Character Investment

Facebook Memories has served up the hack job I did on Star Trek: Beyond when that trailer came out. I’ve run across it more than once now, enough times that I feel I should at least mention how wrong I was about the film somewhere on the blog. The trailer I saw on Facebook, shared on Facebook, was not the first trailer, but trailer number two. This trailer.

Star Trek Beyond | Trailer #2 | Paramount Pictures International

When I shared the trailer I simply paraphrased from Abramantions Multiply: It is still an Abramanation. The possibility of suckage is high.

The damn trailer has the Bad Robot logo on it. I consider that to be fair warning of impending suckage after the disaster that was LOST seasons 4 through 6. I suffered through all of LOST, the Abramanator will not trick me into liking his work again. I tried. I really did. I tried to make sense of those last seasons of LOST. I tried watching the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Then I declared Trek dead. The Nutrek reboots are bad in many ways, as I and others have gone into great detail to describe in the past. Details that long-time readers of this blog will know about. They are bad in ways that a lot of popular movies are bad these days (Star Wars 7. Mad Max 4) but also bad because of the disconnect with the universe that Gene set out to create.

However, I did finally break down and watch Star Trek: Beyond, just as I watched Star Trek: Into Darkness edited for television and wished I could have my two hours back. After watching Star Trek: Beyond I had to admit that not all Nutrek sucks ass to an equal degree. In fact, Star Trek: Beyond really does try to go beyond, to leave all the previous attempts to tell grand movie stories using Star Trek as a vehicle, and just try to do a Star Trek story as a movie.

Simon Pegg penned a decent little story when he wrote the script. The actors playing the parts delivered their usual best work; and since they weren’t working from the Abramantors crap scripts, the resulting blockbuster spectacle is pretty watchable from just about any perspective that you might come to it. It’s not even bad Trek, per se. There are some points that I might object to from a purist standpoint, but those points can be overruled by watching any number of classic episodes that diverged from Gene Roddenberry’s strict guidelines for how the Trek universe manifested itself. At least one of the episodes that breaks his rules is one he wrote himself. So there are flaws that a purist might take exception to, but anyone trying to watch it with disbelief suspended and a willingness to let the story progress unprotested (how to approach watching any film) will probably walk out of a showing counting it as time well spent.

So, apologies to the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond. For the first time since First Contact they produced a show that was truly worth watching. They produced a payoff for all the fans who have hung on through decades of bad filmmaking. The characters we’ve loved since the sixties finally felt like they might actually be the same characters that we fell in love with, even though they were portrayed by different actors.

Paramount should try to make sure that Abrams’ company logo does not appear on any more Star Trek properties if they want to win fans back to the show. Abrams has burned too many bridges among the fan community to be welcome even producing films that have any kind of fan following. This should have been clear after the failure of Star Trek: Into Darkness. When he screwed up Star Wars after screwing up Star Trek, it has to be painfully obvious that he screws up everything he touches.

I mentioned it more than once on Facebook.

But when all is said and done, it’s just another summer dark ride. Lots of great stuff to look at, lots of things exploding, lots of spectacular FX, and when it’s over, you get out of the chair and go pee. There’s not a lot here to argue about. There’s no moral dilemma.

What attracted me to classic Trek is that the show was about something. Every episode had a chunk of idea in it, big enough to chew on for a while.

Too much of what passes for entertainment today is about justifying cruelty to someone else. Not enough is about sitting down and finding a way to avoid the violence.

And I wonder if that’s a reflection of what we’ve become … or one of the reasons we’ve become what we’ve become.

David Gerrold

Treason

During my recent convalescence, I watched a lot of television. A lot of television for me, considering I haven’t watched TV much since cutting the cable three years ago. I went through the several series on Netflix that I mentioned previously, but I also spent a lot of time watching several Ken Burns’ PBS series that I’ve had bookmarked for years.

The one that stuck in my mind was The Vietnam War, especially episode seven. You know the one. The one where we discover that Richard Nixon committed treason, and Lyndon Johnson caught him lying about it? For some reason, that series and that episode specifically reminds me of the political climate of today. More than one person has said to me,

You can’t say Donald Trump has committed treason because he hasn’t been conspiring with anyone we have declared war on.

