Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Celebrity Death Means More

This is going to sound mean, but the death of a celebrity puts more points in the win column than your own. The latest celebration of tragedy concerns Carrie Fisher but the personality doesn’t matter.  Celebrity is the point and you’re invited to unburden yourself of emotions normally reserved for friends and immediate members of one’s own family.  I’m sounding the alarm bells now – it may be that, when you die, there’s not enough emotion left to invite even one tear to flow at your terminal service in this world.

I appreciate people of talent, whether it be Carrie Fisher or George Michael, but I’m finding these excesses a bit hysterical.  You turn on your TV and hear of these celebrity deaths and some talking head or other tries to coax from you some little memory that you can piously share on social media. 

It would be understandable when the celebrity in question is really a giant – say an Ernest Hemingway or a Muhammad Ali – but most of these teary drip-fests are for people of average talent who are hoisted into the celebrity success category by virtue of celebrity parents. This seems to be the case with Carrie Fisher, daughter of film star Debbie Reynolds and handsome Eddie Fisher. How hard can it be to achieve success when celebrity parents have already paved the way and no one dares to question the level of talent?

Part of this sententious kabuki theatre concerns the non-stop dramatization of the deceased celebrity’s struggle with a) drugs b)alcoholism c) mental health issues d) dysfunctional parents e) and most nauseatingly, with celebrity itself.

It’s okay for a news organization to report the death of a Carrie Fisher, a Prince, a George Michael or anyone it wants to.  But there are tabloid newspapers whose function it is to satisfy the consumer need for morbid pathos.  And they do a better job of it than CNN which spends precious hours sharing tired and clichéd eulogies of the ‘personality.’ 

I’m sure that the producers of these shows have the obituaries and eulogies already handy, and just pull them out of a drawer (a computer drawer) and use them up as if they are sheets of toilet paper.  You can’t know what’s going on in the world because the internet, too, gets clogged with wet tissue. 

All these eulogies are alike unless the deceased celebrity is a real larger-than-life figure – Malcom X and Martin Luther King come to mind – and at least these giants didn’t die by their own hand.  Some of the most touted celebrities on TV are people you don’t want your kid to emulate so what are they doing?  Haven’t they heard that excessive drinking, risky sex, and drugs aren’t good for them?

Stop please, we’ve had enough!  Our own close friends and family are dying too. So are our soldiers, our cops, our children of the streets.  That their eulogies will be quiet, largely unknown affairs doesn’t make them less important than the death-of-the-month celebrity.  I’m finding this death-of-a-celebrity business very twisted and nearly always these days carried to extremes. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Gun Control New York Style (HS agent Leaves MP4 on Backseat

What happened in upstate New York would qualify for comedy if the MP4 stolen from Homeland Security agent Leroy Doctor didn’t end up in the hands of gangsters.  An MP4, if you don’t know, is a fully automatic version of the sporter rifle AR-15 (single-fire).  It’s just the thing a police officer with a family (or anyone else) would not want to go up against.

I don’t know if the thugs who trafficked the weapon will abide by Andrew Cuomo’s ten round limit. Probably  the two 30 round clips also stolen from the rear seat of the Homeland Security agent’s will be too tempting to dispose of.  Maybe the bulletproof tactical vest will also come in handy for some gangbanger.

This stuff can only happen when bureaucrats are running the show.  It boggles the mind how a federal security official would leave a machine gun in the back seat of a vehicle in his driveway or on a public street.  And no word on terminating the agent – or at least transferring him to washing cars in the motor pool where he can’t do any harm.

The agent’s excuse, according to the ATF affidavit, was that he locked the front doors but forgot to lock the back doors.  That’s the story we’re asked to believe.  Do people really think the public is that stupid? The excuse must be some kind of joke unless the HS agent was driving something like a 53 Ford. 

In any case, a heroin addicted thief stole the automatic rifle from the agent’s car and sold it, along with the two thirty-round clips and the bulletproof vest, to another player.  None of this has been recovered, and it looks like the agent still has his job, perhaps rescued by an uncle among the higher-ups.  Nothing of politics in New York will surprise anyone – we are beyond being shocked.

New York’s strict gun control laws provide nothing more than a platform for its politicians to preen over. It was just two years ago that Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a dead of night maneuver that trampled on democratic process, passed his 7 round magazine limitation order (later expanded to ten rounds).

The wishful thinking and infatuated views of Democrats and homogenized Republicans of this state is intended to make people believe they are doing something about crime. The fact of the matter is that the more gun control measures,  the more homicide.This applies to big cities like Chicago as well as small cities like Syracuse, New York which experienced its 27th homicide.  This surpasses all previous records.

While the tendency is to beat their breasts piously and blame neighboring states for the problem, the reality of Cuomo’s edict is far different. The only people impacted by the New York gun restrictions are people who rarely, if ever, break the law.

On the other hand, the social engineers of this wealthy state seem to have done nothing but aid the criminals. Aid them, that is, when they are not arming them. 

Go here if you want to read the full story.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Anis Amri: Couldn't Make a Life So He Made a Death

He was shot to death about 3:30 in the a.m. by Italian police.  Anis Amri was armed with a .22 caliber handgun , which he pulled from his backpack, managing to shoot one of the police officers in the shoulder.  Both cops fired back, hitting Amri twice.  One of the cops’ bullets went where it was supposed to go – center mass – the thorax.  You don’t recover from that.  The officer who was shot is thankfully doing well and recovering, according to Italian officials, but Amri was likely dead before his body hit the ground.

I  understand the reasoning of people who say it would have been better if Anis Amri had been captured alive. Then law enforcement could perhaps find out more about his contacts and support system.  That presupposes that he would give up information under interrogation. Argue that all you want, but include me out.  Amri’s victims got justice at least, and justice is coming for the others who aided him.   

 But really, it is doubtful that the Berlin mass casualty killer would provide information to police when there is no death penalty in Germany . Anis Amri would have his rights, including the right to keep silent, the right to television, the right to get media interviews, maybe a book contract. Maybe even conjugal visits.  The authorities couldn’t offer any more than a long life sentence so he would probably adapt to the institutional life and perhaps proselytize to other inmates.

What’s coming next (and has already begun) is the imbecilic question of whether Anis Amri was a ‘lone wolf’ or whether he was ‘self-radicalized.” Such questions do not apply to the world we live in. With the internet, we have become factional or even tribal. It’s easy to see how many little divisions and subdivisions there are in our society, all linked together in ‘groups” with ‘followers” and particular rules of engagement.  This bifurcation exists in all aspects of our society, even in music where a person’s choices are broken down into various classes (check Spotify, Amazon Music, I-Tunes, I-Heart Radio, and a whole bunch more)  Within the context of international terror, all you have to do to join ISIS or AQ is to have a smart phone and you’ll get hooked up. You’ve already acquired enough hate and resentment to become the slave of any master who relieves you of the burden of freedom by telling you whom to hate and what to do about it.

There are easily a thousand slave-mastering militant Islamist groups promulgating the notion that Muslims are victims of the ‘infidel.’ The ‘infidel’ can be anyone not Muslim, or better yet, not adhering to the basest interpretations of the political system sometimes described as a religion. 

By definition, Islam needs enemies. If every single person in the world were Muslim, and the Shiite Muslims converted to Sunni, then the remaining Muslims would invent an enemy.  Because to do otherwise would require rabid Islam (and I don’t mean secular Islam or the kind and tolerant Muslim lady who works in the local supermarket) to examine itself and pull back from its death dream of world political conquest.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rape Kit Redux

It’s unfortunate that everyone seems to care about justice while few can agree even on what justice is. But some things are obvious – like the 12,000 untested rape kits held in Memphis Tennessee in 2013. 

