09/18/17

Here’s Why We Should Forgive Sean Spicer

I’ve been looking through my news feeds and my social media, and I’m seeing a common theme: Sean Spicer lied to the American People, and he should not be forgiven.

Here’s a link to a CNN article which goes in depth on that point.

 

Here’s an example of the kind of tweets I’m seeing:

 

The idea is that there is no room for forgiveness for any of the people doing Donald Trump’s dirty work.  They have sinned against the Will of the American People, and for that, they should be punished.  It is a great injustice to celebrate Sean Spicer at the Emmy’s.

I’d like to take a step back from that and offer some counterpoints.

Sean Spicer was a Mouthpiece

The first point is that Spicer stood in front of the podium and lied at the order of the President.  We know he lied, and we knew he was lying right from the very start.  We have photographic evidence refuting his lies.

Everyone’s saying he lied, and I’m agreeing.  I just want us to take a step back and acknowledge that they weren’t Spicer’s lies.  They were Donald Trump’s.

We can criticize Spicer for his lack of integrity.  Perhaps he’s a coward.  Perhaps he believed that broadcasting his boss’s lies was for the good of the country.  We can’t know for certain why Spicer continued to do the job as long as he did it.  But he’s clearly not doing that job anymore.

We might even criticize him for being bad at his job.  He is not the best liar Donald Trump has employed.  I think that mantle currently rests on the shoulders of Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

 

Sean Spicer’s Actions at the Emmy’s Confirms the Lies

When Melissa McCarthy stood behind a podium on SNL and mocked Sean Spicer, she gave voice to the outrage over the administration’s lies through satire.  She exaggerated Spicer’s idiosyncrasies.  She helped reinforce what we all knew: that the messages coming from Spicer’s podium were a lie, and could not be trusted or taken seriously.

When Sean Spicer wheeled out the podium at the Emmy’s, he validated Melissa McCarthy’s performance.  He confirmed that what he’d been spouting from the podium, starting with the “largest crowd in history” comment, was a false narrative.

That’s huge.  Who else has left Trump’s administration and come clean like that?

And before I leave this point, consider this.  There are still people that are drinking from the Trump trough and believe every word from the administration is the gospel truth.  Those people remember who Sean Spicer is, and they know how the liberal elite gather at awards like the Emmy’s.  What kind of message do you think Trump supporters are reading out of Spicer’s performance at the Emmy’s?

 

We Should Make it Easy For People to Leave Trump

Suppose Spicer didn’t go to the Emmy’s.  Suppose that Spicer was black-balled from speaking engagements, exiled to obscurity, and punished in the ways that social media seems to think he should have been punished.  What is gained?  We still have Trump’s shills and enablers doing the same dirty work that they did yesterday.  We still have a Republican senate trying to take away people’s health care.  We still have an unqualified narcissist with no empathy and a short attention span as our President.  We gain nothing from punishing Spicer.

But if we embrace Spicer and give him a chance to tell us, through actions if not words, that he really had been a stooge?  That could give hope to every other person in the administration that has an inkling of a conscience.

The message we should be sending is this: We know what you’re doing, and we know who is really responsible.  Grow a spine, quite doing Trump’s dirty work, and you can still come to our parties and hang out.  Maybe we’ll share a laugh about this whole mess, someday.

09/4/17

Criticizing President Trump Honestly

My plan is to finish the third (and hopefully final) draft of my novel today.  I’m excited to do this.  I’ve got a new ending in mind that I’ve lost sleep over.  This is going to be great!

Before I can get to this, I need to get this idea out of my head and onto the blog, because it’s getting in the way.  It’s an itch that I’ve put off scratching, and I don’t think I’m going to get any fiction written today until I resolve this.

Let’s talk about criticizing the President.

A Question of Patriotism

The idea was put in front of me recently that it is unpatriotic to criticize the President.  They said, “He’s our elected official, and we need to stand by him.”

I have to disagree.  He has been elected to the Executive Branch, and has been endowed with certain powers.  Freedom from criticism is not one of those powers.

In fact, I think it is our patriotic duty to be critical of the President when he (or someday, she) is not doing their job well.  The Constitution is law, not the will of the President.

Particularly cruel or unusual acts by The President must be met with objection.  It is our country, and it is our responsibility to hold our leaders accountable.  That’s what it means to be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Besides, if our leadership can’t handle criticism, they shouldn’t be in such positions where they’re certain to receive it.

Don’t Focus on The Inconsequential

The color of Trump’s skin does not matter.

The size of Trump’s hands does not matter.

When we attack Trump, focusing on his physicality or other details that are not pertinent to his ability to govern, we are wasting time, weakening our arguments, and giving fuel for those that blindly support him.

There are plenty of actual, substantial areas to hold Trump responsible for.  We don’t need to keep going for the low hanging fruit.  Maybe it’s satisfying in the moment, but it’s not worth it.  Often the people talking about Trump’s orange skin or small hands would be appalled if similar criticisms were leveled on anyone else.

Let’s not be hypocrites.  Leave Trump’s physical peculiarities out of it.

Do Focus on Actual Issues

The latest absurdity to come from Trump is the ending of DACA.  This is an act of cruelty that does not make our country greater.  There is no good reason or justification for doing this.

