Friday, October 27, 2017

Kiki Alonso Hit on Joe Flacco

It seems as if Thursday night football is almost unwatchable. I don't know why the NFL insists on having Thursday night games anyway. It doesn't seem fair to the players involved to have a short week to prepare to engage in such a brutal contest. An incident in the most recent Thursday game reminded me of football's unchangeable savagery. Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiki Alonso put a hit on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco that knocked Flacco out of the game and at least into the middle of next week. Flacco had to have stitches and is in concussion protocol. Alonso was penalized for unnecessary roughness, but wasn't ejected from the game. When this post was written, the NFL had not decided if Alonso would be suspended.

The NFL has tried to cut down on helmet to helmet contact. It has tried to reduce the hits that quarterbacks take. It has, compared to the days of the 70s and 80s, tried to limit the ways in which defenders can hit offensive players. We know more about the human body than we did in those days. And people want to see scoring. When there's no scoring people don't watch the game. That's the fear anyway. 

But all the same you can not take young muscular men between 200 and 400 pounds and repeatedly crash them into each other at high speeds without someone getting hurt. It can't be done. And as other players have pointed out, when you step on that field, you are subject to getting hit--like everyone else. Football players are trained to play until the whistle. If they don't they won't be employed for very long. I'm not sure that by the rules of the game Alonzo's hit was "dirty" but it was certainly painful. And it was questionable enough for Flacco's teammates and coaches to start quite a ruckus. Once a quarterback starts to slide he's really not supposed to be hit. That's kind of the whole point of sliding. Watch below and sound off..

Book Reviews: Hard Magic

Hard Magic
by Larry Correia
I enjoyed this book. I think I enjoyed it more because it was written in the third person. Therefore it wasn't really a given, as most first person narrated books tend to be, that the protagonist survives. In some aspects Hard Magic is miles apart from Correia's Monster Hunter books and in others it's pretty similar. A hero of large size and rough demeanor with a complicated family past joins a band of not so lovable losers, misfits and outright criminals who are nonetheless tasked to save the world. This story also put me in mind of the X-Men Professor X: Magneto conflict as well as the classic Doc Savage pulp novels. This book took me a little longer to read than usual. At 600 pages, Hard Magic isn't a quick read. But mostly it took me longer to read because my lunch hour seems to keep shrinking. In a perfect world I would have finished this book in about two weeks. 

Hard Magic imagines a world where at some point in the 19th century magic or as people call it "power" became a reality. The book is set in the 1930s. Correia doesn't just dump information on the reader. It takes a while to put everything together.  The reader discovers things in time, not all at once. As clues Correia has quotes from notable 19th and 20th century personages opening each chapter. They all explain how magic has changed their life and plans or those of other people for better, or often worse. Some populations have more magic users than others only because different cultures reacted differently to magic. Other people combine both inborn magic and external use of magic.  Some people are able to use magic: cast spells and make enchanted items. Other people were born with magic powers. These people were called Actives. And a few can do both. There are all sorts of different Actives. These include but are certainly not limited to:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Fats Domino Passes Away

Fats Domino was a founding father of rock-n-roll. He passed away at 89. My brother always joked that a lot of the classic rock-n-roll and R&B songs out of New Orleans all sounded the same. I would counter that it was distinctive. Although the music may have seemed simple, when you listen to later rock bands (mostly unsuccessfully) attempt covers of people like Domino, you realized that there was more going on rhythmically than you might have realized. Fats Domino stood at the interstices of a lot of popular music.

Without Fats Domino rock-n-roll would have been much impoverished. Reggae and Calypso would be very different indeed. Listen to "Be My Guest" for a example of proto-reggae. His music swung. It is immediately recognizable. And I really love the clear crisp production with deep bass and upfront vocals. Even his sad songs were somehow still optimistic. A joy runs through all of his music. Fats Domino was apparently something of an introvert. And even on stage he preferred to let the music do the talking. Domino very rarely showed off the wild performance styles of fellow rock-n-roll pianists like Little Richard or Jerry Lee Lewis. And since the piano isn't a portable instrument like the guitar, Domino rarely deigned to swivel his hips and drive the ladies wild like Elvis, Ike Turner or Chuck Berry. Nonetheless Fats Domino, as much as anyone else and more than most, could claim to be a King of Rock-n-Roll. Fats Domino, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues singer whose two-fisted boogie-woogie piano and nonchalant vocals, heard on dozens of hits, made him one of the biggest stars of the early rock ’n’ roll era, has died in Louisiana. He was 89. His death was confirmed by his brother-in-law and former road manager Reggie Hall, who said he had no other details. Mr. Domino lived in Harvey, La., across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.