That’s a number reported on CBS evening news this week.  And it’s not justice. When the red flag was raised on the staggering number, the county attorney general Amy Weyrich kicked up processing.  About 7,000 of the 12,000 were sent away for processing, returning about 3700 with DNA which could potentially be matched. 

The 3700 plus rape kits gave rise to only ten convictions, prompting  CBS reporter Jerika Duncan to comment: “That’s not a high number.” 

No, and it’s probably not any easier for the district attorneys in four cities with a backlog of nearly 29,000 untested rape kits.  That’s a whole lot of potential rapes in four cities (Houston, Memphis, Detroit, and Cleveland) even with a population as large as ours.  But when thousands of untested rape kits were processed, the number of convictions was remarkably low, around 1% . 

The one city where progress was made was Cleveland, where the state paid for the testing, allowing the prosecutor’s offices to hire 25 investigators and 6 more prosecutors. That resulted in 5000 kits tested with 239 convictions.

There are several reasons which justice will be avoided in thousands of rape cases, but an important one is that sexual assault cases have statutes of limitations. The rape kits are untested. Time flies. The states have limitation statutes ranging from 3 to 15 years.

It’s mostly a lack of money that allows rapists to go free. Lab fees for rape kit processing are in the range of $1,000 to $1500, according to  Labs are overwhelmed with all kinds of cases requiring attention. Prosecutions are costly, too, and, in doing battle with defense lawyers, there are no guarantees of victory.  Moneyed defendants can often outwait and delay budget-strapped district attorney’s offices.

But there is another huge reason why the number of reported rapes, and rape kits is high while the number of convictions is low. Unless DNA is matched to a person already in a police database , processing of a rape kit only reveals the DNA of an unknown person. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Out with the Ethanol – In with Scott Pruitt at the EPA

Earth people to Other-worldly Bureaucratic Elites – we have an announcement.  Donald Trump’s nominee for EPA head, Scott Pruitt, should be approved immediately. The sooner the better.  The EPAs Other-Worldly contingent, with its absolutely nuts RFS (Renewable Fuel Standards) is crushing us little people.  Mr. Pruitt has a history of opposing the RFS – for a variety of valid reasons. 

But let’s look at it on the human level. I had two chain saws destroyed by Ethanol before figuring out that it was ethanol that was throttling the engines, making them virtually unrepairable. Okay, I'm a nobody. I don't matter in the scheme of things. Who gives a damn about my little plebeian problems? 
  Then I found out there was a nation wide conspiracy against all of us who worked with our hands. The objective was to destroy our lawnmowers, chainsaws, tillers, and other small equipment so that we felt no longer competent to till the soil, mow the lawn, cut down a dead tree or any of the other myriad jobs we try to do ourselves because, unlike the EPA Green-elites, we don’t live in D.C. condos or tony Washington suburbs and can’t afford to hire people to do all these things for us.

Agricultural welfare may help politicians on both sides of the aisle stay in office, but it’s hypocritical to complain of one type of welfare while doling out another.  The ethanol in gas pumps is currently limited to 10 percent, but the current EPA wants to pump it up until gasoline powered cars choke out completely and we are forced to buy electric cars from Elon Musk.  Unfortunately, few people will be able to afford electric cars from Elon Musk and, even if he could, we would like to travel more than 100 miles. 

Of course, you could buy one of those Elon Musk designed Tesla Model S with their base starting price of $75,000.  That one supposedly has a range of 270 miles.  I saw one parked outside the Apple Corporate headquarters in Cupertino, California once – what a beauty!  Chump change for some people, I know.  Wouldn’t you rather own a house than a rapidly depreciating pile of status-y metal, glass, plastic, and rubber? If ethanol was such a good thing, maybe Tesla could produce hundreds of thousands of affordable cars running on 100 percent ethanol. Then everyone would be happy.

Now you must understand that a lot of people are hating on the ‘Big Oil Companies’ and unwilling to look beneath the hood.  But the fuel standards favor ‘BIG OIL’ because the large oil companies are the only ones with enough infrastructure to process the corn into ethanol (while depriving the starving people of the world). 
If the idea is to counter monopoly oil, the fuel standards are doing just the opposite. The smaller oil refineries cannot afford the expensive equipment needed to process and dilute petrol into the necessary solution capable of poisoning your lawnmower, and eventually your hoopty (jalopy to those of us of previous generations).

Now’s our chance to be rid of the EPA Renewable Fuel Standards fantasy. This is for the good of all political parties, Jill Stein’s included.  The standards have had no impact on environmental quality and cannot, because of the process of producing and delivering it.
Whether one likes Trump or hates him (and there is no room on the planet for haters), his pick for EPA top exec is a good one and should be supported.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Manchester By the Sea – The film “Manchester by  the Sea” has got five Golden Globe Awards, in 3rd place behind “La-la Land” and “Moonlight.” Released in November, let’s point out it’s not a Christmas Story.
Manchester By the Sea
Review and recap Manchester By the Sea
Now, so that we can go on and talk about other things, let’s just stipulate that the acting, script, and direction of the Kenneth Lonergan film ‘Manchester-by-the-Sea are worthy of film award nominations.  Major characters, minor characters, all fit seamlessly in the picture creating a realistic orbit of characters around the story line. With the exception of Samuel L. Jackson, whose criticism of it was largely incomprehensible, most everyone seems to praise the film, myself included. 
The background for this film is Massachusetts, in a fictional Manchester by the Sea. The people of this film have a backdrop behind them and inside them. Their personal histories are close and intertwined, and not all of it is pretty.

To continue reading my review, go here.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How Broadway Can Mess Up a Good Film (A Bronx Tale)

Aren’t you holding your breath until Broadway makes a musical from Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather chronicles?  Can’t wait to see some faux Marlon Brando dancing across the stage as Don Corleone? Then you might like what the easy money hucksters on the Great White Way are doing to ‘A Bronx Tale.”

You’ve heard of it? A while back there was this little movie called “A Bronx Tale” made by Robert De Niro and Chazz Palmentiri about a bus driver trying to raise a family in a Bronx neighborhood run by the mob.  The mobster is the local big shot, revered and/or feared by the locals.  A slick guy with a smooth line and plenty of cash. Great movie.

Anyway, the bus driver has a young boy who is fascinated by “Sonny’s (the mob boss) activities.  He’s a cute kid, Colagero is, and Sonny adopts him first as a kind of mascot and then as a runner and soon the kid is making a little bit of money at the periphery of this larger criminal enterprise.  Meanwhile, Colagero’s dad, a straight up hardworking type wants his son to grow up with traditional values – hard work, honesty, the straight and narrow.

The Italian neighborhood factored heavily in the film but it could have been any neighborhood group. In neighborhoods where African-Americans are heavily concentrated, adolescents and even young kids emulate former drug dealers covered with bling most of whom do not quit the game to become rappers.  Or maybe it could be some young, adolescent admirers of Irish gangs like the Westies? 

Anyway, the phenomenon is universal, but is this the stuff of musical?  The obvious argument for making it so is West Side Story, but in spite of the plagiarized or parallel universe of the 1950’s drama modeled loosely on the Puerto Rican ‘Capeman’ murders, this idea just does not work.  

I didn’t see it. I’m not going to. Not unless they resurrect Joey Ramone and put it to a soundtrack of his.  Can’t you hear it:  Twenty, twenty, twenty four hours to go, I wanna’ be a bus driver. . .

The public  is tired of remakes and sequels whose only purpose is to have a guaranteed audience without risk to the bottom line. Why not create something new and original, something that might replenish the artistic soul of the country?

I’m sure there are a lot of unknown talented people who have written smart musicals and plays who need the money and attention more than Robert De Niro.  But even as I write, I have heard a rumor that Broadway investment bankers are working on a rock opera about the Neopolitan Camorrah.
There is a brilliant Italian TV series they can rip off for that one. It's called "Gomorrah" -- don't you love the poetry?

