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Where I write all things Justin. Call me a Daydream Belieber!
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Sandra Bland’s Fake Mugshot

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Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Walter Scott. Sandra Bland. Now Samuel DuBose. It seems that we can’t even digest one of these horrific, senseless killings, before we’re confronted with the next one. At this point it wouldn’t be shocking if there’s another one to wipe Samuel DuBose off the front page before I’m finished writing this.

As people who die in police custody go, Sandra Bland is so last week, I know. But I am still thinking about her. Whether she committed suicide, as the official story has it, or she was murdered, as some people believe, or she was treated roughly enough by the cops that they accidentally killed her, as seems likeliest to me, it’s clear that there is a problem with law enforcement in this country.

At some point, it seems, the mandate for the police went from “protect and serve” to “intimidate and harass.” We went from knowing the cops by name and asking them for directions to getting really tense and scared when we see them, whether we’re criminals or not. We’ve gone from feeling like “that guy is on my side” to feeling like “that guy is watching my every move so he can give me a ticket, but I’d better smile and love that ticket because if I give any sign that I am going to do anything other than SUBMIT, he might kill me.”

Obviously, this distrust is more pronounced among the people who keep getting killed for no good reason. White boys like me can’t pretend to be as nervous that we are going to be murdered by the cops until a video of a white boy being murdered by the cops hits YouTube. But you certainly can’t blame black folks for feeling that way, and worse, for feeling like nobody cares. But how else are they to feel when social media erupts more over the killing of an African lion than an African American?

Sportswriter Bill Simmons once coined the term “The Tyson Zone” to mean the point in a story when the public would believe anything, no matter how insane. After a guy bites another guy’s ear off in the ring, and gets a face tattoo, pretty much all bets are off as far as believing what that guy would or would not do.

As these videos keep surfacing, and exposing more and more brazen abuses of power by the police, resulting in more and more black bodies, we have entered a kind of Tyson Zone with the cops. After you’ve seen video of a cop shooting a suspect “suspect” in the back and then trying to plant evidence to justify it, after you’ve seen a cop threaten to “light up” a woman for refusing to put out a cigarette, after you’ve seen a cop SHOOT SOMEONE IN THE HEAD because he tried to flee a front license plate ticket, well, you’ll believe pretty much anything.

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So when the idea started circulating on Twitter that Sandra Bland was already dead when her mugshot was taken, a lot of people believed it, or at least didn’t disbelieve it. I didn’t disbelieve it. Though there is no evidence that the official story — that she hung herself in her cell the morning she was going to get out of jail — isn’t true, it also stretches credulity by more than a little: Bland was an activist who had spoken about police abuse of power, about the power of social media to expose those abuses, who was heard thanking the bystander who recorded her needlessly violent arrest for recording it, who planned to take the arresting officer to court, who had just started a new job. Does that sound like someone who would do herself in? I’m not so sure the cops killed her on purpose, that seems unlikely, but it’s not a huge stretch to imagine that they got a little too rough with her as they were taking her in (this part particularly is not hard to imagine, as it’s on video) and somehow accidentally killed her — maybe by triggering an epileptic seizure? I don’t know, I can only speculate. But the official story is fishy enough to suggest some kind of coverup. If they would pull her over for not signaling when she was getting out of their way, and if they would drag her out of her car for not putting out her cigarette, and if they would put a knee in her back for resisting being dragged out of the car, and if they would lie about how things got to that point (only to be contradicted by the video), sure, maybe they’d cover up her death, too. There’s no real logical inconsistency there.

Bland’s mugshot started making the rounds, and people started commenting that she looked like she was lying on the floor, rather than standing up. Her hair is hanging back, instead of down! The shadow is too close to the back of her head! You can see up her nose! Her cheeks look drawn! Why is she in prison scrubs, instead of the clothes they arrested her in? And look at her dead, lifeless eyes!

Reasonable people can disagree whether her eyes are “lifeless” or “angry” or just “over this bullshit,” but the story was crazy enough to that point that it didn’t seem completely crazy to imagine that once again, the cops were lying about what happened to her.

