Guns at the Republican National Convention? Of course!

The Thinker by Rodin

So naturally when I learned of this petition to allow the open carry of guns at the upcoming Republican National Convention in Cleveland, I hurried over to change.org to sign it. Over 48,000 of us God-fearing, law-abiding, Second Amendment enthusiasts have signed the petition so far.

And there are good reasons to sign the petition. Without open carry, the delegates and conventioneers in the hall will have no way to defend themselves from burglars, pickpockets and lobbyists, unless you count fisticuffs and kickboxing which I think would be pretty hard to take away. The Supreme Court has already decided that owning guns is a right. No preexisting militia is required. Moreover, lots of states have laws allowing open carry and many allow even concealed carry. I checked Wikipedia and open carry is definitely legal in Ohio, probably thanks to Governor John Kasich.

Moreover, you needn’t worry about these convention goers. Guns don’t kill people; only people kill people. But since you never know when someone is going to attack you with a banana, and there are probably no sixteen ton weights at the convention center, a loaded semiautomatic weapon may be your only defense when a brigade of banana-toting liberals in Birkenstocks come charging at your delegation. You have to be prepared, you know.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Cruz and Trump supporters would not limit themselves to shoving, fistfights and general screaming at each other as they lobby to get their candidate the nomination during a brokered convention. They are all family men and women, civilized I am sure and will be full of the milk of human kindness (and Jesus) during the convention. They are so civilized they won’t even shoot a celebratory round into the convention roof when their candidate clinches the nomination.

No, this is a matter of principle, and principle is vitally important to Republicans. They like their world completely black and white. The Supreme Court says that we can own guns; Ohio says you can openly carry them, so there is no way that anyone should be able to restrict that right. You don’t mess with Texas so you don’t mess with Republicans and their guns either. Putting all those armaments into such a confined space should cause no issues at all. After all the Quicken Loans Arena is not a troubled inner city neighborhood like Glenville in Cleveland. They are proud Americans, every one of them, but just in case residents of Glenville decide to storm the Quicken Loans Arena en masse, well, you got to be prepared. A handgun isn’t going to cut it. You will want plenty of rounds, something semiautomatic, and probably something with a scope on it.

So I’m shocked to learn today that the Secret Service nixed the petition. Imagine the nerve of these feds to tell us law-abiding Americans we can’t bring our guns with us into the convention! The Secret Service says it’s something about a federal law that overrides the Supreme Court’s decision. Clearly there is nothing to fear, and surely Trump, Cruz, Kasich and the senior leaders of the Republican Party will be completely at ease in a convention hall full of faithful lock-and-load brethren. After all according to the NRA the way to stop a bad man with a gun (not that it would ever happen at this convention) is a good man with a gun, and there would be thousands of them. He’d never have a chance!

I can’t believe that the candidates will roll with the Secret Service on this one. Trump says he wants to study the petition. As of this writing, neither Cruz nor Kasich has expressed an opinion on the Secret Service’s decision. How odd!

So I guess we will have to turn to prayer: pray to change the minds at the Secret Service and failing that pray that hoodlums outside the hall won’t storm the convention hall, or pick off conventioneers on their way to and from their hotel rooms and local brothels. Perhaps an emergency petition to the U.S. Supreme Court is now in order. We can only pray they see the light.

The Trump trap

The Thinker by Rodin

Donald Trump has been punking a lot of people lately. The other week he punked his newest endorser New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who attended his rally in Ohio. Christie was there to encourage people to vote for Trump. While Christie was on stage with Trump, Trump said that Christie was flawed because he was an absentee governor, which is not hard to be when you are a governor running for president. A few days later his former rival and newest supporter Ben Carson crazily punked himself, saying Trump wasn’t so bad because there were “two Donald Trumps” and one was a nice guy you don’t see. That’s like an abused spouse publicly saying she wasn’t that upset when her husband beat her black and blue because he’s actually a sweetheart. That Trump can do stuff like this and get away with it suggests he is a master bully indeed, so good he can put other bullies in their place and fool partisans like Carson that he’s not as bad a candidate as he has proven to be. I mean: just wow!

Trump hasn’t won the Republican nomination yet and there is some chance he won’t get a majority of delegates, leading to a brokered convention. Trump has already predicted that if Republicans try to deny him the nomination because he has only a plurality of votes that “there will be riots” from his frustrated supporters. If there is a brokered convention I don’t expect it to succeed in blocking Trump, in part because as a master bully Trump should have the Republican establishment pinned to the floor mat and screaming uncle long before the convention. Trump’s not so much a dealmaker as he is a master intimidator. Intimidation of course is a skill that bullies master. It comes from practiced insensitivity toward the feelings others. The empathy gene is missing from bullies except of course for themselves. Since they only look out for Number One, they are naturally nasty and tone deaf, in his case so much so that he will punk his former rivals offering them his support.