Saturday, October 29, 2016

FBI seizes FOUR Abedin/Weiner Email Devices In Weiner Teenage Sexting Investigation

Worm Turns in #HRC Unauthorized Email Scandal

Why did Huma Abedin use Anthony Weiner’s laptop anyway?

Clinton Staffer – “whole thing is *#$&ing insane”

The trick for Democrats is to allow themselves an escape route by appearing to be on both sides of a developing disaster.  Witness the words of Democrat Dianne Feinstein of San Francisco:  This is particularly troubling since so many questions are unanswered,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein.  That mild rebuke is hardly a salve for the sucking chest wound our national security has received from Hillary Clinton’s licentious abuse of power and privilege.  

But is Senator Feinstein going to go the moral route? Ha-ha-ha-ha-etc…. Not in the rest of her quote where she assumes the role of defense attorney: ““It’s unclear whether these emails have already been reviewed or if Secretary Clinton sent or received them. In fact, we don’t even know if the F.B.I. has these emails in its possession.”  This kind of utterance is as low and dirty as Huma Abedin’s long ago forgiveness of her husband for sending pictures of his junk to teenage girls.

Before the news broke, but possibly with knowledge of what was coming, President Obama had this to say in a radio interview:   “My advice to Hillary would be just listen to your conscience and do what you this is right and worry about the politics later.”  Laughter could be heard all the way to the Pope in Italy.

A wormier, more rotten apple of a statement could not be made. “Listen to your conscience?”…. The obviously tone – deaf president has been too busy to keep up with the daily briefing.  This is the president who lied about Hillary’s classified email scandal, saying he didn’t know about it until he heard it on the news. Cut us a break, dumbo!  Your lie has been publicly exposed.

FBI Director Comey reopened the Hillary Clinton email investigation not out of the goodness of his heart. He did so because some conscientious FBI agents working under him discovered more emails on FOUR devices used by Huma and Anthony Weiner. One of the FOUR devices belonged to Huma – the other three (cellphone, tab-type device, and a laptop) belonged to Anthony Weiner but all apparently contained emails that circulated to Hilllary, Anthony, and Huma and many are about government activity. 

As for the goodness of FBI Director Comey’s heart, consider that he granted immunity to top Clinton aides like Cheryl Mills and others for their cooperation. He didn’t need immunity – he had all the authority to subpoena, question, and seize their email devices too. 

The most AMAZING thing was that, not only did Comey  grant immunity to possible fellow criminal conspirators, he promised to destroy their laptops so that the information contained on them could never be looked at again. This is a particular DISASTER in that they, too, need to be REEXAMINED in light of the new email disclosures on Human Abedin/ Anthony Weiner devices.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

John Edwards: A Senate Democrat’s 1980s Sex Scandal

It 's ironic that there would be such uproar about Donald Trump’s puerile ten year old boasts about his behavior with women.  While the presidential candidate’s recorded remarks are rightly condemned, the level of piety and sanctimonious hand-wringing by some members of the press is distressing and hypocritical.

Where have all these people been for the past thirty-odd years?  Have they never listened to popular music?  Watched TV?  Listened to shock jock radio?  Been one of the 125 million people who read “Fifty Shades of Gray?” Have they forgotten Bill Clinton?  Gary Hart ring a bell?

Perhaps the presidential candidate with the most chance of competing with Bill Clinton’s in-office seduction of young aide Monica Lewinsky was Senator John Edwards. Edwards was popular, with good looks and a squeaky clean image.   He had what some people described as a “Breck girl” appeal.    

The sex scandal which forced his withdrawal was graphic, described in some accounts as “gross” sexual activity. While the sex tapes were eventually destroyed by court order, some members of the press and others in law enforcement had viewed Edwards in the act of cunnilingus with lover Rielle Hunter.  

 Edwards’ defenders claim his elaborate scheme to keep his risqué affair with Rielle Hunter out of the public eye was  to protect his cancer-stricken wife Elizabeth. Law enforcement took a dimmer view, considering that the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid out on Edwards’ behalf was followed by a prosecution for bribery.

“Gross,” the John Edwards sex tape affair may have been, but it was also laughable.  Hunter was supposed to highlight the Edwards campaign in a documentary film.  A torrid affair with her journalistic subject was just one of the highlights. 

Another was when Edwards campaign aide Andrew Young wrote a book about behind the scenes activity on the campaign trail.   Young proved himself to have a sense of humor in saying the sex tape just tumbled out of his suiticase when he’d gone home to unpack.  Rielle Hunter claimed that Young stole the tape from her. She filed a lawsuit to retake possession of it.

Edwards was subpoenaed to testify in the civil court contest, but his lawyers protested that his testimony at his trial would violate his  5th Amendment protections.

Edwards faced six separate criminal charges stemming from payoffs to Hunter and Young to keep them quiet.  The payments were made by a third party but North Carolina prosecutors believed Edwards was aware of the payments.   Edwards pleaded innocent to all charges, and said he wasn’t aware of any such payments.

Edwards’ response to all allegations was to deny, deny, deny.  While he had no choice but to admit to the affair with Hunter, he also denied being the father of  the baby she gave birth to.

  The relationship between Edwards, Hunter, and Young was an unusual love triangle by any measure.  In the typical love triangle, a person is caught between two competing love interests.  The Edwards – Rielle Hunter affair was sort of a menage a trois, but only in the sense that the married-with-children Andrew Young , at first, claimed to be Hunter’s lover.  

When the press became suspicious of Edwards and suspected he was having an affair with Hunter, Young came forward to pose as the man in Hunter’s life.  In that way, the campaign entourage could travel together without raising further suspicions.

Eventually a tabloid produced photos of Edwards visiting Hunter and their child.   Edwards ultimately acknowledged the affair and that the child was his. 

In so far as his legal trial was concerned, John Edwards was found not guilty of one of the six charges levied against him. A mistrial was declared on the remaining five charges.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Gomorrah: Maria Pia Calzone as Imma Savastano

Yes, the Sundance Channel series Gomorrah is sub-titled. But you don’t have to speak Italian to enjoy the show.  The action is in the universal language.  Love, hate, violence, revenge. The blank spaces in the sub-titles are those four-letter words.  You can easily learn how to swear in Italian.  That will impress your friends in Milan.

But what I’m thinking about today is Immaculata. That is the real name of the top clan guy’s wife in the Gomorrah series. I’ve heard a lot of complaints here in the U.S. about the lack of female roles for actors over the age of twenty nine.  American TV and film needs to write a role like the one given this woman.

Maria Pia Calzone  portrays Immaculata (the Immaculate) with serious verve, style, focus, and a mysterious womanhood. Watching her in the series made me a bit ga-ga, I’ll admit.  When she hit up on one of my twitter posts, I discovered what it was like to walk on air. I went around the house acting like a celebrity to our dog for at least a week.

Imma’s a really unusual mom to her son Gennaro, a guileless and unruly kid who is over the moon about Noemi. l Gennaro’s gone to great lengths to impress Noemi. The girl is pretty and sexy but Imma can’t for a moment take the little fool seriously.

Yet she knows enough not to interfere with her son’s yearnings. She stands by and smiles as Gennaro romps around the place with Noemi both of them in their underwear. Mothers, you don’t want this girl in your crime family.

Eventually Gennaro matures and sees that Noemi is superficial. That only happens after mother Imma has sent him to Honduras, ostensibly for business reasons, but really to harden him in the cauldron of the drug cartels.

