Thursday, December 27, 2018

Movie Reviews: A Simple Favor

A Simple Favor
directed by Paul Feig
Neo-noir that looks good but mixes in just a little too much comedy for my taste.
This movie was based on a book which I have not read, but it also owes quite a bit to the French movie Diabolique,  which it indeed name checks.  A Simple Favor carries some DNA  from such works as Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys series, the first of which is also name checked, as well as the works of V.C. Andrews and Hanna Barbera's Scooby Doo, which are not credited. I am betting that the movie toned down a few things from the book. The film also normalizes some things I don't think should be normalized. I am mildly curious if the book took the same approach or not. But just mildly.

I didn't identify with any of the main characters but that's ok. None of the characters are all that sympathetic. If you are looking for a movie with well defined heroes, or in this case heroines, this movie lacks those. Or perhaps I am being a tad judgmental. You would have to see the film for yourself. 

This film is set in suburban Connecticut. Stephanie (Anna Kendrick) is playing the role in this film that would normally be played by a man in a traditional film noir-the easy going seemingly not too bright fellow who gets pulled into a dangerous world by a sultry leggy blonde with a hidden past.

Friday, December 21, 2018

No Heat in NYC Public Housing

What do you do when your furnace doesn't work? Well if you own your own home then you will spend money to fix it. But if you rent your living space then your reasonable expectation (assuming that the landlord has responsibility for heat) is that your landlord will fix the malfunctioning furnace. 

If the landlord shows that he is incapable of fixing the furnace, won't fix the furnace from spite, or won't fix the furnace because he wants you to move, then you would probably stop paying the rent and/or sue the landlord. If you were a younger more excitable respect obsessed person you might even appear at your landlord's place of business to take a more "hands-on" approach to the discussion. Whatever you decide to do it's pretty clear that the landlord is breaking the deal that both of you signed. You pay rent. He provides a livable space for the agreed period of time. It's not a complicated relationship.

But this relationship doesn't work for everybody. If you are poor and black (or poor and hispanic or even poor and white) the system is not designed to work for you. Most middle class or upper class people would raise holy hell if they lived in a place without heat. Systems are created so that that doesn't happen. But when you lack money people with power don't expeditiously respond to your complaints. And tragically many poor people learn not to bother complaining.

Evelyn and Franklin Badia’s wish of qualifying for a public housing apartment became a reality in 2011 after eight years of waiting.  Then it got cold outside. Inside, too. The heat in their apartment — owned by the New York City Housing Authority, also known as Nycha — didn’t work that winter, or any winter after, they said. 

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Book Reviews: Imperium In Imperio

Imperium In Imperio
by Sutton E. Griggs
Sutton Griggs was a black man born in Reconstruction era Texas. He later became an author, publisher and minister, among other professions. Griggs was a great proponent of activism for Black Americans. Griggs was an example of deeds being as important as faith. He helped build and maintain social institutions for Black Americans during the worst time for Black Americans outside of slavery. 

From the very first time that enslaved Africans arrived in this country there have always been different, occasionally conflicting ideas about how to best obtain freedom or even what freedom is. People of course change their minds depending on their life experiences. A traumatic experience as a youth can set the adult on a different path than he or she otherwise might have been. 

Growing up at a time when racist atrocities against Black Americans were literally unchecked Griggs used that environment to produce a novel that is by turns didactic and descriptive if not always entertaining in the modern sense. Griggs was a supporter of DuBois and thus perhaps a believer in the "Talented tenth" and integrationist models. However in this novel Griggs seems to be working out his own skepticism about the limits of those models and their ability to solve the needs of Black Americans. Griggs calls back to earlier more specifically Black nationalist writers such as David Walker. Griggs also eerily anticipates upcoming Pan-Africanist nationalist activists such as Marcus Garvey, who would come on the scene just a few short years after this novel, as well as later folks like Elijah Muhammad.

The novel is really more of a short story or even novella. It's just under 100 pages. It's occasionally dense reading. Griggs really liked prepositional phrases, a weakness I share. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

#MeToo Backlash Hits Wall Street

For some Wall Street male movers and shakers, because of the #metoo movement, the Mr. Bean gif to the right could become the preferred model that any man with something to lose will use when interacting with women in the workplace.

No more dinners with female colleagues. Don’t sit next to them on flights. Book hotel rooms on different floors. Avoid one-on-one meetings. In fact, as a wealth adviser put it, just hiring a woman these days is “an unknown risk.” What if she took something he said the wrong way? Across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies for the #MeToo era and, in the process, making life even harder for women. Call it the Pence Effect, after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who has said he avoids dining alone with any woman other than his wife. In finance, the overarching impact can be, in essence, gender segregation.