Trump can’t bully the whole country, so he is busy trying to make a deal with the American public instead. Like Bill Clinton, he plans to triangulate his way into the presidency. He will read the tealeaves and attempt to do or say anything to seal the deal with the electorate. Most likely he won’t succeed, given his high negatives particularly among women and minorities. He can hope for a crisis. A huge economic or national security crisis drives our primal fears and can change a lot of minds. However, with a decently growing economy, low unemployment and with Obama’s approval ratings now at or over fifty percent the odds will be against him. It’s unclear whether he will drive more Republicans to the poll than Democrats, but it is likely that voters on both sides will be highly motivated to turn out. This is because no one is neutral on Donald Trump. You either love him or loathe him.

My suspicion is that Donald Trump will eventually prove to be like the Hindenburg, that famous hydrogen-filled dirigible that exploded in flames in the early 20th century. He’s going to inflict a lot of damage whether he gets elected or not. Assuming that he doesn’t win, who loses?

Curiously some of the biggest losers will be his supporters. Whites — principally working class whites and white men in particular — are going to realize they were sold snake oil. First, their candidate will prove unelectable, so huuuge but unable to seal this deal, making him the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. Second, they are going to realize they really aren’t all that special anymore. For if Trump can’t make the working class white special again, then who possibly can? They are investing all their hope in Trump. If he loses, then where do they go? What do they do?

Does this class finally shout “Enough!” and start an insurrection? This may not be too hard given all the guns they are stockpiling. Do they retreat into utter despair and hopelessness? Do they finally decide to put their racism behind them and make common cause with others struggling in the working class? Do they kill the Republican Party by abandoning it because they have proven incapable of making it do its will? Regardless of whether Trump wins or loses, it’s not hard to see huge danger signs.

If a Democratic ticket wins, they have to continue to wrestle with their feelings of disempowerment. If Trump wins we have a high likelihood of a President Trump that will be at best a quasi-constitutionalist and at worst our first fascist president. Or perhaps the real deal is that Trump is anticipating his defeat and will use it as a cry to foment real revolution.

Some of these scenarios are pretty far fetched. It’s not too hard to see that there will be one loser even if Republicans win: the Republican Party. For If Trump fails to win the nomination he may run as an independent. If he does win the nomination then he effectively controls the Republican Party, which will probably mean that its leaders will be sent packing. The stuff Republicans supposedly care about (religion, fiscal conservatism, smaller government) will morph into what they really care about: a classist state where they are in charge. And to do that you have to jettison the notion that we are a democratic state. We won’t be.

When I first wrote about Trump I wondered if Trump could be a Democratic mole. After all he supported progressive policies and candidates in the past. Maybe he is fooling everyone, but most likely he is simply tone deaf to the fact that while he is a very successful loudmouth, he’s really only just a blathering blowhard that leaves destruction from trying to gratify his own enormous ego.

Trump will cause major casualties. Whether overtly or covertly, the most likely casualties will be the very people he is trying to empower. And they are going to be really pissed.

Second Viewing: Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 2)

The Thinker by Rodin

Yes, it is strange to go back and see this series again nearly thirty years later. It was a wonder I stayed with it after the first season of this Star Trek reboot. Even so, the first season was no worse that the second season of STTOS (Star Trek: The Original Series). It must have been the franchise that kept me watching. Either that or it was Patrick Stewart.

Thankfully Season 2 is a big improvement on Season 1, but does not come close to the last five years of the season, and it introduces us to the Borg. But there are some peculiarities in this season. Most strange is the introduction of Dr. Katherine Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) as Chief Medical Officer. McFadden (Beverly Crusher) was fired at the end of Season 1 for reasons I don’t understand. She returns suddenly in Season 3, probably as a result of fan pressure. Curiously, Crusher’s son Wesley (Wil Wheaton) wasn’t sent packing. Supposedly Beverly was at Star Fleet Medical School. Muldaur is okay as Pulaski, but showed little energy in the role, while “Acting Ensign” Wesley wanders the ship like he’s missing mommy.

Still, we do get Colm Meaney, who shows up as Chief Transporter Officer. Like Stewart, Meaney was probably too good for Star Trek and his role was beneath his capabilities. We also get Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan, whose role is mysterious but who seems to have some sort of special relationship with the Captain while mostly tending bar in the ship’s lounge, Ten Forward, also new in the show. In reality, Goldberg was simply a devout Trekkie who leveraged her stardom for a recurring role. Since she had done The Color Purple just a few years earlier and probably worked for the union minimum, she was likely too good a deal for the producers to turn down. We also get Gene Roddenberry’s wife Majel Barrett back as Deanna’s mom and Q (John de Lancie) makes a reappearance. In addition Commander Riker grows a beard. These changes seemed to settle things down a bit. A writers’ strike reduced the season to 22 episodes.

