Thursday, May 31, 2018

Staying Awake At The Office

I think that many people can probably relate to the below video. Whether it's due to an overheated or underheated room, profoundly boring speakers or discussion topics, too much or too little to eat at lunch, advancing age, lack of sleep or just generalized frustration that their life is slowly being wasted on tedium, I have over the years seen more than a few people struggle to stay awake in corporate meetings. This has of course never ever ever happened to me because I am an enthusiastic corporate drone. Or something.

Handouts for Billionaires: Dan Gilbert's $600 Million Deal

Some people make a strong argument for government intervention, whether in the form of tax breaks, incentives, subsidies, or outright cash transfers to help poor or middle class people get on their feet, get job training, start a business, get an education, buy a house or (ahem) get some health care. 

The devil is in the details of course but if you're living paycheck to paycheck and/or can't immediately put your hands on $1 million in cash, then I won't begrudge you some form of government assistance. There but for the grace of God go I and yada yada yada. If you are a rich person with regards to income or more importantly in regards to wealth (the top 1% households had a little over $10 million in net worth in 2016then I will suggest that you don't need much assistance from any level of government. You likely work for yourself but even if you don't it's rare that the loss of your job will have you sweating and panicking over a missed paycheck in two weeks. There are some people for whom $10 million is nothing special. They might drop that much on weekend gambling ventures, jewelry for their wives or mistresses, rare cars, vacation homes or child support.

A billion is one thousand million. That's ONE THOUSAND MILLION. If you are worth one billion then you or yours don't want for much. Dan Gilbert owns Quicken Loans, Rock Financial, a few casinos and of course the Cleveland Cavaliers. Dan Gilbert is Michigan's richest resident, and likely Ohio's as well when he's in that state. In 2017 Gilbert was number 91 on the Forbes 400 list. Only a few Americans have more money than Gilbert. Dan Gilbert's net worth is approximately 6.3 Billion dollars or to put it another way, 6300 million. There's little that Gilbert couldn't buy or invest in if he so chose. Money is not a limiting factor for Gilbert. So I'm having trouble understanding why the State of Michigan has decided to give a $600 million subsidy to Gilbert for a real estate deal.

Dan Gilbert, the billionaire who has overhauled downtown Detroit by resurrecting historic buildings, sealed one of his biggest Motor City deals yet by getting final approval Tuesday for a $618 million tax incentive plan.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Movie Reviews: In Darkness

In Darkness
directed by Anthony Byrne
Margaery Tyrell and Daario Naharis team up in London
This is a slow burning thriller that has multiple twists, none of which will be revealed here. It might be a just a bit too smug and smart for the target audience. It has some similarities to the classic movie Wait Until Dark. If you like this sort of mystery thriller it's probably a movie worth watching more than once to see the things that you missed. The movie makes no concession to listeners not native to the UK who will hear some occasionally very strong British accents. Either the viewer/listener will get it or s/he won't. Things are made worse on this front by dialogue that's intermittently drowned out by action or soundtrack. But although the audio is sometimes a bit iffy the visuals are lush and rich. 

This film looks really good, even the portions which are shot in low light or darkness.The colors and sets are lavish.  Byrne co-wrote this film with its star, his girlfriend Natalie Dormer, who also produced. The film's first half is crammed full of the sort of visual and auditory techniques which bring unease to the viewer without revealing very much in terms of story. I loved this. The second half shows us more even as the action ramps up. But the director hides things in plain sight. Like an elaborate con this movie has a lot of hidden layers and unanswered questions. This is a movie that with a few violent or sexual scenes excised would have worked well as a film noir in the forties or fifties. Sofia (Natalie Dormer-Margaery Tyrell from HBO's Game of Thrones) is a blind British classical pianist and London resident. Sofia lives in an apartment building.