Interviews with more than 30 senior executives suggest many are spooked by #MeToo and struggling to cope. “It’s creating a sense of walking on eggshells,” said David Bahnsen, a former managing director at Morgan Stanley who’s now an independent adviser overseeing more than $1.5 billion. This is hardly a single-industry phenomenon, as men across the country check their behavior at work, to protect themselves in the face of what they consider unreasonable political correctness -- or to simply do the right thing.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Movie Reviews: Leviathan

directed by George Cosmatos
Saturday afternoon monster movie that had decent SFX but not much else.
I like watching some 80s sci-fi horror movies. Usually the computers and CGI weren't as dominant as they are now. So the special effects impressed me more. I didn't take them for granted. They differed dramatically from film to film and director to director. So I had  some occasional fun watching this movie, which was a mashup/kissing cousin/ knock-off of such similar films as Abyss, The Thing, Alien, and several other best forgotten films that I saw on Saturday afternoon television. You know the drill. A bunch of people are working in an environment which is 100% hostile to human life (underwater, outer space, etc). Someone runs across something that shouldn't exist, gets infected and proceeds to willingly or not, infect his or her teammates. 

If there is a breach of some kind everyone dies. But maybe the breach is better than taking this virus/infection/parasite/alien back to civilization. The problem with many movies like this is that the black guy often dies first. To add insult to injury he often dies in some stupid sacrifice for the white hero/heroine. Well this film got rid of one of those problems. So I guess for the time that was progress.

This movie was pretty predictable. It did have some well known faces. Some of the actors and actresses went on to bigger and better things. Others pretty much stayed in this pocket for the rest of their careers. So it goes.

Michigan Republican Governor Weakens Minimum Wage/Paid Sick Leave

Apparently, many Republicans don't really believe in democracy if by democracy you mean that the people ultimately get the final say. What they do believe in though is using the process of democracy to thwart the will of the voters. Lose an election? Rewrite the laws and rules so that the incoming elected officials don't have the same power that you had when you were in office. 

Getting worried about ballot initiatives but don't want to be seen to oppose them before an election? Adopt them and then immediately gut them after the election.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed controversial bills to weaken minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives that had been headed toward the Nov. 6 ballot before intervention by the Republican-led Legislature.

The minimum wage law will raise Michigan’s rate from $9.25 to $12.05 per hour by 2030, instead of the $12 by 2022 proposed under the initiative. The minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers will rise to $4.58 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2024. The paid sick leave law now exempts more than 160,000 small businesses that have fewer than 50 employees each from a mandate that would have otherwise applied to every company in the state.

Armored Truck Loses Cash: Do You Keep It?

How moral or self-interested are you? If the grocery clerk accidentally gives you a $20 bill when she should have given you a $10 bill will you point out the mistake? If you are at a self-serve grocery kiosk and you notice that the man ahead of you is in such a rush that he has left his change behind, will you alert him to his mistake and/or run after him to give him his money? 

Does it make a difference if it's just a small amount or instead a few $20 bills? Does it make a difference if anyone notices you? If it's too late to catch the guy do you hand the money to the clerk? Or do you swipe the cash and congratulate the universe for finally doing you a solid for once?  Things could get well, interesting, if the fellow realizes he left his money in the kiosk and comes back to ask you where it is. Recently some people in New Jersey had to ask themselves some similar questions, when the door latch on an armored truck malfunctioned, spilling cash on the expressway. The driver was trying to gather up the cash and put it back in the truck. Other people had different ideas.

An armored truck spilled cash on a New Jersey highway Thursday, leading to two crashes as drivers “went a little bit crazy,” stopping their cars and scrambling to grab the swirling money. The frenzy happened during morning rush hour in East Rutherford, near MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play. In online videos, a man in uniform is seen running through traffic trying to collect money, while others exited their cars to do the same.

H1-B Visa Worker Assaults Woman on Spirit Airlines

Supposedly India is the most dangerous nation in the world for women. It's difficult to compare sexual assault statistics between the US and India because of different definitions of rape and different cultural expectations about reporting and blame. The official statistics show that there are more rapes per 100,000 in the US than in India. 
I don't know about that. I do know that one Prabhu Ramamoorthy, an Indian national, assaulted a woman on an airplane. Fortunately the woman immediately identified Ramamoorthy as the attacker.

With his wife crying in the courtroom, a Rochester Hills man was sentenced to nine years in prison Thursday for sexually assaulting a sleeping woman on an airplane, sticking his hands down her pants and penetrating her genitalia while his wife sat next to him. As prosecutors put it, Prabhu Ramamoorthy "committed one of the most brazen airplane sexual assaults ever prosecuted in this district" when he knowingly took advantage of a sleeping, intoxicated woman who could not fight back.

