31 March 2018

Space Opera and Horse Opera


by John M. Floyd



Those who know me know I like to write--and read--mostly mystery stories. As for the writing part, my "genre specialty" is made easier because almost any story involving a crime can be considered a mystery.

Today, though, I want to tell you about two pieces of fiction that I recently discovered from other genres, and they're stories that I found exceptional. One's a western and one's science fiction, but both are chock full of crime and deception; does that mean they could be loosely defined as mysteries? Probably not. But I liked 'em anyway.

The first is a Netflix Orginal series called Godless. And I need to clarify that a bit. A lot of TV shows that I've watched lately, like Goliath, True Detective, Fargo, etc. (and unlike Longmire, Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, House of Cards, and most others), have been what's become known as "limited-series" presentations--stories that are told start-to-finish in one season. There might be some degree of similarity and continuity between seasons, but mostly the story ends when the season ends, and you wind up with what amounts to a single seven-to-ten-hour, full-character-arc movie. I usually binge-watch them.


Godless is a western, and one of the best I've seen. It features a few familiar faces like Jeff Daniels and Sam Waterston and a bunch of lesser-known actors that have become better known as a result of their being cast here. The story involves a legendary outlaw in pursuit of a former friend who betrayed him, but the strangest thing about the show is that it takes place in the fictional La Belle, New Mexico, which is a town of mostly women--all the men have been killed in a catastrophic mining accident. I won't get into too many details here, but this seven-episode series is truly well done, in every way. The writing, the acting, the direction, the cinematography, everything just works. By the way, any of you who might still think of Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber or Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey will barely recognize them here. Daniels is as good in this as he was in the HBO series The Newsroom, and that's saying a lot.

My other recent discovery was a novel called Artemis, by Andy Weir (who also write The Martian). I loved The Martian--book and movie--and I thought this second novel was just as good. The protagonist, a young woman named Jasmine (Jazz) Bashara, is as tough and resourceful as any hero/heroine I've seen in a long time, and outrageous as well. At the start of the book Jazz is a wannabe tour-guide for some of the attractions around Artemis, the first and only city on the moon, and since she can't seem to pass the test to become a guide she makes a living smuggling certain items when they arrive from Earth to her customers here in space. Long story short, because of her lack of funds and need for employment she finds herself a part of a get-rich-quick scheme that instead gets her into deep trouble, including dealing with hitmen who are sent from Earth sort of like the four gunmen in High Noon. You'll wind up cheering her on, while you learn (or at least I did) a lot about life on the Final Frontier.


That's my sermon for today. And don't get me wrong, I've watched a lot of other good movies lately--Wind River, Baby Driver, Arrival, Logan Lucky, Gerald's Game, Hell or High Water, No Escape, Wonder Woman, Bushwick, Mudbound, The Last Jedi, Get Out, Blackway, Bullet Head, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri--and I've read some other good novels too--The Cuban Affair, The Fireman, The Girl from Venice, Dragon Teeth, Home, Gwendy's Button Box, World Gone By, Blackjack, Mississippi Blood, Sleeping Beauties, Goldeline, Fierce Kingdom, El Paso, The Midnight Line, Paradise Sky, The Big Finish, A Column of Fire, etc.--but I believe these two stories were as good as any of them, and better than most. If any of you have seen Godless, or read Artemis, please pass along your thoughts.

I also wouldn't mind some recommendations. I've been devouring collections of short stories lately, mainly those by Bill Pronzini, Charles Beaumont, Ray Bradbury, John Cheever, Richard Matheson, Fredric Brown, Annie Proulx, and (believe it or not) Tom Hanks. I need to get back into some novels.

Meanwhile, happy reading, and viewing.







30 March 2018

Just Following Orders

by
O'Neil De Noux

It's time to anger family and friends again. Y'all won't believe how much flak I've caught since my anti-confederate blog last year.

I want to talk about police officers blindly following orders.

I'm a retired law enforcement officer, been a cop most of my life, from the 1960s until 2017, with a few breaks in between. I've been in law enforcement from the anti-war and civil rights demonstrations of the 1960s to todays demonstrations for black-lives-matter and immigration reform and me-too and women's rights and so much more. Those causes are not the subject of this discussion. How cops handle them is.

