Throughout the book the band members were keen to point out that music was decidedly secondary to their role as Panthers-teaching, setting up medical clinics and free breakfasts, providing security, selling newspapers, monitoring police, attending conferences and doing everything that any other Panther was expected to do. They did not seek or receive special status from other Panthers. They certainly didn't make a lot of money.
In the late sixties and early seventies some people really did feel that revolution was at hand. This sense of imminent change suffused the culture. Although the hook for this book is music this book discusses many topics, including but not limited to women's rights, gay rights, the reactionary backlash to the civil rights and black power movements, challenges of interracial coalitions, and all the various contradictions experienced by the various movement participants, musicians and otherwise. The Panthers saw themselves as socialist revolutionaries. Founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale had little interest in attempting to restore lost African mores, names or religion as they viewed much of that as problematic from a socialist and gender standpoint anyway. But black music at the time had a strong strain of cultural nationalism involved. Cultural nationalists tended to think that healing or in some cases creating an African-American culture with distinctive language, religion, worldview, folkways and clothing was a precursor to any sort of revolution or even economic development. The book delves into how these competing ideas tore some organizations apart and even (for example with Karenga's US) caused shooting wars to break out. You can see echoes of this today in spats between people who were excited about the social significance of having a black President and First Lady and those who were more concerned with policy than black faces in high places. Party Music gives a cursory look at how Stax Records was impacted by then current black nationalist and revolutionary rhetoric. The 1972 Wattstax festival was a example of music, business and social concerns all working together.

As people who were at least theoretically open to the idea of cross racial unity and progressive teamwork the Lumpen had no problem having white or other non-black musicians in their backing band. This would occasionally cause some issues with more culturally nationalist minded audiences or promoters. The Lumpen never backed down on this. The big problem with recruiting the lumpen section of society or as the Nation of Islam would have called them, the lost-and-found, is that without constant oversight, financial opportunity, discipline, purpose and re-education, people who have gotten used to chaotic, self-centered and self-destructive modes of behavior often bring those behavior patterns into the organization. This makes the organization more vulnerable to state repression and murder and also reduces the support and commitment of the organization's non-lumpen members. Bad behavior alienates the organization from the community. Left unaddressed, lumpen tendencies can even corrupt other organization members. Band members talked sadly of being out on the street trying to recruit people or serving breakfast to children only to hear that Panther Chairman Huey Newton got high on cocaine and assaulted someone or that another Panther was shaking down drug dealers or pimps. As a result of this sort of counterrevolutionary activity and unrelenting state violence by the mid seventies the Party and several related nationalist organizations were all but defunct. Perhaps not coincidentally the popular music changed from politically charged funk and soul to the apolitical and relatively speaking far less soulful disco. If you are just curious about the times and want to get an idea of what happened from the people who were there or if you are already familiar with Vincent's writing style you should read this book. It's a little over 300 pages. It's dense and very well researched. Many people do not know that future music stars Chaka Khan and Nile Rodgers started out as Panthers. Music for good or bad is always connected to the state of the community.

The Kiss: V-J Day

Just about everyone in the US has seen this photo. It's probably the best known symbol of the end of World War Two. It's also in some cases been seen as an snapshot memory of a better time, when America unambiguously won conflicts. For some people this photo is the pictorial paragon of a time where optimism was in the air and there was nothing that this country could not do. The photojournalist Alfred Eisenstaedt took this picture in Times Square of a sailor kissing a nurse shortly after the announcement of the Japanese unconditional surrender and end of the war. Growing up I naively thought that both of the people were either married to each other or were dating. That wasn't the case. The sailor and nurse were strangers to each other. That nurse, Greta Friedman (Zimmer) recently passed away. Greta Friedman, who said she was grabbed and kissed by a sailor in a euphoric moment that made for one of the most defining American photos of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Richmond, Va. She was 92. The cause was pneumonia, her son, Joshua Friedman, said. In 2012, a writer on the website Crates and Ribbons argued that the picture depicted not a moment of romance, but a “sexual assault by modern standards,” pointing to Ms. Friedman’s description of the kiss during her interview with the Veterans History Project. “I felt that he was very strong. He was just holding me tight. I’m not sure about the kiss,” Ms. Friedman said. “It was just somebody celebrating. It wasn’t a romantic event.” In an article in 2014 about the photo, Time, whose parent company discontinued the monthly publication of Life magazine in 2000, noted that “many people view the photo as little more than the documentation of a very public sexual assault, and not something to be celebrated.” Ms. Friedman did not shy away from the photo or her role in it, her son said. Mr. Friedman said he believed she understood the argument that it was an assault but did not necessarily view it that way.