One Gennaro goes down to Honduras. Another Gennaro comes back, shoots Imma’s mastiff for attacking him on his unannounced return. This Genn

In previous episodes, Maria Pia Calzone appeared resigned to her role as the mobster’s wife. Obedient. Caring.  She’s  not shy about ruling the roost. But over all, Don Pietro had the final say about all business matters and even some domestic ones – like the sofa they have in the living room. He tosses the new sofa out because he thinks the Italian cops have bugged it. Imma is quiet but absorbs everything about her surroundings. She understands the business and has deep perception about the psychological underpinnings of the males who surround her.

She takes over the clan expecting a rebellion from the old school males allied with Don Pietro.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Gomorrah : Tales of the Italian Ghetto

Just finished watching an Italian TV series called Gomorrah.  Rhymes with Camorra.   Unlike the American Mafia or the Sicilian Mafia, the camorras have no hierarchical structures.  There is not one single camorra – there are several, rather like constellations.

Organization is horizontal, rather than pyramidal. Positions may be inherited. Rules are not always followed.

It seemed strange to me how the actors and directors of this TV series were, in interviews, saying such nice things about American films and TV series.  Unless they were referring to ‘slick,’ I kind of thought the opposite. The Italian version of a crime epic was grittier and more realistic than the ones I’ve watched – excepting perhaps “Casino” where there is not much room for romanticism. 

But even there, Gomorrah was hands-down more realistic than any mafia conforming fare found on American TV and film. Hey listen, wiseguy, I’m not putting down the American films like Godfather and Casino and TV shows like “The Sopranos.” I thought they were great.

Gomorrah is different, that’s all I’m saying.  Part of it is my own taste for realism. The more realistic the better. So let’s face it, the comorras of southern Italy don’t play very nice. 

Gomorrah, offered by Sundance TV and still “On Demand” has three directors. You may have noticed that earlier I used the plural when I referred to the director (s).

There is Stefano Sollima, the key director of the character Pietro Savanstano, head of the clan. His wife is named Imma for Immaculata – how’s that for an Italian name? She gets her own director but in most cases she needs one only to move her through the scenes. Then they have a son.  His name is Gennaro. At first he’s clueless but then grows into a chip off the old block.  His director is Claudioo Cupellini. 

What’s up with three directors?  Well, Stefano Sollima is the top man but the other two have a great deal of independence.  There are three driving forces therefore. Just as in real life the tensions occur between people, so it is with these characters.  It’s fascinating – it’s conflict you can feel. It gets under your skin. The characters are despicable and noble at the same time. As in Game of Thrones, these three characters live in separate kingdoms, separate domains.

Other details:  The screenwriter is Stefano Bises.  The filming makes use of 126 different locations, 225 actors, and hundreds of actors. Italians go big if they go at all. The series transformed Naples into a huge movie set.

Though some Italians have complained of bad publicity for Naples (See Naples and Die) actor Salvatore Esposito, who plays Gennaro Savastano, points out that tourism to Naples has increased, not the other way around. I have to say that I am curious, too.  My father was a ‘Napolitano” (Neopolitan). 

The stories are true. They come from Robert Savio’s book of the same name:  Gomorrah. Some of the inspiration, too, comes from Matteo’s film which was adapted also from Savio’s book.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Excerpt From My Upcoming Novel

I've been so pre-occupied with writing my novel that I haven't posted in eons. It's not for lack of content. We're living in a speeded up universe. There are a whole lot of things I want to write about. And yet I must deprive myself. The low-hanging fruit will always be there -- and can be plucked from television where the universe can be ignored in favor of discussions on  the existence of Unicorns.

So finish my novel I must.  It's actually my second one. The first was published on Kindle only -- self-published, that is. I never tried to get a trade publisher for it. Looking back, perhaps I should have.  It's entertaining, at least, and well-written if a bit dry in tone. I used a journalistic style, probly influenced by French writers -- thinking right now I was big on Albert Camus --

You should take a look. Give me a pass on the title: "Last Chance."  I didn't name it myself and should have held to its original title:  "Aurelio Must Die." But if you want a lively read, look for it under my writing name : Anthony Ventre  You'll find a couple of interesting stories on there.

Cut to the present. My current novel is tentatively titled "One to the Heart" or "Aim for the Heart," not sure yet. I picked a very funny paragraph (at least to me and my weird sense of humor) to excerpt:

" Being an altar boy was an honor later besmirched by sex abuse scandals covered up by the Catholic Church. But during Costello’s childhood, it was an insider’s track on God, the angels, and the martyr saints, a mystical dance to a background tune of Gregorian Chant.

The shared experience imparted to each of them a sort of deep and latent intimacy.  The Masons might have their secrets handshakes and clannish power-seeking conspiracies, but altar boys held the high cards at the gambling tables inside the Gates of Heaven.

Costello stepped out of the sedan at the convenience store. At first, he seemed not to notice Richie Sparo scrunched down in the cab of his truck. Richie shifted his eyes right to watch Costello working his hands around to his hip, adjusting his belt holster and moving his handcuffs around to a more comfortable position. 
Costello wasn’t particularly tall, but managed to look bigger than he actually was. It was mainly due to the way he carried himself. A muscular frame lurked beneath his leather jacket like the body of some coiled beast. "

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp, and the Massacre at Wounded Knee: AMC’s #TheAmericanWest

When I was a kid playing ‘Cowboys and Indians,’ most of us wanted to be ‘Indians.’  But whatever roles were play that old wild west fascination stays with you, and for good reason. Naturally, I was attracted to the AMC 8 – part Series called “The American West,” which wrapped up last night with gusto.

America’s move to the west was bloody and unpredictable. Law and order were rare commodities beyond the frontier where the valiant Lakota Sioux fight to maintain their lands and their fierce independence. Disenfranchised southerners like Jesse James continue their rebellion against the north by robbing trains and banks.  His notoriety becomes so great that the governor of the state of Missouri puts out a tempting 5,000 reward for his death or capture. In Tombstone Arizona, Wyatt Earp has built a reputation as a staunch law and order man but some people out west see no difference between him and the outlaws he challenges.

The season finale, last of eight episodes, did a nice job of putting things together.  We begin with the reminder that, with a bounty on his head, Jesse James has become paranoid and withdrawn. As he re-emerges from the shadows to plan new robberies, the only people he trusts are the Ford brothers, Charlie and Rob.  Big mistake to trust either of them, but his brother Frank has given up the outlaw life and returned to farming. He has to have someone to help him rob banks. Unfortunately, Rob Ford hears the jingle of cash in his head and goes to the governor of the state to get clearance for what he plans.  If he’s to kill Jesse James, he wants to be sure he gets the reward money and immunity from prosecution. The governor is only too willing – and the Ford brothers, working together according to this presentation, concoct a ruse to disarm Jesse and then Rob Ford murders him by shooting him in the back of the head.

The great thing about the latter part of the 19th century is that great strides were made in photography. With the martyred outlaw (he was a hero to the southern rebels after the Civil War) laid to rest in his coffin, we can see in still photos all over the internet how Jesse James looked, just as 2,000 morbid onlookers passed by as he was displayed on the main street of a town in Missouri. Google it.

Ike Clanton is still bristling over his encounter with Wyatt Earp whom he feels cheated him out of the three thousand dollar reward money he was supposed to get for giving up the names of some outlaws Wyatt was chasing. Said outlaws ran out of luck before Wyatt could get to them. They were shot down by some other outlaws, and there was no reward money to be paid. By his interpretation of events, Wyatt Earp still owed him money and when he’s humiliated publicly in a saloon, Clanton threatens to kill all three of the Earp brothers. In the Tombstone of that day, it was well to take such threats seriously, and the Earp brothers, joined by the notorious gambler Doc Holliday, were headed for the showdown known as the ‘Gunfight at OK Corral.’  While it’s called that, the gun fight didn’t happen at the corral; it occurred several blocks away on Fremont Street. On the face of it, Fremont Street doesn’t have the same ring to it as does the OK Corral.