…and I’ve found that non-denial denial quite revealing. Yes it is true that he hasn’t been shown to be conspiring with anyone we are currently at war with, but it is rather convenient that congress doesn’t declare war on enemies anymore. It’s also rather convenient that conventional war is limited to puppet governments and so-called third world regions, while information warfare is carefully treated as different from conventional war. As if destruction of a country’s political and social structure is somehow less damaging than the wholesale bombing campaigns of previous generations.

I mean, it is easier on the furniture and the infrastructure. It costs fewer lives, for the most part. But the uncertainty created by the mis- and dis-information campaigns currently being waged is psychologically as harmful as physical violence. You never know what is true and what is not true these days. All words are lies, especially words that come from government authorities. Sources that most people want to trust, demonstrably cannot be trusted. This has been true since Donald Trump took office proven time and again by investigative reporting.

Just like in Nixon’s time, White House sources deny that the reports are true, but their denials are clearly stamped as false, stamped as face-saving bullshit put out by the Bullshitter-in-Chief. Nixon conspired with Hanoi to prolong the Vietnam war in order to gain the White House. Donald Trump conspired with Vladimir Putin to gain the White House. No, we can’t prove it aside from the synchronicity of events that bear out coordination of efforts. But those events do occur in a properly causal relationship, and Trump did have business interests in Moscow that he still denies existed.

No, we aren’t at war with Russia, so that’s not treason per se. But if you think that just because we aren’t at war with another country, it’s OK to take their stolen information, their disinformation structures and use them against our own people? If you think that is OK, then I seriously have to question your sanity, your loyalty.

I just finished watching All the President’s Men. That line that Robard’s character utters near the end? That line keeps replaying in my head now. Those same pressures that were on the Washington Post back in 1974? Those pressures are on every single American today. There are no more gatekeepers. There is no barrier to information any longer. If we are misinformed, it is because we allow ourselves to be misinformed. Not allowing yourself to be comfortably deluded? That is what it means to be a good citizen. To know what the truth is, and to stick to it no matter the pressure to conform.

“We’re under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there,” Robards’ says. “Nothing’s riding on this except the, uh, First Amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press and maybe the future of the country. Not that any of that matters, but if you guys fuck up again, I’m going to get mad. Good night.”

All The President’s Men

Breaking the Western Mythos

New York Times

From the ACLU: “Two nights ago, an armed civilian militia organization describing itself as the ‘United Constitutional Patriots’ arrested nearly 300 people seeking safety here, including young children, in New Mexico. Other videos appear to show even more recent arrests…”

That’s where I’m going. Right there.

This is the myth, the heroic white cowboy legend, that Trump’s generation sold itself, an America that never was, small, limited, SIMPLE, where problems are solved with a gun and rope and all a good woman needs is a rough man to defend her from the savages outside of town.

When those who call themselves conservatives today talk of conserving “our” history, well, that’s the history they mean and they would erase anyone who does not fit their myth from it — or relegate the rest of us to the help or comic relief.

Stonekettle

If you look below the surface of the Western mythos you will find rare gems of television and Hollywood gold, like the 1950’s television series Maverick. I stumbled across this series a few years ago when James Garner died. I need to backtrack a little bit here.

I grew up watching detective stories at my dad’s feet. He had a weakness for cop dramas. If Hawaii 5-0 or Dragnet or any one of a dozen other shows I could name was on, he was watching it. I didn’t care much for most of the cop shows he watched, but the detective shows like the Rockford Files always intrigued me. Rockford, being an ex-felon, ex-cop, never carried a gun. In the world constructed around the character of James Rockford, it was a liability he didn’t want to have to answer for. If he needed a gun he seemed capable of taking one from whoever was threatening him.

It came as a surprise to me, learning more about him after his death, that the lack of a gun was a limitation that he demanded be written into the stories that he took part in. He felt that the gun was a crutch, it allowed the writers and the actors an easy way out of any situation. Just shoot your way out and you were the hero. Those weren’t the kinds of stories that James Garner wanted to be known for. This was true of Maverick as well as being true of Rockford Files. Guns were only carried by bad guys and lawmen, and the Mavericks had to learn how to turn a losing hand into a winning one by using their minds and the gullibility of the people around them. Rockford couldn’t carry a gun or he would go back to jail, so once again the stories had to be a little more clever in order for them to be interesting to the viewing audience.