When did police officers start acting like Nazi brown-shirts, jack-booted thugs? Well, since forever. Police officers were used to break up demonstrations for unions, women's suffrage, veterans rights, anti-war, the list goes on and on. Just finished reading Ken Follett's FALL OF GIANTS where British police sided with pro-Nazi English fascists (The British Union of Fascists) and attacked people blocking the Nazis from marching in their neighborhood in 1936.

Here are photos of British police attacking demonstrators at that particular demonstrations, commonly called The Battle of Cable Street.





In the name of law and order, the police were ordered to side with Nazis and followed orders.

Here are photos of suffragettes beaten by police. How in the hell did men beat women with clubs because women wanted to vote? How? Because they were sent to do that in the name of law and order and they obeyed orders.




This may be repugnant today. How about this image from the University of California Davis in 2011?


I was a university police officer then and has discussions with my fellow officers about this. I said, "You don't want to be that guy." And several fellow offieer said they wanted to be that guy. If the university administration (as in California) ordered university police to use force against demonstrators, they'd pepper stray students without hesitation.

I tried to give them some old-man wisdom, reminding them we were talking about students, about young people we were paid to protect. What do we tell their parents? We attacked them because they made things inconvenient on campus, they blocked a walkway? If they blocked a walkway, go another way.

I told them how New Orleans Mayor Ernest 'Dutch' Morial's office was once taken over by demonstrators. Did the mayor call in police to remove them? No. He moved his operations to a different office in city hall and negotiated with the demonstrators to a peaceful solution. Morial knew the score. He'd been a civil rights demonstrator as a young man.

"But we can't let them just stay there." Going back to my discussions with fellow university police officers.

"Yes we can," was my response. We're talking about American kids. They'll need to eat, go to the bathroom, take a shower. They'll need to recharge their cell phones. They don't live on the ground. This is Louisiana. It'll rain soon. They'll get weary and go home. Just wait them out. Be nice to them. Converse with them. Protect them from anti-demonstrators and it'll all calm down. Let them demonstrate.

Stephen Stills, in his enlightened song FOR WHAT IT'S WORTH, wrote of demonstrators, "A thousand people in the street. Singing songs and carrying signs. Mostly saying, 'Hooray for our side'."

Let them voice their concerns. Police officers need not agree or disagree with the message. It's not our job to solve the issue. We maintian the peace and we should not attack either side. You don't want to be that guy.

How about this image from Baton Rouge, Louisiana? Just following orders.


Whose message is more powerful? Heavily armed men in body armor or peaceful demonstrator?

At least they did not use clubs or pepper spray.

www.oneildenoux.com





29 March 2018

March Miscellany

by Eve Fisher

Ah, March is almost over, and with it March Madness.  Look, I'll be honest, I'm not a basketball fan to begin with, plus, on PBS, it's also "Festival!", which really cuts a hole into some of my favorite viewing.  But - note to all ultra-conservatives who wonder why a GOP Congress never quite manages to cut all Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding?  Because out here in fly-over country, what station runs ALL the high-school and college basketball games, morning, noon and night, on all 3 PBS channels, for as long as they last?  Not to mention high-school track & field, and football playoffs?  PBS, not Fox News, CNN, or even ESPN.  You think people want to give that up?  No, they do not.  They want to see their kids, grandkids, and themselves on television.  The most conservative among them can easily ignore the PBS NewsHour in exchange for that, quilting, cooking, and travel shows, "Call the Midwife", "Father Brown Mysteries", "Nova" and Daniel O'Donnell specials ad infinitum.  Oh, and "Antiques Roadshow."

Meanwhile, we had volunteer refresher training at the pen this month.  This year we learned a lot about prison gangs and their tattoos.  We have a variety of gangs in the South Dakota Prison System, but they're not what they are on the east / west coasts.