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Then another version of that mugshot started going around, where Bland looked a lot more dead: her eyes rolled all the way back, the dark circles under her eyes a little more pronounced.

This was the moment my bullshit detector went off. I can believe that some powertripping cops forgot themselves, accidentally killed someone and then tried to cover it up. I’ll still listen if you suggest that they even tried to pass off a photo of a dead woman as a mugshot as part of the coverup. But now you want me to believe that the fellas at the Denton PD have the Photoshop skills to add convincing eyeballs where there were none? It’s a lot easier to take eyeballs out than it is to put them in, which suggests that someone spent some time doctoring that mugshot to “prove” that Bland was already dead when they took her mugshot.

WHY? How does that help? If you are outraged about what happened to Ms. Bland, I am with you. If you are hoping to draw more attention to the whole thing, I am here to help. But faking evidence to prove something, even if you’re 100% certain that it’s true, is bound to blow up in your face. Just ask Dan Rather.

When O.J. Simpson was on trial for murdering his ex-wife and her favorite waiter, his attorneys insisted that the wealth of incriminating evidence against him was the result of an elaborate frame-up by the LAPD. I followed the case pretty closely and while I never doubted that Simpson was guilty, there were a couple of weird details about some of the evidence that did kind of make it seem like maybe the detectives engaged in a little horseplay, just to seal the deal. Like they thought, well, there’s a blood trail here, and there’s blood on his car door, so let’s drop the bloody glove on the grounds and turn this layup into a slam dunk.

It didn’t work, because Simpson’s defense raised enough questions about some of the evidence — questions the LAPD didn’t have good answers for — that it put the whole case into question, and Simpson ended up being acquitted of a crime he could only have been more obviously guilty of if he had signed left a signed football at the scene.

Similarly, it’s pretty obvious that there’s more to what happened to Sandra Bland than the cops are saying. But when this dead-in-her-mugshot meme went viral, the Denton PD released a video of Bland’s intake, fingerprinting, and posing for her mugshot, and she does not appear to be deceased in any part of it.

So that answers one question: was she dead in her mugshot? No she was not. Does that mean that she did not suffer a grave injustice? Absolutely not. Even if the cops are telling the truth and she really hung herself in her cell with a garbage bag — and that’s a big, big if — her case is the clearest documented example of how far off course routine policing has gone from “protect and serve.” Or at least it was, until Samuel DuBose forgot his driver’s license.

But now that “our side” — the side that thinks the cops aren’t telling the whole truth about this — put fake evidence out there, the next piece of evidence is going to be viewed much more skeptically, if it’s viewed at all, so whoever faked this image has done a great disservice to their own cause — unless their cause was making the people who think there’s more to this story look like the crazy ones.

But if it wasn’t, and the person who circulated this image is reading this, do us all a favor and knock it off. You’re not part of the solution, which means you’re part of the problem.

HuffPo’s Imaginary High Ground


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Last week everyone’s favorite news source for celebrity hookups, celebrity breakups, celebrity op-eds, and 72-point headlines announced that it will not cover Donald Trump’s presidential campaign as part of its political coverage. Instead, Huffington Post Editorial Director Ryan Shea and Washington Bureau Chief Ryan Grim wrote, Trump’s exploits will appear in the Entertainment section:

Our reason is simple: Trump’s campaign is a sideshow. We won’t take the bait. If you are interested in what The Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to our stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.

This short, terse statement went viral pretty quickly — it showed up in my Twitter and Facebook feeds a good dozen times — and my fellow Lefties snorted approvingly at HuffPo’s principled stance and Trump’s buffoonery.

The problem is it’s not a principled stance at all, and it just underlines what a sordid shitrag the Huffington Post is and always has been.

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I Don’t Want To Love Van Halen Anymore


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I should have been excited: my favorite band is coming to my town. Their guitarist, who’s battled all manner of substance abuse problems, is finally clean and sober, for real this time. Their long-estranged singer is back in the fold, seemingly for good. They are playing at an outdoor venue by the beach in August.