Roseanne Barr Goes Full Racist

On twitter, actress Roseanne Barr compared former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett to an ape. She then gave an half-hearted apology and deleted her tweet, saying she was leaving twitter. White racists have always made comparisons of black people to apes. "Planet of the Apes" is a particularly popular metaphor when used to refer to black people. I've seen that one used by numerous bigots over the years. The thing about the phrase is that the person using it is basically waving a flag saying "I'm a racist!". It expresses the essence of white supremacy, the belief and practice that the black person isn't fully human. This is what allows people to justify slavery, police brutality, segregation, exploitation, and murder. If Black people are not human but instead a subhuman primate of some kind then obviously normal human morality does not apply to whites' interactions with Blacks.

Roseanne Barr, one of ABC's biggest stars, apologized after a bizarre, racist Twitter rant Tuesday morning, and then announced she's "now leaving Twitter."
ABC had no immediate comment. Following the rant, one of the show's consulting producers, Wanda Sykes, said she's done with the show. "I will not be returning to @RoseanneOnABC," Sykes tweeted.
Barr is notorious for tweeting about pro-Trump conspiracy theories and other controversial topics. This week she repeatedly attacked prominent Democrats.

In one of the tweets, she wrote, "Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj."
Barr was responding to a comment about Valerie Jarrett, a top former aide to President Obama. CNN reporter Andrew Kaczynski responded to Roseanne on Twitter about the Jarrett comment, which she replied was "a joke."

Friday, May 25, 2018

Mother of Mercy is this the end of Harvey Weinstein?

Over the last year, year and half or so we have seen many (mostly) women and men make accusations of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and  generally inappropriate behavior against (mostly) men in primarily the media, arts and entertainment industries. With the possible exception of Bill Cosby, no man was more closely associated with such alleged bad behavior than Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. 

Weinstein allegedly harassed, assaulted, or raped dozens of actual or would be Hollywood starlets. Weinstein had enough power and friends in the industry and out of it that he could allegedly harm the careers of women who didn't want to play ball with him. Weinstein allegedly hired Israeli private intelligence firms made up of former or current IDF and Mossad personnel to dig up dirt on accusers, handle hostile media and generally raise the cost incurred (legal or otherwise) to anyone inclined to mumble a bad word about his extra-curricular activities. Well nothing lasts forever. Weinstein was just formally arrested by the NYPD. 

Harvey Weinstein turned himself in to New York City detectives and was arrested on Friday on charges that he raped one woman and forced another to perform oral sex, a watershed in a months long sex crimes investigation and in the #MeToo movement. Around 7:30 a.m., Mr. Weinstein walked into a police station house in Lower Manhattan, flanked by several sex crimes detectives. Toting three large books under his right arm, he looked up without saying a word as a crush of reporters and onlookers yelled, “Harvey!” 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Movie Reviews: The Angriest Man in Brooklyn

The Angriest Man in Brooklyn
directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Anger is the only thing they left me. Anger is my refuge, it's my shield. Anger is my birthright!
This is a remake of the Israeli movie The 92 minutes of Mr. Baum. It has a perhaps unintentionally elegiac feel to it as it was one of Robin Williams' final film roles. It was released the year of his death via suicide. Watching it you can't help but wonder how much art was imitating life. The film tries to be a black comedy. It doesn't quite make it or rather I should write that it wasn't as funny as it thought it was but Williams convinces as the titular character, a Jewish real estate/estate planning lawyer named Henry Altman whose moods range from acerbic to choleric to furious. Henry is never in a good mood, not really. There are reasons for that. 

Despite his wealth and success Henry doesn't think that life has been good to him. It is an easy thing to say that the essence of life and love ought to be to treat others as you would wish to be treated and enjoy the short time you have on this earth. That's advice that is saccharine, simplistic and often found in greeting cards. However, such bromides also happen to be true. If you've lost anyone you loved chances are quite good that you didn't get to say everything to or do everything with them that you wanted to do. If you're fortunate enough not to have had that experience yet just wait a few years. It happens to everyone. And perhaps some day people will in turn mourn our passing. As a passage from the Book of Common Prayer reads :

"Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live, and is full of misery.

