Archive for May, 2018

Media Update 5/31/18

May 31, 2018


Black Swan

When I was in high school, (and before that) I had a good friend named Arthur who was definitely my source for a lot of the weird yet interesting stuff that I was exposed to. Being exposed to weird stuff definitely shaped my pop culture tastes along the way. One of the things he introduced me to was a fairly obscure movie simply called Pi. I was immediately fascinated and repulsed by director Aronovsky’s uncomfortable surreal narrative. He is a master of using surreal and frightening imagery to convey exactly the right psychological symbolism for his narratives. Like Pi, this movie was about one person slowly succumbing to stress and the power of their own mind. It is also about female repression, female oppression, sexuality, the sacrifice of the artist, and the demands of society among other themes. Natalie Portman is such a great actress in this movie. She often feels less like a person and more like an elemental force of emotion springing to life. Briefly living inside her character’s head was a frightening and uncomfortable place to be. Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder, and Vincent Cassel do a great job delivering some really interesting antagonists. Mila Kunis plays a small but very important part as only she could. The movie is unrelenting and I felt tense but exhilarated the whole way through. I definitely recommend it but be prepared for a weird and dark ride.


Brazil

I love Terry Gilliam. My first exposure to Monty Python was reading scripts with my friend Arthur on a school camping trip. Sadly, reading the scripts did not convey the crazy artwork and animation that came from the mind of Gilliam. When he struck out on his own, he proved he was brilliant at all sorts of things. He was a great writer and director who fought hard to champion creative freedom, sometimes at his own expense. I had long heard of his first solo film, Brazil, but I never got a chance to watch it until now. I know because it was Gilliam that it would be weird and I was not disappointed. The movie is a comedy about a dystopian future where bureaucracy has gotten fully out of control. This future is quite surreal and ridiculous which actually makes it all the scarier. The star of the movie is Jonathan Pryce who is great as the intelligent yet awkward everyman who gets wrapped up in chaos. There is also a great funny performance by Sir Ian Holm who is great at being meekly funny. Fellow Python alum Michael Palin gets to play a lovable psychopath. There are also great cameos from Robert DeNiro, Jim Broadbent, and Bob Hoskins. After watching two dark and emotional movies, it was nice to watch a comedy. Although, it is kind of a dark comedy. The movie is a crazy adventure and it was fun from start to finish. I definitely recommend it as well.


Mulholland Drive

I am not the biggest fan of David Lynch films. To be fair, his films and his TV show Twin Peaks are intentionally hard to follow and full of a lot of symbolism. I also think he is often making it up as he goes along. Such was the case for this movie which was intended to be a television pilot for a spinoff of Twin Peaks but it was instead made into a feature film so he wrote the ending at that point. Often called his most logical film, it is still pretty hard to grasp for me. At a certain point with Lynch’s work, I feel that one must just sit back and relax and watch without trying to figure things out. I kept asking “what does that mean?” but for most of it, it probably did not matter. The main point of the film, in my opinion, is to convey emotion. The performances, especially the one by Naomi Watts, are particularly haunting. Most of the movie has a dreamlike quality until there is a climax where we are snapped out of the dream. It is disorienting but also pretty interesting to watch. I think I would probably be able to follow the film a little more if it could hold my attention better. A lot of the time nothing exciting is happening so I start getting complacent for when the really crazy stuff starts. What I could glean from the movie is the clash between dreams/reality, innocence/guilt, memory, and the perils of the Hollywood system. It is a love note to Hollywood and also a warning about Hollywood as it is definitely a movie about duality. I recommend it but be ready to be confused as even film critics and historians cannot agree on what the movie means.

Music of the Week:

Geoff Muldaur – Brazil

TWRP – Synthesize Her

Maddie and Tae – Friends Don’t

Yello – The Race

Mars Argo – Using You

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Things Get Weird”
– I finished watching The Pinkertons
– I watched more of Season 3 of Better Call Saul
– I watched more Glitter Force Doki Doki Season 1
– I watched more Gurren Lagann
– I watched more Barry Kramer and GTLive on YouTube
– This week’s theme could have been “Weird Directors I Like”

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Forced to Salute

May 28, 2018

(This is a paper I wrote for Civil Litigation class at CCBC two years ago.  I was thinking if I wanted to do something on this blog that touched on Memorial day and then the NFL changed its rules, forcing players to stand during the national anthem.  Since detractors of the protest that Kaepernick started think that it is about the US military then this seems like the perfect time to talk about what was fought for.  Also, for the record, many of my relatives fought in various wars.)

Picture this situation. You have dressed up in your favorite sports team’s colors and paid for your ticket. You are looking forward to seeing your team blow away the competition while chomping down on your favorite snack and drinking a cool drink. The announcer says “Please rise, take off your hats and join us in singing our national anthem.”1 You look around as everyone gets to their feet and their hands go over their hearts as the first stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner is sung by a talented musician. Fireworks go off as everything stops for a few long moments and there is a feeling of unity and common purpose in the air. This is most likely familiar to a lot of our readers but this time, something is different. You look to your left and you see some man with his hat still on and his hands in his pockets. Why is he not saluting? Does he hate America?

When it comes to sporting events, saluting the flag is inextricably linked to the national anthem. The history of playing the United States’ national anthem and its accompanying salute at sporting events goes back to the 1800s but it was not until the 20th century that it became a tradition. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that the Star-Spangled Banner be played at military and other appropriate occasions. In 1918, the anthem was played at that year’s World Series baseball games. During World War II, the practice of playing the national anthem before baseball games became a tradition that eventually extended to all other sports played in the United States. However, at no point have we decided to actually compel people to salute the flag. I believe that compelling people to salute the United States flag at sporting events (or anywhere else) is an abuse of power.

