Monday, November 28, 2016

The Electoral College Fallout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Take, Law Abiding Citizen

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

Book Reviews: Chaingang

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Trump: Now What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rutgers Incident: Keep Your Hands to Yourself!!!

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Movie Reviews: Purge: Election Year

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

Monday, November 14, 2016

Election Night SNL Skit

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

Saturday, November 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

2016 Election Predictions

Unless something really strange happens, by 10 or 11 PM EST on Tuesday we should know who will be the next President of the United States. I'd like to raise an issue which is related to the post I did on the last election. I didn't originate this point but I've made it before. Let's say there are four candidates. Let's call them Crazy Man, Corporate Stooge, Hippy Dippy and Weed Man. If you vote for Hippy Dippy, none of the other three candidates get your vote. Hippy Dippy gets one vote. If on the other hand you decide to vote for Weed Man because like Peter Tosh you think it's time to legalize it, then again none of the other candidates get your vote. But Weed Man gets one vote. Now Crazy Man and Corporate Stooge may have much larger followings then the other two candidates. They and their supporters may hope that you don't understand math. They will say that since one of them is going to win the Presidency you shouldn't waste your vote and vote for Hippy Dippy/Weed Man because a vote for one of those people is a vote for their opponent. This is not true.The only way that Crazy Man or Corporate Stooge get a vote from you is if you place a check by their name. The point here is that your vote and your reasons for casting it are yours and yours alone. The only wasted vote is a vote which is not cast according to your conscience, values, analysis and political interests. You have no obligation to vote for a candidate who is not your best choice. Don't let anyone ever tell you otherwise. The amount of vitriol which the larger parties and their supporters spew onto smaller parties and their voters is amazing. Here's a thought. If you must insult or bully people into voting for your preferred choice, maybe your choice isn't that great. It's always the right thing to do to vote for your preferred candidate regardless of their chance at victory. I couldn't vote in 1984 but most adults I knew voted for the Democrat Walter Mondale even though they doubted he'd win. Mondale not only didn't win he led the Democratic Party to an apocalyptic election night massacre that made the Red Wedding look like a minor after dinner squabble and caused Michael Corleone to urge mercy. 

But if you believed in certain values Mondale was your man and you voted for him. You didn't say "Oh he can't win so let's vote for Reagan". No. Stick with your conscience and values no matter what. You get one vote just like everyone else. Vote for the candidate who best meets your values, worldview and criteria.
Although the race has tightened I still think that Clinton will win. The Democratic Party nationally has many paths to 270 electoral votes. Thanks to demographic changes in the electorate and conservative intransigence on various issues, the Republican Party has a very narrow path to victory. Clinton would have to collapse completely in the next 48 hours (get caught on tape spewing racial slurs, sneer about stupid people voting Republican, joke about starting a war with Russia, or something similar) for her floor to fall below 205 electoral votes. It is possible that Trump's appeal to white ethno-nationalism and economic nationalism and anti-pc will bring out the "missing" white voters in the Upper Midwest and Appalachia but I still don't think there are enough of those voters for Trump to win all of the states he'd have to win.

So I'm betting that Clinton wins 290-248. Her advantages in the densely populated East Coast states due to the demise of the Northeastern Republicans combined with the loss of California are ultimately too much for Trump to overcome. Trump needs to flip a "blue" state or two in the Upper Midwest, win Pennsylvania, or steal back North Carolina and win in Florida. That's a tough assignment. We'll see who's smiling on Tuesday night. Whoever wins on Tuesday, about 45% of the country is going to be angry and possibly surprised. We live in interesting times.

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The Janitor's prediction for tomorrow (see below).  I think she ekes out a narrow victory in Nevada due to the heavy Latino vote who Trump has unwisely incentivized to vote against him.  She holds on to New Hampshire's 4 points, but I think she loses the battleground states of Ohio and probably North Carolina, although I was conflicted on North Carolina due to the Black vote there which could push her over the edge.  It's certainly one of the closer states and is currently tracking on 538 as 51.6% Trump, 48.4% Hillary and appears to be holding steady for Trump.  Similar situation in Florida but unlike Shady, I think Hillary pulls out a win in Florida.  It went for Obama in '08 and again in '12 and the demographics have only gotten increasingly more diverse since then.  Iowa, which is a 90+ percent White state, easily goes for Trump, while Pennsylvania continues to be "fools gold" for Republicans and remains Blue in the Hillary column.  So I think Hillary takes it 308 to 230:

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Old Guru's prediction:
I think Hilary wins Florida, which means Trump’s path to 270 dwindles to zero. I think that although there is a large Cuban bloc that supports the GOP, the group is not big enough to match the influx of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans that Trump has turned off. I think New Hampshire goes red this time. Obama won the state in 2012 by about 5% but I think Clinton has taken enough of a beating in that state that Trump might squeak that one out. I think North Carolina goes to Trump. Obama lost the state in 2012 and I don’t think the black vote there is energized enough to pull it out for Hillary.