Standards and mores change of course. There probably aren't too many people today who would venture to grab someone and plant one on their lips without prior consent, some sort of signal or an ongoing relationship. That said though when once in a life time events occur people do feel emboldened to do or say things they otherwise wouldn't attempt. By today's standards this would be some sort of assault but even then there are people who wouldn't feel that way if it happened to them. Knowing the story behind this photo I just think it's a Rorschach test on how our concepts of masculinity, femininity and consent have mutated over the years.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Carmen Chamblee Keeps It Real

There are times and if you live long enough most of us have experienced them, when someone close to you rips your heart out, throws it on the ground, looks you right in the eye, and gleefully does the tarantella all over your bleeding broken heart. Although in later years you may look back at whatever occurred between you and your special rider and find if not exactly humor, some perspective and wisdom, at the moment when this happens most of us will be in a foul mood, caught between sadness and anger. Some among us who are more prone to anger will lash out at the person who did us wrong. If we can't reach them we may even try to hurt someone they loved or damage some of their property. This is of course a remarkably stupid idea. Any thing that involves possible criminal charges is as far as I am concerned not worth doing. And why would you want to give someone you don't even like anymore the satisfaction of knowing that they can still push your emotional buttons? Doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. However one Florida woman by the name of Carmen Chamblee allegedly decided that she wanted to make a point to her ex-boyfriend by burning his car. I'm guessing Miss Chamblee is a Waiting to Exhale fan. Well there are a couple of things you should keep in mind when you're burning your ex-boyfriend's car as retribution for whatever heinous thing he supposedly did. (1) You should make sure that you're not caught on video setting the car on fire and fanning the flames. (2) You should also probably make sure that the car you're setting on fire is actually your boyfriend's car. Because it would kind of stink to get caught doing something so foolishly vindictive as setting a car on fire and not even get the satisfaction of having burned the correct car.

A Florida woman set fire to a car thinking it belonged to her ex boyfriend but got the wrong vehicle, authorities believe. Carmen Chamblee, 19, was arrested Saturday morning near Clearwater and charged with second-degree arson. She is accused of intentionally setting a Honda on fire earlier this month. Jennings' roommate was the one who alerted him that his car was on fire. The two men ran out with a pot of water to try to extinguish the blaze - but Jennings told ABC Action News it was 'too much'. Chamblee was taken to the Pinellas County Jail on Saturday according to online records. She was scheduled to appear in front of a judge on Sunday morning.

I guess that some will look at this story and think next time she should get the right car but obviously that would be the wrong lesson. As parents teach their children, when you feel that it's necessary to commit physical harm on something or to somebody, instead of doing that just stop. Take a deep breath, count to ten and use your words instead. Chamblee is actually fortunate that she wasn't burned or didn't hurt someone else by her dumb actions. There's a fine line between passionate and crazy. Chamblee crossed it. 

Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem

If you have paid any attention to the news over the past two weeks you've seen that San Francisco Forty-Niners (former starting and now backup) quarterback Colin Kaepernick has attracted both praise and scorn for his act of refusing to stand for the National Anthem. Kaepernick is taking a stand so to speak to express his dismay at the status of black Americans and more specifically at the treatment of black Americans by the police. Kaepernick has mostly been met with outrage although he is starting to get more support (cautious and enthusiastic) from some of his fellow professional athletes outside of football, inside of football, and amateur brethren. And obviously since this is America a great deal of that criticism that Kaepernick has faced has been racialized. This has not just come from the usual conservative racists. People on both sides of the color line have questioned Kaepernick's self-described race, claiming that because he is biracial and relatively light skinned, he's not really black. People have called him ungrateful, ignorant, spoiled, entitled and all of the usual insults that accrue to someone who is going against the perceived grain. Those were the "nice" insults hurled by people who still needed to maintain public plausible deniability of their racism. Many people on twitter and blogs and website comment sections weren't restrained by such considerations and immediately reached for the tried and true racial slurs. Other people, including one pastor(!), just let their inner authoritarian come out to play and suggested shooting those people who didn't stand for the National Anthem. I didn't write on this earlier both because time to write has been at a premium of late thanks to a demanding Day Job and because I thought other people (including some of my blog partners) had pretty much already said everything worthwhile on the issue. Still, driving home a few days earlier listening to the condescending and clueless well known local radio host and writer Mitch Albom opine again on the issue as well as reading some other tweets I realized that maybe I did have something to write about this after all.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that for all intents and purposes Black Americans have legally been full citizens for a very short period of time in America. Until 1865 most Blacks in America were enslaved. Free or not, no blacks had any rights that a white person needed to respect. There was a Supreme Court decision making this crystal clear. Slavery ended in 1865. From 1865-1876 there was a halting and abortive attempt to redress the wrongs of slavery and extend full citizenship to blacks. This process was met with massive white resistance and terrorism. From the 1870s up until the 1960s Black Americans were effective non-citizens by force of law or threat of violence. It was only in the 1950s and 1960s that gradually and haltingly the most important laws that had enshrined black inferiority were removed or overturned. This also provoked massive white backlash in certain quarters, not just the South either. And although the law can make a bright line distinction as to what is no longer allowed the law can't automatically change what's in people's hearts and minds. You probably know all of this already. But I repeat it here to emphasize that for the majority of our country's history black people were non-citizens, either by law or by custom. As comedian Chris Rock said for Black people America is like a uncle who molested you as a child but later paid for your college education. There's a painful history there that can't be ignored or whitewashed. So it seems a little presumptuous to criticize any black person who doesn't ignore that history, particularly when as Kaepernick points out, some of the same ugly stuff that was in history books is still going on today. 

