Wednesday, January 25, 2023

ABORTION IS FOR YOU AND YOUR BARBER TO DECIDE

I am baffled by the concept, in modern parlance, of serious issues being solved by “you and your doctor.” This is another example of rhetoric no longer based on anything resembling our social reality.

Politicians say it all the time. So do TV pundits and commentators. Pro-choice or anti-abortion people. “You and your doctor.” 

What doctors are these? Am I missing something? Is there a great swath of people out there lucky enough to have a doctor who is constantly thinking about them and their healthcare when the patient is at the supermarket or picking up the kids?

It's likely that the pundits and politicians who use this phrase live a different life than you or I, no matter how much they try to suggest they don't. But here in the real world, with only a few exceptions, most doctors I’ve encountered don’t even know your name, little less what’s wrong with you or even your most basic history.

Most come in, poke around on the computer, and interrupt you when you’re talking. Or explaining what’s wrong with you. “Well, I’ve been vomiting up copper-colored iron filings for the last two weeks” – “uh huh, uh huh.” This is especially true for women and – I’m told – especially Black women. Classy.

The idea that a radical emotion course of action such as when or if to terminate a pregnancy or bring a new life into the world – your world – would require meaningful consultation with your doctor is absurd. 

I’m a sometimes filmmaker and I grew up around actors. I have come to the conclusion that doctors are kind of like “day players.” This precludes listening or awareness of the whole story. They’re there to do their bit and shake hands at the end of the shoot and see everyone later. Doctors are like this. They’re not that invested simply because they’re only there for their scene.

A day player. In the movie of your life. And, once they’re played their scene – prescribing you drugs you don’t need and withholding drugs you do; referring you to a specialist you don’t need and missing all the signs of something serious – they figure their scene is done and they move on to the next patient. Or scene.

There are a zillion reasons for this, but let’s acknowledge that this problem ought to be added to the list when we talk about broken healthcare systems in both Canada and the US.

“You and your doctor.” Me and my mechanic, maybe. My pharmacist. My diet guy. Physio-therapist? Barber. That’s the ticket.

“Whether I carry this child to term or abort it is a decision that should only be made between me and my barber.”

 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

"A FEAST OF WOLVES" EXCERPT: the romantic part

For the next few months, my plan is to drop excerpts from my new novel, "A Feast of Wolves" - in between the usual things I might post on other subjects. The idea is simple: give you a taste of what the book is all about, and maybe get folks to press that all important "ADD TO CART" button on Amazon. 

Without tooting my own horn, I realized only after the book was published that there were a lot of different tones in the story. There's a kind of hole you get into when you say "it's a book about a new Civil War in America, complete with a guillotine on the steps of the U.S. Capitol." You might assume there's old fashioned thriller sections, or mysterious doings, but romance? This is one of my favorite sections below. It kind of stands on its own in a way. Our hero, Chase, a young Princeton professor, is remembering a few years back, when he first met a young woman in London who changed his life. 

A FEAST OF WOLVES

Book 2

Chapter 1

        She unmanned him. That’s how he always thought of it. Like an old 19th-century English novel where the staid and upright earl confronts the willful peasant wench. “Unmanned him.”

Chase had already been in London two weeks. He’d come for a series of interviews about where he was going to do his doctoral work and was only starting to get the lay of the land (Edinburgh romantic but impractical, Cambridge an obvious step but unappealing). So far, he had enjoyed teas in quiet clubs and mainstays like Claridge’s or the Langham, as well as private meeting rooms paneled with the decking of transatlantic steamers. That Saturday afternoon he was going to meet a Dr. Budden, PhD, King’s College, who had suggested they have lunch and go over Chase’s options. He would never keep the appointment.

He didn’t know it, but his life destiny was wrenched off course the second he emerged from the entry turnstile onto the westbound platform at West Ham’s outdoor station. He saw a young woman, around his own age, with luxuriant purple hair, kicking the living shit out of a subway car at the far end.

“Sonofabitch!” she shouted. Clearly, an American.

She was tugging at something unseen, on which the doors of the train had closed prematurely. A suitcase, Chase realized.

The closed doors may have created a barrier between the girl and the bag, but they did not disengage one from the other. The girl held onto the long handle of the case with both hands while kicking at the doors with her black combat boots. These were a marked and appealing contrast to her short, soft, summer dress and man’s jean jacket.

The hair, though. That’s what Chase saw. There was so much of it. Long and ringleted. Like a heroine in an opera. Except it was purple. For no reason he could later explain, he started to walk toward her. As he did, his eyes took in the whole scene: the girl, the bag handle, the train, the almost-deserted station platform, the red push button on the wall, and the frustrated driver in the left-hand side of the first car, only now starting to realize there was something wrong in one of the cars behind him. The driver checked his in-car monitors, trying to see what that problem was.

Chase offered up a “halt!” hand to the driver, then strode past him toward the end of the platform and the girl.

“Sonofabitch!” she kept saying.