The 35-year-old defendant, who chose not to speak at his sentencing hearing or address the victim, will be deported to India when he gets out of prison. He will never be allowed back into the United States. U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg said that he was "concerned" that the defendant offered no expression of remorse, but that he wouldn't hold it against him, noting defendants have a right to remain silent and can't be forced into saying anything.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Keeping It Real Goes Wrong: Woman Attacks Man Over Parking Space

Run Up Get Done Up
Equal Rights Means Equal Lefts
Don't Start None, Won't Be None
There are men in this world who go about demanding to be killed. They argue in gambling games; they jump out of their cars in a rage if someone so much as scratches their fender. These people wander through the streets calling out "Kill me, kill me."
-Mario Puzo:The Godfather
I've blogged before about physical altercations between men and women. Regardless of who is in the right, such conflicts rarely end well for women, assuming the conflict is one on one, both parties are equally bent on harm, and no weapons or surprise attacks are involved. I don't know if such fights are more common now or we just hear about them more often. I think some women might have watched Wonder Woman or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon a few too many times. It bears repeating that absent a direct and immediate need for self-defense, most women should avoid fights with men. It's not fair but it is what it is. Women on average just aren't in the same weight/muscle/strength class as men. That's not saying anything negative about women. I would also do my best to avoid fair fights with Deontay Wilder or Brock Lesnar. The results wouldn't be good for me. 

We all have the right and duty to do whatever is necessary to survive, stay alive and defend ourselves against unlawful force no matter how big the offender is. And sometimes in a blue moon a desperate vicious smaller person with more aggression, better training, more speed and the advantage of surprise can carry the day against a larger individual. But there is a reason there are weight classes in martial arts and boxing. And it's the same reason we don't encourage women to fight men and look down on men who fight women. And we shouldn't encourage anyone, male or female, big or small, to initiate violence. A recent incident in San Antonio illustrated these truths.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Movie Reviews: Asher, A Fare To Remember

directed by Michael Caton-Jones
There are only so many stories to tell. You've seen this story before. You've also heard the cliche that "this is different". I thought this movie was worthwhile.

I initially chose to watch this movie because it starred Ron Perlman. For my money Perlman is one of those rare actors who are just too cool for words. He just walks and talks cool and that is all there is to it. Perlman brings masculine gravitas and often some hidden intelligence or sadness/sensitivity to his roles. It could well be that a definition of being an American is the unrelated quote by George Eliot that "It is never too late to be what you might have been". Although Eliot was not American, I have always found her quote to be relevant to how Americans view themselves. It mirrors similar statements by Norman Vincent Peale. That worldview is at the core of this movie. Although the hero is not a good man, he is something of an everyman. He's concerned about his career choices. He wonders if he's made the right decisions throughout the years. 

Asher, (the name is derived from the Hebrew word for happy, ironic given that the role is played by the hangdog looking Perlman), is an Israeli-American man transitioning from late middle age to old age. Asher also happens to be a former soldier, former Mossad agent, and current contract killer for a Brooklyn based Jewish organized crime organization.  

Friday, December 7, 2018

Cyber Flashing: Sexual Harrassment on Your Phone

So you're out and about minding your own business and suddenly out of the blue you get a phone message. Oh boy! A message, a message! Well who could it be? Does your spouse or special rider need to speak to you? Maybe your kid's in some sort of trouble? Perhaps a sibling or friend has sent you a joke? 

Maybe a hospitalized elderly relative you just visited needs you to do something? Maybe a parent is sending you a reminder of something you just spoke about, as parents are often prone to do. So you look down at your phone to see what the message is and who sent it. Well, no it's nothing like that. Some anonymous idiot calling himself something stupid has sent you an unsolicited pic of a body part you really don't care to see at the moment or maybe not ever.

Rebecca Odorisio was traveling home on a crowded A train on Tuesday when a photo suddenly appeared on her phone from someone identifying himself as “The Enterprise.” It was a picture of an erect penis, sent to her over AirDrop, an iPhone feature that allows users to send photos and documents to anyone within 30 feet who has left that feature open. Disgusted, she quickly rejected it. “I felt like I had been punched in the gut,” Ms. Odorisio, 31, a Brooklyn-based actress and singer, said Wednesday. She said it was not the first time something like that had happened to her, adding, “It was extremely violating.” 

Kathe Hannauer, 58, had a similar experience last month, as she traveled from Brooklyn to Manhattan on a crowded train during the evening rush. When an image of male genitalia suddenly appeared on her screen, she said she felt more surprised than flustered. “It was kind of like, ‘At my age?’” she said. “No one has harassed me in the longest time.” 

Who Peed In Your Corn Flakes?