The First Amendment freedom of speech is the first item in a Bill of Rights given to the citizens of the United States of America. It is a cornerstone of the way we act in our society and has become a cultural and legal touchstone that is invoked constantly in popular culture. Specifically, the First Amendment states that no law can be created that abridges freedom of speech. Traditionally, freedom of speech is extended also to the right of freedom of expression since speech is not limited to verbal statements. The messages we send by what we do are as protected as the words we say. In fact, this is also recognized as a universal right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was created by the United Nations General Assembly. Freedom of expression is not only an American right, it is also a human right. Therefore, Americans have a right to salute the flag but they have just as much right to not salute the flag. This freedom has been upheld over and over despite situations where public opinion has been against the content of somebody’s speech.

There are also plenty of court cases that uphold the freedom from having to engage in patriotic rituals. In 1974 , the United States Supreme Court was asked to settle a conflict between the Communist Party of Indiana and the Election Board of Indiana. Communist Party candidates had been rejected from ballots because those candidates had failed to recite loyalty oaths required of them. The Election Board had required an oath stating that the candidate would not advocate the violent or forceful overthrow of any government. Historically, this was an issue because several Communist regimes had begun with violent revolution. The Supreme Court ruled that requiring candidates to recite or sign a loyalty oath before they could be validated as candidates was unconstitutional. Once again, the First Amendment provided the protection the Communist Party needed in order to avoid being compelled to recite an unfair loyalty pledge. Whether the Communist Party agreed with the content of the pledge or not, it was overreach to

In 2013, the Supreme Court once again stepped in to protect the rights of citizens with a different point of view. They were asked to settle a dispute between the Agency for International Development and the Alliance for Open Society International. In order to get funding, clinics were being required to adopt a policy opposing prostitution. The problem was, prostitutes were often patients of these clinics and the clinics believed that such a policy would unfairly send these women away. They tried to challenge the requirements so that they could receive funding without conditions. Once again, the court harkened to the First Amendment and stated that the US Constitution’s right to free speech protects citizens from the government telling them what to say. By trying to put words in the mouths of those running clinics, they were trying to limit their right to free speech and expression. They had a right to make the required policy but they also had a right to not make the required policy. In effect, they decided that nobody can force a private organization to publicly profess a viewpoint that mirrors the government’s viewpoint but is not held by the organization itself. If the government cannot force a private organization to profess a viewpoint they do not agree with then it follows that they should not be able to force a private citizen to do the same.

In 1943, at the height of patriotic fervor for our country, the Supreme Court addressed a dispute between the students and the West Virginia Board of Education. The issue between them involved saluting the flag during the pledge of allegiance. The pledge of allegiance, like the national anthem, is a ritual that shows everybody around that you have faith and loyalty in your country. The problem arose when schoolchildren objected to saluting the flag during the pledge of allegiance in class. They objected on a religious basis because they felt that saluting the flag was the same as worshiping an image in violation of a statute which required them to salute the flag. They had a legitimate, thoughtful objection to saluting the flag and they pleaded for relief from the statute. The court ruled that the First Amendment applied again, this time by way of the Fourteenth Amendment. More importantly, the court showed that you cannot force somebody to express something that they do not believe in. The children held beliefs that had nothing to do with hating the country they lived in and just did not want to participate in the act of saluting the flag.

Let us take a moment to get at the timeliness of this matter. The reason that this has become an issue is that Colin Kaepernick, famous football player, decided to kneel instead of saluting the flag during the playing of the National Anthem. The stated reason was that he was protesting systemic racism in the United States. In 1969, the Supreme Court was faced with the dispute between students who were protesting the Vietnam War and the school officials who objected to their behavior. The kids were wearing black armbands as a form of silent protest against the United States involvement in the War in Vietnam. School officials decided to suspend anybody wearing a black armband. The Supreme Court relied, as it has in all of the cases above, on the First Amendment in deciding for the young protestors. Part of their decision in favor of the protest being free speech was the interpretation that the behavior was not purposely or actually disruptive. The behavior itself was not actually disruptive so it more closely resembled pure speech and it was easier to allow it under our laws and ideals. Nobody immediately rioted when Kaepernick performed his protest and the anthem continued and was followed by the scheduled game as planned. It merely sparked the discussion it was meant to as stated by Mr. Kaepernik.

Let us move past the law and examine some basic political and ideological concepts that the reader may be familiar with. The national anthem, the pledge of allegiance and saluting the flag are all widely accepted marks of patriotism. Patriotism is defined as the love one has for their country that engenders loyalty. This is the feeling that makes saluting the flag during the national anthem easy for most people because they love their country and want to express that love and their loyalty. Nationalism is an extension of patriotism as it is a feeling of loyalty and pride for your country and that it is better than any other country. This is still a positive feeling and it often motivates people to not only show their pride in their country but also to convince other people to show their pride as well. Finally, we have fascism which is a loaded word. Fascism is nationalism taken to its extreme where anybody who does not display nationalist pride and loyalty toward the country is ostracized or punished. This is a step too far as it veers into the realm of policing thought. When most people think of Fascism, they think of the standard historical examples. Mussolini’s Italy began when the Fascist Party slowly took over the government starting in the 1920s. The government encouraged and then forced Italians to give up their individuality because of undying loyalty. In Hitler’s Germany, another fascist regime, everybody was required to salute as individuality was stripped away from society. Compelling people to show pride in their country is a slippery slope that dissuades people from criticism which is healthy.