Sure there were fistfights and concussions galore in both series, but this was the sixties and seventies. You had to have something to keep the audience watching back then. Dialog was simply not enough to keep them entertained. But the heroes of the series didn’t win because they were the fastest with a gun. They came out on top because they were smarter than their opponents were.

The more standard Westerns never kept my attention as a child. The closest I came to watching standard fare back then was watching The Big Valley or High Chaparral. I can watch Clint Eastwood in virtually any film his production company made and enjoy myself, but shows like Bonanza never held my attention. They were all too predictable.

Comparing what I call a Western with what the average Western looks like, is like saying that Lost in Space and Star Trek are equal because they are both science fiction television shows. I know, this insistence on distinction with a difference makes me an outlier, not the subject of the Stonekettle Facebook post I quoted at the beginning.

I get it.

…And yet there were five seasons of Maverick. There were six seasons of Rockford. A second Maverick series. A Maverick movie. Someone is watching Rockford right now somewhere out in TV land. There has to be a significant number of people like me out there. Like us out there. The question is, are there enough of us? Enough to change the myth? I still hope so.

Facebook comment expanded for the blog.

Hypocrisy in the Ingroup? Unheard of!

Frankly I expected this to not be a thing in 24 hours. The Twitters and the Facespaces and Instamessengers are all aflame, still. I think it has been more than 24 hours now. I’m not sure. I don’t care. Yesterday the conservative trolls started up with the what about Samantha Bee? questions on liberal groups everywhere. Here’s one example image. Conservatives think they’ve got a point, and that the point isn’t on the top of their heads. A point they’re willing to flog endlessly. As I said on that thread,

The finer point that is never made is that if you are offended by comedy sketch artists and think they should be punished for it (aside from losing their jobs. For not being funny enough) then you have completely missed the POINT of comedy. Get a sense of humor, everyone.

The in-group can do no wrong. This is a common problem in politics, liberals defending Samantha Bee when even she admits she crossed a line is just the most recent example of ingroup/outgroup bias. Something I’ve tried hard never to fall prey to.

I roundly criticized Bill Clinton in the 90’s because of his excesses with women, a fact that gets me in trouble with Democrats to this day. He had no business taxing that ass when that ass worked for him in the White House let alone at the governor’s mansion. That is simply not the way you relate to people from a position of authority. When Stormtrumpers throw what about Bill? at me I have always pointed to my own history of not putting up with crap from him, so I have no compunction with holding the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) accountable now.

The motivated numeracy that afflicts political groups is truly troubling. Conservatives do not see the degree of crimes that the OHM is guilty of as being any worse, and probably less detrimental, than what they believe Bill and Hillary Clinton are guilty of. Never mind that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton are demonstrably different people and are not interchangeable characters (no matter how much they sold us on the two for one special we got when we put them in the White House) or that the Clinton murder list that they frequently cite is complete bullshit as are all the other dismissed charges that have been raised over the last twenty-five years.

I’ve started in the middle of the story again. Fuck. I hate it when I do that. Starting from the beginning:

Roseanne Barr set Twitter aflame with a racist tweet that she has since deleted and she was canned for the tweet by the network that airs her show. As I said on a friend’s wall on Facebook three days ago,

I hated Roseanne in its final years in its previous incarnation, I hated the new show from the beginning. What I would like is some honesty from the people who talk about how honest Trump is. The fakery in the new show was so transparent as to make the acting cringe-worthy. …having said that, if only it were this easy to fire a president over embarrassing tweets.

Why did I hate the last few years of Roseanne? Because she had become a fake. She had money by that point. She had plastic surgery and mental health counseling and a marriage failing over creative differences and too much money. She was no longer convincing as the domestic goddess that she was in the beginning. I remember her stand up routines. She has great timing and she is quick and clever. But she doesn’t pull punches and that isn’t becoming in someone who literally has the money to get her way pretty much all the time. Her brand of comedy doesn’t fit coming from someone with money and sense. Maybe she should grow a little sense and she could keep a job.

But then not saying whatever thing comes into your head that sounds funny to you is not how you become famous as a stand up comic. So perhaps she’s still on the comedy track and I simply can’t appreciate her comedy anymore. That is entirely possible.