Image result for gangster disciple tattoos
    Image result for white supremacist tattoos 88 boots
  • Up here the Gangster Disciples are mostly Native American.  Tattoos include Joker/Devil/Clown, 7-4, 612 (in Minneapolis), Devil with "C" handsign, upright pitchfork, Knight on a horse, and a few others.  
  • The Boyz / Wild Boyz / and Red Brotherhood are all also Native American, and rivals to the Gangster Disciples.  While they tattoo, they also do [bad] burns on the shoulder in a bearclaw pattern.  
  • There's the East River Skins, Native Americans, whose favorite tattoos are "ERS" and "Skins"
  • The Mexican Mafia, a/k/a Surenos use SUR 13, and others.  
  • And, of course, we have a wide variety and large number of White Supremacists.  Tattoos include:  Iron crosses, swastikas, German phrases, 88 (for "Heil Hitler"), Blood and Honor, SS lightening bolts, White Devil, crossed hammers with or without Confederate flag, 100% (for 100% white), White Fist, etc., etc., etc. 
Image result for gangster disciple tattoos
Hand signs made into
tattoos - many gangs use
the same hand signs

It's a whole language.

Speaking of language, I loved this "correction" of the New York Times tweet about the Austin bomber:

No automatic alt text available.  Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, text


I totally agree.  White boys/men who shoot up theaters, schools, or musical venues are all crazy, or quietly challenged, and/or from a broken home, and/or a good family, and therefore, there's nothing to be done except make all the white boys/men around us feel really good all the time so they won't shoot us.  (Or rape us - I'm still pissed off about Brock Turner getting probation because he was such a good swimmer with his whole life ahead of him.)  I call BS on that.  Simply put, anyone who's going around bombing random (or was it random?) American citizens, setting trip wires, etc., is a terrorist.  Period.  I don't care how "troubled" or "challenged" their life is.

Back in October, 2016, then candidate Donald Trump said “These are radical Islamic terrorists.  To solve a problem, you have to be able to state what the problem is, or at least say the name.”  Well, the Anti-Defamation League did a study and found that white supremacists killed twice as many as Islamic terrorists in America in 2017.  And that the numbers of white supremacist attacks are increasing around the country.  (ADL Report)   So, everyone, say it with me:  "Radical white supremacist terrorism."  Like 150+ years of the KKK.  (I can't believe that in this day and age I still have to say that the KKK and the Nazis are bad.)

BTW, ironically, as a Boston Globe article points out, being white doesn't protect you from white supremacist terrorism:  "The victims of white supremacist terrorism are often white....  the carnage of white supremacist terrorism should have been understood after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, where Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people of all colors. Fueled in significant degree by racial hatred, McVeigh was a devotee of The Turner Diaries, a white supremacist novel that imagined an American race war so grotesque that white women were hung for marrying African-Americans and Jews.  The carnage should have been understood after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, carried out by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. The two teens adored Adolf Hitler and were reported to have routinely used racial epithets. Yet most of their 13 victims were white."

Language matters.  How something is said influences more than we know.

I read on Facebook a story about a guy who asked a girl out on a date at high school.  The girl said "No, thanks" and walked away.  The guy grabbed her by the arm and said, "Come back here -" so she turned around and punched him in the nose.  Well, everyone came running after that.  The principal wanted her to apologize and he was going to suspend her.  The girl told everyone there, "Look, my mother taught me to never put up with someone laying hands on me when I don't want them to.  That I have the right to say no.  And now you're telling me that this jackass can grab me to make me change my mind?  Fine, suspend me.  But what you're doing is tell girls that we don't have the right to say 'no'."   

I'm with the girl all the way.  Because, when you follow that logic - that the girl should have been nicer to the man who grabbed her without her permission - what can happen is this:

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, ocean, text and water  Link to story

"Lovesick teen" a/k/a "heartbroken homecoming prince" - kind of perpetuates the idea that a girl can't say no, doesn't it?  That a girl shouldn't say no, because... she might make him so angry that he shoots her in the head?  And somehow she's in the wrong, because he's "lovesick"?  That somehow he has the right to kill what he can't have because of his emotions?  Jaelynn Willy was 16 years old when this possessive bastard shot her in the head.  She died three days later.  (See Jezebel for a much less "romantic" telling of this story.)

Meanwhile, 55% of female murder victims are killed by their domestic partner.

Up to 75% of abused women who are murdered are killed after they leave their partners.

The majority of the victims were under the age of 40, and 15 percent were pregnant. About 54 percent were gun deaths.