It is easy to find other areas of substance that deserve attention.  Threatening to shut down the government if the budget doesn’t include a border wall, for example, is an easy topic for discussion.  Not only is the border wall ineffective, expensive, and an even dumber idea after the massive flooding of Texas, Trump’s take on paying for the wall is contrary to his campaign promise.  Mexico is not going to pay for the wall.  Mexico will never pay for the wall.

I could probably spend thousands of words focusing on issues of actual substance where Trump should be criticized.  These aren’t even Republican versus Democrat ideas, but actual issues where the Constitution is being ignored or violated (Emoluments Clause, anyone?).

I’m not going to go into it here.  Instead, I’m going to encourage you to find the issue that bothers you the most and carry the conversation forward.  Maybe you’re pissed at how much Trump has spent traveling to golf courses?  Maybe you (rightfully) think that Trump focusing on removing transgender people in the military is needless, expensive, and unwanted?

Seriously, Trump is the worst President we’ve ever had.  If you haven’t taken issue with something that he’s said or done, then you’re just not paying attention.

Stick to the Truth

Trump lies so often that I’m forced to question if he has some psychological condition.  Do you lie more when you’re senile?  He lied throughout his campaign, and he started off his presidency with lies about his inauguration crowd size.  Trump lies constantly.

That doesn’t give us an excuse to lie ourselves, or continue spreading lies.

When it comes to honesty, we have to be better than Trump.  That’s a pretty low bar.

In regards to the truth, try to find primary sources.  If someone says that Trump said something or did something, look for a video or pictures of Trump doing that thing.  There are plenty people on social media that are spreading misinformation.  Try to avoid the memes, especially when they’re not true.

This point goes a little deeper, though.  We need to be honest with ourselves.

An example is how we talked about Hurricane Harvey and Trump’s response.  A lot of time was dedicated to Trump’s first visit.  He commented on the crowd size.  He didn’t visit with any actual victims.  He was about as far as he could be from the most affected areas.

The bandwidth we gave to that particular visit isn’t particularly honest.  Were we supposed to be shocked that Trump showed no empathy?  That’s practically his brand.  At his core, he is a dishonest narcissist with no empathy, often motivated by fear and misinformation.  Did we expect him to change just because dozens of people died in one of the worst natural disasters of our time?

But maybe people thought giving that particular story more energy would help show Trump supporters just what kind of man he is.  If those supporters are blind to the other stuff, why would this change their minds?

Finally, Trump did wind up going back, and he did go to where there was damage.  He tried to help.  He still said some stupid stuff, but he apparently worked at a food kitchen and helped in some token way.

That second visit didn’t get nearly the amount of energy that the first visit did, and that’s where the dishonesty is most visible.  Trump did something that is contrary to the current trend of Trump bashing, and social media swept it under the rug or ignored it because it didn’t jive with the narrative.

The most troubling aspect of the times we live in is our disregard for the truth.

Trump is a terrible president and a reprehensible human being, from everything I’ve seen.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m going to ignore any good he might do.  From what I’ve gathered, his second trip to Texas was what his first trip should have been.  Maybe he was forced into it by his family.  Maybe he did it try to and change the Hurricane Harvey story.  I don’t know, and I can’t know for certain because we are letting our biases impact what we share and believe.

Please note that I’m in no way bashing the media on this point.  I think that some of what I’m saying applies to them, but I honestly believe that journalists are doing their best.  It’s journalists that made me aware of Trump’s second visit to Texas.

Changing People’s Minds

The whole point is to try and get that friend or relative that seems to be a blind Trump supporter to change their mind, right?  Or maybe you’ve got a coworker that isn’t looking at the news at all, and thinks that everything is just as it always has been, and it doesn’t matter if Trump is president.  Maybe you want them to care, right?

The reality is that you’re not going to change anyone’s mind.  Trump’s approval rating isn’t going to go much lower.  There will continue to be people that are all about party over country.  There will continue to be people that listen only to Hannity or Alex Jones.  Hell, there will continue to be racists like David Duke that are paying attention to everything Trump is saying, and the words are music to their ears.

If there is any hope to changing anyone’s mind, it’s through Trump’s own words.  That’s how I’ve come to the conclusions I’ve come to.  I didn’t read some op-ed or analysis of Trump’s presidency.  I listened to the man speak, all by himself, and found what he was saying to be antithetical to what makes this country great.

My mind can be changed about Trump, but it would take Trump himself to do it.  He would need to make up for a lot of his own history, from “grab them by the pussy” to his recent jabs at South Korea in the face of North Korea’s nuclear aggression.  Trump hasn’t given me any reason to believe that there is a great man inside him, waiting to emerge and be the president we deserve.  If anything, from his blatant nepotism to his hawking of $40 USA hats, I’m thinking that we should have taken an inventory of the White House before he moved in.

 

Now that that’s off my chest, I’m going to write some fiction.

08/23/17

Reading Robert Heinlein in 2017 – Stranger in a Strange Land

About 30 years ago, I read The Cat Who Walks Through Walls.  It was my first adventure outside of kids’ books, and the first Robert Heinlein story I ever read.  I think I was with my Dad at a supermarket when we picked up the paperback off a rack.  That book started my Heinlein phase, which didn’t end until I’d read almost 30 other Heinlein books.