The gunfight was likely over in less time than it would take to describe it.  In thirty seconds and thirty shots, three of Clanton’s gang lay dead, both of Wyatt’s brothers and Doc Holliday were wounded, while Wyatt walked away unscathed. It was something Ike Clanton wasn’t willing to forget. The road to revenge was long and arduous with Clanton getting the edge at one point by killing Morgan Earp.  Here’s where the life of Wyatt Earp poses some really difficult philosophical and moral questions.

What is to be done in lands without laws?  Who is the outlaw and who is the righteous man? The law was so arbitrary in Tombstone that Wyatt took it upon himself to avenge his brother’s death, tracking down and killing several of Clanton’s gang.  The Earps had already spent two weeks in jail for the OK Corral gunfight before a judge released them for lack of evidence.  Both sides, the Clantons and the Earps declared that the other side fired first.

Consider that the real Wyatt Earp, who can be seen also in internet still life photographs, had learned hard lessons during his years as a lawman and an outlaw. He thought it best to get out of Dodge (actually Tombstone) and headed to California where he got a job as a consultant to the burgeoning film industry. In one of the great ironies of the American west, Wyatt Earp takes under his wing a young actor named Marion Morrison. Morrison would later change his name to John Wayne and become an icon of western movies, making good use of the tales Wyatt Earp told him of the ‘bad old days.’

But what about Sitting Bull?  The American West closed out the tale of the rise and fall of the great Lakota Sioux Chief in its tragic ending in captivity. When Sitting Bull returns from the east where he’s been traveling with Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, he’s disillusioned in what he has seen. The teeming industrialized cities are a far cry from the freedom and independence of the plains.

While he’s been away from home, the Ghost Dance movement has inflamed the passions of the proud Lakota Sioux. The religion of the Indians, the dances and the songs, are meant to revive the spirit and the old ways of the Indian nation, but they have worried the U.S. government with fears of a major uprising. Sitting Bull being the best known leader of the Sioux is a particular worry and a detachment of troops is sent to arrest him.  The chief’s followers resist and Sitting Bull, aged 59, is shot to death by a soldier in the melee that follows.

Government policy has been to differentiate ‘hostile’ Indians from others according to whether they live on the reservations provided them or not. In other words, if you’re caught by the Army off the reservation, you’re a hostile.  But hundreds of Indians were not willing to give up their freedom and traditional ways of life to adopt the life styles of the eastern intruders into their traditional homeland.

A few hundred gather their belongings and march off from the reservation to make camp at Wounded Knee, South Dakota.  When the president orders the 7th Cavalry to round up hostiles, there is a bitter confrontation at the Sioux settlement.  Versions of the massacre may vary, but the result was more than 200 mostly unarmed Sioux men, women, and children killed by the Army, with 65 Cavalry casualties.

There were many famous names who provided interest and insight into the series – people like Kiefer Southerland, Sen. John McCain, and of course Robert Redford who produced the series. There were also a phalanx of distinguished wild west historians who commented on various aspects of the westward movement.

Perhaps the most stirring commentary was provided by  Lakota Sioux writer/filmmaker Larry Pourier. We find out toward the end that Pourier is one of the direct descendants of Sitting Bull. He is deliberate and calm in demeanor but unbroken in spirit as he tells the tale of his ancestors. “The death of Sitting Bull marks the death of our culture,” he says at one point, in his deliberate and measured way of speaking. This final bookending of the series is especially hard hitting when it shows real life still pictures of the December 1890 Massacre at Wounded Knee.  In this case, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, and perhaps that is why Pourier’s  commentary is more about wisdom than words.

The pictures themselves can be found on the internet and are horrific in their impact: One still picture of the scene shows two men standing in a mass grave dug for the pile of Indians who lie in a heap outside the pit. A line of grizzled cavalry veterans stand by with guns and beaten expressions.Another still is of  Chief Big Foot, half sitting up in the snow, frozen into his rigor mortis shape, his arms and fingers positioned as if he is holding a rifle or a bow.

Speaks for itself.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

AMC “The American West” TV Series Goes Beyond Myth

Listen up, Cowboys and Cowgirls...
There's more to those tall tales of the Old West than you know. So I'm finding out as I took a look at the new AMC TV series produced by Robert Redford.  As you know, Redford gets things pretty straight when it comes to matters of Native Americans and figures of the Wild West.
Tom Selleck and  Mark Harmon and Kiefer Sutherland are identifiable presences on  the first episode of this series detailing the American expansion after the Civil War.  Other lesser known experts and historians of the American west figure prominently too in the series. Viewers of historical tales will recognize them as they recount details of interest to history lovers and people who long for the grandeur of the west, it’s big sky and wide open areas.

There were vast unsettled tracts of the American continent that lured people west in the pursuit of happiness. Very often the new settlers found not happiness, but the opposite.

One of the first and greatest impacts of western expansion was the building of the railroads to the western coast. Native Americans watched over this migration with a jaundiced eye. Over the course of a mere thirty years, more than 430 million acres of land would be settled.

But there were winners and losers. Among the losers were southerners who had lost everything except their lives and were determined to get something back.  More than a few of these became outlaws and resisted the occupation of southern lands by union soldiers and the carpetbaggers who moved in to capitalize on the northern Army’s victory.

Among the outlaw rebels was Jesse James, at the end of the Civil War a member of a fringe Confederate military group known as Quantrell’s Raiders. The year is 1865. Not part of the regular Confederate Army, Quantrell’s Raiders were guerilla fighters who made up their own rules. Their targets were not always military targets, nor were their motives always strictly patriotic.

In the ambush and killing of two union soldiers, Jesse James was shot and captured by the Union Army. Forced to pledge allegiance to the union cause, the outlaw was still in prison four years later when the Civil War ended.

Going back home to Missouri, he found destruction and bitterness. Missouri was split in terms of its allegiances. Jesse James found a third path – that of the outlaw. Teaming up with his brother Frank, he formed an outlaw gang that would become legendary, focusing its first heists  on the supplies of the union troops he found oppressive. There were many such small rebellions reported in newspapers of the era, but the James Gang struck the high notes that attracted attention throughout the country.

I started watching the documentary, produced by the estimable Robert Redford, with the perception that each episode would focus on a single individual or event. It was soon apparent, however, that Redford’s intent was to present a coherent overview which gathers seeming separate stories into a whole.

The Native Americans who migrated thousands of years ago across the land bridge that linked Siberia with Alaska is brought in with a sweeping image of natural beauty. By the time the railroads were pushing westward, Native Americans living in the west numbered to an estimated 300,000. Among these was the brilliant military commander Crazy Horse, then a young warrior who watched the incursion into lands that had belonged to his people for centuries.

In 1866, Crazy Horse carried out a vast military campaign that terrorized the new settlers in Wyoming Territory. In a span six months, says a narrator, dozens of settlers were killed, seriously restricting movement through the territory. President Ulysses S. Grant and General William Sherman received this news with a great deal of displeasure. Grant wants the nation to know that he won’t tolerate chaos on the frontier, threatening his plan of unifying the U.S. from coast to coast in the establishment of a single nation.  He orders Sherman, commander of America’s western Army divisions to do battle with Crazy Horse. Late in 1866, a thousand new U.S. troops poured into Lakota territory.

Crazy Horse faces a challenge of numbers, technology, and superior firepower as he follows a vision which sustained him as a youth – that he couldn’t be killed and that bullets of the enemy would not find him in battle. He comes up with a plan to lure the U.S. Army from Fort Kearney, Wyoming Territory, into open plains where he can conduct an inspired  assault. When the troops follow him to the field, he rides his pony horizontally across the field of fire, just out of range of their fusillades. At the moment the soldiers are reloading the muskets, they are attacked by Crazy Horse’s warriors. Almost one hundred soldiers are killed in what became known as the “Battle of 100 Slain.”