Inside the subway car, passengers were also starting to react. Two teenaged boys tried to pry open the doors for the girl while clearly enjoying the opportunity of being able to destroy transit property.

“Fuck sakes!” she said, wrenching the bag to one side. “Push the red button,” Chase said.

She didn’t hear him or see him. She kept struggling.

For reasons utterly unfathomable, the driver up front decided that whatever had gone wrong at the rear of the train was probably cleared by now, despite no supporting evidence. Suddenly the loudspeaker intoned its robotic “Stand clear of the doors, please, the doors are now closing,” although clearly the doors had already closed.

The train began to slowly inch out of the station.

“Hey!” The girl’s tone shifted from belligerence to panic, and the boys on the other side of the closed door began to laugh. No skin off their noses. The purple-haired girl began to run along with the train, still refusing to let go of the thin bag handle. She was heading right into one of the iron beams which supported the rain cover.

Chase moved quickly. His hand didn’t hit so much as smash the red STOP button on the station wall.

The train jolted to a screeching stop.

The girl was yanked to the ground by the sudden stop, landing less than two feet from the iron beam which almost surely would have killed her. She did not, however, let go of the bag. Later, Chase would think that was it. Her character. Right there.

Soon enough, things pretty much righted themselves. The bag was back in the girl’s full possession, the teenagers were back in their seats, and the annoyed driver was able to go on his way with his passengers, although the man seemed more interested in bitching about the paperwork he would have to fill out.

“Every time some damned fool pushes that red button!” he shouted in Chase’s face. “Which is only for legitimate incidents!”

“This was a legitimate incident,” Chase said.

The driver clearly thought otherwise. He continued to shout and point. So did the girl.

Chase didn’t care. He was busy studying the right side of the girl’s head, which turned out to be in complete contrast to the left side. Here, things were shaved down to purple stubble, a ying-and-yang contrast with the luxuriant ringlets on the left. Somehow, he thought, it made her even more beautiful, if such a thing were possible.

But then, she would always be that way to him. In public, or in private, she would always be the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She would always take his breath away, particularly in bed, before and after sex, and especially at night with the curtains open.

Of course, this was not Chase as he had been for the first twenty- four years of life. Chase was a realist, not a romantic. Rationally, he also knew that most men believed the woman they were bedding was the most beautiful woman on earth something women were utterly unaware of. But in this case, he believed he was right. She was the most beautiful. And, of course, not just because of her physical appearance, but her humor and her wit and her dark, canny spirit.

She unmanned him.


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Wednesday, January 4, 2023

OH MY GOD THESE PEOPLE ARE BACK!

They're back!

Christmas is over, like, a second? And these people are back!

The forever sad and compromised Kevin McCarthy, the oily Matt Gaetz, that terrible Greene woman who bangs on doors and shouts through your mailbox, and all the rest of them. Back! 

And what about this new cretin, who has stalked us through the holidays? This Santos guy, who -- appropriately named for the time of year -- kept delivering one revelatory goody day after day. Last I heard, he's not even a U.S. citizen, yet he's been elected to the House of Representatives.  I suspect he's not even an actual person, and yet he's been elected. This is the new A.I. creation of all time.

To all of them I say, "Go away!" But they don't go away. In fact, they're right in my living room, screwing up the United States government, messing with the Constitution, and doing what they do. They are the gremlins on the wing of the plane, and I am Bill Shatner. How did this happen?

Then it occurs to me. Maybe they're here for a purpose.

Maybe the Congressional clown show is good for us.

Maybe it puts us in our place. 

God might be telling us, "You pay too much attention to these people." And we know what happens when we pay too much attention to horrible people. They keep doing horrible things.

This is certainly what the appropriately named Miss Fury us all in the first grade. "Students, the more we look at the Sean at the back of the class, the more he'll keep acting up." Which was true. Sean what's-his-name did keep acting up, and in the grand scheme of things, it did us no good at all. We should have ignored Sean with his five o'clock shadow and his ability to put a ruler up his nose, and let him spiral on toward his ultimate destiny -- serving 5-10 in Kingston Prison for habitual petty theft.

Maybe if we stop looking at the Matt Gaetz's of this world and that Biggs guy and that awful Stefanik woman, they'll just go away. Ideally, they will slip into the government jobs for which they are more suited, like emptying parking meters or painting lines on the highway. Wait. That's unfair. There's nothing wrong with those jobs, whereas there's definitely something wrong with these people.

In truth, do I even care what happens to them? I just know they have to go. I want to read the books I received for Christmas. There are still chocolates strewn about the house that need my attention, and movies to watch which somehow went unwatched in favor of culinary indulgences and dinner table talk. Yes, these people definitely must be go.

And it should be easy, because - like moron Sean at the back of the classroom - they feed on our attention. If we take that away, however, they only have so many choices.