I watched them to reacquaint myself with the series, but it also gives you the opportunity to skip the chaff and go straight to the wheat, if you read my capsule reviews below:

  1. The Child. A surprisingly touching tale of the mysterious pregnancy of Counselor Deanna Troi by some spiritual entity that delivers a boy that gestates and matures in a matter of days. No virgin birth here but it’s hard not to wonder about the biblical parallels. B+
  2. Where Silence has Lease. The Enterprise gets sucked into a void — basically to be toyed with by a mysterious entity. There are lots of episodes like this in STTNG that doesn’t really make much sense but do pad out a season. C
  3. Elementary Dear Data. Crewmembers get caught in a viral holodeck program based on Sherlock Holmes. It’s innovative until you think about it a bit: whoever programming holodeck software did a really crappy job with the security controls. You would think Worf (security officer) would insist on deactivating the thing. C
  4. The Outrageous Okona. This is mediocre love story hiding under a transparent interplanetary Indiana Jones character. Data continues his endless quest to become human-like through failing to understand humor. C-
  5. Loud as a Whisper. The Enterprise ferries a renown negotiator who is also dumb (cannot speak) and who has agreed to try to bring peace to two warring tribes on a planet. Little mystery to this one. You know the plot, but it is competently made. C+
  6. The Schizoid Man. A strange episode where a dying old man/scientist with affectionate feelings for his much younger and prettier lab assistant occupies Data’s circuitry when his human body dies and then puts the move on his assistant. This episode feels incestuous and weird. D
  7. Unnatural Selection. Another back-to-back creepy episode, this one where a planet full of people who can only clone each other (and who don’t do sex) capture a bunch of Enterprise kids including Wesley before all the cloning ruins their gene pool. Dr. Pulaski of course figures out a solution just in time. D
  8. A Matter of Honor. Riker takes on the challenge of a temporary assignment as first officer on the Klingon vessel Pagh and handles the culture shock with aplomb. Quite a bit of fun but you kind of anticipate that his conflicting interests to both the Enterprise and the Pagh will be predictably tested. B+
  9. The Measure of a Man. Is Data a person even though he is an Android? This episode deservedly won all sorts of awards. See it! A
  10. The Dauphin. The Enterprise meets a shape shifter and Wesley develops hormones, only his crush is not quite the young lady he thinks she is. B-
  11. Contagion. The Federation and the Romulans fight over possession of a portal on a planet in the neutral zone that can take people to various periods of time while a mysterious computer virus ravages both vessels. One wonders if their operating system was Windows. B
  12. The Royale. The Enterprise is shocked to find gambling going on in a casino on an otherwise lifeless and inhospitable planet. Apparently a third rate crime novel is constantly replaying and the away team has to figure out how to end it so they can beam back up. Nothing special here except Picard’s reaction from reading the badly written book. C
  13. Time Squared. The Enterprise finds its captain in one of its shuttlecraft, which is surprising because Picard is still on board. Apparently they are in another weird time rift. You see these a lot on Star Trek but this one is very well done thanks mostly to Stewart’s great acting. A-
  14. The Icarus Factor. Riker is offered a command and meets his estranged father with whom he has bad karma. Wesley helps Worf have a Right of Ascension ritual. B-
  15. Pen Pals. The Prime Directive gets in the way again when Data develops a pen pal relationship with a girl over subspace on a rapidly dying planet. Wesley gets to try leading a team that seems hostile to his youth. This plot feels overly contrived. C
  16. Q Who. Q (John de Lancie) is back to harass the enterprise, but this time for a good cause: to introduce them and the Federation to the Borg, still the scariest space villain of all time. If the episode is about the Borg, you know it’s good and this initial encounter whets your appetite for more at the end of Season 3. A
  17. Samaritan Snare. Picard has a bad heart that must be repaired which forces he and Wesley (who is on the shuttle to take a Starfleet entrance exam) to awkwardly occupy a shuttle. Meanwhile Riker tries to help a vessel seemingly piloted by imbeciles who have an unexpected strength. C+
  18. Up the Long Ladder. Two early settler colonies from Earth in the same star system find a reason to hook up, literally, although they could not be more different. Thirty years later the Irish stereotypes look pretty offensive. Still, it’s kind of fun. B-
  19. Manhunt. Troi’s mother Lwaxsana (Majel Barrett) makes life miserable for Troi and Picard. Troi’s mom is going through a menopause, which makes her horny and particularly indiscreet. Frankly these episodes with Majel (also the voice of the computer) are tedious and unfunny. No exception here. D
  20. The Emissary. Worf meets his match and a potential mate in a half human-Klingon woman he both loathes and loves. She arrives to help the Enterprise deal with a Klingon vessel on a 75-year mission finally returning home. They have to figure out a plausible way to tell them the Klingons are not still at war with the Federation. This is a fun episode and goes to prove that Michael Dorn (Worf) is an excellent actor. B
  21. Peak Performance. With the Enterprise in a war game practicing for a Borg attack, Riker gets to see if he can outsmart Picard. Then the Ferengi appear out of nowhere. B
  22. Shades of Gray. A poisonous plant stings Riker during an away team mission. This allowed the producers to do numerous flashbacks, giving fans effectively half an episode and half of the cast sent home early for the season. Feels and is contrived, probably in reaction to the writers’ strike. Deeply unsatisfying. F

Unwinding the crazy (or why Obama and Mitt Romney need to talk)

The Thinker by Rodin

So my daughter has been chatting with me on Skype. She wants to know: “Dad, have politics ever this crazy?” She would actually take some comfort in knowing that demagogues like Donald Trump have actually arisen before and have had a stake put through their hearts.