Next, there has never been a protest or movement for black progress that the majority of white people have supported from its inception. Black agitators who are recognized and admired today by some politicians or media talking heads are usually conveniently old or dead. When these agitators were alive, young and raising a fuss they weren't very popular with the mainstream. The criticisms that Kaepernick, and by extension any protester, faces are par for the course any time a black person speaks out about something he or she doesn't like. This is in in sharp contrast to a white person like Donald Trump. Trump has risen to prominence claiming that America is going to hell in a hand basket and is turning into a third world country. Somehow it's ok for Trump and his ilk to point out what they see wrong in this country but if a black person should do the same they're wrong or being divisive? Really? A police department with a history of racist comments and questionable use of force incidents by officers thinks that Kaepernick should apologize to them???? What sort of upside down world do we live in? Kaepernick is standing in a long line of black athletes such as Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Jackie Robinson and many others who have spoken up about the injustice they've seen or faced. After all in 1972, using language which is similar to what Kaepernick used recently, the military veteran and baseball legend Jackie Robinson explained why he felt he could not sing the National Anthem or salute the flag. Was he a spoiled punk, as Sarah Palin claimed of Kaepernick? And contrary to Kaepernick's critics his net worth doesn't and shouldn't prevent him from speaking up. The fact that he and some others are willing to lose money for their stands should at least make some folks realize that there are serious questions here. The people who slam Kaepernick and other athletes as being disrespectful to military veterans do not speak for veterans. There are some veterans who support Kaepernick's right to protest and/or agree with his points.
Pride in being an American is not contingent upon standing for the anthem. As Kate Upton and Mitch Albom show, some people just don't get this. I doubt they ever will because they are self-evidently ignorant of this country's history and apparently indifferent to some current events. They can afford to be so because they don't have to worry about being harassed or brutalized by the police. They don't have to deal with trying to purchase a home and being steered away from the area they prefer. They don't have to accept living in a segregated community where properties either appreciate very slowly or depreciate over time because the larger community rejects people with their skin tone. They don't have to try to beg someone to try to rent lodgings to them or pick them up in a taxi. Their community doesn't have an unemployment rate twice that of the larger group's. If they are unfortunate enough to get caught up in the justice system they won't receive longer sentences for no other reason than their race. These things go on whether it is 9-11 or not. If you're nowhere to be found on these issues 364 days a year then I don't think you have the right to get upset when someone brings them up, even if it is 9-11. Cops are shooting black people dead and walking away clean. I must have missed Upton's or Albom's or Palin's outrage on those incidents. What I find unacceptable, to paraphrase Upton, is that the people who murdered John Crawford and Tamir Rice weren't even indicted. If you are angrier about some players declining to stand for the Star Spangled Banner than you are about a nationwide justice system that routinely produces such results something is wrong with your moral compass. What Upton and Albom and others don't seem to get is that protest by the very definition doesn't require their approval or sign off. All these conservatives who claim to be against "political correctness" sure do seem to have their own pc that that they are eager to enforce on everyone. Rather than write any more on this I think it would be useful to listen to Shannon Sharpe, former NFL star, give his take on the larger issue. No one has all the answers. But I have no use for anyone who tells Kaepernick or anyone else that they either must stand for the National Anthem (written by a slave owner who mocked black people btw) or should leave the country. Black people have been in America longer than most whites, after all. Perhaps the people insulting Kaepernick should go to another country?

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joy Reid and Gary Johnson: Big Dummies!

"It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so"-Mark Twain
Everyone makes mistakes. No one knows everything. There are so many different realms and levels of knowledge that you can, despite what Scott Adams thinks, spend a lifetime becoming expert in one particular area of human endeavor and still have more to learn. So there is no shame required if you are ignorant of a particular fact or unfamiliar with a given experience. No, the shame doesn't come with being ignorant. The shame comes with wanting to stay ignorant, being uncurious or trying to pass yourself off as an expert in a given field when actually you know nothing about the discipline. I saw two examples of this recently that I thought were humorous enough to share. One deservedly got more attention than the other because the man who made the gaffe is running for President, but both show that an unfamiliarity with facts is not good for people in high profile positions. As you probably know there is a multi-faction civil war in Syria ongoing. The largest city in Syria, Aleppo, is currently the site of a battle that involves just about every faction still extant, including foreign adventurers. Every faction has committed atrocities or has been accused of committing atrocities. The civilians are getting it in the neck, as is usually the case with civilians trapped in war zones. Libertarian Presidential Candidate Gary Johnson, as Libertarians tend to be, has been skeptical of committing the US to new foreign wars or "interventions". This non-interventionist stance tends to drive the so-called "serious" foreign policy journalists and gurus (especially neo-cons) up the wall. They see it as dangerously naive and virtually treasonous. With this in mind MSNBC's Mike Barnicle asked Johnson what would Johnson do about Aleppo if he were elected President. Unfortunately Johnson, who looked tired and sounded even more inarticulate than normal said he did not know what Aleppo was. After Barnicle snidely explained what Aleppo was and where it was, Johnson gave a desultory dispirited answer that basically boiled down to using more diplomacy and avoiding foreign entanglements. But the story of the day wasn't that Johnson, like almost everyone else in the current or would-be foreign policy establishment, doesn't know how to fix Syria. 