He cometh up, and is cut down like a flower; 
he fleeth as it were a shadow, and ne'er continueth in one stay."

Friday, May 18, 2018

Movie Reviews: 12 Strong

12 Strong
directed by Nicolai Fuglsig
Competent but not compelling war movie where Thor has a carbine instead of his hammer.
Some war movies purport to tell it it like it is without taking sides, whether or not they also indulge in the post Saving Private Ryan level of explicit carnage. Other war movies have a high degree of cynicism and anger towards war in general and US foreign policy in particular. In these movies the real bad guys are the high ranking officers who withhold resources and information from brave combat soldiers, greedy corporate SOB's who couldn't care less how many American soldiers die to make a 3rd world country safe for business, or white supremacists who salivate at the possibility of being able to terrorize, rape or kill non-whites with the legal imprimatur of the United States government. Still other war movies are more interested in the impact of war on the minds and souls of the men who are engaged in it. Other war movies are just excuses to show gore as much as possible.

And then of course there are war movies that uncritically accept American versions of the conflict and rather reactionary right wing versions at that. Most war movies tend towards one of these polarities, even if most also have varying mixes of these styles contained within. 12 Strong is a movie that likes to think it's telling it like it was, with a healthy helping of good old fashioned American heroism, patriotism and masculinity. There aren't any conflicted heroes here or shadowy civilian "agents" with hidden agendas.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Matt Patricia Situation

First impressions can often be lasting ones. New NFL Detroit Lions Head Coach Matt Patricia, who has barely been on the job for three months, is battling to make sure that his public persona remains the bearded wunderkind coaching phenom rarely found without a pencil behind his ear and not the fraternity guy who skated on rape charges two decades ago. Patricia, who left the New England Patriots to take the Detroit Lions job found himself having to explain a 1996 indictment on rape charges and how he had never communicated that to his employers in New England or Detroit. The Detroit News did some digging into Patricia's past and discovered this information.

She told police they met on a Texas beach, fellow college students visiting South Padre Island during spring break 1996. She was a 21-year-old college student at a large university; they were two football players and Theta Chi fraternity brothers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in upstate New York. On the evening of March 15, 1996, the woman told police that two men burst into the upscale hotel room where she was sleeping and took turns violently sexually assaulting her, according to court records and a news account at the time. They were arrested, charged and later indicted by a grand jury on one count of aggravated sexual assault — but they never stood trial and were not convicted.  One of the indicted men was 21-year-old Matt Patricia, who was hired as the head coach of the National Football League’s Detroit Lions in February. 

Book Review: The Wolves

The Wolves
by Alex Berenson
This older book which I picked up on sale is, given President Trump's recent decision to violate the Iran nuclear deal at both the behest and joy of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, still a timely and very entertaining read. The book can be enjoyed strictly as a modern spy thriller or as a brief against excessive foreign entanglements.  I thought that the bad guy was very well characterized; the good guy was a bit less compelling. This is an installment in a series.

I was unfamiliar with the author before but I will be reading his other works. Don't worry. This book is virtually stand alone. The reader can follow the story without having read previous installments. The author does judicious information dumps along the way to get the reader up to date and hopefully whet his appetite to read earlier books. So don't think that you can't read this book unless you've read the others. That is so not necessary. John Wells is an ex-CIA agent who is still in the game. A storm is on the way. Previously John Wells provided proof that the United States was being manipulated into war with Iran by rabid Zionist, casino billionaire mogul, dual Israeli-American citizen, and Presidential financial backer Aaron Duberman (think a barely fictionalized Sheldon Adelson). 

Wells and a few CIA agents barely prevented a war against Iran based on lies enthusiastically created and spread by Duberman. Duberman viewed Iran as an intolerable threat to Israel. He wanted the United States to attack and invade Iran. Wells went after Duberman but wasn't able to get him. Duberman has fled to Israel where he feels he's untouchable. 