Some of the subject material went over my head.  Some of the stories stuck with me and influenced my writing.  Others were just okay.

I never finished Stranger in a Strange Land.  When talking to other Heinlein fans at conventions, I kept this fact secret.  I was embarrassed.  This is probably Heinlein’s most famous book.  It won the 1962 Hugo.  It gave us the word “grok.” I read almost all of his books.  How could I have left that one out?

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to correct this omission.  I downloaded the audio book and I chewed through it slowly.  I wanted to savor it because in many ways, I was going back in time.  I was going back to a reflection of the 60’s, when Heinlein wrote the book.  I was also going back to when I was much younger, and the only thing I was reading was Heinlein paperbacks.

Here, then, are my observations.

 

The Casual Misogyny

The first thing that hit me as I listened to the book was that women did not have an equal place in the world.  Jill Boardman is constantly called by pet names.  The women are often admonished as if they are children rather than as adults.  Several male characters throughout the book, including Jubal Harshaw, describe the role of women in society, and it isn’t flattering.

To Heinlein’s credit, the female protagonists aren’t wilting flowers.  They display strength in personality.  They eventually express their own sexuality and appetites on par with their male counterparts.  But even within the views of Jill and Michael, there is a “truth” that Jill realizes: it is natural for men to need to look at women, and it is natural for women to flaunt and be seen.

I chalked up the inequality of the sexes as being a byproduct of being written in the early 60’s.  A time full of dames and broads.  Given that context, the story is quite progressive.

 

Jubal Harshaw, The Pro From Dover

Jubal Harshaw is a bigger than life character.  Both a doctor and a lawyer, no one gets one over on Jubal Harshaw.  Throughout the story, he outmaneuvers world leaders, police forces, and religious zealots.  He is the only one that fully groks without learning Martian first.  Michael values Jubal Harshaw’s word above all others.

Again, this seems like a trope from the era.  That is, authors from that time seemed to inject in their heroes over-the-top qualities that make them unbelievable.

My first attempts at writing fiction featured a character named Arthur Kane that was also over-the-top.  He was rich, super smart, knew karate, and was a mechanical genius.  Even though I hadn’t finished Strange in a Strange Land before I started writing, I feel like this type of writing was present in the other Heinlein books I’d read.  His influence on my early writing is clear.

 

Religion

I found the exploration of religion extremely interesting.  I saw the Fosterites with their hedonism, commercialism, and political and military influence as an exaggerated version of today’s Christian right.  When Michael talks about initiates in his church, he refers to them as marks.  Indeed, everyone that attends a church in the book is made out to be a dupe getting suckered by carnies.  When it comes to church in Stranger in a Strange Land, the game is always rigged.

Once people have made it far enough into Michael’s church, they realize that it isn’t a church at all.  They become part of the community and they’re no longer treated like suckers.  Their enlightenment is that every creature that can understand, that can grok, is God.  Thou art God.

Interestingly enough, Jubal Harshaw, the patron saint of Michael’s church, the figure that Michael claims to be capable of grokking fully even without learning Martian, is an atheist.  He is the last to join Michael’s home, and he never gives up his agnostic views.

It’s also interesting that the Christ-like figure of Michael is brought to an ultimate conclusion as a martyr.  Having delivered his message and done what he needed to do in a corporeal body, he discorporated.

In Stranger in a Strange Land, all religions are true.  And none of them are.  I don’t believe Heinlein intended to give us any answers.  I believe he just tried to make people think and discuss.  However, if he was projecting his own philosophy anywhere, I’d guess it was through the pragmatic viewpoint of Jubal Harshaw.

 

Left Versus Right

Just as Heinlein can’t avoid bringing bits of his culture into his writing, I can’t avoid bringing bits of my own into it when reading.  Consequently, I saw reflections of our present day in the pages of Stranger in a Strange Land.

All of the protagonists lean so far left that their homes describe perfect socialist utopias.  In Jubal Harshaw’s home, people work for Jubal, but they’re treated as family.  They eat together.  They play together.  While sex is not quite as free as it is in Michael’s home, it isn’t discouraged.

Michael’s home goes even further.  Money and possessions and clothing are things that are used outside the home.  The relationships are polygamous.  There is no place for jealousy.  All are equal, for all are God.  Michael is described as a first among equals and is given reverence, but only to a point.

The protagonists are definitely bleeding heart lefty liberals, with their free love and socialist living.  And in the context of the story, taken to the ultimate conclusion, they are superior and closer to natural order.  They have control of their bodies.  They are happy.  They move with purpose.  They need not fear death, because they are spiritual, enlightened beings.

Who are the antagonists, then?  The Fosterites, certainly.  And as I said before, they’re very much Tea Party right wingers taken to the extreme.  They seek money and power.  They borrow scripture from Christianity without actually living lives that follow that religion.  And they are intolerant of any other faith or way of life.  They are destructively evangelical.

Joseph Douglas and his police forces are antagonists for a while.   I believe the police are even described as “S.S. troupes.” though I might be mistaken as a fault of listening rather than reading.

In the end, it’s the police state influenced by the Fosterites that closes in on Michael and his home.  As he is being killed, the news media keeps cutting to commercials.  The media is unemotional in broadcasting the gruesome destruction of someone preaching love and hope.  They continue to smile while that’s going on, peddling products with commercial glee.