The story of the day was that Johnson didn't know what Aleppo was, possibly because he had been smoking too much bud. Many people thought that this seeming ignorance of basic foreign policy was disqualifying. Maybe it is; maybe it is not. The voters will have to decide. But I do think that Johnson's answer shows the danger of not doing the very basic work of knowing current politics and geography. If you want to be President you should know that stuff as least as well as a former plagiarist like Barnicle. When someone asks you about China's activities in the South China Sea or North Korea's nuclear tests or the settlements in the West Bank, they may well be trying to prove to their audience that your solutions are silly or won't work. But you don't do yourself any favors by appearing to not even have the most rudimentary understanding of geography and current events. Johnson later released a statement saying he thought Barnicle was using an acronym.

This morning, I began my day by setting aside any doubt that I’m human. Yes, I understand the dynamics of the Syrian conflict — I talk about them every day. But hit with “What about Aleppo?,” I immediately was thinking about an acronym, not the Syrian conflict. I blanked. It happens, and it will happen again during the course of this campaign. Can I name every city in Syria? No. Should I have identified Aleppo? Yes. Do I understand its significance? Yes. As Governor, there were many things I didn’t know off the top of my head. But I succeeded by surrounding myself with the right people, getting to the bottom of important issues, and making principled decisions. It worked. That is what a President must do.
Staying with MSNBC for a moment commentator Joy Reid, a Harvard graduate, has made no secret of her preference for Hillary Clinton and her intense disdain for Trump and for that matter Stein or Sanders. I have no real issue with this because at least you know where she's coming from. Spending too much time getting upset about someone else's political preferences is a losing battle. The few times I have tried watching Reid's show or other shows where she's a substitute host I have found her conversational style to be less that of a commentator or facilitator and closer to that of a district attorney. Reid seems to be personally offended and outraged that everyone doesn't see the world exactly as she does. She goes after the lies, mistakes, omissions or differences of opinions of Trump surrogates with a sarcastic zeal that would make Inspector Javert proud. I think that Reid is basically trying out for the job of Press Secretary for the Clinton Administration. I think she would be very good at it. She seems to like interrupting and correcting people. The problem with that though is that if you're going to live by the sword you have to be ready to die by the sword. When criticizing Trump for an apparent affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin Reid made these tweets

There are a few things wrong with Reid's grasp of facts which should be obvious.
  • Russia is not Communist and has not been since at least 1991 with the dismantling of the Soviet Union and the (choose a term) imposition or acceptance of shock therapy free market capitalism. There have been numerous books, papers and studies written about this. It's sort of a big deal.
  • The American Communist Party hasn't run a Presidential candidate of its own since 1984. In every election since that time it has endorsed the Democratic candidate for President. This year is no different. The Communists have endorsed Hillary Clinton for President.
  • Trying to link American dissidents or gadflies with foreign Communists as Reid does with her "Putinite" and "Snowdenistas" slurs is an old old trick that goes back to at least the early 20th century. Almost every prominent black intellectual, labor activist, civil rights agitator, religious leader or politician eventually faced this tactic. Such moral exemplars as J. Edgar Hoover and Joe McCarthy used this slander against their enemies in their attempts to destroy any and all left wing political or social movements. To see Reid stoop to use this weapon, however ineptly, is just horrible. She has no shame.
If you think that Clinton just walks on water and sweats gardenia scent that's fine. If you don't like the fact that Sanders ran against Hillary or that Stein is running against her, have a Coke and a smile. I have no interest in trying to change your mind. But if you're going to write that 2016 Russia is Communist or that people to the left of Clinton are Putinites then you need to go get a refund from your University. Because you don't know what the hell you're talking about. And if you're just making stuff up and refusing to acknowledge errors you're no different than your hated political opposites.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Movie Reviews: Now You See Me 2, The Duel