I had to tell her no, not in my lifetime anyhow and not within the United States. There are plenty of demagogues out there all the time, but few come around as Donald Trump has to create cyclones of ill will all for the purpose of acquiring something close to the pinnacle of political power in the world: being president of the United States. I see him getting the Republican nomination; hopes of a brokered convention are just fantasies. There have been deeply evil politicians and presidents. Richard Nixon comes to mind but at least he was trapped by a political system of checks and balances. It’s not clear if Trump becomes president whether the system still has the backbone to deal with someone like him. I’d like to think so, but I am skeptical.

Over the years this blog has been around, I’ve made something of a second career cataloguing these demagogues. Democrats are not entirely clean, with John Edwards leaping to mind. Both sides of the party can be pandered to and inflamed. Mostly though these demagogues have limited appeal. Some of the many I have blogged about include Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck. I have read enough history though to know that Donald Trump is not quite unprecedented. Early in our history we had a president arguably as bad as Trump: Andrew Jackson whose portrait mysteriously adorns our ten-dollar bill.

We’ve also had our share of bad presidents but who were not demagogues. Woodrow Wilson was a racist who purged blacks from the government. President Harding dropped his pants for more than one woman not his wife and got embroiled in the Teapot Dome oil scandal. Herbert Hoover and a top-heavy Republican congress ushered in the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson made the Vietnam debacle much worse. And I’ve shown 12 years ago that Ronald Reagan was pretty much a disaster of a president. Then of course there is George W. Bush. Still with the possible exception of Jackson none of these presidents rise to Trump’s level. None had the mentality that the ends justified the means. Trump’s success makes him a singular danger to our democracy.

So sorry daughter, we are living the Chinese curse of living in interesting times. Polls suggest a Trump election win will be quite a stretch, but if anyone could pull it off Trump is demonstrating he has the skills and oratory to do it. Trump though is not unique, but simply the most articulate spokesman for the Republican brand. It’s a brand full of chest thumping, racism, classism and staking out unequivocal positions that have devolved into concerns about the size of Trump’s hands and penis. They are all doing it without qualification, except possibly John Kasich. These candidates will denounce Trump on the one hand but won’t take the next obvious step: saying they will not support him if he wins his party’s nomination.

This is because for all their claims of principle they really don’t have any. It’s not principle that drives them; it’s the lust for power. This puts them ever further on the extreme right as well as makes them back down from taking principled stands like saying they won’t support Trump if he wins their party’s nomination. They are all jockeying for power as best they can by keeping their options open. I was puzzling through Chris Christie’s endorsement of Donald Trump shortly after dropping out. Why was he doing this? The easy rationalization is that both are bullies and he identifies with a fellow bully. But the same can be said for most of the Republican candidates. I think Christie is hoping to be nominated as his running mate. I think he is further expecting that if Trump wins office he will eventually be impeached and removed, leaving him as president. It’s a tactic worthy of Frank Underwood; he was just the first to go there. While Christie may admire Trump for being a master bully, I think his real motivation is simply a lust for power.

The larger question is how do you undo something like this? It’s not like we are at the precipice. Lots of people are already jumping off the cliff into the political unknown. It’s time for the grownups not just to speak up but also to take real action. Mitt Romney says he won’t vote for Trump but did not suggest an alternative, which is hardly helpful. Establishment Republicans are trying to persuade voters in keystone states like Florida and Ohio to vote for someone else, but they appear too late to the game to change the dynamics. President Obama recently spoke out, but it was at a fundraiser. Changing the dynamics here though is pretty much impossible when the other party will refuse to even listen to you. Just for starters Republicans in Congress won’t even allow Obama’s budget director to present his budget, the first time this has ever been done. A Republican Senate also refuses to entertain a nominee for the Supreme Court.

We need an elder statesman with mojo and credibility to bring the parties together to tone down the rhetoric and is some marginal way change the conversation and up the civility factor. There is no one such person, unfortunately. Jimmy Carter comes to mind but Republicans would dismiss him.