Strangers perpetrated just 16 percent of all female homicides, fewer than acquaintances and just slightly more than parents.

“State statutes limiting access to firearms for persons under a domestic violence restraining order can serve as another preventive measure associated with reduced risk for intimate partner homicide and firearm intimate partner homicide.” An abuser’s possession of a gun greatly increases the risk of female homicide.

Still, loopholes in gun laws mean that abusive spouses and partners often can keep their guns, even if they can’t buy new ones. And the consequences of those loopholes, for women, can be deadly.

Especially in the hands of a "heartbroken homecoming prince."











28 March 2018

The Man with the Iron Heart

David Edgerley Gates

Reinhard Heydrich was an SS-Obergruppenfuhrer, commander of the Reich Central Security Office (which controlled the Gestapo, the SD, and the criminal police); a presiding architect of the Holocaust, with authority over the Endlosung, or Final Solution, responsible for Kristallnacht, the Nacht und Nebel - Night and Fog - operation, and the Einsatzgruppen, special auxiliaries that followed regular Army units into Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, executing Jews and other political undesirables; and appointed Deputy Protector of Bohemia, military proconsul of Czechoslovakia, in September of 1941. Late that year, the Czech exile government in London mounted an operation to assassinate him. It had all the earmarks of a suicide mission.

Hitler himself called Heydrich the Man with the Iron Heart. He'd been sent to Prague because the Skoda works were important to the German war effort, and the Czechs needed to feel the crack of the whip. Heydrich considered them vermin. He had 92 people executed in his first three days. Over the next six months, 5,000 arrests.

British SOE train the commando team in Scotland, and insert them by paradrop. Making contact with what's left of the Czech resistance, the two team leaders, Jozef Gabcik and Jan Kubis, are persuaded the best solution to target is to ambush him on his way to work. They post a lookout along the route he travels, and lie in wait for him at a hairpin curve, on the road to the Troja bridge. Heydrich travels in an open car, a Mercedes convertible. It's a display of contempt, the Germans in complete control, the Czechs captive and demoralized. The car slows. Gabcik steps into the street. He's got a Sten gun. It fires from an open breech. The weapon fails to feed and jams. Gabcik is left standing there with his pants down. Then, unbelievably, instead of ordering his driver to put the pedal to the metal, Heydrich orders him to stop. Heydrich stands up in the back of the car, and pulls his Luger. Kubis, behind him, has an anti-tank grenade hidden in a briefcase, and he heaves it at the Mercedes.

(This was the No. 73 grenade, modified for weight, the bottom two-thirds removed, light enough to be thrown, but still able to damage an armor-plated vehicle. In training, Gabcik and Kubis both had trouble with it.)

The device detonates at the right rear quarter of the Mercedes - not inside it, but close enough to punch Heydrich with metal fragments and shredded upholstery. He staggers out of the car. The two Czechs try to shoot him with their own pistols and miss. Heydrich returns fire. Gabcik and Kubis take off in opposite directions, thinking the attack's a failure. Heydrich starts to chase them, and then collapses from internal hemorrhaging.

They got him pretty good. Severe injuries to his diaphragm and spleen, collapsed left lung, fractured rib. Surgeons labored over him, and the prognosis was hopeful. A week later, Heydrich was sitting up in bed for lunch, and then suddenly went into shock. Apparently, septicemia caught up with him. He died the next day.

Reprisals were brutal and immediate. Cooked intelligence from the Gestapo led to the village of Lidice. All the males over the age of 15 were shot, the women and children sent to the death camps. The town was burned and then bulldozed. In the smaller village of Lekazy they simply shot everybody, men and women alike. The actual pursuit of Gabcik and Kubis and the people who'd helped them hit a wall, until a guy on one of the other sabotage teams ratted them out for the Judas money.

The seven of them were holed up in the Orthodox cathedral of Saints Cyril and Methodius. It took the SS two hours to smoke them out, with 750 men. Fourteen dead, twenty-one wounded. None of the Czechs let themselves be taken alive. They knew too many names.

