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.