I don’t like either Roseanne Barr or Samantha Bee. I figured out who Samantha Bee was on The Daily Show. I rarely found her funny then, and I’m still not finding her funny often enough to take the time to watch Full Frontal now. I follow comics, it’s something I do for the occasional laugh. I stop following the comics when they stop making me laugh. I certainly don’t pay to see their shows if I’m not laughing. Most conservatives forget that they were pissed off at Roseanne a decade and more ago when she butchered the Star Spangled Banner at a baseball game, an event that was brought to mind by someone with a question about it on Snopes two days ago,

I remember this well. I remember that I thought it was an overreaction at the time. She was a stand-up comic. Her act (and most comedy acts) include ethnic slurs. If you can’t accept the humor, don’t watch it, read it or listen to it. That doesn’t mean that she shouldn’t get in trouble for her jokes told in bad taste, or for comedy routines (like the OP) that bombed.

What is telling is how many comics who pride themselves with doing mostly ethnic slurs end up supporting people like Trump. Very instructive.

Why are people listening to comics that don’t make them laugh? There isn’t a Rush Limbaugh fan who has laughed at him in a decade or more. Why is that?

Yesterday the creator of the G+ group Conservative Union a man with twenty-six thousand followers decided to troll the members of the G+ group Being Liberal. I’m not one to question the motivations of people who clearly have way more attention than most of us should be comfortable with, especially when their actions are bound to create more distraction and attention for themselves that isn’t of a positive nature. But he decided he’d demand answers of the membership of that group, a group demonstrably populated with more trolls than liberals. Perhaps what Being Liberal needs is a moderator that can make sure that conservative trolls don’t get into the group to stir up ugliness on a regular basis. Moderators that control content like Dan Lewis does for his Conservative Union group. But I’m getting ahead of myself again,

I mean, you post this bullshit here,just JAQ’ing off, as if you are asking something weighty. As if people who don’t follow shock jocks and outrageous comedians are offended by a lot of what passes for public discourse these days (take a number after “grab ’em by the pussy”) and simply adjusts their filters accordingly, and at the same time you demand that we all pay attention because you think this is important.

Well, it isn’t important. Roseanne hasn’t been important in twenty years and Samantha Bee’s fifteen minutes are about up. Nobody cares except for white nationalists and anarchists who want to see America made white again. People who support Trump and won’t admit that they are racists for supporting him. Those are the people who need to wake the fuck up.

Paul Sizer

He invokes ad hominems. Antifa. As if I should think that punching Nazis like Antifa does is somehow unAmerican. I can’t figure out why you shouldn’t punch Nazis, unless it’s some kind of official rally and cops would arrest you for punching them. That I get. Otherwise it seems like the most American thing to do, if you know the person at the other end of your fist is a Nazis. I’m thinking Inglourious Basterds here. Maybe punching isn’t a strong enough response? When I suggest that content control is something everyone profits from he alludes to Antifa. When I suggest I might block him for being a troll (demonstrated) and probably an anarcho-capitalist (suspected) I mean, he doesn’t let just anyone into his groups. Or as I put the rhetorical question to him,

How exactly do you intend to listen to the input of 8 billion people when they all try to speak at once? When every single one of them must be given the attention they demand? Take as long as you need to answer, since I know there isn’t an answer you will admit to.

And when he feigned incomprehension,

It’s a simple question. All 8 billion people on the planet will have something to say and according to the rules you have set up, all of them must be heard. How will you achieve this when all of them will want all of the time you have remaining on earth?

A little FYI is warranted here. I block people I determine that I cannot reason with. I do this on every platform and in every social interaction. If I start talking about the weather in a face to face conversation, you should know that I am blocking you right to your face. I have determined that you are not someone I can reason with. This fact is established over several encounters, so if I see you for the first time and I mention the weather, understand that I don’t say how are you? as a greeting, the most common form of blowing someone off while pretending to care. I simply don’t have time for a lengthy conversation on my journey from here to there. I do not exclude people for reasons other than the ones relevant to the conversation in question at any given time. For what it’s worth, those people are found everywhere, on all sides of every issue. It’s why several hundred people on any given platform cannot see what I write. It’s better for my sanity and health and it is better for their sanity, too. I would say their health as well, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m threatening them, so hot outside today, isn’t it?