Grand Central's Prediction:

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

Music Reviews: Fever

"Fever" is a Blues/R&B song which was written by the African-American singers/songwriters Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell. Both men had more success in the music business writing songs for other people than they did as performers under their own names. Blackwell in particular was a relatively unheralded early songwriter of many rock-n-roll hits. Elvis Presley considered Blackwell to be a favorite songwriter. Some of the Blackwell written Presley hits include such songs as "All Shook Up", "Don't Be Cruel",  and "Return to Sender". Blackwell also co-wrote "Great Balls of Fire" for Jerry Lee Lewis. "Fever" first was a hit for teen African-American singer Little Willie John in 1956. Afterwards, as was often the practice in those days and today, it was covered to even greater acclaim by Euro-American singer Peggy Lee. Lee's sultry voiced version turned up the sex appeal although ironically Lee dropped some of the original lyrics because they were thought to be too risque for the white market. Much as would latter happen with Aretha Franklin's version of Otis Redding's "Respect", most people probably know Lee's version of the song instead of Little Willie John's. There have been many different singers who have done versions of the song including Madonna, La Lupe, Beyonce and Buddy Guy. I like Little Willie John's version best although Buddy Guy's overwrought James Brown approved take on the song is certainly worthwhile listening. All of the good versions of the song, regardless of who is interpreting it, capture the utterly irrational and insistent nature of love and lust. People do things that they otherwise wouldn't do and may later regret under those influences. When that part of our brain is fully engaged insanity or fever may be the best way of describing the experience. Little Willie John was from Detroit. Despite only standing 5'4" (hence the nickname) Little Willie John was a pugnacious fellow with a quick temper who rarely backed down from fights. He died at age 30 in prison in the late sixties where he was serving time on manslaughter charges. A drunk 6'2 "fan" punched Little Willie John in the mouth. Little Willie retaliated by stabbing his assailant to death.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Cheryl Mills, Corruption, Infrastructure and Sweatshops

If there were a generic Republican who was running for President and we learned that this person had not only assisted foreign companies in setting up sweatshops in third world countries but also that this person's top advisor was doing the same while they were on the government dime many people would have an issue with that. Some people have argued and really believe that sweatshop labor is just what third world countries need to bootstrap themselves into prosperity. Other people argue that no one ever got rich providing slave labor for corporations. In my view the second view is closer to being correct. The business model simply doesn't allow for that. So it's a fair question as to why Clinton lawyer, advisor and former government employee Cheryl Mills has been helping a low wage textile firm to set up shop in Haiti while simultaneously using the company's expertise to pursue her own low wage business dreams in Africa and the Caribbean. 

As chief of staff and counselor to Hillary Clinton at the State Department, Cheryl D. Mills worked ceaselessly to help a South Korean garment maker open a factory in Haiti, the centerpiece of United States government efforts to jump-start the island nation’s economy after the 2010 earthquake. Ms. Mills took the lead on smoothing the way for the company, Sae-A Trading, which secured millions of dollars in incentives to make its Haiti investment more attractive, despite criticism of its labor record elsewhere. When she presided over the project’s unveiling in September 2010, she introduced Sae-A’s chairman, Woong-ki Kim, as the most important person at the ceremony, which included Mrs. Clinton and the Haitian prime minister. Mr. Kim would later become important to Ms. Mills in a far more personal way — as a financial backer of a company she started after leaving the State Department in 2013. The company, BlackIvy Group, is pursuing infrastructure projects in Tanzania and Ghana, the only African nations in the “Partnership for Growth,” an Obama administration initiative that Mrs. Clinton helped introduce that promotes investment in developing countries. 
Since teaming up through BlackIvy, Ms. Mills and Mr. Kim have maintained close business ties, appearing together last year for the opening of a new Sae-A factory in Costa Rica where they cut the ribbon alongside Costa Rica’s president, Luis Guillermo SolĂ­s. In Africa, representatives of the United States Agency for International Development have consulted with BlackIvy and Sae-A about efforts to expand the textile trade in Ghana, where BlackIvy says the country’s 23-cents-an-hour minimum wage “compares favorably” to higher wages in China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. 