We urgently need a national timeout. All these key muckrakers need to have a private conclave and hash this out. If I were President Obama I’d be on the phone with Mitt Romney. I’d be penciling in a date in a couple weeks at a private retreat like Camp David and use the power of shame (if it works) to bring all these blowhards together in one place to hash this out. This would include Republican and Democratic leadership in Congress and all the presidential candidates on both sides. It would also include chairs of the Democratic and Republican national committees. I’d include trained facilitators and psychologists to help ensure the meeting moves forward productively The topics would include: setting baselines for acceptable political behavior and setting up a process involving some compromise so that Congress and the President can work together in some minimal fashion through the election.

Would it work? The odds are against my proposal but someone needs to step forward and we need two brave people on both sides of the aisle. I don’t see any others who can play this role.

Sadly, nothing like this is likely to happen, but it needs to happen. Is there a grownup in the room?

Review: Witch

The Thinker by Rodin

Witch, now playing in theaters is something of a head scratcher. Just what is director and writer Robert Eggers trying to say in this movie of a New England family circa 1630? Chances are that you will emerge from the movie as baffled as I was, so perhaps its meaning (if any) is intended to be in the eye of the beholder. The movie probably won’t leave you satisfied. If there were a “downer of the year” movie Witch would probably win the award and it’s only March. Boy, is it bleak!

That’s not to say this movie about a family ostracized in their New England plantation is not without merit. The acting is quite good and aside from the parents William (Ralph Ineson, who I mistook for Geoffrey Rush) and Katherine (Kate Dickie) it’s otherwise virtually an all-kid cast. Eggers gets fine performance out of these children, some of the best I’ve seen from kids since Haley Joel Osment’s portrayal of Cole in The Sixth Sense. It is also suitably creepy in an M. Night Shyamalan way, who of course took off big as the director in The Sixth Sense. This ostracized and overly religious family (no small thing by Puritan standards) leaves the plantation to make their own path with no compromise in their worship of God. They end up on a creepy meadow at the edge of a forest that reminds me of my new digs here in Western Massachusetts. Except it is always overcast on this meadow next to the forest, and William and Katherine’s reverence doesn’t seem to be of much help. It seems like God has mark against them. Something in their dreary lives they must have inspired his animosity. Maybe it was from all that praying and prostrating of themselves.

All this is a hint to expect nothing in the way of humor or levity in Witch. Get your Pilgrim spirit on and start channeling sermons like Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. For it’s calamity after calamity in Witch and actual witchcraft seems to be at best a figment of their imaginations. Still, what else but witchcraft could cause their infant son to be mysteriously snatched away from them? It certainly doesn’t help matters when their blossoming daughter Thomasin (Anya Taylor-Joy), perhaps as a small act of rebellion against all the excessive Christianity, suggests to her younger siblings that she is a witch. Mostly Thomasin like most of the family seems to be dealing with PTSD. Their family may aspire to be devout but needs a lot of family therapy instead not to mention some fertile land. But all they have is each other and their good book and it’s not enough.

One thing is clear: the movie couldn’t have cost much to make. One short plantation scene and we are out in the middle of nowhere for the rest of the movie. Their farm is mostly a hovel and their efforts at farming aren’t working out. Is it the hunger and malnutrition that cause them to do loopy things? William takes his boy Caleb (Harvey Scrimshaw) into the woods to try to shoot their way to prosperity and William only manages to hurt himself all while hiding this from his wife.

Meanwhile director Eggers keeps throwing metaphors at us that you don’t know whether to take seriously or not. A wild rabbit eludes being shot and shows up at moments of great crisis. A sign of fertility? Things happen in the woods that may involve a witch but it’s hard to tell. Is it that or is all the PTSD causing the kids to hallucinate? They are obviously not getting their daily Flintstone vitamin. Whatever is bad goes to worse and it won’t be spoiling much to say it all devolves into the worst. Moreover, it’s a violent movie and quite gross in many places.

So that’s what you get: a lot of really good acting, an intimate story of life in the wilderness in early Puritan New England, metaphors like the rabbit and a ram and — not to spoil too much – a lot of people in this family will meet untimely ends. Thomasin seems to be the one most between a rock and a hard place. Her mom suspects she is a witch and wants her banished, but is too busy dealing with other traumas to do much about it. William is trying hard to be godly and devout but the harder he tries the more nature and real life proves his better. All this plus a lot of 17th century dialog that is accurate for the period but hard to parse; it’s like listening to Shakespeare but without the poetry.

So I think you will either walk out of the theater feeling unsatisfied or you will find some solace in the fine acting and directing and maybe see a meta-meaning to the film. This is one puzzle you can’t put together. Maybe it’s a movie designed to be a Rorschach test. Maybe it’s just a mess. Build your own answer. It’s a dreary bit of cinema but it is well done for whatever that is worth.

2.7 on my four-point scale. Generally this movie should be avoided unless movies with metaphors intrigue you, you want to scratch some Wiccan tendencies (and this will likely leave you unsatisfied) or you want to see really good child actors for a change. Scrimshaw does have an amazing death throes scene. You might want to go just for that.