In conclusion, we see that our whole society is built on the idea that we are free to express ourselves even if we are expressing ourselves by inaction. Our Founding Fathers felt this was important when they wrote the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In a nation built on the philosophy of freedom, one of the freedoms they thought important enough to name first was the freedom of expression. While the Constitution is a living document and our interpretation of it changes over time, this one ideal has remained constant. The Supreme Court has reaffirmed this right over and over again in several different decades. Many ideas changed and evolved but that freedom remained constant. Not only that, but we see from fascist thought that forcing people to salute or otherwise show their loyalty or pride of country can be seen as the first step toward losing our individuality. Forcing people to participate in an act of expression that they do not believe in is an abuse of power under our system of laws. It should not be allowed to happen.

List of Sources:

1. USCS Const. Amend. 1 (LexisNexis 2016).

2. http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html

3. Communist Party of Indiana v. Whitcomb, 414 U.S. 441 (1974).

4. Agency for Int’l Dev. v. Alliance for Open Soc’y Int’l, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2321 (2013).

5. W. Va. State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943).

6. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., 393 U.S. 503 (1969).

7. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/patriotism

8. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nationalism

9. Turner, Henry Ashby, Reappraisals of Fascism. New Viewpoints, 1975. p. 162.

10. Benito Mussolini, Giovanni Gentile, Doctrine of Fascism (1932)

11. Kershaw, Ian (2001). The “Hitler Myth”: Image and Reality in the Third Reich. Oxford University Press. p. 60

Panther and Keeva

May 26, 2018

Panther walked back to his sleeping area. The matter between Ro and Metalstone had been stabilized but not settled. He had not been present for most of the arguing over what to do to punish Metalstone but he had been present for the pronouncement. He was not sure if it was the right choice but it was a choice that he would have to abide by. He had watched Metalstone with some curiosity over the years but the two of them had never been friends. All of the direct contacts with spirits still troubled him and this ‘magic’ stuff was beyond his understanding. He had relied mostly on his own personal strength and it had worked out so far. He always kept an obsidian knife close in case the spiritual threats from years past returned. He was far from the frightened little kid who had watched his companions succumb to magic one by one.

“Stand down,” Panther said without looking. His wife Keeva stepped out of the shadows along with his daughter Yuna. They were both carrying large, sharp knives. Little Kyri was digging in the dirt a few feet away. His son, Rock, was nowhere in sight but he remembered what it was like in the time after you become a man. Panther bent down and rubbed Yuna’s head affectionately before giving her a gentle push toward her sister so the adults could talk.

“Everybody heard the noise Ro was making,” Keeva said. “Were her fears warranted?”

“I think so,” Panther said. “The monkey is always worth watching. He keeps a lot of their intentions to himself.”  However, Panther had been convinced of the man’s humanity after watching him with Minnow.  Clearly, the man was a puzzle.

“As do you,” Keeva said with a smile.  “You are my silent predator.”

He smiled and stroked her cheek.  “The difference is that I have no grand plans,” Panther said. “But to answer your true question, I do not think he hurt the children.”

“Then did our son make it safely into manhood?” Keeva asked.  She had been busy attending to the children and had not attended the rest of the festivities.  Truth be told, Panther had not watched the tent his son had slept in and had gone off to celebrate.  Rock had done well in the fighting tournament but Panther sensed something strange had happened during it.  Next time, his students would beat Blaze’s students for sure.  He had been surprised by Tam’s child but their mother was formidable in combat.  Of course, Panther had lost in the first round in his ninth year but the kids were trained a lot better now.

“He did,” Panther said. “I observed Metalstone long enough to believe that. He fell asleep in the sweat and passed the night peacefully.”

“So he did not bond with a spirit?” Keeva asked.

“Thankfully no,” Panther said.  “There were four who conversed with spirits and he was not one of them.”

“Just because you rejected that snake spirit from the Snake Woman when we were small it does not make it an aberration to bond with the spirits,” Keeva said. “Many after our year have done so.  It has given some great power to help our tribe when it needed help the most.”

“I know,” Panther said. “I just don’t trust it.”  Things had been quiet for ten years but the tumultuous time during and after their naming ceremony still haunted him as he imagined it haunted others.  Panther had been helpless against things nobody had ever seen before and yet he had survived.  Only that last fact gave him strength.  Keeva had also been there for some of it, part of the same group during the naming ceremony.

“I know,” Keeva said. “But someday we might have to trust it.  Especially if one of our daughters should be chosen.”

“That might be true sooner than later,” Panther said. “Part of Metalstone’s bargain is that we will go back and appease Wood.  They are going to do some more magic back at the old land of the trial.”

“The spirit that turned some of the other children into trees out of spite?” Keeva asked. “And you’re going with them, I suppose?”

“They could use my help,” Panther said. “I’m not that little boy like last time.”

“You really aren’t,” Keeva said with a proud smile. “They would be lost without you. See how they lost their heads until you took the monkey captive.”

Panther smiled. “You’re kind, my dear.”

“You know how skilled you are,” Keeva said. “I just wish I could go with you.”

Panther made eye contact with his wife and lover. They had fallen for each other when they played hide and seek years and years before. They had conceived their first child, Rock, out in the woods during a hunt. Since then she had given birth to two more children and both daughters were just as fierce yet kind as their mother proved to be. Panther looked forward to training Kyri and Yuna the same way he had trained Rock and other children in the arts of hunting and fighting. He placed his hand gently but firmly on Keeva’s belly. The fourth was on the way. Panther did not want the unborn child to be exposed to whatever magic was back in those cursed woods.

“You can stay here and hunt,” Panther said. “Rock will want to go too but I’ll tell him he should accompany you and learn a few more things.”

“I’ll make sure he listens,” Keeva said. “I’ll make sure he does not brood about not going. Though, with the noise Ro made, I’m not sure if there will be hunting for days.”