Mr. Domino had more than three dozen Top 40 pop hits through the 1950s and early ’60s, among them “Blueberry Hill,” “Ain’t It a Shame” (also known as “Ain’t That a Shame,” which is the actual lyric), “I’m Walkin’,” “Blue Monday” and “Walkin’ to New Orleans.” Throughout he displayed both the buoyant spirit of New Orleans, his hometown, and a droll resilience that reached listeners worldwide.
He sold 65 million singles in those years, with 23 gold records, making him second only to Elvis Presley as a commercial force. Presley acknowledged Mr. Domino as a predecessor. “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” Presley told Jet magazine in 1957. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing it like Fats Domino can. I know that.”

Friday, October 20, 2017

Trump Tax Plan

President Donald Trump and his team of economic advisers recently released their plan for tax "reform". You can read some of the highlights here

On September 27, 2017, the Trump administration released its tax reform plan. The Unified Tax Reform Framework would cut income tax rates, lowering the top rate to 35 percent. It doubles the standard deduction but eliminates personal exemptions. The plan would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. It allows a one-time repatriation of corporate profits earned overseas.

The Framework would lower the maximum corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent. The United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world. But that doesn't hurt large corporations. Most of them don't pay more than 15 percent. That's because they can afford tax attorneys who help them avoid paying higher taxes.

Trump's plan lowers the maximum tax rate for small businesses to 25 percent. That includes sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations. Many of those are real estate companies, hedge funds, and private equity funds. As a result, 85 percent of the tax cut benefits the top 1 percent of earners. Most mom-and-pop small business won't benefit from the reduction. They don't earn enough to qualify for the top tax rate. The Framework does not mention increasing the tax on some profits, called carried interest. That's taxed at 15 percent instead of the income rate. It benefits private equity funds. Trump campaigned on making them pay their fair share.

Trump's plan would almost exclusively benefit the extremely well off. The people that Trump sent out to defend this plan couldn't speak with a straight face about the plan's benefits to the middle class or working class. There are few benefits to the working class or middle class.This plan is warmed over supply side trickle down economics, which is the discredited but never truly dead idea that if we would only reduce taxes on our "betters" then they would be inspired to open more businesses and hire more workers, and not instead buy another vacation home or more stocks or bonds.

Music Reviews: None of Us Are Free

None of Us Are Free is a song written by Brenda Russell along with the famed Brill building husband wife songwriting team of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. If I didn't know better I would have thought that the song was an old traditional field holler or gospel song, although in retrospect I suppose the lyrics are a little more direct than those songs tend to be. It's hard to sing about how badly you want your freedom when the very person denying you your freedom is standing over you with a whip and gun. Anyway, this song is another example of how talent doesn't really respect race. Although the song has an earthy black gospel feel, particularly in the version I heard, Mann and Weil happen to be Caucasian Jews. So sometimes charges of cultural appropriation are balderdash. Either you have talent or you don't. Obviously these songwriters had talent. This song has been recorded by both Ray Charles and Lynyrd Skynyrd (!) but the version I want to share with you is one by late soul legend Solomon Burke with the equally legendary Blind Boys of Alabama on backup vocals. You really have to be someone to get the Blind Boys of Alabama to sing backup for you. And Solomon Burke was. Maybe that's another post. If you're not already familiar with Solomon Burke then you should become familiar with him.

Anyway I really liked Burke's interpretation here. And the lyrics are simple but biting. I thought they were inspirational. The lyrics reminded me of so many different struggles. It also reminded me that sometimes the collective is as important as the individual. This version was recorded live in the studio. It's not easy to find this sort of singing in what is today called R&B. I'm not saying that to be snide. It's just a fact. It seems as if baritone and bass voices have been all but exiled from modern black American popular music. That's a shame. But so it goes. Anyway check out the lyrics and song below.