The troll and the defenders of Samantha Bee then proceeded to conduct their rolling orgy in a cesspool after I posed the content control question, because that’s what these trolls and the people who feed them do. I didn’t care less then and I still couldn’t care less now. Roseanne should have been fired because she has no intention to conform to some kind of societal norms. Maybe there is a return to decent stand-up routines in her future, I’m not the one to ask on that score. Samantha Bee deserved to be dealt with harshly if she hadn’t apologized. She has. It’s up to her network now, just as it was with Roseanne, when it comes to what happens next.

The thing I’m left with is the hypocrisy. The hypocrisy on all sides when it comes to these issues. Anyone who objects to Samantha Bee using the word cunt in reference to someone in a position of authority in our government (elected or not) should be outraged by this t-shirt proudly worn by Stormtrumpers during the 2016 election that gave us the OHM. Anyone surprised by racism coming from people who support the OHM were not paying attention during the election and have not been paying attention since he took office. Am I surprised by the hypocrisy? I’m surprised that anyone notices hypocrisy since the OHM descended the golden escalator in 2015 and started the shitshow we are in today. 1 year, 132 days, 6 hours, 46 minutes and 44 seconds. That’s how long the OHM had been president when I wrote this. Is he still President? Then the hypocrisy continues. Wake me up when the impeachment hearings start.

It is the work of the mendacious to claim allegiance to a past that we all share, all the while excluding those who don’t fit the mold they create with spurious data. Everyone who lives in America is an American. This fact is demonstrable. Conservatives cannot abide this kind of judgment because exclusion is how they secure the zero sum game they have created.


1 year, 290 days, 6 hours, 30 minutes into the Trump presidency. Yesterday I listened to an episode of Stay Tuned with Preet Bharara that featured Samantha Bee. I may have to revise my opinion of her. She is actually pretty funny in the episode.

I’m doing my best not to pay attention to the midterm elections going on right now as I type this. I’d like to think Americans are smart enough to know when they’ve been had by a shyster like the OHM is. It’s just a little more than disheartening to realize that Americans historically have been even more clueless than they were in 2016 when they voted for the OHM in the first place. So, I’d like to hope, but I have been burned before when trying to hope. So I’ll plan for the zombie apocalypse instead. At least that isn’t likely to happen. I hope.

Not Bedazzled. GroundHog Day.

“I’m here to tell you that there is an enormous difference between those who want power only to benefit themselves and those who seek power for the betterment of us all.”

Jim Wright, Stonekettlestation, Hunting the Unicorn — to Extinction

That take home line from Hunting the Unicorn — to Extinction is worth including in the blog based on its own merits. But the subject of that Stonekettle Station article is something that is at the core of all politics and one of the reasons I find myself restless in the Democratic party right now; uncomfortable but determined to see this thing through to the end.

Jim was telling liberals and progressives that claimed they could not vote for Democratic candidates to stop it. Conservatives, we know you won’t vote Democratic. You proved that when you held your nose and voted for the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) instead of Hillary Clinton. As I’ve said many, many times, first saying it in Hillary for President? the Republicans were going to nominate a nutjob in 2016 because the Republican party is certifiably insane. They don’t know what they want and they just couldn’t vote for that woman. So they voted for a serial-philandering, money-laundering tax cheat instead when they could have had John Kasich, a perfectly reasonable fellow, someone that is quite demonstrably sane if a little preoccupied with eating. The Republican party has grown more and more dysfunctional as the Tea Party and Religious Right exert more and more control of the process of selecting its candidates, wresting control from traditional Republicans who find themselves ill at ease in the presence of so much openly expressed white nationalism and Christianist dogma. The current state of schizophrenia that the Republican party is experiencing is also proof positive that plurality voting does lead to the worst candidates rising to the top of the ticket and attaining office. Never argue with math.

So when the Democrats nominated Hillary, and why not, she was the most admired woman in the world more than once; and the inevitable misogynistic blurring of the lines between Bill Clinton’s actions and her still being married to him occurred, creating this illusion of taint on Hillary that the media was more than happy to feed on, a distinct vein of fear of Democratic corruption emerged. I see most of this as sour grapes. You never get the candidates you want, and if you do get the candidates you want, most of the time they can’t win anyway because you are not we and we elect leaders. That simple phrase is politics in a nutshell. But this dissatisfaction with Democratic business as usual persists. How much of it is real and how much of it is counter-intelligence operations by Russian disinformation services is entirely open to question.