Panther laughed. “That gives time for our son to celebrate becoming a man. Keep an eye on the rest of the clan. Last night was different in ways I don’t really understand yet.”

“Something changed the night of our trial,” Keeva said. “Something that is not finished yet.”

Panther nodded. “You’re right,” he said. “It’s a new world.”

Media Update 5/23/18

May 24, 2018


Straight Outta Compton

When I was a kid, I really bought into the whole “Rap is Crap” stuff and I bought into it being dangerous, vulgar, and pointless. However, when I really listened to it, I changed my tune. Like a lot of people, I had condemned something without really giving it a chance. One of the albums that really changed my way of thinking was Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. The music and the beats hit so hard and the rhymes blew my mind. This was the new street poetry and yes some of it was violent and sexualized but it was a reflection of a world that I was not a part of. It was a musical and political awakening for me. I used to listen to that album on a loop as I walked home from high school. I came to it years after the group had broken up and gone their separate ways. This movie is their story. Of course, I am not sure how much of it is fantasy and how much of it is real but it is a good story. There is enough truth in there for me. All of the actors are great at bringing both the drama and the music to life. In fact, Ice Cube’s son got to play his father in the story which must have been quite the experience. Whatever the true truth is, this movie at least reminded me that these legendary figures were (and are) flawed people just like I am. I definitely recommend it but be warned that the movie is two and a half hours long.


All Eyez On Me

The world was shaken when Tupac Shakur was shot in Las Vegas in 1996. His music was already helping to change the rap game. I talked a lot about it when I reviewed the first few episodes of Unsolved, the miniseries about the investigations into the deaths of Biggie and Tupac. Tupac is still a legend in my hometown of Baltimore because that is where he got his start. It was here that he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts (the same high school my brother went to). This movie is a trip through his life from before his birth to his death. It hits a lot of the highlights of his life including things I did not know like his engagement to Kidada Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones. Far from “just a thug”, he was a poet who knew Shakespeare and other poets from his education in the arts. He obviously learned from everyone he worked with including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie Smalls. The movie hinges on the performance of Demetrius Tripp as Tupac and he does a great job bringing humanity to the mythic figure. We also get actors really nailing figures like Biggie, Jada Pinkett, Kidada, the villainous Suge Knight, Snoop, Dre, Faith Evans, and many more. The script is a little messy but it gets the impact of the man’s life across and the difficulties and flaws he had to deal with. Most of all, it portrays the lost potential when he died. He could have been an elder statesman of rap or an activist if he had lived to maturity. I also recommend this one as it is a fascinating story about the rise and fall of one man who is still loved.


Roxanne Roxanne

This movie caught my attention as I was going through Netflix looking for the movie Notorious (which I will have to catch at another time). This movie tells the story of Roxanne Shante who was a battle rapper back in the eighties. She started rapping at age nine and started to get famous as young as age fourteen. This was in the golden age of hip-hop when everything was fresh and new. It is the world of graffiti, breakdancing, and rapping that formed the trinity of hip-hop culture. This world was reflected in the fictional story of The Get Down but this is a very real story. Roxanne was a hustler with a brilliant mind who was drawn to the streets where she thrived instead of school. Her life was difficult as she was black, a woman, and she came up poor. The movie is such a snapshot of life in the projects in Queens (and the rest of the east coast) in the eighties. The star of the movie is Chante Adams who just does such a great job bringing Roxanne to life. She is such a likable character. I definitely recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Roxanne Shante – Roxanne’s Revenge

Tupac Shakur – Hit ‘Em Up

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

The Chainsmokers – The Rookie

Imagine Dragons – Thunder

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Rap Biopics”
– I watched more iZombie Season 4
– I watched more Beauty and the Beast Season 1
– I watched a crapload of PBG Hardcore on YouTube
– I finished watching the Pinkertons
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

The Light Rail

May 21, 2018

While I was going to college in New Jersey, my mother moved into a house over in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore. Her reasoning in picking the specific house she picked was that it was on the Light Rail line. Baltimore’s Light Rail was built in the early nineties to provide mass transit for the citizens of residents vaguely west of the center corridor of the city. As somebody who lived fairly near his high school, I never needed the Light Rail. I could hitch a ride with one of my parents or I could walk if it came to it. So I never really gave it much mind until I came home from college one summer and it was only a few blocks away. My mother was taking it to work so her sons could borrow her car. Still, I never really rode it. I also rarely rode the buses as I preferred to walk if I could not drive and I hate driving.

When I worked for the Kevin Kamenetz campaign in 2010, I was often working next to the Floors, Inc. warehouse up in Hunt Valley throughout the summer. After a while, I did not want to drive and I would instead ride the train up to the McCormick spice factory. I would eat my breakfast as I walked past McCormick which was a bad idea. Eating applesauce while the air around is full of the smell of paprika is a bad idea. Whatever I was eating mingled with the flavor of whatever seasoning they were working on that morning. It was kind of a weird way to start long days of physical labor. However, I got really used to waiting for and riding the train up and down the line. In addition, the cars were always air-conditioned, shady places to sit while I rolled toward the north part of the county. It was at this point that my eyes were opened to how useful the light rail could be.

Now that my day job is in downtown Baltimore, for the first time, I started purchasing monthly passes to the Light Rail (which was recently renamed the Light RailLink). Now that I have been riding almost daily, I have started to get a feel for what the Light Rail is like. The trains have a layout as follows: There are two ‘cars’ linked together by a flexible walkway between them. Each car has wide doors on either side in the center and two smaller doors on each end. The trains having doors on each side is to accommodate platforms on both sides. However, most platforms I have encountered are all on one side. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is North Avenue station. Maybe the northern end of the line at Hunt Valley. Anyway, the inside of the trains is filled with hard plastic chairs with cushioning in pairs. There are pipes all around to grab onto if you are standing.