 The Crazy Horse legend grew as President Grant paced the White House and agonized over the defeat. Grant therefore had to deal with two crises, the rebellions of the recently defeated south, and the rising up of the Sioux nation  to stop migration to the west. To deal with the Sioux in the west, Grant picks one of his best Civil War generals, the flamboyant George Armstrong Custer.

Everyone knows of ‘Custer’s Last Stand,’ one of the most ignominious defeats of the U.S. Army in battle. Did this episode of “The American West,” have anything interesting or peculiar to add? That Custer graduated last in his class at West Point Military Academy perhaps? That he distinguished himself for his aggressiveness and success in the Civil War is probably better known.  But when he was given command of the crack 7th Army in the west, his fate was sealed.

Interesting Facts:

Jesse James father had gone west on the Gold Rush and died there. His mother was a single parent.

Until Jesse James robbed banks in Missouri, not a single bank in the U.S. had ever had an armed robbery.

175 million acres of land were deeded to railroad companies as part  of President’s Lincoln’s plan to move people westward from the overly-developed east and from the devastated southern regions. This was more land than the entire state of Texas. The railroads then sold land to settlers moving in from the east.

By 1865, an estimated  300,000 Native Americans had migrated over the land bridge from Siberia to the American West.  Among these the most populous and powerful peoples living in the west were the Lakota Sioux.

The distinguished General George Armstrong  Custer graduated last in his class at West Point Military Academy. Yet he distinguished himself for his aggressiveness and success in the Civil War.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Americans: The Spies Next Door

The Beautiful Keri Russell, matriarchal killer KGB Agent & Humble Housewife

. The Jennings live next door to the Beemans. The Jennings are KGB. The Beemans are FBI. I’m talking about a show called “The Americans.”

Old fans of the show will know what happened in the past as Russian spies Philip and Elizabeth Jennings settle into a tidy suburban neighborhood where their next-door neighbor and FBI agent San Beeman lives. The Jennings have two children, Paige and Henry.

Paige is the oldest, smart enough to figure out that some things about her parents are downright unsettling. Paige has seen her parents disappear too many times into the night not to be suspicious. She pressures her mother to eventually tell her the truth. When she finally learns the truth, Paige finds it too burdensome and shares the shocking news with her pastor.

The irony of it all is that, in the Jennings search for identity authenticity, in their complete success at blending in, their daughter Paige has become religious. How this fits into the communist atheist ideology creates an unbearable tension. Meanwhile, younger brother Henry is still clueless about his parents’ espionage. Season four begins with the suggestion that the Jennings’ secret lives may be unraveling.

One of the things that continues to amaze me about “The Americans,”, was that I am still fooled by the disguises Elizabeth and Philip Jennings use while they’re on their midnight forays. Having missed the first two seasons, I began watching last year. I know that disguises are a regular part of each episode. So why am I so continuously fooled during those first few seconds of a scene where Philip or Elizabeth are out and about doing dead drops or meeting with contacts for such nefarious assignments as obtaining samples of a deadly Department of Defense bio-weapon from a traitor scientist?

Maybe it’s the routine and understated way Elizabeth and Philip go about their business in general that disarms and beguiles me. The same two parents gaily sitting with their kids at a picnic table in a public park are the same two parents carrying a naked male body from the bedroom where they’ve killed him in the interest of world peace. Elizabeth has the nude male by the ankles and Philip has the shoulders as another man watches the ‘cleanup’ casually and with his arms crossed. It’s like – “Hi there, Elizabeth, let’s put the lamp over here on the nightstand and would you please help me remove this body and send him down the laundry chute?”

This first episode of the season reminds us of who Philip is and how’s he’s become what he’s become. Philip is having trouble dealing with his role in life as a Russian spy sent to blend into the American landscape. While the whole purpose is to project an image of family life and marital bliss, it’s a dirty, ugly business that he’s in. Dedicated as he is to the Soviet ideology, he’s bothered by a lot of what he has to do. How did he become so hardened, so cruel, so methodical in his murderous ways?

In the flashback of his dreams, you see that he grew up with nothing, that as a young boy he was deprived, had to filch for his existence, was beaten and bullied by other kids competing for dominance in a harsh world. Fed up with being tormented, he rises up in anger, beating another kid to death with a rock, blood splattering all over his face.

He does what he has to do, that’s the message, but it doesn’t make for quiet peaceful sleep. Philip is deeply troubled, often unable to reconcile his troubles with the fantasy role he’s expected to play as a spy. This brings him to an EST meeting. Young audiences may not know what those things are but can imagine a group of unlimited size where people are encouraged to unburden themselves of their deepest inner truths. This is supposed to bring sighs of relief. While the hundreds of people gathered to witness this testimonial exhibition of innermost thoughts applaud Philip for his minor epiphanies, he just can’t cough up those early childhood murders. The old KGB, and even the current FSB, would find such notions frivolous, foolish, another sign of the decadence of the West.

The EST meeting did produce one interesting result. The wife of FBI Agent Stan Beeman also attends the EST meeting and the two neighbors meet for a drink later. One of the unusual juxtapositions of the show is that the Beeman family lives next door. Stan has become increasingly suspicious of his seemingly quiet and harmless next-door neighbors and his wife has been seen cozying up to neighbor Philip in the bar. He confronts Philip who has just returned from a meeting with the traitorous scientist – the one that provided the sample vial of the latest bio-warfare germ – and slams him against the wall.

“Are you screwing my wife?” he bellows.

Philip wasn’t of course, though it’s pretty clear he’d sleep with anyone if directed to do so by his handler, Gabriel. In this episode Philip appears with two wives, not an uncommon thing for KGB operatives in search of sensitive espionage material. Philip has his KGB wife Elizabeth and also poses as ‘Clark” Hanson, the FBI agent husband of Martha Hanson who spies for him in the FBI headquarters to which Stan Beeman is assigned.

Gabriel is intent upon getting the secreted lab sample of the deadly bio-germ created by Department of Defense scientists at Fort Dietrich. When Stan Beeman slams Philip up against the wall, there is considerable pucker factor as the body slam is hard enough to break the vial and unleash the deadly microbes on Washington.

How deadly is it? As the traitor scientist who delivers the vial describes it: “This (substance) is to meningitis what Bubonic Plague is to the common cold.” The reference stems from Elizabeth and Philip’s inoculation with meningitis vaccine as a preventative – a useless one at that.
Among the pitfalls of living in a free country is that your daughter might become religious. That’s already happened to the Jennings’ daughter Paige, who last season found out about her parent’s strange nighttime occupations. Now she’s intensely curious and in a morning breakfast scene asks her mother why her father left their house at 3 in the a.m. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings manages to be both maternal and reassuring as she reveals her hard ideological beliefs.

“He’s meeting a source,” says Elizabeth.
“Is it dangerous?”
“No, it’s more about getting people to trust you, to help them understand that you want the same thing that they want, to make the world safe for everyone.”

Paige finds her parent’s occupation a tremendous burden to bear and confesses it to her friend and counselor Pastor Tim. The Jennings have already stressed that they would both go to prison if Paige tells someone else and Paige is panicked at the thought. Pastor Tim presses her to find out more of what her parents’ actually do and “then we’ll decide what to do from there.”

Also caught up in the web of lies and counter-lies is Nina Krilovna, released from prison and working with Russian-Jewish scientist Anton Baklanov. As part of her penance for past anti-Soviet sins, she’s supposed to keep an eye on the regretful Baklanov who’s working in a Russian laboratory. They’re both trapped between their personal feelings and the required obeisance to the insufferable state.
The operatives are working on the blunt edge of politics in their different political systems. Behind the friendly smiles, and the agreeable appearances is the knife edge of competing ideologies.