1) They can keep up their antics even though there's no audience. Unlikely.
2) They can quit and go find an audience somewhere else. VERY likely. I'm thinking of Gaetz dressing up as Spiderman and posing for pictures on Hollywood Boulevard.
3) They'll actually realize they were elected to something and - as long as no one is looking - they may as well learn the job and pass a few laws and such. VEEERY unlikely.
4) Kingston Prison. 5-10.

I vote for number 4, but of course our prisons are already overcrowded thanks to a combination of insufficient funding and a hopelessly corrupt justice system, including judges on the take and/or shareholders of private institutions. Brought to you by -- you got it -- these people we've been paying so much attention to.

No matter what, we're better off without them.  Without them, we might read. We might go for walks. We might talk to our not-loved but tolerated relatives with something resembling civility. We might paint pictures. Or finally take that course on home electrical. 

And for those of you who say, "But if we don't pay attention, who knows what they'll do?" I offer the answer: "And how has it been going thus far?" 

It's possible a less scrutinized Congress might actually get something done. We've certainly tried the alternative. We, in fact, turned the whole thing into "The Gong Show." 

If we shut down CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and all the political scandal sheets, who knows what could happen?

The mind boggles with the potential of happiness and contentment. Oh joy, oh bliss. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

WE DESERVE WHAT THE IDIOTIC SUPREME COURT GIVES US


I have not written in this space for over a year. I'm not sure why. I think it's because I gave up on everything. Pure idiocy runs our world, and there's nothing we can do about it. Also, there are just too many voices yammering and typing already.  However...

COVID?  COVID is in the time period I'm talking about. Is it possible I really had nothing to say about COVID? That's depressing. No inspiration in the night; no "ah hah" during an afternoon walk when suddenly you realize you want to impart your pearls of wisdom to the world. A pandemic, for God's sakes, and... nothing to say.

But for some reason I think I do have something to say about the Supreme Court and this "leak" of their apparent decision to strike down Roe V. Wade. Who knows why? But here I am. Typing.

The news came out last night. A draft of the SCOTUS decision to kill Roe V. Wade has been leaked. This begs a lot of questions.

First off, who leaked this document? Who is the dastardly baddie responsible for this unprecedented breach?  I'm assuming the Supremes themselves. A trial balloon, if you will, to see just how mad people are gonna get. It's big, knocking this thing down which -- if we're to believe the pundits -- is something more than 70% of the population doesn't want knocked down. So why not leak? The Supremes are, after all, in some cases crazy (Thomas), in some cases  temperamentally unsound (Kavanaugh), but in only one case dumb (Coney-Barrett). So test screening might be sound. Perhaps even they know how out of touch they are. 

As for the meat of what we're talking about - abortion - I'm not really interested, per se. I mean, I can understand some think an ice cube in a fertility center has more rights than a woman named Madge walking down a street, and others think that Madge's rights are more important than a tadpole, but that's not where I'm fired up. 

I'm fired up because this is an issue of removing rights that already exist. Retracting. Taking away. That's bad. It's almost never worked (Prohibition, post-Reconstruction), and it should be glaringly obvious to all of us -- even if the case for state power over abortion has some merit, which it might -- just where such a trend can go. But there's a psychological side to this, too.

If Roe goes down, then this generation of Americans will be walking around and living their lives pretty much as they did before, but they will have something new inside them that they have never had before: the awareness that what they thought were fundamental rights can be taken away from them in a micro-second. Ka-bam. Gone. 

I think that's a disaster. I think that's a ticking time bomb.

They will also know, of course, that they're being governed - governed, I say - by people they never elected to a thing. I know this is an indirect democracy, but the idiotic manner in which Supreme Court justices are chosen is beyond the pale. 

But let's be clear: this is their own fault.

If you're one of those folks who want to keep Roe in place just for the sake of human rights (that would be Madge's human rights), then why in the world didn't you make sure that this thing got codified in actual law? Precedent isn't law. Law is law. Precedent isn't constitutional right. Constitutional right is constitutional right. So over fifty years, how many of us lobbied and hectored our elected leaders to put this thing into law to make sure it stuck? Not me. Could have been done in 1977-79, 1993-95, or 2009-2011. But nada. 

That's because Democrats  think things will last forever. They always see blue skies, even though it was pretty clear since the 1980's that the Republicans had a very very VERY clear focus on the power of the Supreme Court, and they were right. They knew the game that needed to be played, and they won.

And now the Republican Party is entirely nuts, run by weak-kneed knuckleheads and Orban-loving fascists, to say nothing of all those bullshit artists who claim to believe in the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and the rapture and the rest of that nonsense. So they have a hammer-lock on this thing, and they are way more dangerous than their Reaganite forbears who set this ball in motion.

But there's another villain in this story. A villain who takes us to the root of this whole thing.

It's school. Law schools in particular. What goes into them and what comes out.

Here's my thinking: every single one of the nine people who are currently sitting on the Supreme Court has lived what the rest of us would call Bubble Lives. They've probably lived Bubble Lives since they won the spelling bee in grade one; since they got tagged as "excellent students" in the third grade, but certainly since they won that all-important Honor Roll citation. Boy oh boy, our system loves excellent do-good students, and it moves them along like the folks being shunted to the front car of a Disney ride. 