I don’t want to go too much into the reflections I see with present day reality because some of my conclusions aren’t particularly flattering.  I don’t mind offending people, but it’s not what I’m setting out to do in this post.

 

Conclusion

I enjoyed Strainger in a Strange Land.  If for no other reason, the nostalgia from reading a Robert Heinlein story was fantastic.  Beyond that, I liked picking out (or perhaps guessing at) the world Heinlein lived in when he wrote the book.  He set out to write a story that would make people think and get them talking.  I think he succeeded.

If you have not read it before, I recommend it.  But don’t go in lightly.  Be prepared for some viewpoints that would not survive the world we live in today.

08/16/17

A Guide to Retaining Our Humanity While Dealing with Nazis

Like my last post, I’m going to start with the important stuff, because I don’t want to be misunderstood.

Donald Trump’s recent press conference failed to denounce white nationalists, KKK, and Nazis.  He went off script and demonstrated his low character, his wrong-headed approach, and just how unfit for office he is.  He gave false equivalence between the Alt-Right and those of us that think Nazis are bad.  He blew it.  He sucks.  He should be impeached and removed from office as soon as possible.

That’s the important part.  I needed to state that, because there were a couple of things he said that might have been truthful.  I’m going to cherry pick those points, because they are important.  But I’m not letting Trump off the hook.  He screwed up.

These last few days have been an emotional roller coaster.  A woman lost her life to a homegrown terrorist in a car.  Social media has exploded with righteous outrage and sincere grief.  There have been a lot of emotional releases and some things said in haste, and I want us all to take a step back and consider a few things, so that we don’t lose our own humanity.

1. The Nazis, Alt-Right, and KKK are the Minority

There are way fewer of them than there are of us.  That doesn’t make what they’re doing any less deplorable, but it should give us hope.  Their bigoted, narrow-minded view cannot last, because their voice will continue to get smaller and smaller, until they’re just a dark spot in the history books.

It’s true that Bannon, Miller, and Gorka are in prominent positions, and Trump has elevated the Alt-Right’s to a place where they have disproportionate influence.  But the age of Trump will end.  His influence will continue to wane as his approval plummets.  When it becomes obvious to the Republicans that he will sink their chance of re-election, they’ll renounce him.

And let’s face it.  When things get tough, they’ll turn on each other and destroy themselves.

2. We Need to be Careful with the Doxing

In the last few days, pictures of the tiki torch wielding assholes have been appearing on Twitter, and people have been identifying them.  Many have already lost their jobs.

I think it’s great that white supremacists are facing consequences for their actions.  If you go out and publicly start spouting hate, I hope you get what you deserve.

Let’s just be careful, though.  How hard would it be to take a picture of someone and put it out there, suggesting that they were among the white supremacists?  What defense would that person have?

Or, let’s say we do take a legitimate image of someone that marched with the tiki-Nazis.  Is it possible that they were there, but their only interest was in preserving the monument?

As I said in my last post, my gut tells me it’s wrong to tear down the monuments.  I’ve examined that feeling, and I know that it comes from a place of privilege.  To me, the monuments represent scars in our nation’s history.  To other people, they represent oppression and slavery.  From a place of compassion, I can support tearing them down, even if my initial instinct is to find some other solution.

But there could have been well-meaning individuals at the rally that simply wanted to preserve the monuments. It’s one of the things Trump said in his last press conference that might be true.  There might have been people on the side of the Alt-Right that were not white nationalists.  Maybe.  And if that’s true, then getting them fired and black balled on the internet seems a little bit harsh.

Also, doxing itself isn’t cool.  It was the tactic used by small-minded, cowardly boys to punish women for enjoying video games.  Maybe we should think twice about using the tactic.

3. Nazis are Still Human

This point receives a surprising amount of resistance.  Earlier, I tried to make this point in a comment, and I wound up having to delete it.  The blow-back was “When they are acting human, we’ll recognize them as human.”

This sentiment is wrong.  It is the heart of the argument of racists and bigots.  It is the problem with the internet, and it is why we can’t have nice things.

Nazis are bad.  I’m not sympathetic to their cause.  I renounce their hatred and their methods.  I do not agree with them.  If I’m in a position where a Nazi needs to be fought, I will fight them.  But I do not renounce their humanity, because then I’m no better than they are.

4. We are Judged by How We Treat our Enemies

I can’t find the quote, but I believe that how we treat our enemies is a reflection of the quality of ourselves and our society.  We already judge the Nazis, KKK, and Alt-Right jerks by how they treat their enemies.  History will judged us on how we treat them in turn.

 

I’ve seen a lot of people saying things about how love only defeats your enemy when they have a conscience.  I’ve seen people say that love doesn’t work.  I’d like to end this post with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr which is as pertinent now as it has ever been:

“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. (from “Loving Your Enemies”)

 

08/13/17

Charlottesville, and Condemning White Nationalists

Normally, I would want to start from the very beginning of an event and work chronologically forward.  This time, I need to go backwards, because I need to get to the important stuff first.

I condemn the behavior of the white nationalists that brought violence and death to Charlottesville.  There are no excuses.  Their behavior and their values are not American.  Whether you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we should all be united in this stance.