But I wasn’t excited. I didn’t even look into what the tickets cost. I never imagined I might say this, but I feel like I might be done with Van Halen.

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Rush Limbaugh is Running For President

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After about a thousand years of teasing his Twitter feed about it, mostly by retweeting all the dullards out there who are begging him to run for president, real estate tycoon and bronzing test subject Donald Trump finally announced his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination a couple of weeks ago. Trump wasted no time before saying something wildly offensive:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

Asked to apologize for those remarks, which are not rooted in any reality, Trump doubled down:

We are specifically keeping the best and brightest out. It is the dumb and dumbest that we are letting in. Let me rephrase that: It is the ill-educated and the uneducated that we are letting in. The VCs, college graduates, PhDs, you name it, from all over the world, they are limited. The number of people of that caliber — severely limited and tightly controlled.

Asked to clarify again, Trump added:

A sixteen-year-old girl at her homecoming dance was gang-raped and left for dead because the Democrats need more voters. We could save a lot of soul-searching about “our” violent culture if journalists didn’t hide the fact that gang rapes are generally committed by people who are not from our culture.

Hold on a second. I apologize, I’ve got my quotes mixed up. The first one is indeed what Donald Trump said at his campaign announcement on June 16. The second one is what radio personality and doctor-shopper Rush Limbaugh told his audience on July 1, 2010. And the third one is an excerpt from Ann Coulter’s brand-new bestseller, Adios America: The Left’s Plan To Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole.

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Rhymes with “Gay Jizzum”


Confederate flag for sale at Vermonster 4x4 Rally

I got into it with an old friend from high school on Facebook the other day about the Confederate flag. It’s funny, because I have not seen this person in about twenty years, and I have nothing but good memories of him. We weren’t best buddies, we never slept over or anything, but we ran in the same circles and I always liked him. He was a fun, funny guy who I was always happy to see when we showed up at the same parties, and there were a lot of those.

Other than being Facebook friends, we’ve had no contact at all in a million years, but through Facebook I was aware that he is married with kids in North Carolina and just a bit to my right politically. That’s fine by me — my whole family is to my right politically, and we don’t yell at Christmas dinner. To me a difference of opinion between friends is just that, and I remember this person as a friend, so I have no interest in fighting with him about matters I’ll never change his mind about, nor he mine.

I was on vacation in Grenada with my family when the shooting in Charleston happened. I was slow to read about the story because I was on vacation, consciously trying not to look at my phone every five minutes. We found out about it from a taxi driver, who was deeply upset about it, and over the next few days everywhere we went people asked us about it because, in a 99% black country, we stood out as obviously American.

These people were far more upset about it than, from what I could tell on social media, the average person in America was. When the national discussion turned to the Confederate flag, my old friend posted the following:

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I didn’t reply to this post right away, but it stayed with me for a couple of days, on the plane back to Brooklyn, into the next night. He seemed to be angrily arguing against a straw man position. No one is blaming the flag, they’re suggesting that we stop poking African Americans in the eye with it. And by the way, while I’m sure that not all people who wave that flag are racist, let’s not pretend that when racists want a flag, it’s overwhelmingly the one they turn to.

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Flowers Every Day

 

Performed May 28, 2015 at Manhattan Neighborhood Network as part of the NY Funny Songs Festival.

Assholes Can’t Understand GoodFellas

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Maybe you saw this piece where the New York Post’s film critic mansplains (I am not a fan of this expression but this article is the purest example of it of all time) that “women are not capable of understanding GOODFELLAS.” I almost didn’t read it when I saw the headline, because it sounded like typical chauvinist horseshit, which is what it turned out to be.

I ended up clicking on it because GOODFELLAS is one of my favorite movies, and though I have no doubt at all that women are capable of understanding it, I wondered what this dude thought there was to “understand.” GOODFELLAS is a great movie and it does operate on a couple of different levels, but it’s not exactly 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

So I read his piece, and the sexism in its insistence that women can’t understand the movie is every bit as grotesque as I imagined it would be. But there is a rather delicious irony at work here, because it turns out that Mr. Kyle Smith, professional film critic, doesn’t understand GOODFELLAS either.