At some point -- I'd say mid undergrad -- these keeners separated from the rest of us and went down the path to Bubble Land, while the rest of us wondered what we were going to do if we got canned that week. No such fear for the Bubble People. Bubble People don't get canned. They get Pinot Noir. I'm guaranteeing you, by the time they got to being actual judges, the current justices on the Supreme Court were utterly removed from the lives of the people they were soon going to govern -- and, oh yes, John Roberts, you do govern; like despots, or the clergy judges in the Salem witch trials. Call it what you want, it's a perverted governance.  

The problem is that our society says these are great success stories: people who have keenered their way to the top and by the age of forty have absolutely no idea what it means to sit with a calculator and do your own taxes, or even go to a Jiffy Lube. 

This description, in many cases, fits members of Congress as well, the same fools who put these Salem judges in place one way or the other. Or the privileged Presidents, or their Chiefs or Staff, or whoever is pulling the strings of the system at the current moment. They all speak the same language, and they all have their passports permanently stamped in Bubble Land.

We let this happen. It's our fault. We're asleep. Didn't make Roe a law of the land even though we had fifty years to do so, didn't pay attention to the Jesus Christers who put church about Constitution, and... 

And so there they sit, the Mighty Nine, the Bubble Heads, immoveable, unapologetic, utterly sure of themselves, and never squeegeed a window in their life. And what's the end result? Women with the means will get in their cars and get abortions. Others will take pills through the mail -- although I have no idea what you do with the fetus that's still inside you. And the ones who can do neither will just be completely fucked.

They will be, by and large, poor Black women. No Bubble about them, that's for sure.

It's to laugh. This country keeps doing the same thing over and over again. The same sufferers since before the country was even incorporated. Poor Black women. 

Maybe that's why I thought it was more important that COVID. 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

STRAITJACKETS, NOT BADGES


So imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with the whole extended family invited over. The turkey has one more hour to roast in the oven. Half the family is gathered in the living room, say, eating snacks, enjoying drinks, and telling stories. Maybe the other half is in the TV room, watching football. I'm gonna add snow falling outside to fill out this scene. 

Suddenly smoke starts seep from the oven. Not a lot, nothing alarming, but it's starting to smoke up the kitchen. Aunt Sadie says, "Oh, maybe I spilled a little grease when I basted the turkey fifteen minutes ago," and Uncle Ira says, "No, I think that's the scalloped potatoes bubbling over." A nice flurry of activity in the kitchen. Mom opens the window above the kitchen sink to let the smoke out.

Suddenly Uncle Bob bolts into the kitchen! He holds Aunt Sadie's face against the kitchen table and tells her to stay there if she knows what's good for her! He tells Uncle Ira to get on his knees and don't even think of getting up. Then he starts chanting "Fire! Fire!" as he turns his attention to the oven. He grabs a small fire extinguisher and yells at Mom, "Open the fucking oven! Open the fucking oven!" Mom quivers. "Bob, I'm sure if we just open another window...." Uncle Bob screams at her to shut the fuck up if she wants to live through the next three minutes. "Do it!" With trembling hands, weeping, talking about how early she got up to start Thanksgiving dinner, Mom opens the oven. 

Uncle Bob sprays fire extinguisher spray into the oven, unloading the entire cannister. The kitchen billows with white smoke and spray, the oven screams like a dying animal, and the entire Thanksgiving dinner is destroyed. Then Bob turns to the entire family gathered around the entrance to the kitchen. "Everyone keep their mouth shut!" 

Freezeframe the picture. Think. Every single member of the family - every single member - would say that Bob is completely, utterly, and without a doubt, out of his mind. Nuts. Crackers. Over the high side and into bananaland. But because we're rational people, we all stand there in stunned silence and obeisance, simply because the size of Bob's irrationality is so immense, his craziness so crazy, that we rationals are stunned into slack-jawed inertia. We might even convince ourselves that Bob must have had a reason to have behaved so irrationally. Maybe the turkey was going to kill us.

This is policing in America. 

It is about race, oh, absolutely, don't worry about that. But it's also about something else.  The fact is, cops in America are not temperamentally suited to the job. Nothing is going to change until we admit that as well. The George Floyd verdict addresses some of this, but aspects of the trial wouldn't and couldn't deal with that reality, otherwise Chauvin might have got off. I'll get to that in a second.

But first let's look at the case of 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who was pulled over by two cops in Windsor, Virginia. I watched the footage, and like everyone else I was horrified by the treatment of an active duty serviceman being threatened at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed, yanked from his vehicle, and physically and psychologically abused by the cops during a stop for a missing license plate - which wasn't, in fact, missing. Officers Joe Guttierez and Daniel Crocker clearly went beyond the bounds of their duty, but  the whole incident was more than what governor Ralph Northram described as "disturbing."

