Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Commuter, Paterno

The Commuter
directed by Jaume Collet-Serra
Occasionally certain actors and directors just seem to work really well together regardless of the material. Antoine Fuqua and Denzel Washington. Spike Lee and Denzel Washington. Quentin Tarantino and Samuel Jackson. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro. And Liam Neeson and Jaume Collet-Serra. 

The Commuter is somewhat similar to Neeson's previous film Non-Stop and for that matter Murder on the Orient Express but it's much more engaging than the latter film mentioned. This film largely takes place on public transportation, in the New York City metro area, to be specific.  The film went over the top with some seemingly impossible coincidences and contraptions but it never failed to entertain.

Michael MacCauley (Neeson) is a sixty year old Irish immigrant. Having previously worked as a police officer and found that the money wasn't enough to make it in the NYC area or perhaps having become disgusted with departmental politics, Michael has switched careers. For the past decade he's worked as a life insurance salesman. He's able to provide well for his wife and son but he's not really rich. Similar to many high income house poor people, Michael is rarely more than a few paychecks away from disaster.  He lost almost everything in the 2008 financial meltdown. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Movie Coming Attractions: The Equalizer 2

Well as much as I enjoyed the first film I'm thinking I'm going to enjoy this one as well. This looks like something worth seeing in theaters when it first comes out in July. Of course if you have no tolerance for filmic mayhem then you won't want to see this.

Monkeys Bathe in Hot Springs

What else can monkeys learn to do by watching humans? Monkey see, monkey do I guess.


Night Sky Over Tahquamenon Falls

We are currently in International Dark Sky Week, if you didn't know. The idea is to enjoy the night sky free from the increasing light pollution which humans are producing. I live in a subdivision that is right on the edge of rapidly declining open land and farmland. In another decade or so it's likely that almost everything will be paved over. It is amazing that people have so many lights on at night that it's becoming almost indistinguishable from day. Stepping out of the subdivision puts you into a semi-rural community or rather what's left of one. But doing that you immediately notice the difference in lighting at night. Without the super bright porch lights and street lamps you actually know what darkness is. More importantly, you can see the stars, which is the main benefit of having things be dark at night.

People tell me that I was taken on a fishing trip to Lake Superior when I was young with my father and maternal grandfather but I don't remember. In the years since I haven't been back to the Upper Peninsula. It is a place I would like to visit and perhaps retire some day. For now I can just enjoy the pictures of the changing night sky over Tahquamenon Falls near Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. There is a lot of natural beauty in this world if you just look around.

Music Reviews: Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer is a retired mathematician, satirist, parodist, writer, Army veteran, NSA agent and pianist. Among other things, he wrote music for the PBS show The Electric Company. Lehrer has a certain gift for finding absurdity in everyday life and a knack for writing songs with "blue" material but without any banned words. 

I first heard him on the Dr. Demento radio show, which I used to fall asleep listening to back in the days when dinosaurs roamed the earth. At the time I shared a bedroom with my younger brother who said then and maintains to this day that as oldest I got away with things which my parents would have shut down instantly had they known about, one of those things most definitely being the Dr. Demento show. Of course (1) you really shouldn't give credence to everything said by resentful younger siblings with questionable memories and (2) by today's standards the Dr. Demento show of the seventies and eighties is quite tame. And even back then Tom Lehrer was already something of an old fogie. He's been around a while. 

I enjoy Lehrer's musical and lyrical humor. Lehrer can occasionally evince something of a dirty mind (listen to I got it from Agnes and then listen to it again until you understand why Lehrer initially couldn't perform the song outside of adult nightclubs despite not using a single bad word). Lehrer usually expresses himself in a classy way with lots of did I really hear what I thought I heard plausible deniability.

I also like Lehrer's song The Elements, which lists all of the elements of the periodic table to the melody from Gilbert and Sullivan's Modern Major-General Song from The Pirates of Penzance. Some might say that you have to be slightly bent in your worldview to enjoy Lehrer's humor. I don't deny that he can appeal to the absurd, dark, cynical, and satyric that lurks within us but he also appeals to anyone who enjoys puns, wordplay and lyrical witticisms.