Well I guess we know the answer to that question now. If your cornflakes are a little soggy or your rice krispies don't go snap, crackle and pop, the fault probably lies with one Gregory Stanton.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - A Tennessee man faces up to three years in prison for urinating on a Kellogg's cereal conveyor belt at a Memphis facility.
News outlets report 49-year-old Gregory Stanton pleaded guilty last month to tampering with consumer products. He was indicted by a grand jury in September. Stanton worked for the plant in 2014 and posted a video online in 2016 of him urinating on the conveyor belt. The video led the company to alert law enforcement and launched an investigation that involved the Food & Drug Administration.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

French Fuel Tax Protests

"Let me tell you how it will be/It's one for you and nineteen for me. Because I'm the taxman." 
The Beatles
It's very hard to determine ahead of time when people have had enough. Often the  fuse is lit but no one knows when the bomb will explode. Governments and dissidents alike would love to have the answer to that question. It would make their work a lot easier. If you're a repressive but smart government official you might want to keep the proverbial pot warmed just enough so that the frog doesn't realize he's being cooked.

If you're a dashing would be freedom fighter you don't want to waste your time, good looks, energy, youth and life trying to rally apathetic people to the barricades who would rather be home watching sports or downloading NSFW material. In France recently we had a reminder of what happens when governments get a little too far ahead of what populations will accept. After three weeks of protests and riots which saw three people die as French police and civilians attacked each other with hammers, tear gas and water cannon, the French President Macron announced that there would be a six month suspension of a 25 cent gasoline tax increase. This tax was sold in part as a green initiative required by the Paris Climate Accords but because Macron has cut taxes on the rich this tax wasn't exactly popular with people of more modest income or wealth or those who live in rural areas and have less access to public transportation. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Book Reviews: Elevation, Legend

by Stephen King
This is a very short novel that might more properly be called a short story or novella. It's something that could be read in a few days or even a few hours. It's a mug's game trying to determine authorial intent or meaning but this is probably the third King book in a row where King seems to be going out of his way to emphasize how important it is to be nice to each other as well as pointing out the fact that life is short. So take that for what you will. It's set in Castle Rock, Maine. There are some tongue in cheek references to other King works. 

This is not, repeat not a horror novel. There are no things that go bump in the night, sadistic demons who appear as clowns, malign eyes growing on characters' chests (or other body parts) or psychopathic child killers who serve other dimensional entities. So if you're looking for those things you won't find them here. On the other hand if you have been wary of reading King because of his general propensity to write scary stories or for that matter long stories then this could be an enjoyable venture into the short end of the pool. The story is occasionally a bit didactic but I tend to think that most people of King's age have earned the right to share whatever wisdom they've gained over the years. 

It's also worth noting that (1) quality writing is quality writing regardless of the subject and (2) over the years King has written quite a few stories that either lacked supernatural elements or had them in only very modest amounts. So this isn't his first time at the rodeo.

Scott Carey is a divorced web designer. He makes a good living for himself and is able to work from home for the most part. His life hasn't been great, but it hasn't been that bad either. Scott has one big problem however.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Border Fracas

TIJUANA, Mexico — A peaceful march by Central American migrants waiting at the southwestern United States border veered out of control on Sunday afternoon, as hundreds of people tried to evade a Mexican police blockade and run toward a giant border crossing that leads into San Diego. 

In response, the United States Customs and Border Protection agency shut down the border crossing in both directions and fired tear gas to push back migrants from the border fence. The border was reopened later Sunday evening. The episode comes at a time of growing tension on both sides of the border and promised to become the newest flash point in the story of a caravan that was the target of President Trump’s anti-immigrant rallying cry during the midterm elections. LINK

I don't have a lot to say about this that I haven't said before. It's important to understand that there are few if any sovereign nations that will routinely let masses of people enter without permission. The US isn't one of them, strictly speaking. If you zerg rush a border there are basically three choices that the authorities have. (1) The authorities can back down and let you in. (2) The authorities can use non-lethal force to prevent your entry. (3) The authorities can use lethal force to prevent your entry. If the authorities make the first choice they will invite more people to do the same thing.

A border is force made visible. It tells everyone else that this section of the planet is ours. You can't enter or stay without our permission. Consent is everything here. It's the difference between me inviting someone into my home and someone entering my home without my permission. It's the same action in each instance but I will have utterly different reactions. Consent matters.

Music Reviews: I Don't Want Nobody: Eddie Harris

I can't remember when I first heard this song. It might have been from my father's collection. But it is just as likely to have been from one of my various uncles. My father might have found some of Harris' work too avant-garde. I know he had some of his music though. One uncle is adamant that it was from his collection and that the other uncle in question never ever ever had the piece. It doesn't matter. 

I not so recently picked up a cd with Eddie Harris and David Newman on it: separate albums. The Eddie Harris portion was his album release titled "I need some money". I must have had this cd for a year or so and just got around to listening to it in completion, which is when I remembered the song "I Don't Want Nobody". It's funny how music can jog memories and take you back to better places in your life. 

As mentioned before, Eddie Harris was one of those magical musicians who was equally at home in virtually all facets of music, particularly African American music. This release and this song straddled the lines among gospel, blues, jazz, soul, rock, classical and more while being all of them simultaneously. In this song Eddie Harris weds the old to the new. He opens up utilizing electronics to sing falsetto through his saxophone while laying down a gospel groove on organ. 