That is the important part.  Some of the rest of this post is going to sound like I’m softening on it, but I’m not.  Do not misunderstand me.  There is no excuse for the behavior of white nationalists, KKK, Nazis, and far right extremists.  They are taking advantage of the freedoms that make this country great.  They are hypocrites of the highest order.  They are reprehensible.

I’m not going to go so far as to wish harm on them, or suggest that they should be rounded up.  I hope those that violated the law were caught, and that they suffer punishment that is suitable to their crimes.  I hope that justice prevails.  They caught the driver that killed at least one person and injured many others.  As for the rest, I hope they learn the value of human life, the depth of the American values that they have taken advantage of, and that they have a change of heart.  I hope they all get what they deserve.

If there had been no violence, we could all be having a different discussion.  It is everyone’s right to peacefully assemble.  If a group of white nationalists want to peacefully assemble and protest, that is their right.  I typed that with the hugest of eye rolls, but it’s true.  The right to demonstrate isn’t granted based on the quality of the people’s argument.

I think that if you’re going to wander around waving flags with swastikas or chant “blood and soil,” you’ve earned the mockery you’re going to receive.  But as an American that believes in his country, I have to support anyone’s right to peacefully gather.  Even if it’s just to display ignorance, and demonstrate how far on the wrong side of history some people have chosen to stand.

It’s also the right of others to counter-protest, as long as no laws are violated and everyone stays safe and sane.

But that’s not how things went down.  And at least one person is dead, and many others are injured.

And this all stemmed from a statue.  A memorial to Robert E. Lee.

Now comes the plot twist to this whole post.  I actually support the idea of preserving the statue.  I’m not in favor of tearing it down.

Whether we like it or not, Robert E. Lee is a part of our nation’s history.  We should remember his name and his role in the civil war.  We should remember what he stood for.  And we should remember that he fought on the wrong side.

Paris still has monuments to Napoleon, a man that crowned himself and formed his own dictatorship.  A man that, once deposed, tried to turn his army on Paris, but his men mutinied.  They still have statues of him, one of which is made from melted down cannons.  France has not forgotten its history, and neither should we.

I would rather be having this kind of conversation about the preservation of history.  I would rather have someone that disagrees with me offer me counter arguments, such as the statue is a source of pain for people of color in the area.  Maybe I’m not being sensitive enough to people that are directly harmed by the statue’s existence.  If that’s the argument… well… my mind can be changed.  Maybe there’s a compromise, such as moving the statue to another location.

That’s not the kind of conversation we can have, though.  Instead, we have to deal with the ramifications of a bunch of racist, close-minded assholes.  We have to take a stand and condemn the acts of evil men.  And in some cases, condemn other people that aren’t fast enough with their own condemnation.

I believe that white supremacists usurped an issue and applied their own agenda.  They took a stage not meant for them, called for the spotlight, made damned fools of themselves, and now we’re forced to talk about them and their idiocy.

But what other choice do we have?

08/6/17

I Enjoyed the Dark Tower Movie

Everywhere I look, I see people bashing the Dark Tower movie.  Very few people are actually defending it.  So, I’m going to talk about it, and I’m going to go deep into spoiler territory, for both the movie and the books.

I repeat, this post will contain spoilers for both the movies and the books.  If you haven’t read the books and you intend to, don’t read this post.  If you haven’t seen the movie and you don’t like spoilers, look away, my friend.  Because we’re going to get into it.

Okay?  Okay.  Let’s start with the books.

The books start with one of the best opening lines: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

This is a great opening because it gives us our protagonist, our antagonist, and our setting in one line.  Roland, The Man in Black, and the desert, which really is Roland’s world.  A world that has moved on.  A world that looks like it might once have been like our world.  But different.

In the first book, Roland knows he is a gunslinger.  He is resolute.  He is duty bound to a fault.  He is willing to let a boy fall to his death in order to achieve his goal.  Ultimately, his goal is to get to The Dark Tower.  The Man in Black is just a stepping stone to achieve that goal.

Continuing on with the books, Roland draws his companions to him.  We learn about what it means to be a gunslinger.  We learn about those that traveled with him in the past, and how they fell along the way.  We see, right up to the very end, that Roland’s curse is to follow his duty, and in the pursuit of that duty, walk across the backs of the beloved dead in order to reach his goal.

At the end of the books, he pretty much does that.  Jake and Eddie are dead and gone.  Susanna leaves him.  He’s lost everyone, but he perseveres until the Crimson King is defeated and he enters The Dark Tower.  He goes up each level, seeing his life.  At the last level of the tower, there is one more door.  He goes through it, and what happens?

The man in black flees across the desert, and the gunslinger follows.  He’s back to where we saw him at the beginning of the quest.  The cycle starts again, but there is hope that Roland has learned something.  That this time around, it will be a little bit different.

The Dark Tower series contains multiple endings.  Roland starting the cycle over again is one of them.  Another ending involves Susanna.  She is in another world, much like our own, but a little bit different.  She finds Eddie there.  This Eddie is much like the one she’d lost, but this one is alive, clean and sober.  And Jake is there, too.  Jake and Eddie are brothers, and they are both happy and alive.  They’re the same people we’ve loved through the series.  Just a little bit different.