Brooklyn Museum Hiring Fracas

The Brooklyn Museum recently hired a white woman to be its curator of African Art. Some people didn't like this hiring decision, to put it mildly. 

A recent decision by the Brooklyn Museum to hire a white person as an African art consulting curator has prompted opposition on social media and from an anti-gentrification activist group that argues the selection perpetuated “ongoing legacies of oppression.” In response to a letter from the group that stated its concerns, Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, said in a statement on Friday that the museum “unequivocally” stood by its selection of Kristen Windmuller-Luna for the position. “We were deeply dismayed when the conversation about this appointment turned to personal attacks on this individual,” Ms. Pasternak said. 

She also extolled the expertise of Dr. Windmuller-Luna, calling her an “extraordinary candidate with stellar qualifications.” Dr. Windmuller-Luna, 31, has Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from Princeton, and a bachelor’s degree in the history of art from Yale. She has worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Princeton University Art Museum and the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y. Her appointment to the Brooklyn Museum was announced late last month.

In its letter earlier this week, the activist group Decolonize This Place called the museum’s selection of Dr. Windmuller-Luna “tone-deaf” and said that “no matter how one parses it, the appointment is simply not a good look in this day and age.”

“Seriously, @brooklynmuseum? There goes the neighborhood for good,” opined Philadelphia journalist Ernest Owens on Twitter.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Music Reviews: Nikki Giovanni, Camille Yarbrough, Sarah Shook

Nikki Giovanni
Truth Is On The Way/Like A Ripple On A Pond
Nikki Giovanni is a poet, writer, professor and activist among other things. Her list of awards, works and accomplishments are far too long to list here. I think she's definitely one of the greatest living poets. She was one of the first poets I remember reading. My maternal aunt gave me her collection of poems titled "Ego Tripping and other poems for young people" all those years ago. Giovanni is often described as radical or militant or other such words but I think that those terms are limiting. Her politics and approaches to life have varied over the years, as with anyone else. 

If there is one theme in her work that hasn't varied it is that black people (especially black women) are human and beautiful. In the early seventies as now such a message may be thought of as militant or threatening but I never saw it as such. One thing that was current in the early seventies is that the music produced by black entertainers and musicians wasn't solely concerned with the lowest common denominator of sex and violence. There were actually still some themes of love and sacrifice. It seems like that's been lost in a lot of the music that is popular today but I could be wrong as I don't listen to much pop music. 

Hmm. Anyway, esteemed musicologists can argue over when and where rap begun. Some people confidently point to the late seventies South Bronx. Others will go back further in time and farther afield to Caribbean/Jamaican toasts or West African chants. Others will claim it was all started by spoken word performers/rappers like the Watts Prophets, Last Poets, Wanda Robinson, and Gil Scott Heron. Some will point to scat singers like Eddie Jefferson or Ella Fitzgerald, or rock-n-roll founders like Bo Diddley. Wherever you start the discussion of rap's creation and growth, certainly the spoken word albums that Giovanni created in the early seventies deserve some consideration. 

Black Men Arrested At Starbucks Speak Out

You may have heard about the Black men arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while they were waiting to have a business meeting with a possible partner. Charges were dropped. The white female manager who called the police within two minutes of the men's arrival allegedly did so because the men hadn't purchased anything and had asked (and been denied) a chance to use the bathroom. There have been other incidents at other Starbucks locations but this is emphatically not solely a Starbucks problem. This is a white racism problem or to be more precise as some of the people behaving in this manner towards Black people are not white, it's an anti-Black racism problem, particularly an anti-Black male attitude. Again, incidents like this are why I am so dismissive of anyone who argues that Black men are oppressive patriarchs. You can say a lot of things about patriarchs but they don't get arrested and perp-walked out of an establishment for the crime of annoying or scaring someone who isn't Black. 