Rating: ★★¾☆ 

Ending the privileged caste

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps you’ve seen the “This is water” video. If you haven’t, spend nine minutes or so watching it:

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and if you keep up on contemporary American politics it’s not hard to understand why. We tend to take for granted what is given to us. For example, I appreciated my father who passed away last month but at the same time I took him for granted. I assumed most sons had fathers of his caliber. It wasn’t until many decades later – and particularly after having gone through the fatherhood process myself – that I realized how exceptional he was. I was barely able to emulate him for one child. He did it for eight of us.

Most of us go through life vaguely aware at best of the enormous resources expended on our behalf. Like a fish in a fishbowl, we take them for granted. The easiest ones to appreciate are our parents, who also become the easiest to despise if they don’t live up to our expectations. It takes a village to raise a child, Hillary Clinton opined in her book, but it takes much more than a village. It takes resources from the family level to the international level. These include clean water (something the residents of Flint, Michigan no longer take for granted), committed teachers, police, our military, ministers, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, doctors, orthodontists and even diplomats. The list is endless. In general, the more you can avail yourself of these resources, the higher the standard of living and your opportunities are likely to be.

Some of us are more favored than others. As we grow to understand this, our privilege becomes painful to acknowledge and sets up cognitive dissonance. At some level we of some privilege realize that our privilege was purchased at the expense of someone else’s. The dissonance generally results in denial. I am seeing it played out on the national stage, particularly in the candidacy of Donald Trump. Trump is riding collective white cognitive dissonance to a likely Republican Party nomination. Why? It’s because it is easier for many of us whites to support someone like this than to acknowledge, or worse address the bald fact that we are greatly disproportionately privileged. It’s not that we are better than other people, it’s that we got special treatment because we live inside a privileged caste generations in the making. Just as the fish is not aware of the water most of us choose to be deliberately ignorant of our privileged status.

In fact many whites in the United States are not privileged at all. Visit Appalachia and you will see plenty of them. Their lives are just as unprivileged and harsh as is a black child’s living in public housing in Southeast Washington D.C. and may be worse. Nonetheless, many of these whites won’t acknowledge this. They sincerely believe that because they are white they are better than the non-whites. In fact, Trump and other Republican candidates are exploiting them by pretending to throw the shield of white privilege over them, privileges that largely do not exist.

The Republican message is in two parts. First, it’s that because you are white you are better and deserve privilege and if you vote for the others you will lose that privilege. Second, is that you are “temporarily impoverished millionaires”. You just need to do a few things by yourself (never with the help of others) to become successful.

Both these messages are lies but are lies that most of us cannot acknowledge even to ourselves. On the first point, we all know innately that skin color has no more bearing on your capacity than does eye color. We even say these words while doing largely the opposite, and most of us aren’t aware of our inconsistency. On the second point we also know this is a myth with only a tiny kernel of truth. This perhaps had some truth in the past, when there were fewer hurdles to success. It’s painfully obvious that today to really succeed you need lifelong coaching and resources, plus a certain amount of tenacity and luck. You cannot rise from humble shoeshine boy to Elon Musk through tenacity alone. In Musk’s case you have to inhabit a rich technological world and have both the talent and resources to ride these changes to your own success and profit. This won’t happen to poor working class Appalachians or black children in Southeast Washington D.C. It’s not completely impossible, but your odds of winning the lottery are much better. Perhaps that explains why so many middle and lower income people play the lottery in the first place.

For someone like me who is white, privileged and can see that his success is largely a result of the rich nutrient “water” in which I was raised, the question then becomes what should I do about it. Should I emulate Jesus and give all my riches to the poor? Should I help out in soup kitchens? Just how much of my treasure and time should I give back? Of course, I give back already. I do give money to charity; in fact it’s an item in the family budget, currently $250 a month. Much of it goes to Planned Parenthood, environmental causes, a local food bank and a local abused women’s shelter. On the latter, I recently had coffee with an outreach director of the local women’s shelter and offered my time as a volunteer, coach and mentor; however I could be of use. Since I am otherwise retired, I don’t have lack of time as an excuse.

Perhaps my efforts deserve a pat on the back, but considering how privileged I have been in this life it deserves not even that. Of course I am quite interested in changing the dynamics, which is why I am a Bernie Sanders supporter. It’s quite clear to me that this institutional racism and classism is baked into our laws. To truly address these problems, laborers first have to be paid a living wage. Needless to say Donald Trump and all the other Republican candidates are running away from this idea, which has the effect of keeping the same failed policies in place. This in turn ensures more decades of inequality and will effective keep the others in poverty and in their place for future generations. Increasingly, we are the others and we are voting against our own best interests. Most of the lemmings following Donald Trump are being used to their own disadvantage.

I do know at some point I will inherit some money. My father left everything to my stepmother, but their wills are similar. When she dies all of us children (including our stepmother’s) will get 5% of their estate. I have no idea how much their estate is worth, but I’m guessing it’s about a million dollars. So perhaps I will inherit $50,000 or so.