In fact, it was nuts. Guttierez is nuts. He's screaming and yelling. He threatens. Let's be clear: the infraction is a misplaced license plate. That is all. Yet the cops have their guns out in seconds.  Guttierez's hands shake so badly with rage that he can barely get the pepper spray out to pepper spray his detainee, who is speaking in a normal tone of voice even though also clearly shaking, except in this case the guy's shaking is well-placed fear. Guttierez's lack of control deserves full clinical evaluation. Is he so frightened of Nazario that he can't contain himself? Or is he, like Bob in the kitchen, unable to handle even the smallest non-crisis and he feels he needs to over-compensate? Or does the license plate mean so much to him? A yes to any of these questions makes it clear Guttierez should not be wearing a badge of any kind, but a strait-jacket instead.

Now let's go to the death of Daunte Wright, who was killed by cops because he was... driving a car. This nightmare is also on video - as is George Floyd's death, as is the stopping of Caron Nazario, as is the shooting in the back of Rayshard Brooks, etc etc. etc.  But ignore, if you can, what you're seeing in the Wright video and just listen to it. Officer Kim Porter is screaming. I mean screaming, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Then a micro-second after that, she shoots Wright in the chest, then a micro-second after that, she says, "Shit, I just shot him."

By anyone's metric, Kim Porter is not in control of herself or the situation. She is a screaming, yelling, nut. A murdering nut at that. However, the reality that Wright was able to get back in his car and, even after being shot, pull away, shows that no cop was in control of the situation. Look at their stunned faces and slack-jawed expressions if you don't believe me. 

And that leads us back to George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. I don't know about the rest of you, but the look I have always read on Derek Chauvin's face as he kills Floyd over a period of nine minutes is one of satisfaction. Confidence. Even, pride? He is controlling the situation and everyone else on the sidewalk can go fuck themselves. The fact that this is over an alleged counterfeit twenty is beside the point, as is the license plate, as is Wright's misdemeanor. Chauvin is so hyped up on himself and his power and his role here that he is going to kill a man in front of all of us and get away with it, just to prove to us that he can.

And he was right! If you don't believe me, check out the statement the Minneapolis Police Department put out right after. Here is the meat of it: 

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

I'm not making this up. This is what the Minneapolis Police Department put out after Floyd died. In other words, they were covering up a murder and they were doing so with the casual insouciance of an institution that is used to covering up murders. "He appeared to be suffering medical distress." By the way, once they realized the fix was in, these same folks testified against Chauvin, all pious and making sure we understood he was an outlier.

It's simply not true, and by all traditions, Chauvin should have got off for killing Floyd, just as these other incidents would never even have made a blip on local evening news. The problem for the cops is the wonder of modern digital video technology. 

This technology, which we all carry, reveals who our cops are. Screaming, yelling killers. Terrified, yes, but also weirdly vengeful. How else do you explain cops chasing Rayshard Brooks in order to shoot him in the back? Who chases someone you're terrified of in order to shoot him in the back? What's going on in your head at that moment? If you tell me nothing, I'll itemize just how many deadly weapons a cop is carrying at any given moment.

The truth is obvious, even if we don't like to admit it. It isn't just a few bad apples. It's the whole barrel. 

How did this happen? I mean, on a human level.  Do crazed Uncle Bobs apply for jobs as cops so they can work out their inner demons and terrors? Or does the system turn them all into Uncle Bobs, screaming and yelling and killing?

We could argue this all day long, but even though I'm no optimist, I believe it has to be the system. I just don't believe there are that many crazy people out there who A) want to be cops, B) can figure out how to apply and pass the requisites, and C) get into the academy and graduate. It's too long a shot. The problem is, if I'm right, that it means the system creates murdering lunatics. Why? How? I don't know, but I do know that a 26 year veteran who loses her mind and just shoots a kid she means to tase ("Taser! Taser! Taser!") doesn't seem plausible unless you accept that the system turned her that way over a period of time, otherwise her complete incompetence for the job would have been outed long before.

Worse, the system is able to keep doing its thing because the rest of us are willing to go along with the myth that it's either one bad apple or something that can be fixed with retraining, or defunding, or whatever silliness we tell ourselves is going to fix the thing. We may as well tell ourselves that Bob just had an extra beer before Thanksgiving dinner, or he just needs some air; anything, really, other than the truth, which is that Bob needs to be put away.

Part of our problem is cultural. We want to believe the cops are the good guys and most of them are looking out for us, but after year and  years of hearing them (Val Demings in the House Judiciary committee the other day), I am searching for the hard evidence on that score. I know TV tells us they're all good, and I know people believe that myth. We do that simply because the alternative requires too much work on our part. 

And I have a weird story on that front. Not to go off on a personal sideroad, but in 2019 I made a feature film called "American Hangman," which played on Netflix. In that film, the cops are portrayed as doing pretty much two things: sitting around talking and looking stuff up on computers, or dressing themselves up in riot gear and smashing into houses, screaming and shouting, and shooting people randomly. At a test screening, many of the (totally white) audience said the portrayal of the cops was totally unrealistic. And how did they know? Not one, but two people said, "Well, I watch a lot of Law and Order, and I can tell you that's not how it is." (Interestingly, the film has developed a much more diverse following, and once that was added to the mix, the "this is unrealistic" voices seem to have been drowned out.)