Call Of The Wild: What Makes Dogs and Wolves Different

I love dogs. I am a dog person. I love the idea of wolves. I love wolf iconography, whether it be the rock band Los Lobos, the blues giant Howlin Wolf, Stephen King's fiercely protective if somewhat dim character Wolf in The Talisman, or George R.R. Martin's Stark sigils and loyal direwolves. However it's not that easy to be a wolf person because wolves do not like or trust people. They are after all wild animals. They are literally not designed to be around people. Although the wild wolf's danger to humans and cattle is drastically overstated, it's usually a bad idea to raise a wolf or even a wolf-dog hybrid in your home. Wolves are more intelligent than dogs, stronger and more aggressive, and skittish and unpredictable. They're killers. It's who they are and what they do.

All the same dogs and wolves share so many characteristics that they are usually considered to be the same species. Humans have had dogs as pets and working animals for at least 14,000 years. Dogs are the first animal that humans domesticated. Did humans change some of the more docile wolves into dogs over time? Or are dogs and wolves descended from some common ancestor we have yet to discover? We know that dogs need a certain amount of time to learn the rules of being a dog before they are ready to leave their mother. How does this work for wolves? What makes an animal shy, skittish and potentially dangerous? Is it nature or nurture? And if we find the genes associated with fear or introversion in wolves or dogs can we find similar ones in humans? Watch the video below the fold to get some answers to these questions.

NICOLET, Quebec — I’m sitting in an outdoor pen with four puppies chewing my fingers, biting my hat and hair, peeing all over me in their excitement. At eight weeks old, they are two feet from nose to tail and must weigh seven or eight pounds. They growl and snap over possession of a much-chewed piece of deer skin. They lick my face like I’m a long-lost friend, or a newfound toy. They are just like dogs, but not quite. They are wolves. When they are full-grown at around 100 pounds, their jaws will be strong enough to crack moose bones.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Movie Reviews: Wish Upon, The House

Wish Upon
directed by John Leonetti
The good thing about this bland horror film is that it generally avoids jump cuts. That's unusual these days. There are deaths of course. It's hard to make a horror movie without them, but by genre standards this is not a particularly bloody or grotesque film. On the other hand it's only infrequently a scary film. The writing is pedestrian. This story is something I've seen done much better on early Supernatural or Friday the 13th episodes. You pretty much know from almost the first five minutes how the story is going to turn out. The only question is who is going to get it in the neck along the way.  This movie was also a reminder that time waits for no one. People whom I am used to seeing as the hot sultry babe or young dashing rake are now playing respectable, stolid, wrinkled, greying, middle aged or older parents and neighborhood residents.  And if they are still around in another fifteen years or so they'll be playing grandparents. So it goes. Anyone who has every watched any horror movie knows that if you find an antique of uncertain provenance with warnings in languages that aren't easily understood, it's usually not a good idea to bring that item home. Anyone who has watched horror movies also knows that when you get something that's too good to be true, it is too good to be true. 

There's always a price to be paid. I guess that it says something about human nature that this basic lesson is one that we seem to need to learn over and over again. There are no free lunches. So maybe we use horror movies to illustrate who we are as humans. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mice on the Menu at the Fortune Buffet

Let's say that you are sitting down to eat at your favorite restaurant. Just as you are preparing to consume your preferred meal, the one that is only really done right at this place, you notice mice or rats running across the floor. Do you continue to eat? After all, we all have immune systems for a reason. If you look behind the scenes at almost any restaurant you'll probably discover some information that won't give you a warm fuzzy feeling about eating there. Heck maybe those raisins in the salad aren't really raisins? Or, armed with the knowledge that your food was prepared in a place shared with nasty filthy diseased little mice and their droppings, do you immediately leave the establishment, swearing by the sixty-two moons of Saturn never to set foot in there again?