Animal Kingdom -- TNT's New Drama Has Crazy Fun in the Sun


I used to live in California and I kind of miss it. And then again I don’t. One of the things in the don’t column stems from people like the characters in TNT’s new show “Animal Kingdom.” I think it’s a great show but that’s because I’m not living that life. Some people not living that life will think that the theme is a bit far-fetched. It’s not though.

Julia died of an overdose of bad heroin. She’s lying on the couch beside her seventeen year old son who is too stunned to cry. The paramedics come to pronounce the mom dead. The funeral was just another extended horror for poor J.  He’s gone to live with his grandma but she’s no ordinary grandma. She runs a violent crew—her three sons and her right-hand man in the criminal enterprise – Baz.

At the grave site, everyone’s all silent and wooden when a former neighbor woman issues a stark warning:  “They don’t belong here, J. Don’t stand there wid’ ‘em. Don’t.”

Maybe it was good advice but it came at the wrong time. J’s mother is lying cold and dead as Dina, the former neighbor, speaks out against the Cody family: “Maybe she (your mom) was weak but she did everything she could to protect you from them.”

Nothing like getting cheerful warnings like that at your mother’s funeral, especially when you’re a seventeen year old high school student with no family, no means of support, and no prospects. J thanks Dina the neighbor but demurs. Craig speaks up for the Cody family: “Get the hell out of here.”

Would anyone else like to say anything? Mercifully not. The cemetery workers lower the casket into the ground and the various family members make a pass around the grave before everyone leaves. The Cody boys are irreverent as they comment on the ceremony:  “I guess we’re Lutheran. Who knew?” Deran responds: “It (the funeral) must have been the cheapest.”   Sad, pathetic, and all too real.

Pope also forced into the next caper the gang planned to pull. That he immediately wants to commit more crime just one day after his release from prison defines him. Pope has a sociopathic personality. He’s fiendish, diabolical, violent, and dangerous and calculating. If there’s anything to add it’s that he’s a creep – with no sense of personal boundaries.

And the boys play silly games like playing basketball by popping food into J’s girlfriend Nikki’s mouth which will earn her $200.  J tells he she doesn’t have to play but she seems to like it. Though he’s not a blood family member, Baz gives J some friendly advice about how to play things with Uncle Pope who feels displaced by the newcomer.

Not all the games are silly, however. They’re the one where they rent a group of junkies and confine them in a vehicle. It’s a violent takeover, but since they’re junkies they can be paid off with drugs. The purpose of the confinement is so that they spread their DNA about the vehicle they use in a robbery. This is a clever ruse to confuse the forensics people when the police find the vehicle.

The heist itself is a jewelry store robbery in which the crew crashes an SUV into a luxury jewelry boutique. Deran drives the getaway car and picks up his brother with the loot, but they bump into security in a back alley. One of the security officers gets crushed against a dumpster. The other one fires and hits Craig in the shoulder.

You can’t blame J for being a little freaked out by this family now. He’s gone back to his mom’s old apartment and got the phone number of a guy he believes is his dad. A man answers but hangs up when J can’t even tell the guy what his father’s last name is. So it’s back to grandma’s house except he runs into the dope dealer who wants the money J’s mom owes him. J’s angry, not about to take any crap from anyone. He overpowers the guy and is this close to shooting him: “She’s (my mom) dead from the crap that you sold her.” Then he’s out on his bicycle in the cleansing air of the boardwalk, staring at the rolling, healing ocean waves. When he returns to the beach house, things are even more disturbing. Baz and Pope are cauterizing Craig’s bullet wound, while Smurf is singing lullabies to her crying ‘baby’ last born son.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Get a Load of the American Revolution : TURN, Washington’s Spies

Turn: Washington's Spies Heart and Minds

I remember when I was a kid that I didn’t much relate to the American Revolution. My parents emigrated from Italy. It’s fair to say that I wasn’t much interested in Garibaldi either. I blame it all on my boring Social Studies teacher who didn’t seem to like his job. Trust me when I say this because, since my high school days, I’ve known several brilliant social studies teachers who made history come alive. I know the difference.  My point being that my education about the American Revolution came very late in my life.
There’s a TV series now that I watch regularly. It’s the right combination of realism and romance, often sending me to Wikipedia or books or historical web sites to check out scenes, mentions, events in the series.
TURN: Washington’s Spies is  a welcome event for history buffs who like to see history in action.  Includes me. The conflict between Captain Simcoe who leads the rough and ready Rodger’s Rangers and the more orthodox  British Army forces led by Major Hewlett is something I wouldn’t know about if I didn’t watch the show. 
On the other hand, I was aware of the profoundly seriously attitude that George Washington took toward traitors who undermined the Continental Army. The opening scene of one episode depicts the execution by hanging of two men.
 It’s not proven that they exposed General Washington’s Culper spy ring but they were hanged on charges of counterfeiting. It’s pouring rain as the offenders are pushed off the scaffolding in a grisly and shocking scene that pulls no punches. The hangman has flubbed the job resulting in the beheading of one man. The other man keeps his head and was hanged properly. He can be seen vomiting white bile as a soldier steps forward with a pistol to deliver the coup de gras.
It’s the American Revolution form of ‘scared straight’—the executions are a lesson to the observers. The execution depicted of Sergeant Thomas Hickey fits with the official documents of the American Revolution, and so was that of Colonel Bradford who stood beside him on the gallows.  Who knew?
The show is based on a book by author Alexander Rose. Gotta’ give AMC credit for knowing a good thing when they read it.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Man Who (Probably) Won’t be King

By Erich Straub                                  May 4, 2016

It’s only fitting that Donald Trump officially became the republican nominee for president on George F. Will’s 75th birthday. The conservative columnist and longtime trickle down advocate must be crying in his birthday cake. Perhaps sensing the impending doom, he penned a column Monday calling for the party to sabotage Trump in the general election so that Hillary Clinton, whom he probably despises more than Trump, can be the next president. I can think of nothing more festive than cutting of your nose to spite your face.

He’s asked repeated and desperately: what’s become of the Grand Old Party? The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, Reagan, and now... Trump? The party that is supposed to be all about business and financial discipline is investing its hopes in 2016 in a junk bond that looks like a sure loser? Even though the smartest guys in the room continue to warn them - like the wise uncle who keeps warning you that the shady investment you are preparing to sink your retirement into is a Ponzi scheme - that Trump is a conman.

You can’t slap a 35% tariff on every company that opens a factory overseas, and magically bring millions of manufacturing jobs back to hollowed out cities. You can’t beat Isis by banning all Muslims, and dropping carpet bombs all over the Middle East. Nor can you win with Hispanics, blacks, and women when more than two thirds of each group dislikes you, by simply rebranding yourself and claiming that it was all an act.

But Trump supporters believe all of those things and then some. And they are willing to invest in him; no matter how many times George Will, Mitt Romney, or Bill Kristol hold interventions trying to convince them otherwise. Despite his motto that all he does is win, Donald Trump, the man who will now be king of the party, is the most despised frontrunner (and now presumptive nominee) perhaps in the history of American politics, and the NeverTrumpers won’t let us forget it.

Less than a month ago, it looked as if the Trump Train had been knocked off the track - if not totally derailed - after a series of gaffes and a humiliating loss in Wisconsin. But as always, Trump has rebounded astoundingly and won seven straight states, with a majority in each, and driven Ted Cruz into the political grave that he had been standing over for weeks. While Trump is now all but assured of being the nominee, assuming he can outlast the robust John Kasich who is still clamoring about electability to a room full of crickets, he certainly has a steep climb ahead of him if he is to make all of this worth anything for his supporters.