In other words, our myths perpetuate our perception of reality. We believe because we want to believe. The alternative is too hard to handle.  The Floyd prosecution team knew this, which is why they made sure to paint Chauvin as an outlier. They knew that the jury would be hesitant to condemn police in general, because it is simply too terrifying a thought. And they got their verdict.

But nothing is going to change on any level until we admit the problem is far far bigger than that. It's even bigger than racism itself, which can eventually become  a kind of perverted solace for white people.  "Well it's really a race issue" is a boo hoo, but it's also a kind of weird "get out of jail free" card. Of course it is a race issue, that's obvious, but it's also a power issue, a temperament issue, and a failure of society to control those who control us. We fucked this up royally, and moved cops from those who are supposed to calm situations down into an invading force who inflame all situations.

How many of us are relieved to see the cops pull up to a streetcorner where a bunch of teenagers are having an argument? How many of us are happy to see the cops banging on our neighbor's front door? How many of us believe the cops entering our house - at ANY time - is a good thing? 

In light of the George Floyd verdict, do not be snowed. The folks who put out that false news report from the Minneapolis Police Department are still in charge, and the crazy cops who killed Daunte Wright are still cruising your neighborhood looking for action. Pray to God they don't stop you, or your teenager - especially your Black teenager - for having run a Stop sign. Because they will escalate the situation, they will turn it into a crisis, and they will kill someone.

That's what they do.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

 



     I’m not sure how many people standing outside American mythos can truly appreciate how devastating and soul crushing the events in Washington on January 6th were.
 
For those of us who have bought in, however, no matter where we were born or even where we live, the desecration of both the American citadel and the illusion of order was killer.
 
We’re still numb. Shocked. Trying to sort it out. The key question seems to be, “How could this happen?”
 
I believe I am in a unique position to answer that question.
 
Why me?
 
Because for the last three years, I have been planning just such an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. That includes how to get around the Capitol police, the National Guard, how to enter the building, how to hold it, and even how to hold its occupants as hostages.
 
That’s because I am the author of a novel called “The Feast of Wolves and Wild Dogs,” which has been serialized online since October and is still rolling out as we speak (www.thefeastofwolvesandwilddogs.com). Let’s be clear: this is a work of fiction. And as a work of fiction, and narrative fiction at that, the book is built around a fairly simple premise: what if a French Revolution came to modern day America, complete with Twitter, 24-hour cable news, and whatever the ambitious psychopath can pick up at Dick’s Sporting Goods?
 
I put a lot of what I thought was outlandish stuff in this book. Not just the capture of the U.S. Capitol, but the takeover of statehouses across the country; racial protests; riots against income inequality; media manipulation; guillotines; gallows; invoking the 25th Amendment; Vice Presidents under threat; and even people dressed as animals wandering around the sacred halls of Washington (hence the wolves in the title). Needless to say, I have been spooked in recent months by certain similarities to real events.
 
(The kidnapping of government officials I largely left out, because I already made a movie about this. It’s called “American Hangman,” and it’s on Netflix right now. This is another piece of fiction I thought kind of over-the-top until the events in Michigan sadly proved me wrong.)
 
But here’s the catch: while the book is still unveiling itself, the truth is that I actually started it in 2017 and finished it early in 2020.
 
So, that leads me to some real concerns when I hear officials and elected representatives in the last 48 hours, all aquiver, say things like, “Who could have known? Who could have guessed this would happen?”
 
Well, I say... ME! Apparently, I knew!
 
And that, of course, raises some pretty big questions.
 
Primarily, how did some guy sitting in Southern California with his feet up on the coffee table figure out how to breach the Capitol where none of the people truly responsible for the building even considered the idea? How did I figure out just how important the Virginia National Guard would be – and just who would need to trigger the request to federalize same – where no real official on January 6 had the foggiest idea who to even call to get physical protection for Members of Congress? And how did I alone recognize the importance of the 25th Amendment in such a crisis?
 
Clearly, there are only so many viable answers to these questions.
 
1.    I’m a genius. I alone saw with clarity what no one else could imagine.
2.    The maniacs who invaded the Capitol on January 6 are avid readers.
3.    Our political leaders and law enforcement officials DID in fact know what fire they were playing with; they just didn’t see the repercussions in practical terms.
4.    Law enforcement was not clear about their role in defending the Capitol.
 
Sadly, in examining these options, I have to eschew the first one.
 
It really strikes me as unlikely that a middle-aged man with four kids and a small orange cat – a guy who spends more of his time going to the hardware store or trying to find Jack Finney novels on Abebooks - has unique insight into the forces of disorder beyond those available to the FBI and Homeland Security.
 