We see again that the mere presence of Black masculinity in a public space badly scares some people and/or sets them off. Just as in Fort Worth, or in Rochester Hills, being Black in public causes some non-Blacks to either wet their pants in fear or feel that they must immediately show the n****s who is the boss. What sort of citizen are you if you can literally be arrested because someone thinks that you didn't order coffee fast enough? You're certainly not a first class citizen. The men speak about their experiences below:

Demise of the Nation State???

The British Indian novelist and essayist Rana Dasgupta recently wrote a very long earnest piece about the alleged demise of the nation-state. You should read it. Dasgupta makes a few good points. It is true that many rights which we don't normally allow governments to violate (at least in theory or without a really good reason established via due process) are "violated" every single day by corporations. Corporations have become powerful enough to begin to unfetter themselves from meaningful oversight or control by some of the nations where they do business. It's true that for some countries that globalization has caused greater diversity and in others raised average incomes. Dasgupta badly missteps when he argues that globalization in its current form is inevitable or that the increasing nationalism in some countries is merely a reactionary last gasp against needed permanent change to political, economic and cultural systems. Dasgupta tips his hand near the end of this piece. Dasgupta doesn't evince much interest in independently occurring nationalist, sectarian, ethnic or racial feelings outside the West, though their intensity can rival anything in today's West. 

No the main point that Dasgupta wants you to take away from this 6000 word essay is something that he initially obfuscates but ultimately just can't resist bluntly stating. He thinks that citizenship itself is manifestly unfair. To be precise, Dasgupta thinks that citizenship in the West and especially citizenship in the United States is unfair. And he wants to end it, primarily to make people in the Third World wealthier.
The history of the nation state is one of perennial tax innovation, and the next such innovation is transnational: we must build systems to track transnational money flows, and to transfer a portion of them into public channels. Without this, our political infrastructure will continue to become more and more superfluous to actual material life. In the process we must also think more seriously about global redistribution: not aid, which is exceptional, but the systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor for the improved security of all, as happens in national societies.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

President Trump Attacks Syria Again

In response to what he claimed were chemical weapon attacks against Syrian rebels, President Trump ordered missile attacks against targets in Syria. These bombings were done in concert with France and the UK on Friday night. The number of casualties and other damage is at this time unclear.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States, France and Britain launched military strikes in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again, President Donald Trump announced Friday. Pentagon officials said the attacks targeted the heart of Assad's programs to develop and produce chemical weapons.

Explosions lit up the skies over Damascus, the Syrian capital, as Trump spoke from the White House. Syrian television reported that Syria's air defenses, which are substantial, responded to the attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said there were no reports of U.S. losses in what he described as a heavy but carefully limited assault.

Trump said the U.S. is prepared to sustain economic, diplomatic and military pressure on Assad until he ends what the president called a criminal pattern of killing his own people with internationally banned chemical weapons. "The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children, thrashing in pain and gasping for air. These are not the actions of a man; they are crimes of a monster instead," Trump said. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The decision to strike, after days of deliberations, marked Trump's second order to attack Syria. He authorized a barrage of Tomahawk cruise missiles to hit a single Syrian airfield in April 2017 in retaliation for Assad's use of sarin gas against civilians. The strikes that hit early Saturday in Syria came hours before inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons were set to arrive to inspect the site of the apparent attack. 

Friday, April 13, 2018

Rochester Hills White Homeowner shoots at Black Teen for asking directions

I've written previously about how racial stereotypes and assumptions can be hurtful or irritating and harmful to your career or health. However, when the people who make snap judgments are armed and fearful, such assumptions can be dangerous to your life. We see white cops do this with black people on a regular basis. But police are not separate from their community, but a part of it. The ultimate problem is not with the police but with people in all job categories who see black skin and immediately assume the worst.