Although he argues that the early poll numbers are just another ruse in the rigged political system, Trump is not projecting well in November - to say the least. Even in reliably red states like Arizona, where John McCain has held his senate seat since before Trump built his first lemonade stand, Trump is losing and democrats are showing signs of seizing once unthinkable ground. Hoping that record numbers of conservatives will stay home if Trump is the nominee, even veteran stalwarts like McCain could face competitive races without excitement for the presidential nominee.

Aside from their claim that he’s not a real conservative, that’s the primary reason why the establishment is fighting Trump so hard, despite the fact that the voters have spoken. In the past, they were willing to put up a weak candidate and roll the dice, while focusing on holding or expanding their house and senate seats. With a Candidate Trump, they fear it would likely be lose-lose. Every republican’s worst nightmare would become a reality: President Hillary Clinton, a democratic senate, and a liberal leaning Supreme Court in 2017.

They know that they don’t want that, but they can’t seem to agree on a plan to prevent it. Like the democrats in 1968,  the party has become perhaps irreparably fractured,  and now seems to have divided into four separate factions:

1.  The Trumpers – or “Trumpeters” as Sarah Palin calls them. Die-hard Trump supporters who will vote for him no matter what. They have been reliable at the ballot box, representing about 30-40% of the primary electorate, depending on the state, and will likely drive his turnout in November. They are dedicated, but won’t be a big enough group to help him against Hillary.

2.  The Reluctants - moderate and somewhat conservative voters who may have not been in love with Trump at the beginning, but have resigned themselves to the fact that he will be the nominee. They probably preferred somebody like Jeb Bush and then Kasich, but will support Trump before they will allow Hillary to become president.

3. The Never-Trumpers - a mixture of party insiders and donors, neocons, and very conservative voters who will never accept Trump as their nominee no matter what. They supported Ted Cruz either outright or as the only alternative to Trump. They will either stay home on election day or vote for a third party candidate. A small number may even swallow the poison and vote for Hillary.

4. The Party Imploders - a small, but increasing, group of establishment republicans who despise Trump (and Cruz for that matter). They are planning a secret sabotage mission, aiming to see Trump lose in a landslide, so they can tell everyone “we told you so” and rebuild the party before 2020. Sort of like a drug addict who needs to go on a terrible, near death binge to realize just how far they’ve fallen and finally seek help.

Add it all up and yes, Trump is almost certain to lose in November. The NeverTrumpers keep repeating that refrain as if we don’t get it, but what they don’t mention is the fact that any republican is likely to lose in November. Trump is just being blamed for what’s a far deeper structural problem. Most experts believe the republican candidate will start off with around 190 electoral votes (assuming they hold all red states) which means they need to add 80. If she wins all of the reliably blue states that have voted for a democrat in every election since 1992, Hillary will likely start out with 242 electoral votes, meaning she needs just 28 to win.

The map is simply more blue than it is red. In the six elections since 1992, no democrat has scored fewer than 251 electoral votes. The only two who lost - Al Gore and John Kerry scored 266 and 251 respectively - came razor close to winning. If one state flipped the other way the outcome would have been reversed. In that same time, republicans have scored fewer than 200 three times: 1992 (168), 1996 (159), and 2008 (173), and Mitt Romney managed just 206 in 2012. George W. Bush - the only Republican to win in that timeframe - scored just 271 in 2000 (the fewest by any president ever to win1) and 286 in 2004 (by far the fewest of any incumbent to win re-election).

To reach 270, the republican would need to win Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina. Hillary would need to win Florida. That’s it. 242+29=271. She could concede Ohio and all the others and it wouldn’t matter. In other words, Republicans MUST win Florida - and a lot of other states where they are at a disadvantage because of changing demographics and their inability to win over hispanics and younger voters. Yes, a Paul Ryan looks bright and cheery compared to Trump, but he almost certainly doesn’t get to 270 in November either - especially with a large contingent of Trumpeters exiting the party.

While we could debate the merits of abolishing the electoral college (and Trump may try that) in short, republicans have to basically run the table in the swing states (or steal a big blue state) to have a chance of winning. To be realistic, the main alternative to Trump – Ted Cruz would not have fared much better in a general election (and some think would actually do worse). John Kasich does much better in a hypothetical match-up with Clinton than Trump or Cruz. He leads in many national polls, and also in key swing states like Ohio, but pretty much everywhere else in the primary he was either an afterthought, or part of a ruse to trip Trump up, or both.

Marco Rubio was widely touted as the party’s best prospect in what was supposed to be a deep bench, and he was rumored to be the only candidate that the Clinton campaigned was truly worried about facing. He was liked among large sections of the primary electorate, but always seemed to be their second choice and just couldn’t position himself as the clear Trump alternative. Although it seems unlikely, Trump could tap him as his VP to try to lock up Florida where he remains popular.

As Trump proclaims emphatically: “we want winners, not losers”. Like it or not, Kasich and Rubio look like losers. Trump looks like a winner, even though he’s despised by the masters of his own party. You can argue that he’s certainly not the standard bearer for the conservative movement (whatever that is these days), but he is going to finish the primary having won 35 states and over 12 million votes - more than the record set by George W. Bush when he ran away with the nomination in 2000. And he’ll have done it with the establishment, most of the conservative media, and big party donors, having fought him tooth and nail all the way. So, obviously somebody likes what he’s selling.

This election highlights not only the problems of our archaic electoral system, but with the nominating process as well: candidates have to navigate a series of primaries and caucuses spread out all over the country in no discernible pattern or organization. Try to win over conservative, evangelical voters in one area, shift to moderates in another, while wooing party elites and donors, and then lump everything together into something that looks palatable to half of the population. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

It’s a messy system, but perhaps it’s better than the alternative. In the past, the voters had virtually no say in who the party’s nominee was. Even in 1968, when democrats - furious with Johnson and the war in Vietnam - propelled Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy to huge wins in the primaries, the party insiders simply overruled them and nominated Johnson’s VP Hubert Humphrey anyway. The RNC wishes they had that power this year, so they could kick Trump to the curb. But pulling something like that would not only play right into Trump’s argument that the system is rigged, but likely result in a bloody mess like the one that unfolded in Chicago that summer.

The party insiders should resign themselves to the fact that it simply didn’t work this year. Voters are just done with everything Washington and increasingly distrustful of the candidates they continually propped up as the obvious choice. They simply were not willing to settle on another bland guy talking about policy issues, medicaid subsidies, and tax reform to balance the budget. Not when they had a torch wielding maniac ready to burn the whole system down, and replace it with a giant wall.

Trump will most likely not be the next president, but all of the experts have been wrong up to this point. He is a wildcard and who knows what tricks he still has up his sleeve. He may be going into the general election with the highest negatives of any candidate in history, but his opponent will be going in with the second highest. It’s a remarkable twist of irony in an already surreal election season. Despite what democrats (and many republicans) may think, Hillary is not invincible and Trump is going to empty the quiver. If she thinks she is going to coast into the white house, she does so at her own risk.

Regardless of what happens, you have to give Trump credit. He started out as a reality show character, displayed almost no policy knowledge (nor desire to develop any), no discernible organization, and refused to play the traditional parlor games of party politics. He didn’t win with smoke and mirrors so much as by sheer force of personality and brand name. He will likely finish as he started, which is a caricature of a candidate. But something strange happened on the way to the carnival: Trump became a major party nominee, dispatching seasoned politicians like it was child’s play, and breaking every written (and unwritten) rule along the way. And this is just the first act. As he says: “I haven’t even started yet, folks”. It figures to be one hell of a summer.


1 - since the present electoral college vote became 538 after the admittal of Alaska and Hawaii in 1959.