Women don’t get “GoodFellas.” It’s not really a crime drama, like “The Godfather.” It’s more of a male fantasy picture — “Entourage” with guns instead of swimming pools, the Rat Pack minus tuxedos…Women sense that they are irrelevant to this fantasy, and it bothers them.

The wiseguys never have to work (the three friends never exert themselves except occasionally to do something fun, like steal a tractor-trailer truck), which frees them up to spend the days and nights doing what guys love above all else: sitting around with the gang, busting each other’s balls.

Ball-busting means cheerfully insulting one another, preferably in the presence of lots of drinks and cigars and card games. Women (except silent floozies) cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police: They get offended, protest that someone’s not being fair, refuse to laugh at vicious put-downs. In the male fantasy, all of this is unforgivable — too serious, too boring. Deal another hand, pour another drink.

To a woman, the “GoodFellas” are lowlifes. To guys, they’re hilarious, they’re heroes. They rule the roost.

I guess if you are the kind of shithead that thinks “women cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police,” then maybe GOODFELLAS does look like a fantasy. But even if you do see it that way, it’s still a fundamental misreading of the movie.

The key detail to remember about GOODFELLAS is that it’s narrated by Henry Hill, the main character. Except for a couple of short interjections by his wife, GOODFELLAS is entirely Henry Hill’s story, told — and this is important — in hindsight. In the last few moments of the movie, after two-plus hours of Henry’s voiceover narration framing the events we see on screen, we see Henry in court, testifying against his friends, and for the first time he delivers his narration in person, rising from the witness stand to address the camera, tipping us off that his whole story has been told from the witness stand.

This is why, although Henry admits to being involved in multiple crimes, he minimizes his involvement as much as he can. The way he tells it, he mostly just stands around during the really bad stuff: standing guard at the door while Jimmy and Tommy beat Billy Batts to death; opening the trunk and standing back when it turns out Batts is still alive so his pals can finish him off. He puts himself in the shower when news of the Lufthansa heist comes over the radio, as though he’s not directly involved, even though Jimmy cuts him in on the score moments later. When Jimmy wants to whack Morrie the wigmaker so he doesn’t have to give him his cut of the same score — even Morrie was instrumental in the heist — Henry insists (in narration) that he wants to talk Jimmy out of it, even though he never says a word to dissuade him — he’s just “biding his time.”

Almost every detail of the story, as it pertains to Henry, either paints him as innocent or relatively innocent, pushing all the bad stuff off on others, or as a victim (like how his father beat him and how stoically he took those beatings). When Paulie cuts Henry off toward the end of the movie, in response to Henry’s having directly betrayed him and gone against his specific orders to stay out of the drug business, he still gives him some money, and even then Henry complains, like he’s the victim.

Martin Scorsese did not invent the device of the unreliable narrator, but GOODFELLAS is just about the best use of it I can think of, particularly because this aspect of the movie doesn’t call any attention to itself at all. It’s like RASHOMON, but with only one narrator. (Except Karen, whose narration also plays like witness courtroom testimony when you see it in this light.) You can enjoy the movie just as much even if you never grasp that Henry is completely full of shit, much the way Kyle Smith is completely full of shit. All that bluster about the great women and the easy money and the ballbusting is a massive rationalization to explain all this awful behavior and make himself sympathetic to the jury. On some level it’s a macho fantasy, but it’s the macho fantasy of a liar and a criminal who cheated on his wife and betrayed his best friends — and that’s HIS version of events. If you see that as a lifestyle that you’d emulate if you could, that says a lot more about you than it does about the movie, or how women relate to it. Asshole.