I’ve spent a bunch of time talking about (and spoiling) the books, but before I go on to the movie, let me talk about one other minor point.  In the books, Roland laments that he should have taken just a few seconds longer at one battle, and picked up The Horn of Eld when his companion Cuthbert had died.  In his visions of approaching the tower, he saw himself standing on a hill, surrounded by roses.  He blows the horn before going to the tower.

When the cycle is restarted, a hint that things are different is that he has the horn.  Roland has grown and changed.  And if he has changed, then maybe the next time around will be different.  Maybe Eddie and Jake won’t have to die.

Now let’s talk about the movie.

The movie does not start with the gunslinger in the desert.  It starts with Jake having a vision of Roland’s world, and how Walter, the Man in Black, is using gifted children to attack the tower.

The movie focuses on Jake at the beginning, because when we get to Roland, he is a different man.  He’s broken in a fundamental way.  The deaths of his companions weigh on him.  He is no longer trying to get to The Dark Tower.  He just wants to kill the one responsible for the death of the ones he loved.

Right away, we can see that this is a different story than the one in the books.  Both Jake and Roland are similar to what we saw in the books, but they’re different.  In the books, Jake grew up in 80’s, and he had to die in order to get to Roland’s world.  In the movie, he’s in our present day, and he finds his own way to Roland’s world.

The characters are familiar, but a little bit different.  Does that sound familiar?

The movie is not trying to retell the story from the book.  It’s not an adaptation.  It’s an extension.  It’s a new chapter.

The movie even addresses this with one, subtle clue.  The Horn of Eld.  Roland doesn’t ever mention it in the movie, and no one remarks on it.  But look at this picture:

Nestled into that bag with all of that ammo is The Horn of Eld.  In this movie, Roland stopped when his good friend Cuthbert fell at the Jericho Hill.  He stopped, mourned the loss, and took up the horn.  In the movie world, if Roland reaches The Dark Tower, he won’t have the same regrets as the Roland from the books.

And yet, the movie is getting bad reviews.

Obviously, I went into it with a bunch of knowledge.  The lore from the books enriched my movie experience, and excited me every time I saw a nod to the story I already knew.

What about people that haven’t read the books?  Well, Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey gave outstanding performances.  The set pieces were detailed.  The action was great.  Tom Taylor as Jake did fine.  The story was fine.  And at only 95 minutes, it didn’t drag on too long.  I didn’t notice any pacing issues.

So what gives?

Here is my theory.  I think the first reviews came from people that wanted to see the story from the books on the big screen.  People that wanted to see the Roland they enjoyed and adventured with for thousands of pages.  People that loved Eddie and Jake and Susanna, and were looking forward to The Drawing of the Three.  People that might have forgotten the ending of the series, or maybe put the endings out of their mind, because Stephen King isn’t known for great endings.  Besides, he wrote himself into the last books.  How corny is that?  Who would want to remember how The Dark Tower ended?

Since the story in the movies is so different than the books, it did not meet expectations.  Therefore, the movie is bad.

Let’s face it.  Some people on the internet started shitting on the movie as soon as they found out that Idris Elbas was cast as Roland.  In the books, Roland is described as looking like Clint Eastwood.  A thin, hard-case.  Idris Elba is not particular thin, and he really doesn’t look like Clint Eastwood.

After the first few bad reviews, Group Think took over, and now everyone is saying it’s terrible.

Obviously, I disagree with the bad reviews.  I enjoyed it.  I’m glad I saw it in the theater.  When it hits DVD, I’ll buy it and watch it again.  I’m sure I will see even more details that I missed on first viewing.

The bad reviews tell me that we don’t want new stories.  We want the ones we know regurgitated back on the screen.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with that knowledge as I try to write new stories.

07/29/17

Current Events – 29 July 2017

Twenty-two years ago today, Melissa Stacey and I walked down the isle.  She became Melissa Buhl, and I became Melissa Buhl’s husband.  We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re still here, together.  Our partnership is strong.

As I write this, I’m sitting in the passenger seat of Melissa’s Ford C-Max.  We’re on our way to the beach to celebrate our anniversary.  I don’t normally go to the beach, because I don’t like getting sunburned, wind chilled, and crowded by other beach-goers.  Then there’s the sand, which as Anakin accurately pointed out is coarse and gets everywhere.  What I’m saying is that I avoid the beach so that I don’t turn to the Dark Side.  But today, I decided to compromise a little bit and do something nice for Melissa, because her happiness outweighs my discomfort.

That’s how I live my life.  It’s how Melissa and I have been able to make our marriage work.  She and I are very different people, but we are able to stay together and enrich our lives by making small compromises and challenging each other to do things that we normally wouldn’t do.  Today, I’m going to the beach, and maybe I’ll have fun!  Tomorrow, maybe Melissa will play a computer game with me.  Maybe she’ll have fun!

I’ve been following current events, and what I see there is a lack of compromise.  Democrats and Republicans are both drawing lines in the sand, or planting their feet, or plugging their ears while the other is speaking.  It’s all partisanship, all the time.

And everyone looks bad.  In my opinion, the Republicans are looking a little worse than the Democrats, mostly because I can’t stand McConnell, and I don’t trust Ryan.  But red or blue, neither side is impressing me these days.

I want our congress to love our country the way Melissa and I love each other.  That means being willing to accept each other’s differences and make compromises for the betterment of everyone.