Joy Reid and the Big Lie

MSNBC host Joy Reid was recently at the center of a minor brouhaha which was indicative of why many people hold the establishment media in low esteem. Before Reid was the eye rolling Madame Defarge of the anti-Trump Resistance she was a radio talk show host, political columnist and a blogger. Few people paid attention to everything that Reid was writing on her blog from 2006 to 2010. Reid wasn't big time then. Her blog was aimed at a different audience than she reaches with her 2018 television show. The political and cultural environment was different a decade ago. President Obama was elected in 2008 claiming opposition to same sex marriage. Likely, some assumed that it wasn't a very strident opposition, that Obama was lying, or that he was just cautious about coming out in favor of gay marriage. 

But even then it was at the very least bad form, rude and callous if not "homophobic" for a straight person to publicly question people's sexuality, mock people by calling them gay, or claim ostentatious disgust at the idea of gay intimacy. Reid did all of that. People found Reid's old blog posts, many of which claimed that then Florida Republican governor Charlie Crist was gay. Reid apologized and said she was a different person back then. This was no big deal to me. The rain falls on good and evil alike. Many people have made nasty statements about those they consider other. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Can Trump Voters Be Reached?

Clinton lost the 2016 Presidential election for a million different reasons. And she will explain in detail to you that almost none of them were her fault. But one of if not the most obvious one was that voters in the upper Midwest and interior east didn't vote for Clinton. States such as Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that had given their electoral votes to Obama in 2012 switched to Trump in 2016. These states are less diverse than the U.S. as a whole, certainly less cosmopolitan than California or New York. There were enough white voters who had voted for Obama in 2012 but switched to Trump in 2016 to put Trump over the top. Some of these voters are having second thoughts about their 2016 decision; others are not.

RITTMAN, Ohio — In the daily race that is her life, Sharla Baker does not think about politics very much. She rises early, drives to the gas station to buy coffee, feeds her baby, dresses her two other children, ages 3 and 2, and hustles them all off to day care. By 9:30 a.m. she pulls into a hair salon 45 minutes away, where she is training to be a cosmetologist. She waxes and cuts all day long, making only the money she earns in tips, which on a recent day last month was $8.41.

But Ms. Baker does vote. She picked Barack Obama for president in 2008 and 2012. He seemed sincere and looked like a happy family man. But most important, he was a Democrat. Her great-grandmother, who grew up poor in Pennsylvania, always said that Democrats look out for the poor people. In 2016, though, she voted for Donald J. Trump. Yes, he was rich and seemed mean on his TV show, “The Apprentice.” But she liked how he talked about jobs and wages and people being left out of the economy.

Now, more than a year later, she is wavering. “I voted for Trump because I wanted some change going on,” said Ms. Baker, 28. “But then again, maybe he’s going to do the wrong change.”

The swing of Obama voters to Mr. Trump proved a decisive factor in the 2016 presidential election. Of the more than 650 counties that chose Mr. Obama twice, about a third flipped to Mr. Trump. Many were in states critical to Mr. Trump’s win, like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Movie Reviews: 10 x 10

10 x 10
directed by Suzi Ewing
This was an effective little thriller that plays around with the viewer's expectations. You initially think it's another generic woman in peril film but it's not. Unfortunately it does use some cliches during the later portion of the movie while leaving more questions unanswered but overall this movie was worthwhile. The lead actor and actress are well known but I wouldn't call them superstars. I found it easy to fall into the film and flow into the world it created. At times the film might have stalled a little too long or been a little too cute in its bait and switch but no one is perfect. This was a good film, not a great film that you're going to remember for a long time. I thought the director missed the opportunity to really make you care about the two lead characters. This was not anything bad that the actors did. They were good.

Part of this was inherent in the setup. It's essential that the viewer not know certain things at the beginning. But later, I thought the director could have done a little more table setting, put things more in context so that the "good" and "evil" characters were a little better defined. But at just over ninety minutes this film didn't overstay its welcome. And Ewing and the screenwriter Noel Clarke do an excellent job of building tension and teasing viewer interest in the first part of the movie.