Police just happen to be the most likely to get away with acting on racist assumptions. Fourteen year old Rochester Hills, Michigan high school student Brennan Walker missed the bus to school. He had to walk. He didn't know the route as well as he thought he did. So he knocked on a door in the neighborhood to ask directions. Well the woman of the house thought that he was trying to break in. She screamed. And the man of the house grabbed his shotgun and shot at young Master Walker. Rochester Hills is about 25 miles north of Detroit and like many southeastern Michigan communities is filled with the kinds of people who aren't too happy about black people breathing the same air they do. Walker is lucky to be alive. I am trying to imagine asking for help and being shot at. That will leave an emotional scar on the young man. People saw him and for no other reason than his race and gender assumed he was a deadly threat at the tender age of fourteen. How will his parents explain that to him? Being Black means you will never get the benefit of the doubt. Period.

The walk to school turned terrifying for a Rochester teen who says he was shot at after he stopped to ask for directions. Fourteen-year-old Brennan Walker missed the bus and tried to walk to school, but got lost after he couldn't remember the route.The freshman wasn't hit, as the shot missed him as he ran away.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Spinning Man

The Spinning Man
directed by Simon Kaijser
Temptation, frustration/so bad it makes him cry/Wet bus stop/she's waiting/his car is warm and dry
This is a competent thriller film that makes more than a few nods to Memento and Gone Girl. There was nothing that was remarkably original in this movie but it will keep you guessing which is I suppose worth something. This film might be a good example of there only being a few stories that are retold over and over again. Humans are after motivated by many of the same things no matter if we are separated by time, space, age and sex. 
The two film leads did yeoman work but I couldn't help but feel that there were a few motivations cut out of this movie that might have been better left in the finished product. The film works as an intellectual exercise in whodunnint, which is perhaps purposely ironic considering that the primary protagonist is a philosophy professor. But I didn't really have any emotional investment in whether or not this fellow was guilty of a crime.

Evan Birch (Guy Pearce) is an up and coming college philosophy professor who is trying to turn over a new leaf. To use a line from the movie Clue, you know that thing that professors aren't supposed to do with their students? Well Evan did. Having either left or been forced out of his previous position, Evan and his wife Ellen (Minnie Driver) and their young children have settled in at a university with slightly less prestige. But a job is a job. And a man is a man. Evan very soon finds himself in a flirtatious (and perhaps more?) relationship with one of his students, the almost worshipful Anna (Alexandra Shipp). Evan probably should stop making goo-goo eyes at women who are not his wife but Evan has a very flexible definition of morality and truth. And judging by his internal fantasies, Evan has a surfeit of testosterone. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Judge Vonda Evans And Short Workdays

I work in a professional white collar environment. Usually (90% of the time) the work is constant and frantic. People have little time to do anything but their paid work. On other occasions work slows down and you see/hear people doing things like checking Facebook, buying things on Amazon, playing Sudoku, discussing sports, gossiping, talking to loved ones on the phone, complaining about spouses, or (ahem) writing blog posts. Some of the higher-ups don't like this very much but most people are professional. Work comes first. Unless your boss really doesn't like you or you go out of your way to embarrass your boss by ostentatiously slacking off, he or she probably won't demand that you account for every last minute of your work day. Everything generally should come out even in the end. I remember that once a boss questioned a co-worker who was leaving a few hours early. Without missing a beat the co-worker asked our mutual boss if he had heard of casual overtime. The boss replied that of course he had. The co-worker responded that then the boss could consider the early departure time casual undertime. 

Every company or organization has a different culture.The trick is to know your organization's written and unwritten rules. However, wherever you work, regularly getting to work two or three hours after the normal start time and consistently leaving two or three hours before the normal leave time is going to attract negative attention from co-workers and more importantly bosses. Doing something like that makes it very obvious that you're not doing the work that agreed to do. Your boss can't ignore this because if she doesn't correct it other workers will start to do the same thing. Your boss might see your actions as a direct challenge to her authority. Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vonda Evans, a judge with a certain reputation for a short fuse and sharp tongue, has apparently decided that she will keep her own hours thank you very much. 