Option number two – that the forces of disorder were tremendously inspired by my fiction – is also, sadly, unlikely. Firstly, while the book is gaining a solid readership, it hasn’t even been traditionally published yet, and more importantly, it’s unlikely that the green guy wearing antlers is spending a lot of his time reading.
 
Option three – that our political leaders never saw the practical repercussions of their own actions – seems more likely, but even when you combine it with option four, the bases still aren’t totally covered.
 
Because we’re still left with the lingering question of how you breach a Capitol. I don’t just mean the mechanics of how people smashed through windows and squirmed into the Senate chamber, but how?  Truly, how?
 
Which leads us back to fiction, and the definition of speculative fiction itself.
 
The great Margaret Atwood defines speculative fiction (and I’m paraphrasing here) as a shout of “Watch out!” and “Be careful!” This definition is as solid as it gets. Certainly, that was my intention in writing my book, as I imagine it’s the intention of any author who sets out to lecture a waiting world on what seeds it should or shouldn’t sow. But in order for the warning to work, the novelist has to show not just the gruesomeness of what might happen, but the why.
 
I believe this is a pretty important function in society. It’s the value of an Orwell, a Huxley, a Philip K. Dick, or an Atwood. But that job shouldn’t rest solely with writers.
 
Far from it. The folks who should really be in charge of “Watch Out” and “Be Careful” are the ones who are actually given the jobs of managing our society on a daily basis. Our elected representatives, our law enforcement, and our judiciary. It is their duty to not just react but anticipate, to be prepared, and to avert disaster borne of the natural, even animal, propensities of most human beings. In short, manage the why as well as the mechanics.
 
In the case of January 6, this view was turned upside down. The manner in which the beast was able to run rampant through our citadel made it very clear that it was the elected representatives, law enforcement, and judiciary who birthed the animal in the first place; fed it, protected it, pet it, and finally let it loose.
 
Take it from someone who has been thinking about this for three years. You can’t just storm the Capitol and take it over with ease unless the folks guarding the place have some weird notion that you have the right to do so, or at the very least that they shouldn’t interfere with your intentions; you can’t just stumble upon the private offices of elected Members of Congress unless you’ve been told where to go; and you can’t just take the dais of the U.S. Senate unless someone has decided not to shoot you.
 
If you don’t believe me, let’s look at the argument about race. I certainly agree that if all the invaders had all been Black, they most certainly would have been shot. And perhaps if they’d all been waving Soviet flags they’d also have been shot. But there was something about the color of the invaders (white) and the flags (Confederate), which made the people who were supposed to guard our Capitol step back and say, “These guys are okay.”
 
(This is something I didn’t get into my book, because I could never have imagined it. Nor am I a fine enough poet to have dreamt up the image of Black janitors and custodians having to clean up the mess of white people, including, yes, Confederate flags. Their job is to return the nation’s Capitol to its pristine state, an institution which has worked assiduously to deny them rights for more than 240 years. What poet could dream that up?)
 
No, what played out on January 6 required more than the ability to just breach a building. This was about the breach of something far greater, and the fault lies with beings far more powerful than a bunch of dickheads wearing MAGA hats.
 
The fault lies with the elected representatives of this country, on both sides of the aisle but primarily the Republican side, and those who refuse to hold them to task. That’s you and me. It also lies with a culture that allows something as ludicrous as Fox News to sell its swill 24 hours a day for decades without any blowback from the people. It also lies with an education system which refuses to instill any basic knowledge of civics, social responsibility, or moral understanding. It most certainly lies at the foot of every pulpit where the sheer madness of Trump (and he is, most of us now agree, literally mad) is preached as part of Christian truth, to the point where an army of uninformed cultists equate Trump not with other Presidents, but with Christ. But most of all, the fault lies with a culture of greed and self interest that allows people who are educated, informed, and enlightened, to support and vote for such moral vomit because it’s good for the Dow, their investments, their 401k’s, their business, the value of their property, and their jobs in Congress.
 
These are the elements necessary to breach the U.S. Capitol and desecrate the concept of America.
 
When you combine all them, it’s not a question of, “Who could this happen?” It’s a question of, “How could this NOT happen?”
 
Yet it should not be the sole province of writers or filmmakers or poets to dream up these scenarios, imagine the very worst, and show their genesis.
 
It is the place of the political, economic, and judicial leaders of this hopelessly naïve nation to look in the mirror and reckon with these truths. To realize that they are the most naïve and absurd among us, and to understand that their childish antics and actions have real life consequences. They need to accept that they are responsible for what happened on January 6, and that they should be the ones cleaning up the mess, not the janitors. They should stop pointing fingers and say - every single one of them - “Me. Me. I did this.”
 
Because they did, whether directly or indirectly, by speaking out loud or through silence or obeisance. Some more than others.