Birds Use Quantum Physics to Navigate

It is difficult for me to accept and believe that at some levels physics is a list of possibilities AND that particles can be at two places at once or even not "decide" where they are until they are observed. So in a very real way we can make our own reality. 

Spooky action at a distance is what Einstein called it. But apparently this is what mathematics and physics tells us. What is more interesting to me though is not the insights humans gain from supercollider experiments but the apparent fact that birds, who by most standards, weren't considered to be the Einsteins of the animal world, use quantum physics/biology to navigate. And that would mean that a bird's perception of and experience of reality is EXTREMELY different from our own.

As little as a decade ago, scientists were sure that the chemistry of life and the weird chemistry of the quantum world were completely separate things. Quantum effects were usually observed only on the nanometer scale, surrounded by hard vacuum, ultra-low temperatures, and a tightly controlled laboratory environment. Biology, however, is a macroscopic world that is warm, messy, and anything but controlled. It seemed elementary that a quantum phenomenon such as 'coherence', in which the wave patterns of every part of a system stay in step, wouldn't last a microsecond in the tumultuous realm of the cell. It would be simply unthinkable.

Or so we thought…

NYPD Cops Caught Planting Evidence

As we've discussed many times before the problem with police is not just a question of individual personal bigotry. It's that police are systemically directed and employed disproportionately against Black men. The NYPD still has arrest and ticket quotas to meet. If a cop doesn't meet these quotas he doesn't get promoted. He doesn't get plum assignments or overtime. There are a million and one ways that the command structure can mess with a cop thought to be insufficiently productive or aggressive, 

The problem is that judges and prosecutors, when faced with evidence of police misconduct and lies, will do their best to turn a blind eye to such crimes, even if they have to protect the police from themselves by halting a trial or hearing. And obviously when police investigate themselves it's quite rare that they ever find that they did wrong. Although this incident could have been much worse, it's important to remember that it's still pretty bad. A young man spent two weeks in Rikers for a crime he didn't commit, while a cop willing to commit perjury and plant evidence is still on the street along with his buddies who will insist they didn't see anything funny.

The New York Times has obtained body-camera recordings that document one arrest earlier this year on Staten Island. The videos offer a rare look at a type of encounter the public seldom sees, and show how aggressively the police will pursue a minor marijuana case, in some circumstances, and the subtle social dynamics that shape policing in New York. 
But the videos also raise questions about how far the police will go to make an arrest. Lawyers for the defendant, Lasou Kuyateh, argue that the recordings contain possible proof that one of the police officers planted a marijuana cigarette in Mr. Kuyateh’s car. The officer and the Police Department deny the allegation. 

WNBA Players Opt Out Of Collective Bargaining Agreement

The iconic American retailer Sears has declared bankruptcy. Sears has limited time to liquidate or find a new owner. Many Sears stores will close. Many Sears employees will lose their jobs.

Sears was a victim of poor management and ruthless competition from brick and mortar companies like Target, Lowes, Home Depot, and Macy's as well as online behemoths like Amazon. This is a good time to visit your local Sears outlet and buy something on sale. It is a bad time for a Sears employee to demand better pay or conditions or threaten to quit. Sears workers lack leverage. Sears is looking to shed workers and cut costs. It probably won't survive. It would be laughable for Sears workers say they deserve more money because they work at a historical American company. That's not how business works.

Unfortunately the WNBA players union isn't run by people who understand business, demand, profit and loss, leverage, or who pay any attention to money losing enterprises. The WNBA players, apparently miffed that they neither earn the money that the NBA players earn or share the same revenue percentage that NBA players share, decided in early November to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement, presumably of course, hoping to make more money. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Movie Reviews: Nightmare Alley

Nightmare Alley
directed by Edmund Goulding
This is one of the better noir films I've seen. He's probably too old to do a remake of this but I couldn't help but think that George Clooney would have done well being cast as the lead in a remake. Or maybe Ben Affleck or Michael B. Jordan. It would have to be someone who could almost effortlessly embody the mix of danger, good looks and loose morals that Hollywood sharp dressed leading man Tyrone Power did in this film, which was quite different from his normal fare. This movie wasn't a hit when it first came out, likely because the material could be construed as downbeat. Nevertheless Power's physicality and grace are essential to the film's story and looks.

Carny barker Stan Carlisle (Power) is a smooth man who employs his verbal adeptness  to drum up interest in the traveling carnival in which he works.  Stan is both fascinated and disgusted by his fellow carnival workers, particularly the lowly geek (the man who bites the heads off chickens). Stan can't imagine how anyone can fall so low. Stan doesn't intend for that to happen to him. No sir.  Stan has big plans for himself.  He is chummy with older fellow carny worker Mademoiselle Zeena (Joan Blondell) and her alcoholic husband Pete (Ian Keith). 