We need a strong congress, unified in their love for the country.  We need them to take a step back, look at the world, and realize that there is work that needs doing.

North Korea is now capable of launching missiles that can reach the U.S. mainland.  Russia meddled with our election, and Putin is strutting like a peacock because he got away with it.

Trump is not a man that is qualified or capable of handling any of this.

Republicans, you can still get your legislation signed by Pence.  He’s in your corner, and he’s willing to do work.  You don’t need Trump.  It is in your best interest to dump him before he interferes with your re-election efforts.

Judging Trump by his actions, all he wants to do is play golf and grandstand.  He enjoys the crowds.  He basks in the attention.  He doesn’t love America.  He loves himself.

We need to replace Trump as soon as possible with someone that respects the office.  Someone that loves the country.  Someone that can function with at least a little bit of decorum.  And we need to yank out all of the shills and shysters  Trump has populated the government with.  Get DeVos out of there.  Ditch The Mooch the way his wife did.  Give Ben Carson the pink slip.  Put someone in charge of the EPA that actually believes the EPA should exist as an organization.  Take a long, hard look at all of the appointees and make sure that they are qualified for the position.

And for the love of all that’s good and holy, send Steve Bannon home.

I don’t think President Pence will be much better than President Trump.  But I think his hand will be steadier.  I’ve seen enough of Pence to know that he’ll be less embarrassing.

 

But yeah.  It’s my anniversary.  And I’ve returned to social media a little bit more.  If this post is any indication, I can’t seem to engage with any topic without turning to politics and current events.  I’m constantly seeing aspects of my life that I’ve learned from, that our leaders could learn from.  And I think, “Maybe I should get involved.” But that would be terrible.  I don’t have the patience or personality to get into that kind of public service.

I just need to focus on my writing, and my family, and my work.  But I gotta say… it’d be a lot easier if our leaders would start doing what’s best for the country instead of what’s best for themselves.

07/6/17

Why I’m Not Going Into Politics: Our Borders

Now that we’ve passed the 4th of July holiday and I’m no longer worrying about my band’s fireworks booth, I can continue talking about why I’d never make it in politics.  This is a follow up to my last post.

Unlike my last post, I’m going to jump straight to my (probably) unpopular opinion.  That is, I don’t think we should be trying to strengthen our borders.  We should make it as easy to come here as possible.

For support of this position, I turn to the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Everyone in America is descended from immigrants.  Even the roots of Native Americans stretch overseas, because we all come from a common place.  Whether you believe that common point is The Garden of Eden or Africa, it doesn’t matter.  We are the same species.  We have the same blood in our veins, the same needs to feel comfort and love.  We are all more alike than we are different.

On this topic, it is too easy for me to spin off into generalizations.  Getting back to specifics, I think we should welcome immigrants and put them to work.  Give them jobs with fair wages and tax them just like everyone else.  We should hold to our ideals, which is that everyone is created equal.  I don’t see what difference it makes if they were born in this country or not.

Fear is what drives the urge to build walls and tighten border security.  Fear that someone is going to come in to the country and do something terrible.  Fear that people will come into our towns and steal our jobs or change our way of life.  Fear that we’ll lose our identity.

As I told someone recently, any decision that is rooted in fear should be examined.

I believe there are answers to each of the concerns I just mentioned.  In regards to security, we’ve missed the mark.  We’ve killed more of our own people than any foreign agent.  Home grown terrorism is much more successful than the imported variety.  And there are two simple answers:

  1. Do more to make this place home.  Quit making people uncomfortable just because their faith doesn’t match your own.  Quit threatening people with deportation.  Listen to people, and be more inclusive.  Basically, the exact opposite of President Trump.
  2. Accept the fact that no matter what you do, there will be people that do bad things.  There is no level of security achievable that is 100% effective.  There will always be people that do evil.  Let’s give them fewer reasons for wanting to kill people and destroy property.

We can still be the shining city upon a hill.  We just have to be remember our beginnings, when we let hope and idealism drive our decisions.  Not our fear.

06/14/17

Why I’m Not Going into Politics: Abortion

I’ve spent the last several months consuming news.  I prefer sites that offer links to primary sources, but I’m usually not too picky about who is writing the news.  I’ve even read some Fox News articles.  I cast a wide net and sift through all of the grit and opinionated sludge.  I look at what’s left and try to stay informed.  And what’s left has for the most part made me depressed and worried for the future of our country.

Not wanting to simply sit on the sidelines and let things go, I’ve considered running for some local office and stepping foot into public service.  It’s not a job that I particularly want, but maybe that’s a good thing, right?

There are a few reasons I wouldn’t do well in politics.  For one, I have integrity, so I’m never going to get elected to any serious position.  For another, I have some fairly controversial ideas about how to handle certain hot button topics.

Tonight, as a way of warming up my writing muscles, I’m going to talk about my thoughts on abortion.

I have a starting position and a secondary position, which I consider a sort of compromise.  I think the latter is more interesting and original, but let’s start with the first, because it’s the most palatable for most people.  If you do not agree with my primary position, please don’t click off.  Stick around and see if the compromise is more to your liking.  And if it isn’t, please leave me a comment as to why it is unfair or unworkable.