Friday, April 6, 2018

Former Caretaker Visits Rescue Dogs

Dogs are the most wonderful pets in the world. Absent allergies or other medical issues, I don't understand how anyone can't be a dog person. But it takes all kinds I guess. The below video shows how happy dogs can be to see someone they remember who treated them kindly.

You’ve probably heard the old saying, ‘dogs have no concept of time’. Some people believe that a dog can’t discern a minute from an hour, but this just isn’t true. Dogs simply remember differently than humans. If you’ve been gone for more than a day, expect a much happier reunion, than if you’d just stepped out for a couple hours.

Dogs are gifted creatures, able to catalog a myriad of scents and recognize faces. Imagine a situation where a former employee stops over for a visit at the Dogs Deserve Better rehab center. Upon his return, his dogs greet him as though he was absent for ages. This affection is a testament to the dogs’ incredible ability to recognize their master. Thanks to these canines’ olfactory memory, they remember scents long after they have been exposed to them, so they are able to associate him with his smell.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Snowman

The Snowman
directed by Tomas Alfredson
This is a detective crime thriller based in Norway. Unfortunately I found it way too derivative of many other films, primarily Insomnia and Seven. But if being derivative was a bad thing hardly any movies would be made or watched. Worse than being derivative I simply couldn't relate to or sympathize with any of the characters. I wonder if this movie would have been better if it was made with Norwegian actors speaking their native tongue and subtitled in English. The film definitely got across that it was set somewhere besides New York or London. But even though it was shot in Norway with beautiful sets and locations, I never believed that the primary actors were Norwegian.

And that's because by and large they weren't. Alfredson directed the hit Swedish horror thriller Let The Right One In. It felt like The Snowman was an attempt to capitalize on his previous success as well as that of other set in Scandinavia films such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. There's something that can be spooky about settings in the far north with people who are either gloomily introverted or gloriously drunk but this movie didn't reach those heights. This was a movie that was made for background watching. And no movie should be made for just having on while you do something else.

The convoluted plot tried to say something about men, women and responsibility but it missed the mark. If the writers and actors give the strong impression of not caring about the story then why should the viewer. Don't get me wrong. A film can have insane, contradictory and downright confusing storyline and still be a masterpiece, witness The Big Sleep. That story was so up in the air and all over the place that when the director and screenwriters sent a message to the novelist asking him if a particular character had committed a crime, the novelist had to respond that he didn't know either. So complex stories can be good. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Fort Worth Cop Assaults Black Hospital Patient

Imagine that you have just spent two days in the hospital. Maybe you had surgery. Maybe you ate crappy hospital food. Maybe you're tired of the smell of disease and Lysol. Maybe you've had tubes, needles, monitors, and drugs inserted into intimate places. But you're better now. The hospital discharged you. You're waiting in the hospital lobby for your ride home. You're looking forward to sleeping in your own bed and enjoying home cooking. A hospital security guard approaches you. He asks you what you're doing. You look at him askance. Either he is really stupid or he thinks you are. You reply that you're waiting for your ride. But the security guard won't go away. He starts asking who your ride is, if they know where the hospital is, if you're in the right hospital, and other questions that show that he is suspicious of and hostile to your presence. 

Becoming apprehensive you call your relative and tell them to hurry up. You also tell the security guard that yes you and your ride know which hospital you're in so please leave you alone. Suddenly, a large police officer confronts you. He pushes you in the chest. He tells you to shut up and get off the phone. When you express amazement at his aggression and attitude, the police officer punches you in the face and places you in a chokehold. Other security guards and/or police officers join the assault. They also punch you while they are piled on top of you. The police officer arrests you for the crimes of trespassing and resisting arrest.

You are physically hurt, frightened, and humiliated. You could have been killed. If you are a Black man in Texas named Henry Newson, you don't have to imagine this. It's reality. Newson didn't have any patriarchal privilege to protect himself.