Most of the time when I get on, there are people sitting in all of the window seats which leaves a lot of open seats in the aisle. Being the introvert that I am, I only sit down when there are tons of open seats which is mostly only on the weekend. I also rarely sit down because inevitably some elder person will board the train and I want that seat to be open for them and their tired legs. So the way I usually experience the train is on my feet. You really notice the skill of each driver if you are standing on a train. The tracks in many places in the city are not straight and instead curve around existing structures and traffic patterns. Standing on the train there is often little warning when the train will slow or turn and each driver hits these moments with different momentum. Holding onto something is essential to stay standing.

I have also noticed that there are basically four reactions that people have when they get on the train and see that there are no seats. The first is the least likely which is the doors open and somebody decides to wait for the next train. Sometimes, this is necessary as trains can be absolutely crammed full of people after sporting events. The second is a person will find a spot to stand, grab onto something and stand still until their stop. This is what I do and I find it is the most ideal choice. The third choice is when a person is in denial that there are no seats and will make people move out of the way so they can walk the train in search of a seat. This always feels pointless to me. Finally, there are the people who sit down on the steps at the doors which is completely counterproductive. The best train rides are when everybody just chills out and stays put.

So are the trains safe? Well, as with most things, yes and no. I have ridden the trains without incident a lot. First, make sure you buy a ticket because Maryland Transit Authority cops board the train and random stations and at random intervals to check everyone’s ticket. On Free Comic Book Day, I finally saw somebody actually get arrested for the first time for trying to use an old ticket and claiming the machine had printed the wrong ticket. Second, most people on the train just want to get to their destination so everybody keeps to themselves. I have never seen an altercation on the train and most people just assume they are going to be bumped into on the train. The worst I have seen is a man who started a loud sort of sermon on the train and seeing somebody that unstable is always a little worrying. Third, you have to watch yourself around the trains themselves. The week before last somebody was hit and killed by a Light Rail train which briefly caused chaos in Baltimore. So be safe out there but enjoy the utility of the train.

Faith of the Raven Pt. 4

May 19, 2018

The three new companions rode out at dawn. The innkeep would not get up to cook breakfast but allowed them the use of the kitchen. Galath cooked up some eggs and sausage and then packed up some food for the road. Arne had suggested that they just leave as punishment for the lazy innkeep but Galath left a gold piece and Carania approved. While the two finished packing up, Arne swiped the gold piece with nobody the wiser. Now, they were on the path back to the forest with Carania at the lead with Arne and Galath riding side by side. Of course, being a dwarf, Galath was riding a war pony he had purchased a month prior. Arne and Carania each had exotic Kofrani horses. Carania’s had been a gift from the Silverlight family but she wondered how someone as shabbily dressed as Arne could have gotten such an expensive horse. Arne had spent the earlier part of the morning talking softly to his bird, Grimalkin, while Galath and Carania had remained quiet.

Finally, Arne broke the silence. “So, it’s weird to me to see an elf and a dwarf working together. How do you feel about it, fearless leader?”

Carania looked over her shoulder at Arne for a moment and then glanced at Galath before she turned back to watch the road ahead. “It’s true that there exists a long distrust between our peoples,” She said. “but I was brought up differently. I have no problems with dwarves.”

Galath smiled and looked at Arne. “And I have no problem with elves,” he said. “My family was intolerant but we did live underground where all we had were stories and a few unwelcome elven visitors to go by. Once I decided to live above ground, I learned to judge people by the content of their character instead of the pointiness of their ears.”

Carania smiled at that. “That’s a good way of putting it.”

“That is kind of strange, too,” Arne said, turning to look at Galath.

“What’s strange this time?” Galath asked.

“You said that you ‘decided to live above ground’ which is strange already for a dwarf,” Arne said. “On top of that, you are a cleric of Pelor, a sun god, which generally never happens.”

“I recognize that it is strange to worship something a dwarf rarely sees,” Galath said. “However, on a trip to the surface for trading, I was struck by the beauty of the sun that I could not get it out of my mind. I set out on my own and encountered a temple dedicated to Pelor in the first town I encountered.”

“So that’s when you saw the light?” Arne asked with a smirk. Carania groaned pretty audibly at the pun.

Galath just grinned and shrugged. “Yes, I suppose I did. In Overbrook.”

“I can’t understand the religious life,” Arne said. “I rely more on what I can do with my mind.”

“That sounds like a priest of Ioun,” Galath said.

Arne laughed and Grimalkin cawed in an almost laugh. “I am definitely no priest. If I was a priest I would be thrown out of any temple by now.”

“I’m new to the religious thing myself,” Carania said. “This is only my second day as a servant of the Raven Queen.”

Galath and Arne looked at each other and then back at the back of Carania’s head. “The Raven Queen does not have a lot of worshippers, per se. I guess we agreed to help you so quickly that we never heard that story. How did you become a devotee of the Great Spooky One?”

“Don’t mock her,” Galath said.

“I’m not sure if you mean Carania or the Raven Queen but I assure you that both of them can take care of themself,” Arne said.

“Never doubt it,” Carania said as she stroked the hilt of her sword instinctually. “The truth is that the story is strange and it’s still kind of sinking in for me.”

“Well,” Arne said. “Well, ou have to tell the story. It will help pass the time on the way to the battle.”

Carania paused for a moment and thought about the story and suddenly felt a little nervous. “It’s a pretty unbelievable story, I suppose. I’m not sure.”

“Now I’m really curious,” Arne said. “Please tell us. I want to know what I’m dealing with.”