Now You See Me 2
directed by Jon Chu
Although I will do my level best to avoid spoilers for this movie, there is probably going to be at least one spoiler for the previous (first) movie in this series. So if you absolutely can't stand anything along those lines then you know what to do. Although this movie had plenty of fun, including a tour de force computer room sleight of hand combined performance by the magicians known as the Four Horsemen, it was also, unlike the first movie, extremely predictable. If you didn't know exactly what was going to happen in most cases while you were watching this movie that's only because you either weren't paying attention or had been dropped on the head a few times too many as a child. Most people watching this film could probably call out almost all the changes and misdirections ahead of time. This didn't make this installment a bad movie. I wouldn't go that far. But it was something that you've seen many times before, like for example in the first movie, albeit not with the admittedly impressive and upgraded special effects and tricks. There were only a few plot surprises. So basically as long as you don't go into this film expecting the world from it you'll be ok. And you'll probably even enjoy it. It's more style than substance. Lizzy Caplan replaces Isla Fisher. Caplan brings a bit more snark and edge to her role as sole female member of the Four Horsemen. As we open this film the three remaining Horsemen, Daniel Atlas (Eisenberg), Merritt McKenny (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are bored and feuding with each other. A year has come and gone since they escaped the FBI but the new organization they've joined (The Eye) has no assignments for them or any magical secrets to share.  They're wondering if they made the right decision by joining this group. They're also wondering if they can trust FBI Agent/Eye member Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) who claims to speak for The Eye and doesn't take kindly to any attempt to go over his head.

Music Reviews: The One I Love Is Gone

There are more similarities both musically and lyrically between blues and bluegrass than the casual listener might expect. Both genres, when done properly, can speak honestly about hard times, loneliness and loss among other themes. Bluegrass titan Bill Monroe wrote the song The One I Love is Gone specifically for fellow bluegrass luminaries Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard. Dickens and Gerrard came by their love of bluegrass and folk music in different manners. Dickens was born to an impoverished West Virginia mining/trucking family and grew up with the music. Her father was a Primitive Baptist preacher and musician. At least one of her brothers, a miner, died of black lung disease, an event that Dickens immortalized in her song Black Lung. As you might expect Dickens was a fierce supporter of the labor movement and women's movement. She expressed these sentiments in her songs They'll never keep us down and Don't put her down (you helped put her there). Gerrard was a college educated classically trained middle class woman who didn't start singing professionally until later in life. The women apparently met each other via their association with the famed Seeger family. Dickens was briefly in a band with Mike Seeger. Gerrard was married to Mike Seeger. The two women formed their own bluegrass group and had some success during the folk revival of the mid sixties and early seventies. They were one of the few if not only female led bluegrass groups when they started together. I was familiar with Dickens from her rollicking interpretation of the hard times song Coal Tattoo and was moved to find other music that she created or performed. Thus, I found this song. It's really almost a blues waltz. Dickens' and Gerrard's voices may or may not be to everyone's liking but to me the two women have a honesty and directness which is special during any epoch of music. Monroe's lyrics are straightforward and simple. Loss stinks. The primary way that I interpret this song is that the singer has been permanently rejected and dismissed by her (his) lover. I think you could also make an argument that the singer has been driven mad by their loss and is addressing someone who is in the grave. Either way the loss is permanent. And that's no good. There's a lot of space in the Dickens/Gerrard arrangement. Lauren O'Connell created an updated electric version with more drive which I also like.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Trump Surrogate Pastor Mark Burns Caught Lying