I have been talking about this future windfall with my wife. We should not need the money to improve our standard of living and in our case $50,000 really doesn’t buy a change in our standard of living anyhow. Our daughter will get a hefty share of our estate when we are gone. $50,000 though can do a whole lot for someone further down the food chain.

When the windfall finally arrives, I plan to find one underprivileged but promising person and use it to move them a rung up the ladder. Aside from greatly reducing my own standard of living (which is actually reasonably modest but better than most), giving away my inheritance is the only significantly meaningful thing I can do, but only if done right. If it moves one poor but talented person from a life behind a fast food counter to doing something that gives them both meaning and income, it may set about a cycle of virtuous changes that may take many generations to flower. I am unlikely to witness these, as I will be planted six feet underground. It seems that the best I can do to make amends is to plant a seed, water it while I can and hope.

Craigslist casual encounters weirdness: March 2016 (Worcester, MA) edition

The Thinker by Rodin

In my monthly samplings of weird but reasonably local Craigslist casual encounters postings, I’ve missed Worcester (it’s pronounced “wooster”), Massachusetts. It’s about an hour east of where we are living. I don’t think about it principally because I haven’t visited it, just driven through it instead. But it is Massachusetts’ second largest city with close to 200,000 people. Situated a bit outside Boston’s outer beltway, it’s had a reputation for being a faded industrial city, one of many here in the Northeast. It also has its own Craigslist community so it’s likely to have plenty of people into weird stuff. I’ll get to that in a minute.

But first, let’s take a look at my February Craigslist post statistics. It’s been a very slow month for fans of my Craigslist posts. I can document at only 156 web hits in February, but site traffic in general was very slow last month. There were just 1514 web page views, so my Craigslist traffic was just ten percent of total traffic. 69 of those hits were for my popular May 2015 post about Hartford’s Craigslist casual encounters postings.

There is a light snow falling here today. Let’s see if this is suppressing the creativity of posters in the Worcester area. Pulling up the first page of posts I see:

  • 25 men looking for a woman
  • 61 men looking for man
  • 4 men looking for a couple
  • 2 men looking for a transgender
  • 5 women looking for a man
  • 0 women looking for a woman or a couple
  • 0 couples looking for anyone
  • 1 transgender looking for a man

So right off the bat it looks like men will be dominating the posts this month. Here we go!

  • Do you know what a tribute is? I mean in the kinky world of Craigslist. I had to look it up but it apparently involves a man jerking off on a picture of a hot woman and perhaps sending it to the woman hoping she will be aroused. If I were a woman and received one of these I would be calling the cops not to mention running for the Purex! In any event here’s a definitely weird post from a 52-year-old man from Acton looking for a man who will jerk him off on a picture of his wife. Curiously you have to do this while he is actually watching her, albeit surreptitiously, clothed or naked. Wow! This is exactly the sort of gem that makes this area so special! Just when you think you have seen it all, something new pops up. And it was the first post at the top of the page!
  • Even if you are “gurl” friendly, you will want to avoid this ugly “woman” from Milford. “She” gives you plenty of pictures just in case the first one isn’t enough to convince you to hurry to the next ad. Maybe you should choose this 37-year-old gurl.
  • I’m definitely behind on how sex reassignment surgery is done. Not feeling the inclination myself, it’s a mystery to me how the surgeons do this magic. Apparently in male to female surgery, the surgeon gets to shape the new woman’s private parts including her most sensitive spot, the clitoris. And that’s what this 51-year-old Worcester man is looking for: a new woman with an extra large clitoris. Presumably nature doesn’t provide this naturally to many women. It also helps if you are a “squirter”. Anyhow, if you got one, hit him up! He’d best not wait by his mailbox for replies.
  • He’s 52, divorced, from Shrewsbury and has a sandbox he wants a woman to play in with him. Ladies, bring your plastic shovel and bucket!
  • This is strange: a man looking for a couple so the woman can watch while he deep throats her husband. All this plus he’s 58. He must be particular however as you must live in Worcester.
  • If you are a 23-year-old male virgin perhaps making your first sexual experience with a couple is not a bad way to get introduced to sex. It’s unclear what role if any the husband has in this other than as voyeur. Just in case the couple ad doesn’t work out he also has a more traditional ad.
  • He’s 46-years-old, a recent widower and actually from Rhode Island and needs a fuck buddy while presumably he works through his grief. Or maybe since he’s looking he’s beyond that stage. Anyhow, unlike most of these posters he looks like a normal guy, so hit him up, ladies.
  • There are lots of bad things that can happen in a casual encounter, but a lot that can be avoided. Here’s a gay 45-year-old man from Winchendon who wants you to bring a camera so you can join him in taking pictures of them naked. As I’ve noted before, testosterone makes men suggest crazy things and this is definitely one of them.
  • He’s 42 and from Webster and is looking for Jennifer Sherman so that he can peak at her through her window again. I do hope this was consensual last time. Any Jennifer Shermans in the Webster area should lie low for a while and if asked say it must have been that other Jennifer Sherman. Which brings up another unwritten rule for these encounters: if you are stupid enough to go through with them, never tell him your last name.
  • He’s young, from Worcester, has nice abs and wants to see you (a woman) gain weight. No, really!
  • She 27 and really likes dominant men, so much so that her dominant husband is not dominant enough. So hubby needs help from a second super dominant man to finally put her in her place.
  • In a similar vein, here’s a couple from Worcester looking for a gay or bi guy to join them because she gets off on seeing man on man, or at least a man enjoying her husband. That sounds fair given that so many men are into watching lesbians. The ultimate goal here is double penetration of the same orifice.