“Tell your story or don’t,” Galath said. “Either way I am with you if your cause is to put an end to an undead threat. Nothing you say can make that cause unworthy.”

“Until the day before yesterday I was a bodyguard for one of the Silverlight daughters. I had trained for the job by training under three diferent sword masters at True Cross.”

“Well,” Arne said. “Being lead by an accomplished and well-trained fighter is definitely a comfort.”

“I’m so glad to comfort you,” Carania said, glancing back to show her sarcasm with a smirk. “I was on my way to a new assignment at the Capital when I was ambushed by a few thugs. I was skewered by an arrow and I fell to the ground and bled out. I died.”

“I can only imagine how horrible that was,” Galath said.

Carania nodded. “The next thing I knew, I was in a strange place talking to a woman who claimed to be the Raven Queen. She offered me my life back as long as I hunted those who would mock the barrier between life and death and the undead horrors they might unleash. It was not much of a choice so here I am.”

“I don’t know which is scarier,” Arne said. “That being real or you being crazy.”

“It’s true,” Carania said. “I don’t know who else would have had that power and would have left this mark on me when I woke up.” She held up her hand with the raven symbol on it.

“I believe it,” Galath said. “I have never directly conversed with Pelor or Lathander but I have felt their presence and the existence of religious visions is known. I’m envious even though I can see the burden she placed on your shoulders.”

“I suppose there are things beyond this world that I have not experienced,” Arne said. “For the record, I think she chose the right person to be her champion but we’ll see if she was right. Won’t we?”

“I suppose we will,” Carania said.

Media Update 5/17/18

May 17, 2018


Baby Driver

So, I hesitated to watch this movie because it has Kevin Spacey in it and I am pretty much done with him. However, skipping an Edgar Wright film did not sit well with me especially since it was recommended so much to me. Thankfully, Spacey is not a huge part of the movie. Instead, the movie belongs to Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, and Ansel Egort who are all really fun characters. As the movie continues, Lily James is great as well. The real star of the movie is the music, though. Everything is choreographed to some great and somewhat obscure music. Gunfights and car stunts are more like dances and are all done practically with minimal CGI. I would describe the movie as ‘relentless’ as every time I thought there would be some downtime, the movie’s energy just kept surging on. The movie is different (but equally as excellent) from previous Edgar Wright movies. While there is a little comedy, this is more of a tense action/drama movie and the casting reflects that. Also, every time I thought I knew where the movie was going, I was wrong. This movie was a loving tribute to music and it ended up being fairly touching in places when my heart was not pounding. I definitely recommend it.


Hardcore Henry

I have played video games most of my life but I have stated before that I kind of stink at first-person shooters. This movie is basically a live-action version of watching a let’s play video of a shooter game. It is based on the music videos for a punk band called Biting Elbows. Both the music videos and the movie are directed by the same guy who is a member of the band. This movie is shot via go pro attached to a mute character as he tries to fight and escape an evil corporation. The movie is almost always nonstop action. The violence is visceral and bloody and there is a lot of it. The plot of the movie comes from snippets of dialogue from Haley Bennett, Tim Roth, Sharlto Copley, and Danila Kozlovsky who are the only characters who speak English. Everyone else speaks Russian. The soundtrack is mostly some really good techno music a lot of which is written by the director. It is a really fun experiment of a movie that has never really been tried before and I am glad I watched it. The plot does not get in the way of good action. As a bonus, it was really fun to watch while I was doing cardio at the gym. I recommend it.


Shoot ‘Em Up

I actually was a bit lazy this week and only watched two new things but I realized that I never talked about this movie on my blog so I might as well. Next week I hope to be back to watching three new things. This movie is also a nonstop action piece similar to Hardcore Henry but with a tad more plot and no first-person views. The concept of the movie is figuring out all sorts of ludicrous ways to shoot people. Clive Owen plays the main character who is trying to keep a newborn infant safe while shooting a lot of people with guns. He is joined by Monica Bellucci and opposed by the always excellent Paul Giamatti. The movie is pretty much insane and each scene tries to top the last with how over the top it is. What amuses me is that there is so much gunplay but part of it is about making sure common sense gun control laws are actually enacted. Once again, this is a movie that has very little plot to get in the way of the action and plenty of bad guys that I did not mind seeing get shot. I recommend it as a pleasant diversion.

Music of the Week:
Biting Elbows – The Stampede

Mint Royale – Blue Song

The Artist – Alesana

The Damned – New Rose

Sam Lachow & Raz Simone – Nothing’s Gonna Change

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Nonstop Action”
– I started watching the PBG Hardcore series
– I watched more Barry Kramer on Youtube
– I watched more of The Pinkertons
– I watched the season finale of the Joel McHale Show
– I watched more Stephen Colbert and John Oliver
– I watched more Better Call Saul Season 3
– I watched more Beauty and the Beast Season 1
– Two of this week’s movies were extrapolated from music videos

Rhymes with Cabinets

May 14, 2018

In 2010, I had arrived back in Baltimore after living in New Jersey for 9 years. I was a little at a loss for what to do with my life and I felt like I was adrift. I had worked professionally in theater for five straight years but I had lost my passion for it. I also wanted my nights and weekends back. At the time, my mother had started dating a man who is now my stepfather and, through him, I was introduced to a good friend of mine who I quickly began to call my cousin. It was suggested that I join him in working on a political campaign, something I had never really done before. In fact, I was 27 years old and I had never really voted with any regularity. However, I needed something to do and I was told that working on the campaign might lead to a job. And so I spent the entire summer of 2010 putting up 4X8 political signs and I spent the fall knocking on doors and cold calling people. It was probably one of the hardest jobs I have ever had but it taught me a lot.