The great thing about telling the truth is as the saying goes the truth will set you free. If you really do have an advanced post-graduate or professional degree, if you really do have the professional certifications that are required for your chosen field, if you really did join and participate in service organizations or governmental organizations, if you really did graduate from exclusive competitive colleges or universities, if you really did pass exams which allow you to call yourself a doctor or lawyer, if you really did put in work as a combat hero in Iraq or Afghanistan, then there will be documented proof of all of your accomplishments. You can sleep easy at night if someone decides to do a little background checking on you. Any investigation will leave you unworried. You may or may not have a huge ego because of your past accomplishments but either way your work is something that no one can take away from you. On the other hand the world is full of small petty little men and women who either for egocentric reasons or more purely mercenary ones lie about their past achievements. Sometimes these lies are small ones. Some people claim on their resume to be team leaders or managers when in fact their entire past experience consists of taking orders from someone else. Some people might exaggerate the level of responsibility that they had for a project or initiative. These sorts of falsehoods are venial sins in the big scheme of things but lying is still wrong. If you're lying about the small stuff to get over then you'll probably lie about the big stuff as well. You're not someone I want on my team. I don't want to supervise you. I don't want to report to you. I can't trust you.

Other people, like Trump surrogate Pastor Mark Burns (if that is indeed his name), decide to throw caution to the wind. If you're going to lie you might as well lie big is apparently a mantra Burns takes to heart. It recently became apparent that Burns was lying about among other things:
  • His membership in the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi (he's not a member)
  • Graduating from North Greenville University (he attended one semester and didn't graduate)
  • Pursuing his master's degree at Andersonville Theological Seminary (he's not even enrolled)
  • Serving in the Army Reserve (he was really in the National Guard)
When caught on these discrepancies Burns claimed his website had been hacked and that the media was out to get him because he was telling the truth and wasn't politically correct. These are the normal go to defenses of someone who isn't very bright or doesn't think quickly on his feet. Later, after presumably conferring with the Trump campaign, Burns issued a statement admitting his lies. Now Burns wasn't the first political operative to lie and certainly won't be the last. Remember the Hillary claim to have landed in Bosnia under sniper fire? I thought Burns' CNN interview was humorous. But it was also a reminder that living honestly is a pretty good shield against media attacks. I also wondered about the intelligence and character of a man who lies about things that are so easily verified, like fraternity membership or college education. But apparently he's smarter than his congregation...

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Nice Guys

The Nice Guys
directed by Shane Black
Although neither lead character is actually a cop, this is a cop buddy film. It touches most of the obvious themes and tropes you'd expect to see in these sorts of films. That is to say, two guys who don't really like each other and approach their shared work from vastly different perspectives wind up working together. After the requisite fracas and figurative measuring of body parts the two men realize that they may not make such a bad team after all. They're like peanut butter and jelly. Thunder and lightning. Salt and pepper. Spenser and Hawk. Fire and Ice. Canseco and McGuire. Murtaugh and Riggs. Watch out world! Well you get the idea. The director was the writer for the original Lethal Weapon. So the plot is not that important here. Large portions of it don't make much sense when you sit down to think about it. But who spends a lot of time thinking about acton film plots anyway? The problem with this film, and maybe "problem" is too strong of a descriptor, was that the film lacked a singular effective big bad or a female love interest. Missing one of those things wouldn't have really hurt the film but missing both of them slightly damaged my interest in the movie's storyline. Maybe you will feel differently. As is typical in the genre this movie has a fair amount of comedy, some of it slapstick. I thought this worked well. As mentioned there is not a female love interest (in the normal sense) for either lead but perhaps to make up for that there is some amount of female toplessness and bare flesh.  It makes sense given the subject matter and surroundings. The film takes place in 1970s Los Angeles and like the movie Lovelace, reviewed here, The Nice Guys does an admirable job at recreating the look and feel of those times. This includes everything from the fonts to the clothes, music, cars, and technology on display. Like Lovelace this film examines some shady goings on connected to the adult industry. Unlike Lovelace, The Nice Guys keeps the actual nuts and bolts of that industry at a distance. With the exception of the opening scene and a few party scenes the sex industry is not really essential to the story line. This movie doesn't have an axe to grind on that front. Most of the bad guys are not even involved in the adult film industry. The Nice Guys wants to investigate corruption and malfeasance that goes far beyond the adult film industry.