Zeena and Pete used to be big time. They worked a mind-reading hustle before Pete's drinking habits ruined it. The couple used a secret code to tip each off to the correct questions and answers. But Zeena doesn't want to share that code with Stan. She's saving it for a rainy day when she can hopefully get the drunk Pete some help. And she won't give it up for money or even that other currency that men and women use with each other.

You Found $7.5 Million: Now What???

There are many movies or books that start with the premise of some everyman (everywoman) finding or coming into the possession of an item and then discovering that said item is either worth a bajillion dollars or has cash close to that amount hidden inside.

Often, heck inevitably, this item or cash belongs or used to belong to some truly sadistic organized crime figures, selfish evil business executives, or perhaps to a shadowy government agency that can with the push of a button make someone's entire family disappear in a black site forever. Whoever the previous owners are, they are serious people who will not shrink from torture, beatings, or worse in order to recover "their "property.

Well there's no story if the everyman just rolls over and gives them what they want is there? Maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve. Maybe he's a loser who's tired of being pushed around. Maybe he's an ideologue who has been waiting for just this opportunity to expose malfeasance. And dammit he's going to take it. Maybe he's a qualified man with access to dangerous familial or business networks of his own and can back up a stance of "finders keepers, losers weepers". Or maybe he's been waiting for an opportunity to quit his job, get a facelift, and disappear overseas with various buxom supermodels. The entertainment possibilities are endless.

Obviously though real life is different from fictional events on screen or in print.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Book Reviews: Hell on Church Street

Hell on Church Street
by Jake Hinkson
This is a short book of under 200 pages. It was good to read this book during the shortened holiday week, not because it has anything to do with kindness to your fellow man or woman, but because it moved fast and didn't take up a lot of my time. Since I didn't have a lot of time to spare this was a perfect fit. It was an unexpected bonus that the story was so good. This was another example of how writers can use the same themes and tropes to very satisfying and even surprising ends. As befits the book I think that this review should be pretty short. 

Somewhere in Oklahoma a vicious unnamed man from Mississippi is on the run. It's only been three weeks since the man, upset when his foreman jokingly questioned his work ethic, demonstrated that he had a very low tolerance for insults, even in jest. He beat his foreman half to death and maybe to death. He didn't stick around to find out. The reader learns that this is not the first time the man has been on the run. He's no stranger to violence, jails, or prison. But the man isn't worried about the distant future. He just needs to get a car. He needs money. He needs food. 

The man wants to avoid robbing or hurting a woman, not from morality or gallantry but just because cops respond more quickly and more viciously if a woman is endangered. The man thinks it's the same deal with old people or anyone with kids. But the man is happy when he sees a fat middle aged man coming out of the gas station. The fat man looks like a loser. In no short time the man has carjacked the fat man and threatens to shoot him. But the fat man, whose name is Geoffrey Webb, is unafraid of death. No Webb doesn't care if he lives or dies. But he would like to tell his abductor a story as he drives him out of state.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Black Women Alabama Master Quilters

I definitely remember my paternal grandmother making quilts. I'm not sure about my maternal grandmother. I think she must have, but I'd have to ask other relatives about that. She lived down south so I didn't see her as often as I should have. 

Quilting was and from what I can tell still is a predominantly feminine activity so it's highly unlikely I would have been encouraged to pick up that trade. I think a few of my female cousins might have some skills in this area. Either way, whatever your particular family heritage may be there are likely talents and interests that are passed down from mother to daughter, father to son, grandparents to grandchildren and so on.

Movie Reviews: Black '47

Black '47
directed by Lance Daly
This movie can be understood as a revenge Western/urban drama transplanted to 1847 Ireland during the Great Famine. The Great Famine, via death or emigration, reduced Ireland's population by 25%. This film uses the classic revenge theme. The hero (inevitably a young troubled man) returns from the war/the big city/the sea/etc to discover that his family has been harmed, often by the people he's been serving. THOSE PEOPLE taught him a very particular set of skills. Now he will use his talents to get some righteous James Brown approved payback. He's out for revenge on somebody. Anybody. Everybody!!! This trope is older than dirt. 

The trope is also true to life. The Romans suffered their worst defeat in Germany at the hands of Arminius, a Roman commander of German heritage. The Romans took Arminius as a child hostage. They raised him to lead Roman armies in colonial wars. When Rome sent him back to Germany to repress his own people, Arminius tricked the Romans. He led the Germans to battle against the Romans in the Teutoberg Forest. When Arminius was done, three entire Roman legions had been utterly liquidated, along with the Roman lust for German lands.