This is not just a hypothetical.
LIVONIA - Customers are complaining of a rodent infestation at Fortune Buffet in Livonia. Customers took out their phones to record it, as employees ran around with brooms during a lunch buffet. Fox 2's Hilary Golston talked with the owner.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Columbus Day

1492. The teachers told the children that this was when their continent was discovered by human beings. Actually millions of human beings were already living full and imaginative lives on the continent in 1492. That was simply the year in which sea pirates began to cheat and rob and kill them..

Here is how the pirates were able to take whatever they wanted from anybody else: they had the best boats in the world and they were meaner than anybody else and they had gunpowder...The chief weapon of the sea pirates, however, was their ability to astonish. Nobody else could believe, until it was much too late, how heartless and greedy they were."-Kurt Vonnegut
This past Monday, October 9th was Columbus Day. It's a federal holiday but many people do not receive the day off. Increasingly Columbus Day has become a flashpoint between people who would like to bring to light that Columbus wasn't really a good man as the term is understood today or in 1492 and between those who see any attempt to revise bad history as a simplistic attack on whites, Italians, or Western Civilization. I was reminded of how the second group thinks when I was listening to a local white (supposedly liberal) radio host bemoan the city of Detroit's planned renaming of Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. The radio host and most of his callers were of the opinion that everyone (by which they meant non-whites) was just too sensitive these days. They said that well sure maybe Columbus did some bad things but Martin Luther King Jr. wasn't perfect either. 

And in their view because America existed now that made everything okay. The radio host closed out with what he thought was the devastating conclusion that Columbus was good because "our European ancestors never would have made it here were it not for Columbus".  Wow. How can anyone argue with that logic.

Movie Reviews: Killing Gunther

Killing Gunther
directed by Taran Killam
This film was a mixed bag. It tried to be Spinal Tap for hitmen but didn't make it.
Killing Gunther is Killam's directorial debut. Killam is a SNL veteran. At times this movie does feel like an extended SNL skit. I thought that the premise was humorous. The film's energy flags occasionally. I think that the hour and a half long Killing Gunther could have dropped about 20 minutes from its running time and done okay. It's action comedy film that mixes slapstick, Airplane like sight gags, and black comedy to decent if not great impact. The first 20 minutes I laughed out loud quite a bit, after that, not so much. If I had seen this in theaters I probably wouldn't have thought it worth the expense and trouble of going to the movie theater but it was okay as a Saturday afternoon film. Although some more squeamish people may be turned off or even offended by the premise, the movie is not all that different from any number of comedies set in corporate offices or shady bars where a bunch of lovable losers come up with their planned big score. I was reminded of Welcome to Collinwood. Blake (Killam) is a somewhat louche, highstrung world class hitman. Although he's good at what he does he's by no means the best. That appellation is reserved for the target of his ire, Gunther. Nobody knows what Gunther looks like. Some people aren't even certain that Gunther is a man. 

Everyone agrees though that Gunther is the best. He's the best of the best. Maybe he's the best ever. Gunther takes on impossible hits and makes them look easy. Gunther shows off and steals all the best jobs. He makes other assassins look bad. Blake resents not being number 1 in his field. Blake decides that the way to set his own rep in stone as the man to see when you want someone murdered is to kill Gunther. He also has some more personal reasons for wanting Gunther dead. These become obvious later on in the film.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Detroit CPL holder practices Self-Defense

I don't have much to say about this incident. On Detroit's east side one man armed with a gun tried to rob another man. The would be victim was legally armed and defended himself, shooting the robber multiple times. The robber is still alive. The victim had no time to call the police. And since the victim is neither bulletproof nor a superhero he had no way to wrestle with the assailant and disarm him without being shot. The victim did run away but again only Superman is faster than a speeding bullet. We stop someone who is wrongfully initiating force against us by meeting that force with equal or greater force.