Federal officials are barred from using their positions to negotiate future employment or exchange services for something of value, and no evidence has emerged to suggest that occurred with BlackIvy. Both Ms. Mills and Mr. Kim deny that his investment was influenced by the substantial assistance she provided his company while serving as Mrs. Clinton’s right hand at the State Department. 

BlackIvy’s rationale did not sway labor advocates like Scott Nova, the executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, who had criticized the Haiti project as a misguided American relief effort that glossed over Sae-A’s labor-relations history. “When you urge garment manufacturers producing in countries like Bangladesh, where wages are far too low for workers to adequately support their families, to move production to countries with even lower wages, it undercuts the efforts of apparel workers across the Global South to persuade governments, employers and major apparel brands to lift wages to a decent level,” Mr. Nova said. FULL STORY

If this sort of thing were going on in China or Russia or anywhere in the Middle East then we'd point and laugh and talk about those funny foreigners and their funny accents and their cultures of corruption or crony capitalism or so on and so forth. But it's happening right here, right now. And this is not a partisan problem. Both parties do this, have done it and will continue to do it. The only party difference may be which industries are favored. But that's not really a difference is it. I don't mind if government workers are well paid. I do mind if they are using government contacts to set themselves up for lucrative private business in the future. I do mind if they are using government power to assist private industry with the unspoken expectation that they'll get a little something something as soon as possible. I do mind if US government agencies are helping to outsource labor to cheaper markets.There is nothing illegal with what Mills has done but frankly that's the problem. Government policy should be based on what's best for the people of the United States, not what is best for a well connected cabal of wealthy lawyers, financiers, bureaucrats, corporations and lobbyists. The fact this group's membership may be more diverse than previous years is hardly something that should make any difference to the rest of us. I don't see that government assisted searching for sweatshop labor to make Mills and her friends richer does all that much for me. Black faces in high places means nothing if we have the same patterns of exploitation. This sort of both sides do it malarkey is exactly why the "tear the temple down" feeling is spreading in different ways on both the left and right. 

Michigan Trump Supporter Pulls Gun on Kids

The problem with extreme partisanship is that people can no longer distinguish between a group of people who do not agree with you on some important issues and a group of people who are evil and need to be violently suppressed, expelled or exterminated. This problem is something that impacts both putative sides in American politics. There is one side that is much more likely to be armed however, and when you start mixing politics and guns usually bad things happen. I can understand the sense of violation experienced when someone steals something from your porch or commits an act of vandalism on your property. However you can't threaten deadly force in retaliation. You certainly can't do that when the alleged offenders are children. And it's that much worse when the people you threaten aren't even the people who committed the offense. Then you're not a man standing up to protect your property or your family. You're just a hothead who wants to get revenge.
An Allen Park man upset that his campaign sign was destroyed, grabbed his gun and now he's facing charges for pointing that weapon at children. It appeared Michael Kubek wasn't home Thursday night after being released from lockup for allegedly holding six kids at gunpoint at about 8 p.m. Saturday night.
FOX 2: "Did the kids seem scared?"
"Yes, yes," said a neighbor.

The neighbor, who did not want to be identified, said she was spooked too. The News-Herald reports Kubek made the kids sit in the grass at the corner of Pennsylvania and Sterling in Allen Park as they stared down the barrel of his gun. Kubek was fuming because he thought they destroyed his Trump lawn sign.
FOX 2: "What was he saying to them?"

"He was using very profane language," the neighbor said. "Real bad language."
Kubek reportedly told police he neither saw or had proof the kids wrecked his sign, he only heard them outside of his house, saw the sign ruined and the kids running. He reportedly told police he showed the kids the business end of his gun because he felt threatened and outnumbered and his pistol was unloaded. Kubek is now facing six counts of assault with a dangerous weapon. He got out of jail on a $5,000, 10-percent bond. Legal experts say that's pretty low considering the circumstances.

When you consider that Michigan is among the states that doesn't prohibit guns at polling places Tuesday could be very interesting indeed.