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.