I do believe that violent street crime has multiple reasons for existing, some of which the government can and should address and resolve and some of which are probably beyond government solution. But that's another discussion. When someone is either shooting at or threatening to shoot you, it's too late to make his parents raise him right. It's too late to give him enough self-respect and material success so that he won't want to risk prison or death. It's too late to rewire his moral code so that he doesn't enjoy hurting other people. The only thing we can do is stop the threat. And the most effective way of doing that is to be armed. There are some areas that are more dangerous than others. People who can should avoid those areas. Most people are not criminals. Most people won't ever be attacked. But I think it is non-negotiable to insist that American citizens retain the right to defend themselves both in their homes and in the streets. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Book Reviews: The Whistler

The Whistler
by John Grisham
I usually like a lot of Grisham's work. Like many other former lawyers or legal experts who have become thriller or mystery authors he is able to build excitement around oft boring judicial proceedings or explain legal esoterica to those of us who didn't go to law school. This book wasn't his among his most worthy creations though. The Whistler starts out in the familiar Grisham style. Two investigators for the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct, Lacy Stolz and Hugo Hatch, receive information regarding potential judicial corruption. They follow up on it. But they're not expecting anything big. Although they are lawyers and work for the state they have no arrest powers and don't carry weapons. They investigate judges. The most dangerous things they normally encounter in their daily labor are nasty insults from $800/hr defense attorneys or empty threats from angered judges. Lacy and Hugo don't make a lot of money in their job.

Neither of them earns much more than $60,000/year. Lacy is single and quite attractive. Hugo is married with a growing family. The two co-workers are close. Not in THAT way. Lacy babysits for her partner and his wife from time to time. But the stakes of Lacy's and Hugo's job are usually pretty small. At worst a particularly venal judge might be indicted and convicted of a crime and serve a few years. That's pretty rare. Prosecutors and judges don't like to take down fellow big shots. Usually what happens is that a judge is censured, forced to resign, reassigned, fined or perhaps disbarred. But this case is different. Their contact, a man calling himself Greg Myers, claims to know of a corrupt judge who has stolen more money than all judges, ever. And the judge is involved in worse crimes. Disbarment or fines wouldn't be appropriate for this judge. These are federal crimes. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Harvey Weinstein Accusations

Harvey Weinstein is a famed award winning Hollywood film and television producer and distributor. He has produced and/or distributed such movies as Pulp Fiction, Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting, Clerks, The Crying Game, Shaolin Soccer, Silver Linings Playbook, and Sex, Lies and Videotape among others. He is the executive producer of Project Runway. He also has a book publishing company. Weinstein provided an internship to Malia Obama, President Obama's daughter. Although Weinstein's recent films have not been as critically acclaimed or as profitable as they have been in the past, Weinstein has over the years built a well deserved reputation as one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. He's worth hundreds of millions.

Like several men who fit that description, Weinstein has had business relationships with some of the world's most beautiful or successful actresses and models, including such women as Heidi Klum, Jennifer Lawrence, Gwyneth Paltrow, Meryl Streep, Ashley Judd, and Uma Thurman. Weinstein has allegedly used his power within the entertainment industry to make women put out or get out in the classic casting couch/sexual harassment sense. I was aware of a few isolated past accounts of settlements and accusations concerning Weinstein. But the New York Times recently ran an expose detailing numerous settlements going back decades. The story included women who were willing to go on record about their experiences with the satyric Mr. Weinstein. 

Update: The Weinstein Company’s board has fired Harvey Weinstein after reports of sexual harassment complaints against him. Two decades ago, the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein invited Ashley Judd to the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel for what the young actress expected to be a business breakfast meeting. Instead, he had her sent up to his room, where he appeared in a bathrobe and asked if he could give her a massage or she could watch him shower, she recalled in an interview. “How do I get out of the room as fast as possible without alienating Harvey Weinstein?” Ms. Judd said she remembers thinking.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Las Vegas Shooting and the 2nd Amendment

I don't have much to write about the recent atrocity in Las Vegas where a wealthy semi-retired real estate investor and gambler shot hundreds of people at a country music festival. Stephen Paddock murdered 58 people and wounded over 400. Likely many of the survivors will have lifelong issues. It's a horror. No one yet knows his motive. From the information released to the public, it appears that Paddock used bump stocks to increase the rate of fire of his weapons. Bump stocks are legal devices which redirect the gun's recoil to make a semi-automatic weapon behave somewhat similarly to an automatic weapon. Automatic weapons made after 1986 are of course banned for civilian usage. Those made prior to that time are legal but only with strict government oversight.