While few women are posting in Worcester, I am impressed by the weird postings mostly from men in Worcester, so it’s definitely worth a return visit.

More in April.

Review: Spotlight

The Thinker by Rodin

It’s not too hard to find the year’s best picture in theaters immediately after it wins the award. That’s where we were yesterday, in part because Tuesday means cheap date night: only $5.75 a ticket all day. If nothing else a Best Picture award suggests the movie is unlikely to be a loser. Spotlight won the award this year, against a host of other worthy contenders and my personal favorite of the bunch (of those I’ve seen), Mad Max: Fury Road. But first, a little rant.

Can anyone recall a Best Picture that was not released near the end of the year? I can’t. Why is this? It’s unclear to me but it is unfair. My personal suspicion is that those in the Academy who have voting privileges suffer from long term memory loss. But they do remember what they have seen recently, which is why it seems these pictures always seem to win in the end. Recognizing the reality the studios probably deliberately hold what they think is their best stuff for the end of the year. At least Mad Max: Fury Road was nominated even though it was outside of the cycle as was The Martian.

Anyhow, I set my expectations high for Best Picture, which left me leaving the theater after seeing Spotlight somewhat disappointed. It’s obviously not a bad movie. If you’ve seen All the President’s Men forty years earlier, you’ll know the plot. In this case the bad guy is not the President of the United States, but the entire Roman Catholic Church. Spotlight is the story of a group of Boston Globe reporters who broke the sex abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic Church, but more specifically within the Boston archdiocese. Boston though was just the tip of this iceberg, actually the tip of the tip. The excitement, such as it is in this movie, is from understanding the magnitude of the abuse, as it becomes clear at the end of the movie. It also comes from understanding why these crimes are so horrendous.

So it’s an interesting story full of twists and turns as you would expect but like All the President’s Men you know how it’s going to end up. The priests mess up a lot of kids, but no one actually dies, except possibly their souls. There’s not even a car chase. What comprises an exciting moment is definitely relative, but there is one near the climax as you would expect when one of the reporters (Mike, played by Mark Ruffalo) runs to the courthouse to get copies of some recently unsealed documents before the competition does. You take what you can get.

What you get is certainly good acting but nothing hugely out of the ordinary. Spotlight is an investigative team at the Globe overseen by Robby Robinson (Michael Keaton). Robby’s two reporters Sacha (Rachel McAdams) and Mike do most of the tedious grunt work. Fortunately they are well supported by the Globe’s staff, which is undergoing some reorganization. The big change is the new executive editor Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) who basically gives the Spotlight crew their marching orders. At first it’s unclear how this new fancy pants editor from Florida will do in cold and Catholic Boston, but he ends up fitting in pretty well with these Boston-bred reporters. This includes in their managerial chain Ben Bradley Jr. (yes, son of the editor featured in All the President’s Men) played by John Slattery of Mad Men fame.

There is no Deep Throat or dramatic scenes in parking garages in this movie. Much of the action takes place on doorsteps or in cafes where the reporters interview attorneys and abused victims. They form a tight and driven ensemble but soon sense a stonewall, which is the Catholic Church, which is deftly defending itself from potential legal action through a lot of cash payments, victim intimidation and legal tricks.

The best parts of the movie are the interviews with the abuse victims. Even if you are tuned into the scale of the church’s cover up, it still feels astounding when reporters fully uncover just how large of a cover up this is. Mostly the team succeeds through tenacity and wearing out lots of shoe leather.

The grubby feeling of the Boston Globe is well done, as are the cubicles stacked with papers where the reporters work. The makeup is minimal in this movie. Michael Keaton (whose Bird Man movie last year won Best Picture) is not aging well; in fact he looks much older than he is. Kudos perhaps to the actors for not caring. Ruffalo too looks incredibly ordinary and no Bruce Banner. McAdams was hard to recognize under all that frosted blonde hair. All held back much of their acting prowess, which was probably a good choice on the director’s part because it made the movie feel more plausible. Still, you pretty much get the movie you expect. I just did not get a movie that felt to me like it deserved to be in the Best Picture category.

3.2 out of four-points.

Rating: ★★★¼