As I am writing this, it is Friday, May 11, 2018. Yesterday, the candidate I worked for, Kevin Kamenetz, suddenly died of a heart attack. It was quite a shock. I know for a fact that Kevin was quite wealthy and took care of himself physically so I was surprised to hear he had been taken so suddenly. While I have not talked to him in eight years, his name has never escaped my mind and it never will. I used to put up gigantic 4X8 signs with his name emblazoned on them, I wore a shirt with his name on it, and I said his name so often that it became second nature. I will also remember his name because of the friendships that formed in the trenches of that campaign that I value to this day. Finally, I will remember his name because Kevin made sure that people remembered him by being an impressive politician.

More than impressive, I saw Kevin as a force of nature. I was rarely at campaign headquarters because I was often out on the road but when I know that Kevin was also rarely there. He was the leader of the Baltimore County Council but he was also always out campaigning. He was shaking hands, making appearances, and attending meetings all while sincerely working for the people of Baltimore County. I had very few run-ins with him while all of this was happening (at least not until late in the campaign) but every single one was memorable. I attended a meeting as his assistant once and I got to witness him talk. He must have been a great attorney before politics because he spoke with conviction and passion and he was impossible to ignore. As we drove to and from the event, we talked one on one and he made me feel like he was listening to what I had to say.

Obviously, I was not the only person impressed with Kevin. He gained a huge following and, in the last few days, plenty of people have had kind words for him. Even people I thought of as his enemies, like Larry Hogan, had great things to say about him. The thing that I always pointed to when asked during the campaign was the thing that I continued to be impressed by in his career. He was a champion of schools and education which was why he was originally endorsed by the teacher’s union. He was involved in trying to make sure that all Baltimore County schools had air conditioning so that we did not have to choose between baking our children or sending them home early in the early and late parts of the school year. As somebody who spent a lot of time sweating in 100-degree weather for his benefit, I appreciated the focus on good air conditioning.

It took me a while to sort through and figure out what Kevin had given me. At the end of the campaign, he did give me a chance for a job. In the end, it was not something I was passionate about and I should have used it as a stepping stone instead of a missed opportunity. Beyond that educational experience, working for Kevin taught me a bit about the inner workings of politics as I talked shop with the people around me. I started to read the news more and pay attention to the world around me. I really started to decide what kind of person I was going to be when it came to my politics. In the end, the person I became did not agree all the time with Kevin’s policies. However, it was clear that he and the people who worked for him were dedicated to serving the community as best they could. If he had lived, I definitely would have considered voting for him for governor (especially against Hogan).

I am proud to say that I worked for Kevin Kamenetz. He was not always the easiest person to work for because whatever you accomplished he always demanded more. While this was frustrating at the time, maybe it was way more positive than it first appeared. Always striving to do better is how you succeed in life and in my last few jobs, it has been a personal goal of mine. In the end, Maryland has suffered a loss and it will take a while for the political system to recover. My heart goes out to his family and friends who must be way more devastated than I am.

When It All Ended Pt. 12

May 12, 2018

In the morning, Cassandra was sitting at the table near the kitchen by herself first. She was pretty much the only morning person of the group. She had the jar holding Monela sitting on the table in front of her, next to the eggs and sausage she had summoned from thin air. Galath and William came down the stairs together next. They both eyed the jar warily but sat down and food and drink were put in front of them. None of the three chose to talk just yet. Morgan and Percival came down next and they looked rested and in good spirits. Sensing the mood, even the usually verbose Percy stayed quiet while he started to eat his breakfast.

The group expected Garth last but first Clio glided down the stairs with a big smile on her face. As they all stared in surprise, she walked over to the table and grabbed a handful of eggs and shoved them into her mouth before walking out of the mansion through the front door. Everyone’s gaze was drawn to the top of the stairs where Garth had just awkwardly coughed before descending the stairs. He walked down and sat at the table with everyone and took hold of a magically conjured chalice and drank deeply of the juice it held. There was a very pregnant pause as everyone tried not to stare at him.

Garth started to eat as if nothing had happened but he was the first one to break. “Alright, yes. I shared a night of passion with the faerie woman.”

William grinned. “And how was it? Are you intact?” Many of the group stifled a laugh at that.

“I am in peak condition,” Garth said. “Ready to face danger.”

“How was it?” Percy asked. Morgan elbowed him in the ribs gently and he gave her an apologetic look.

“Unforgettable,” Garth said. “I’m really not interested in kissing and telling. I know I would normally boast and share all of the gory details but this is a woman who could literally tear out my spine. The good news is that she has agreed to assist us today. She is actually itching to get her hands dirty.”

“Didn’t she do that last night?” Percy asked which earned him another elbow from Morgan but pretty much everybody laughed, even Garth.

“That’s good news,” Morgan said. “We’re welcome to have her and, of course, Cassandra has enlisted the djinn Monela. Thank you, Cassandra, and thank you Monela. You will be released from that jar soon enough. Percival and I also enlisted the assistance of Amien’s wolfpack.”

“And you’re alright with that, Percy?” Galath asked, half-joking and half-concerned.

“We need all hands on deck for this one,” Percy said. “After this, Amien can ride or run off into the sunset and I’ll never have to see him again.”

“Or he could die in battle,” Garth added helpfully.

“Nobody is dying today,” Morgan said. “We are going to take out this dragon together.”

“Agreed,” William said. “I’ve never known a better group of adventurers than Morgan’s Raiders. In truth, I have never known a better group of people.”

“I’d still be alone at the academy if it weren’t for all of you,” Cassandra said.

“I would still be petrified in the middle of the forest,” Galath said.

“I’d still be a mere sellsword,” William said.

“I’d probably be locked up somewhere,” Garth said.