In the wake of the atrocity many people who were generally already pro-gun control were greatly outraged. They called for more gun control: bans on bump stocks, bans on semi-automatic rifles, increased fees, taxes and insurance on gun owners, limits on the number of weapons or ammunition any one man could purchase, warrantless searches of gun owners' homes, medical sign off to own a gun, lawsuits against the NRA or gun manufacturers, profiling of white men, registering of all guns nationwide, confiscation of all guns except for police or military use, and the repeal of the 2nd Amendment.

Michigan Mother Jailed over Vaccination Refusal

People have differing beliefs about the efficacy of some scientific or medical procedures. We have, within some very wide parameters, the ability to make these decisions for ourselves. Your body. Your choice. There are limits. You can't legally decide that ingesting cocaine and meth is the best way to spend your weekend. You can, however, eat and drink yourself into a stupor. An adult can refuse medical treatment for conditions or diseases that everyone knows require immediate treatment. The state or concerned family or friends face a high barrier trying to force an adult to accept medical treatment or drugs that he or she opposes. I know some doctors and lawyers who are frustrated by this. They snark that someone has spent a few hours on Google or WebMD and now considers themselves a doggone legal/medical expert. I've had discussions with friends and relatives who have what I consider to be conspiratorial paranoid mindsets. I know how irritating it can be when someone refuses to see reason. But this is our system. An adult doesn't have to justify his or her bad decisions. The state or other adults have to justify why they wish to substitute their judgment for someone else's.  

But children are a little different. With children the state has an independent interest, separate from the parents, in ensuring the child's health and life. When the parents disagree with the state or disagree with each other things can get messy. Rebecca Bredow, a local Southeast Michigan woman, shares joint custody of her son with her ex-husband, James Horne. Horne wanted his son vaccinated. Bredow disagreed, citing health and religious beliefs. The judge presiding over the case was unconvinced

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Book Reviews: A Rage in Harlem

A Rage in Harlem
by Chester Himes
The author Chester Himes (1909-1984) had a very short career as a screenwriter for Warner Brothers. It ended when studio boss Jack Warner heard about Himes' hiring and immediately ordered Himes' firing, stating "I don't want no n*****s on this lot!". So much for liberal Hollywood. Himes said that incident in particular and the Los Angeles racism in general was something that more than anything else embittered him. That's saying a lot since Himes had been tortured by police, served time in prison, and watched helplessly as his blinded brother was turned away from a whites-only hospital. But Hollywood's loss was literature's gain. This is African-American noir fiction based in, as is apparent from the title, late fifties Harlem. Hollywood made a nineties movie based on this book starring Robin Givens, Forest Whitaker and Danny Glover. I've seen the film but didn't remember much about it. Hollywood previously made seventies era semi-comedic blaxploitation films based on Himes' other works. I didn't recall much about those movies besides the Donny Hathaway soundtrack and Redd Foxx appearance. So when I set down to read this taut, short novel I didn't have a lot of expectations, good or bad. 

After reading it I was impressed. Himes doesn't waste prose. He describes things quickly but not to the point where you get bored reading it. He paints a picture and lets the reader fill in the rest. There is some humor within the pages but it's not slapstick. It's more subtle. And at least in this story, which also serves as the introduction to the rough black detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, the detectives are not humorous at all. They aren't interested as much in protecting citizens as they are in defeating any challenges to their personal authority.  They are not nice people. 

Himes writes: Grave Digger and Coffin Ed weren't crooked detectives, but they were tough. They had to be tough to work in Harlem. Colored folks didn't respect colored cops. But they respected big shiny pistols and sudden death. It was said in Harlem that Coffin Ed's pistol would kill a rock and that Grave Digger's would bury it. They took their tribute like all real cops, from the established underworld catering to the essential needs of the people--gamekeepers, madams, streetwalkers, numbers writers, numbers bankers. But they were rough on purse snatchers, muggers, burglars, con men, and all strangers working any racket. And they didn't like rough stuff from anybody else but themselves. "Keep it cool", they warned. "Don't make graves."