As always, you want to ask whether the blood price was worth it. Heydrich was a reptile, better off dead. But it's estimated as many as 1300 people were murdered in direct retaliation. Also, it appears that the schedule agreed to at the Wannsee Conference was accelerated after Heydrich's death, implementing the extermination camps, as distinct from slave labor. Then again, how many people might Heydrich have eliminated, if left alive? He was an effective coordinator of terror logistics. And efficiency in this, as in other things, solidified his power base. He could have made the trains run even faster.

One last thing, a net gain. Heydrich was the most senior Nazi targeted in an operation under SOE discipline. (Or any other clandestine service, either. Wilhelm Kube,  the generalkommissar of Minsk, had a bomb go off underneath him on NKVD instructions, but Kube was small potatoes compared to Heydrich.) Yes, they were Czech partisans, although they jumped out of an RAF Halifax bomber, so in that sense it was deniable. In fact, SOE didn't want to deny it. Just because they never tried for Hitler doesn't mean it was never discussed. The killing of Heydrich was an object lesson.


27 March 2018

High Contrast, Low Key: Film Noir

Images of Film Noir

by Paul D. Marks

I didn't know I was doing film noir, I thought
they were detective stories with low lighting!

                                                                      --Marie Windsor, noir icon

Murder, My Sweet


I thought I’d do something a little different for my post this week. Instead of writing about this or that I thought I’d make it visual. Images from film noir. Images that inspire much, though not all of my work. And I don’t think I’m alone. I think a lot of us have been inspired one way or another by film noir and much of noir is its visual look.

The film noir aesthetic is full of iconic images – some might call them tropes. Either way, they’re striking, they affect us, and they hit us on a subconscious level. Iconic images of shadows, rain, fog, neon, darkness and night, dark streets and alleys, Venetian blinds, oblique angles and reflections, low key lighting, guys with gats, femme fatales and plenty of cigarettes, smoke and smoking. They’re mostly urban, though one of the best, Out of the Past, is largely rural. And, of course, pretty much all are in striking black and white.

I’ve broken the images up into various categories. Of course, one pic might fit into several categories and pretty much all have low key lighting, so there’s no category for that.

It’s hard to narrow down all the great images to a reasonable number for a blog, and I’m sure I’ve left out some good ones. But here goes. And feel free to add your own choices in the comments. I don’t think you can put pictures in but you can tell us about them and the movies they’re from.


Oblique Angles and Striking Images


D.O.A.
Fear in the Night
Born to Kill
The Big Heat
Sunset Boulevard
Strangers on a Train
Sunset Boulevard
D.O.A.
Fear in the Night
Phantom Lady
Fear in the Night
The Lady from Shanghai
He Walked by Night
The Lady from Shanghai
The Maltese Falcon
Nightmare Alley
Black Angel
Dark Passage
The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Third Man
The Third Man

Touch of Evil

Shadows, Reflections and Venetian Blinds


The Killers
Crack-Up
Double Indemnity
Fear in the Night
He Walked by Night
The Maltese Falcon
The Narrow Margin
The Narrow Margin
Pitfall
Somewhere in the Night
The Crooked Way
The Woman in the Window

Fog and Rain


The Big Combo
Follow Me Quietly
The Narrow Margin
Scarlet Street
The Blue Dahlia

Smoking


The Postman Always Rings Twice
The Maltese Falcon
Out of the Past
Out of the Past
Pitfall

Streets, Alleys and Neon


Act of Violence
Act of Violence
Act of Violence
The Blue Dahlia
Born to Kill
Criss Cross
The Crooked Way
Cry Danger
Cry Danger
Dark Passage
Dark Passage
D.O.A.
Kiss Me, Deadly
The Lady from Shanghai

People, Femme Fatales and Guys with Gats


Gun Crazy
Crack-Up
Scarlet Street
The Big Sleep
Born to Kill
D.O.A.
Dead Reckoning
Detour
D.O.A.
Double Indemnity
Double Indemnity
The Postman Always Rings Twice
I Walk Alone
The Blue Dahlia
Laura
The Big Sleep
Out of the Past
Out of the Past
Out of the Past
The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
The Crooked Way
Too Late for Tears
In a Lonely Place and Detour

Lobby Cards, Title Cards, Posters


***

The author as a boy with gat, lucky rabbit's foot and the
shadow of noir over him.

###

And now for the usual BSP:

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