“There’s still time for that,” William said and everybody laughed again.

“And I’d still be puttering around that library,” Percy said. He and Morgan paused for a kiss.

“I’m proud of you all,” Morgan said. “You have saved the day with me several times over. We saved the world together when we barely knew each other. Now that we’re a family, we’re unstoppable. If it was any other group, I don’t think I would be leading them into the capital of my homeland to fight a dragon.”

“So what’s the plan?” Galath asked. Galath had always gotten to the point fairly quickly. One kind of expected a cleric to hold patience as one of their virtues but his directness had saved lives before. Although he was a healer, he never claimed to be a doctor so he was never worried about his bedside manner.

“Right,” Morgan said. “Let’s get to it.” She smiled and mentally composed the bullet points in her head. “The guard, Amien’s pack, Clio, and Monela will go in first and engage the dragon’s hangers-on. If the dragon chooses to engage at that point, then we will spring into action. Otherwise, we will head directly to the palace roof. Hopefully, Princess Cora will lure the dragon to the roof and we will fight it there. If not, we will have to confront it inside the castle which is less than ideal. After we take down the dragon, we help finish off any lizardmen or wyverns left over. This is our show so we’ll start and finish the fight. Any questions?”

“What’s our strategy when fighting the dragon?” Percy asked.

“I’m thinking it’s the same as when we fought that beholder that one time,” Morgan said.

Cassandra had a photographic memory and was a perpetual student so she felt compelled to speak. “William stays in the dragon’s face while you hit it with arrows from a distance. I hang back just in range and hit it with spells and try to disable it. Percy and Galath also hang back to heal and do what they can. Garth will be sneaky and look for openings to attack. If somebody falls, we get them up and keep going.”

“Exactly,” Morgan said. “And this breakfast you just fed us is our hero’s feast, right?”

“Yes,” Cassandra said. “I used my last chalice to summon it.”

“I was wondering why I suddenly felt braver,” Percy said.

“I suppose all that’s left is to go out and greet the day?” Garth asked.

“Yes,” William said. “Which means you’ll have to see your Clio again.”

“She’s not my Clio…,” Garth said as they got up from the table. The table and all of the food vanished as they did and Cassandra grabbed her jar before it could clatter to the floor. Morgan and Percy were last out of the door and they both looked back at their home and then at each other before going out to meet the day.

Media Update 5/10/18

May 10, 2018


Battle of the Sexes

Steve Carrell is kind of hit or miss for me as I find that he mugs a bit too much sometimes and goes into business for himself. However, this movie is an actual historical piece and everybody treats their roles with respect. The movie follows the real-life event where tennis champion Billie Jean King faced off against former champion Bobby Riggs in an intergender match. King was in the middle of a battle within the sport to gain equal pay and equal respect for women. Emma Stone is so, so good as King as she brings both strength and vulnerability to the role. King was in the midst of struggling with her sexuality at the time as well. Carrell plays Bobby Riggs and we get to see a bit of his private life as well as he struggles with a gambling addiction and basically being an asshole. The acting is so good in this as both did a great job bringing the tension to an unprecedented and important event. The two are joined by great actors like Andrea Riseborough, Alan Cumming, Natalie Morales, Bill Pullman, Elizabeth Shue, Sarah Silverman, and Jessica McNamee. It was an interesting look at a battle that is still ongoing as the pay gap and the respect gap still remains open wide. It had some humor to it but it was more often very dramatic and it was hard not to love these two flawed individuals. I definitely recommend you watch it.


Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

I have been a huge Aubrey Plaza fan since my brothers introduced me to Parks and Recreation and I instantly loved her offbeat comic delivery. I have since seen her in a bunch of things and anytime I see her on a cast list I often want to check out whatever she is in. I heard good things about this movie and the trailer interested me. The movie ended up feeling like a mix of Forgetting Sarah Marshall and 22 Jump Street. Aubrey Plaza and Anna Kendrick (who I’ve never really seen much of) are a great comedy team as totally insane women. Adam Levine and Zac Effron are also really fun together. Then most of the movie is the four characters mixing it up in different combinations, all of which are fun. All four of them are both the protagonists and the antagonists of the movie and it is an interesting dynamic. I would compare it to Step Brothers except that all four characters are actually lovable and get a little bit of redemption. The movie was funny and it had a lot of heart in a movie themed on self-reflection. There are also some great supporting performances by actors like Stephen Root, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, and Kumail Nanjiani. I definitely recommend it.


Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

I had read a little bit of this story in Grant Morrison’s Supergods book which details a lot of the history behind the creation of classic comic book characters. To be clear, this movie covers the story behind the creation of Wonder Woman by three people. William Marston was a Harvard professor of psychology who taught the DISC system, an axis of Domination, Inducement, Submission, and Compliance. His wife was his partner in life and in research and she helped him invent a device for measuring systolic blood pressure which would become a component of the lie detector. The two of them also created Wonder Woman based on an ex-student of Marston’s and the various subjects of psychological study that the Marstons conducted. Of course, this included things like bondage and other “abnormal” parts of human sexuality. The movie is great and there is a great slow burn as we follow these three people on a journey of self-discovery. I definitely recommend it but be prepared for a little sexiness.

Music of the Week:

Childish Gambino – This Is America

Christina Aguilera – Accelerate

Outlaws – Green Grass and High Tides

Kate Higgins – Waiting on My Heart

Broken Social Scene – Hug Of Thunder

Weekly Update:
– This Week’s Theme is “Gender Studies”
– I watched more of The Pinkertons
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube
– I watched more Better Call Saul Season 3
– I watched more Joel McHale Show
– I watched more Stephen Colbert
– I finished A Series of Unfortunate Events Season 2


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