The Caitlyn Jenner ESPY Outrage

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Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world this week with a spread in Vanity Fair and a trailer for her new reality show, and unsurprisingly, the Internet had a lot to say about it. Mostly, it seemed to turn into a contest to see who could be the most supportive, and that’s great. If you had told me in 1982 that the chiseled decathlete on my Wheaties box was going to change into a woman, and not only that, that if you made any kind of joke about it everyone would call you out as a small-minded bigot, my head would have exploded, and yet here we are. There’s hope for us yet.

Soon after Ms. Jenner went public, it was announced that she would be the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY Awards, and that’s where this thing got ugly.

These people are right! How dare they give the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner?! It besmirches the long, proud tradition of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and belittles the accomplishments of past winners, like last year’s winner, um… hold on, let me Google it… okay, I don’t actually know who last year’s winner was. I didn’t actually even know there was an Arthur Ashe Courage Award. BUT STILL.

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Make Amy Schumer The Bachelorette

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This week the most exciting news since Justin Bieber peed in a mop bucket hit the Internet: hot off a rapturously received appearance on ABC’s reality “reality” dating “dating” show THE BACHELORETTE, comedian Amy Schumer has been invited to take a dip in Lake Dudebro.

Yes, in a show-business moment that could only happen in 2015, ABC mucky-muck Robert Mills invited Schumer to be the next Bachelorette via Twitter. Even better, it appears that Schumer is game:

Of course, the Internet never saw a piece of good news that it couldn’t poop all over, and right on time here comes The Verge with an essay called ABC completely misses the point, invites Amy Schumer to be The Bachelorette, pleading with the comic not to do the show:

The show is beneath Amy Schumer; it’s beneath all women. Where previous seasons at least flirted with the notion of empowerment, presenting a woman with the same “human buffet” that men receive on The Bachelor, the show is now about giving a woman the illusion of power, then reprimanding her when she doesn’t act in line. ABC and the producers have been compared to pimps before, and it feels especially true now, as we watch the men tell a woman when and where she can have sex, and punish her when she disobeys. Such a dated system is the kind of thing we’ll never tire of seeing Schumer burn to the ground, but from a safe and critical distance.

Well, Mr. “ABC Completely Misses the Point,” I dare say you’re completely missing the point.

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Game of Thrones Is Starting To Suck

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Nobody seems to want to say anything, but I think we’re all slowly coming to recognize an uncomfortable truth, and I think we need to acknowledge it. It’s painful, and I know no one wants to be the one to say it, so I’ll start:

I think maybe Game of Thrones is starting to suck.

The very idea that this could happen seems counterintuitive. Impossible, even. Whereas the normal course of entropy for a popular TV show is that it starts to lose steam around the second or third season, as the writers start to scrape for ideas and the actors start to turn the characters into caricatures, everyone watching Game of Thrones is fully expecting this show to keep getting better and better every season. No one has ever even considered the possibility that this show is headed anywhere but up.

Partly this is because of the construction of the show’s plot: Season 1 ended with the birth of the dragons, so the logical thing to expect is that those dragons are going to get bigger and bigger, and kick more and more ass as they do so.

Partly it’s because of the book readers out there, who have been smugly insisting to all of us non-readers for four and a half seasons now that we ain’t seen nothing yet, wait till we get to next season, oh my god you’re not going to believe what happens, etcetera etcetera. For a while, those people were right: season two was better than season one, season three was better than season two, and season four was better than season three.

But now the show is running out of track, as it has just about caught up to the books; each of the first two ten-episode seasons were direct adaptations of the first two 600-page books, and seasons three, four, and five have been a mishmash of the third, and fourth books. Author George R. R. Martin has been slow to deliver the sixth book in the series, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seem to be holding off on getting into the fifth book because once they do that, there’s nothing left, so they’re kind of vamping, like a band would do when the singer accidentally splits his pants and has to leave the stage for a few minutes. Obviously the show has been changing things from the books all along: you can’t make a 10-hour omelette without breaking a few hundred pages of eggs. And anticipating that the show would outrun the books, Martin has told Weiss and Benioff where he plans to take the story, but without the (supposedly) rich text of the books it’s like the difference between a compass and a map.

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