Most men are not Arminius. Most colonial soldiers make the individual rational decision to serve the conqueror. It's better to be on the winning team and earn a living right? This film could have been made about Black American buffalo soldiers who helped expel and exterminate Native Americans, Native American slaveowners who sided with the Confederacy, or for that matter Irish immigrants to America who launched anti-Black pogroms, burning down Black orphanages

Friday, November 9, 2018

Tucker Carlson Home Protest

In my home! In my bedroom where my wife sleeps! Where my children come and play with their toys. In my home.
Tucker Carlson is a conservative talk show host employed by Fox News who routinely traffics in white victimology. He gives mainstream amplification to the ugliest fears and tropes of white nationalism. I will give him some credit for having people on who disagree with him. However, with few exceptions these people are usually either so ridiculous that they step all over their own points or are shouted at or cut off by Carlson. Carlson often demands that his opposition guests respond to some rhetorical strawman that Carlson has constructed. If they don't respond to his silly side point Carlson insults them or laughs at them. 

Carlson is almost certainly smarter than he appears. He will sometimes make a cogent point and/or reject some conservative shibboleth. But generally he sticks closely to Fox News' basic talking points-that the US is a white (wo)man's country, evil dark people are trying to steal it, and whites are the real victims of racism today. FEAR! BOOGA BOOGA! Trouble in River City! That starts with T and that rhymes with B and that spells Blacks!

Although I would likely disagree with about 95% of Carlson's worldview I don't agree with harassing/protesting/vandalizing his home-especially when he's not even there. That's a cowardly vile act.

Fox News host Tucker Carlson was at his desk Wednesday evening, less than two hours before his 8 p.m. live show, when he suddenly started receiving multiple text messages. There was some sort of commotion happening outside his home in Northwest D.C. “I called my wife,” Carlson told The Washington Post in a phone interview. “She had been in the kitchen alone getting ready to go to dinner and she heard pounding on the front door and screaming. ... Someone started throwing himself against the front door and actually cracked the front door.”

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Movie Reviews: Thief

directed by Michael Mann
This was Michael Mann's first feature film. It's a modern noir that was a precursor and template to later Mann creations such as Miami Vice, Crime Story, and Heat. In fact the iconic coffee shop discussion between De Niro and Pacino is  something that Mann did first in Thief. Like Heat, Thief stars a Godfather alumnus, James Caan. It definitely seems to me that male American actors from the seventies and eighties were more comfortable expressing traditional masculinity than their modern day counterparts. 

Caan is in full bada$$ swagger mode, wide shoulders and all, throughout this film. This movie shows Mann's eye for glossy nighttime colors, modern haunting synth music (courtesy of Tangerine Dream), well dressed albeit morally compromised heroes (Caan is often in Armani suits), and tough guys from both sides of the law. Chicago Detective Dennis Farina made his acting debut here as a mob hitman while real life Chicago thief and mobster John Santucci convinced as a greedy and corrupt cop. Both actors went on to greater acclaim in Crime Story.

Traditionally the classic Chicago Outfit maintained close oversight over the most successful professional burglars, auto thieves, safe crackers, armed robbers, and all purpose thieves in the greater Chicago area. Most of these criminals were independent and weren't formal Mob members. However the Mob often demanded that such thieves pay a flat street tax or percentage of their take to the local Mob representative. Refusal was considered disrespectful. This "disrespect" could be an excellent way for recalcitrant thieves to wind up arrested by a Mob affiliated cop, if they were lucky, or appear in a car trunk, if they weren't. One might wonder why criminals would agree to surrender any of their take or accept orders from other criminals who weren't taking any risk. That's a good question. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Book Reviews: 100 Fathoms Below

100 Fathoms Below
by Steven L. Kent and Nicholas Kaufmann
I recently heard about this new book co-authored by Nicholas Kaufmann, some of whose work was discussed here. I'm glad I decided to read it. This story uses a classic theme which for me never gets old. It's a locked room murder mystery with the twist that about halfway thru the book the remaining characters figure out the identity of the killer(s). It's always obvious to the reader because the authors give broad hints from the very beginning. This book mixes the supernatural with a military thriller. It worked well. It's just under 300 pages in hardcover. There's little wasted prose or expansive characterization of the various protagonists. The characters are not the stars here; the plot is. 

In 1983 the US nuclear submarine USS Roanoke (and yes that is a nice little reference to the doomed English colony) embarks upon a classified mission. Unknown to everyone onboard except the captain and later his executive officer (XO), the Roanoke's mission is to enter Soviet territorial waters and obtain proof of an upgraded stealth Soviet submarine. This is very aggressive espionage and could be considered an act of war. The Roanoke is on its own. If detected the crewmen could be killed. If captured the men will likely be tortured or at best spend a few decades in Soviet prison camps. 

The Soviets could decide to start WW3 over the violation of their territorial waters. No one knows. As far the Roanoke's captain is concerned, the results of his mission aren't as important as completing the mission. 