My starting position is that abortions should be legal and safe.  Much along the way conservatives think of gun control, outlawing abortions won’t make abortions go away.  We already experienced a time where young, scared women were dying in back alleys trying to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy.  We should not go back to that time.

There’s nothing particularly interesting about my starting position.  It’s a fairly standard liberal idea.  I don’t think of myself as particularly liberal, but on this subject, I think the left have it mostly right.

I don’t want to get too much into the arguments, because statistically, abortions are becoming less of a problem.  Unwanted teen pregnancies have been decreasing.  Americans are having less sex, in general.  I’ll say it again, Americans are having less sex.  Here’s another article specifically talking about teens and young people, and how pregnancies are down, and contraceptive use is up.

If you want to try and convince me that abortion is murder, you don’t have to.  I agree.  I just know that we have already experienced a time in our history where abortions were illegal, and they were still happening.  And in those cases, chances were good that there would be two victims: the unborn child and the mother.  Looking strictly at the numbers, there will be fewer deaths if abortions are safe and legal.

But let’s say that you or someone you know cannot be swayed to keep abortions safe and legal.  You or someone you know cannot be convinced to allow for the slaughter of unborn children.  I sympathize completely, and have an alternative solution.

My secondary position is this: make abortions illegal and abolish them, but force the fathers to get vasectomies when the pregnancies are unwanted.

Too often, the focus is on the mother when talking about abortions.  Well, let’s explore true justice.  If the woman is going to be forced to have her body irrevocably changed, make the man face some consequences, too.

This approach will have several positive side effects.  For starters, men will have that much more incentive to use protection and be considerate of their partners.  If the incentive is not enough and they produce unwanted children regardless, the child will become more precious to the father because it’s the only one they’re going to have.  Men that would be particularly prone to promiscuity and getting women pregnant won’t be able to do as much damage after they get snipped.

It takes two to tango, right?  Let’s take some of the focus off the women and put it on the men.  Both the mother and the father are equally responsible in the cases where the sex is consensual.  So let’s practice actual justice. (That link is slightly NSFW, by the way)

 

Anyway, that’s one of the reasons I wouldn’t be a very good politician.  There are other topics and other reasons.  Maybe I’ll write about those later.

For now, I need to get back to writing fiction.

02/8/17

I Don’t Like Labels

You have about 100 billion neurons in your brain.  There are enough variations in just your brain chemistry alone to guarantee that there has never been another individual like you, ever.  And there will never be someone identical you, either.  You are completely unique, shaped by the journey that has delivered you to where you are now.

In all of existence, there is only one you.

I think we forget this fact.  It’s easy to forget.  And, if I’m being a little cynical, I think we’re encouraged to forget.

There are constant dividers being thrown at us.  We’re all asked to give up our individuality, our humanity, and fold ourselves into boxes so that we can be labeled.  Male.  Female.  Straight.  Gay.  Rich.  Poor.  Republican.  Democrat.  Black.  White.  Hispanic.  Old.  Young.  Conservative.  Liberal.  Christian.  Atheist.  Buddhist.  Muslim.

This is the problem.  This is why we can’t have nice things.  This is why we’re so separated, and unable to appreciate each other.

I’m not talking about unfairly applying stereotypes.  That is one of the problems, certainly, but it’s not the worst one.  The worst problem is that if we are separated like this, we cannot connect and communicate in a real way.  We just stand on opposite sides of the divide, shouting at each other.

I’ve been away from my blog for weeks.  I’ve been reading the news, watching the problem get worse and worse.  It is depressing, and I have been depressed.  I haven’t been able to write.

We need to do better.  We need to find a way to communicate.  We need to find common ground, and build on it.

I am unhappy with most of Trump’s cabinet picks, but I’m willing to discuss their merits and have my opinion changed.  I’m worried about Sessions as Attorney General because of his past, but I’m willing to give him a chance.  I would feel even better about him if someone were to give me examples of some of the good things he’s done.

I’m worried about DeVos as Secretary of Education, but that’s mostly because the only things I know about her is that she doesn’t seem to be qualified, has never participated in public school, and some of her stances on school vouchers and for-profit schools might be a problem for kids in poor or struggling households.  I’m willing to have my mind changed, though.  If anyone knows anything about her that will make me feel better about the kind of job she’ll do in that position, I would really like to hear it.

I long to have a discussion with someone that is both informed and in favor of Trump’s choices.  I want to see the world from their perspective.  I want my views challenged.

I’m surrounded by people that, for the most part, share my opinions about matters political.  It doesn’t give me much comfort.  There are people out there that seem to approve of where Trump is trying to lead our country, and I have no way of identifying with those people.  I want to.  I want to understand.  Maybe they see something that I don’t see.

It could be a matter of being misinformed.  Perhaps people that are supporting Trump believe that crime is at an all-time high.  That’s not the information I have.  Perhaps I’m misinformed.  If I am misinformed, then I would like to be corrected by a credible source.

See, even as I’m writing this, I’m backing into one of those labels.  For Trump, or Against Trump.

I don’t want that.  If I am to have a label, I want it to be “For Humanity.” I want less discrimination, and more appreciation for the heart and soul of every human being out there.  I want us all to remember that you can’t tell what someone’s been through at a glance.  We all have a unique story to our lives.

And I like stories.