 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

IS IT JUST ME? QUEEN'S GAMBIT IS ALSO ROCKY III AND IV


Don't get me wrong. I'm now 6 episodes into "The Queen's Gambit" - so almost done - and I'm enjoying it. I have some quibbles, but those are quibbles, but I'm in a mood these days to enjoy something for the sake of enjoying something, and I'm done with pointless smart criticisms. So it's good. It's good. Buuuuut.....

I can't be the only one to notice that the plot of "The Queen's Gambit" is pretty much "Rocky III" meets "Rocky IV."

I can't be.

Because, boy, is it ever.

[HERE THERE BE SPOILERS of.... well, all three titles.]

So an impossibly unlikely contender rises up out of nowhere with a totally improbable shot at the title. A disappointed-in-life manager appears to nurse the contender to champion status, and it works!  They go on a run of title after title, easy knock-outs, until the champion finally faces a REAL challenge. On that very night, during the match, the manager dies as the champion takes a first big - and psychologically devastating - loss. We are all stunned. Champion returns home to lick their wounds, only to be visited by an old rival who says they are going to coach the wounded champ. The message is clear: "No, you can still be a champion, but you just have to RE-LEARN everything you know, and learn how to counterpunch. Why? BECAUSE YOU'RE GOING TO FACE THIS UNBEATABLE RUSSIAN WHO IS SO GOOD THEY'RE NOT EVEN HUMAN!!!" So, it's back to roots, back to self, back to the basics, to learn how to beat the indomitable Russki.

Need we say that the Russian is clearly a construct of the evil Soviet empire? A mechanized product of the Soviet obsession with winning (in "Gambit," some of the lines about the terror of facing this Soviet seem almost line for line "Rocky IV" fodder).

Don't get me wrong. I love this plot, and as episode 4 of "Queen's Gambit" started I certainly felt that we were in sorrowful need of some pretty strong narrative;  things seemed to be slipping, we didn't have the lean-forward we had in the first two episodes, so what's wrong with going to the Italian Stallion for a little plot advice? 

But is it conscious or is it just an accident? My guess is - having worked on a lot of TV series myself, although nothing like this - that it's just a fluke, or inadvertent Xeroxing. To be clear: Quentin Tarantino steals (he doesn't even consider it stealing, I think), but I doubt Scott Frank, a seriously talented guy, and the "Gambit" team were watching old "Rocky" movies to get their inspiration, and they have the added fact that "The Queen's Gambit" is based on a novel by Walter Trevis, who also wrote "The Hustler," "The Color of Money," and, unusually, "The Man Who Fell to Earth," which was adapted into an underrated movie by a totally underrated director, Nicolas Roeg.

In contrast to the clean, cool style of "Gambit," the "Rocky" movies had crazily embarrassing plots that were nonetheless utterly engrossing, which pretty much means that they weren't so crazy after all. Sylvester Stallone clearly knows what he's doing as a writer, and I applaud him also for his singular skill with crazy-ass character names: Apollo Creed, Clubber Lang, and, most terrifically, Ivan Drago. One wonders what would have happened had Stallone been born 80 years earlier and had to express himself through writing adventure pulps. He would have KO'd even Arthur Conan Doyle (who gave us both Sherlock Holmes and that intrepid dinosaur hunter, Professor Challenger) and Edgar Rice Burroughs (who gave us Carson Napier and Tarzan).

Anyway, I digress. "The Queen's Gambit." I decided to do a little research and discovered that Trevis' novel was published in 1983, whereas "Rocky IV" is a 1985 release. Knowing what I do about movies, that means the script was, at the latest, being written in 1983. Alas, "Rocky III," which also has a lot of "Gambit" elements, is a 1982 release, so any reasonable person has to give the match to Stallone, or at least a draw on any "Rocky IV" similarities.

Who cares? It's all great, and as I say, I'm putting all my money on it being accidental.

But it raises this question: is there any chance we can just throw caution to the winds and meld the two? "The Queen's Gambit" might benefit from a little CLUMP! CLUMP CLUMP CLUMP! - which is me writing the opening crash chords of "Eye of the Tiger." By the way, there literally are training sequences in "The Queen's Gambit" that are somewhere between Mike Figgis split screen, "Ocean's Eleven," and Rocky's legendary "gonna fly now" sequence, and I'd be okay with Carl Weathers somehow showing up in "Gambit" and giving Beth Harmon a little buck-up lecture, before the Russian chess champion literally kills him, which inspires Beth to take that Russian bastard apart by castling him mercilessly. Now that is entertainment!

Anyway, this is not my traditional blog entry but really just a love letter to both entities.  There are archetypes and tropes in all narrative, and it's often fun to find them, in a kind of "Where's Waldo" way, and it doesn't detract from the entertainment, enjoyment, or the art. I well remember one of my kids' eyes popping as he realized what I meant when I said, "Tell me what Dumbledore and Harry have to do with Luke and Obi-Wan and Arthur and Merlin and the Karate Kid and..."  Well, for that matter, Mickey and Rocky!!

Okay, enough. I'm going to go watch episodes 6 and 7.  Later.

Eye of the tiger, Rock. Eye of the tiger.



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