Friday, November 2, 2018

Cops Chase Crazy Crackheads

The obvious takeaways from this story are that (a) crack cocaine is a hell of a drug (b) drug abuse prematurely ages people something fierce and (c) despite what they sometimes claim cops are actually able to refrain from use of deadly force in stressful and dangerous situations when they want to do so. 

And who is stupid enough to light up the crack pipe in front of agitated police officers attempting to make an arrest? Crackheads are stupid enough. That's who. And I can't be the only person who finds it ironic that the other dopehead arrested is actually named Weed. This is less Thelma and Louise than Dumb and Dumber.

A 36-year-old female motorist from Eastpointe who a Macomb County Sheriff's deputy tried to pull over smoked crack cocaine and then led authorities on a car chase, officials said Thursday. The incident happened at about 2 a.m. Oct. 25 in Harrison Township, according to the sheriff's office. 

60 Seconds of Michigan Fall Colors

Fall is the best season.
Fall is most clearly experienced in the Midwest and especially Michigan.

Racist Ads and Midterm Elections: Who will win?

You may recall that current Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seethed with rage when during the period that McConnell was Senate Minority Leader, Democrats got rid of the filibuster for confirming most federal judges. McConnell coldly promised that Democrats would regret that decision a lot sooner than they thought. 

He was right about that. In a tit for tat exercise once Republicans had majority status in the Senate again they eliminated the filibuster for Supreme Court justices. McConnell also predicted that Republicans would put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court despite solid Democratic opposition. He was right about that as well.  McConnell said that the Democratic approach to Kavanaugh backfired and helped to unify and inspire Republicans. 

“The tactics that were used completely backfired,” said Mr. McConnell. “Harassing members at their homes, crowding the halls with people acting horribly, the effort to humiliate us really helped me unify my conference. So I want to thank these clowns for all the help they provided.”
Rage and fear work well to motivate and unify conservatives and many Republicans. It's why despite the economy doing well by many standards, Republicans in general and Trump in particular aren't making political appeals based on positivity, optimism and economic well being. Instead they are making appeals on racial national solidarity and fear that THOSE people are gonna come get you. The latest Republican created Trump tweeted ad before Tuesday's election goes all in on this fear. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Should the US Senate be changed?

In the wake of the 2016 Presidential election and Trump's appointment of not one but two justices to the Supreme Court some people are arguing that the Senate and Electoral College have outlived their usefulness if indeed they ever had utility and should be utterly transformed if not eliminated.

Usually this takes the form of a resident of a high population state which normally tilts Democratic (think New York, California) scornfully bringing up a low population state which usually tilts Republican (think Wyoming, South Dakota, Montana) and arguing that it's not fair that the residents of the high population and often richer state have the same Senate representation as those dumb rubes in the low population state. Inevitably the person making this argument will reference the fact that Clinton won the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential election and thus conclude we need to change our political system to give more power to the majority.

We have a political system that has separated powers between the federal government and the states and further split power among separate elements of the federal government and placed limits on what the federal government can do. The idea was and is that the best protection against tyranny would be that no one element of government could grab all the power to itself. Some would argue that this hasn't worked. They would say that since at least the end of WW2 the power and authority of the Federal government has grown into the Leviathan we see today. But people differ on whether this is a good or bad thing. If you think that you're part of or will be part of a permanent majority then you might want the Federal government to have all the power you think it needs and then some. You might want to crush your enemies, drive them before you, and smile at the lamentations of their women. Remaking the Senate into an institution that better reflects majority rule would be an important step.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

German Far Right Raises Profile

Although the United States is not officially a nation based primarily on lineage and blood and soil, Germany is. There are apparently more than a few Germans who do not like the idea of sharing their country with non-Germans one bit. At all. The relatively recent influx of mostly non-European immigrants and migrants into Europe has been the single biggest boost to right-wing, reactionary and downright fascist political parties across the continent. As the video below the fold makes clear, as dislike for immigrants becomes more acceptable to vocalize, Nazi sympathizers and actual Nazis successfully shift the Overton window far enough to the right to include some even uglier ideas. Although for obvious historical reasons Europe in general and Germany in particular get most of the media attention for this sort of stuff there are places all over the planet where people make it clear that they aren't overly fond of THOSE people. THOSE people can of course be of any race or ethnicity and could even be (to me) visually indistinguishable from the people yelling for their expulsion. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of Black South Africans chasing down and assaulting Black Nigerian or Black Zimbabwean immigrants or refugees.

It's important to keep in mind that we're not all the same, we can't all get along, and nations aren't disappearing any time soon. The noxious Steve King had it right when he said that European right-wingers and Nazi sympathizers would be Republicans if they were Americans. I think that most Germans have enough sense not to politically support would-be Nazis. That said though mass immigration from the Third World into Europe will continue to be a politically destabilizing event.