Olga Yurkova, TED2018 Inside the fight against Russia’s fake news empire

The same people who refused to vote for Hillary, but were not Conservatives or Republicans, are still insisting that they can’t vote for Democrats who won’t swear an oath to support every, single, thing that these people think are important. They’d rather stay home and pretend they are doing us all a favor than to participate in the process and maybe be responsible for some candidate or other that they might disagree with getting elected. The point, as Jim makes several times in his essay, is that even not voting is a choice and if you don’t vote then you voted for the OHM and all his supporters anyway. And you did this because even not choosing is a choice with consequences which you cannot avoid. The current administration is a poster child for the fact that not voting leads to outcomes which are every bit as undesirable as any other you can possibly imagine. A textbook case for mandating voting and participation in the process at all levels, but that is an argument for another essay.

This essay is about the allusion that Jim chose to make in order to relate his point. He picked Bedazzled. He made a pretty decent case for it. But everything that applies to Bedazzled as an allusion goes just as well with a different, better film. The movie he should have drawn comparisons to is Groundhog Day. In Groundhog Day the title character doesn’t even know what he wants in the first sequence that he is doomed to repeat for years of time during the film’s duration, just like more Americans have no clue what it is they want. It is only after he has dallied with every other distraction in the terrifyingly small world he is stuck in that he seizes on the one thing that might save him, the wholly genuine character of the producer he’s been stuck with for all these years, all those years one repetitive day at a time, a character beautifully played by Andie MacDowell. It is at that point that he begins to move in positive directions, finally able to leave the hell of Groundhog Day that he’s been stuck in for much longer than the audience that watches the film is. He gets to leave because he finally becomes worthy of moving on from that place and time. Is the universe interfering, saving him from wasting his entire life on pursuits that were beneath him? Who knows? What we as the audience know is that the criteria set out for Phil have been met. He is more than he was. He can appreciate others for what they are.

It is true that the protagonist does learn his lesson by the end of Bedazzled as Jim outlines. Maybe the plotline of Groundhog Day is too highbrowed for beer swigging average joes. Maybe Jim has it right and Bedazzled is the film that the people he’s trying to appeal to prefer. I’ll happily step aside and let the parade march on. But the journey of Phil Connors is demonstrably the exact same journey that the malcontents who refuse to make themselves better citizens need to take. If you want better government, you have to be better citizens, Jim’s mantra for several years now. They have to accept that the problem is them and not every around them. Hopefully they manage to do this before killing themselves more than a score of times and spending a purported thirty-four years stuck in a time loop. In the meantime I’ll still be here repeating what I’ve been saying for the better part of two years now myself. There is no way forward until we acknowledge and atone for the mistakes that were made that brought us here. Caveat Emptor.

Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn’t one today. 

Phil Connors

Thank You! to TWD for Ending my Cable Addiction

April 4th, 2016 – RottenTomatoes posed the question what did you think of The Walking Dead season six finale?

I am thoroughly ambivalent about The Last Day on Earth. The episode didn’t fit with the tenor of the rest of the season. It smacked of torture porn and marked the end of an unknown character, probably more than one character.  I’m waiting to see what happens next, for the first time in six seasons of loyal viewing, to decide if I’m still going to watch. More torture porn will make it not watching.

One of the other commenters observed to me I’m thinking that the season 5 finale marked a good point to end the series on a high note.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that the Alien sequels ended with Aliens. That’s right, there are only two Alien movies in my headcanon. Hicks & Ripley settled down and adopted Newt after arriving safely back on Earth. End of story. Having already written my own endings for popular fiction in the past, albeit in my own head, writing my own end to The Walking Dead (TWD) will not be a problem. They all died. End of story. The season 5 finale was more positive, but also less definitive. I really was wondering what would happen next after watching that finale, a feeling I’m completely lacking this time around.


Someone resurrected that RottenTomatoes zombie thread (pun intended) with a spam comment today (January 29th, 2018) and while I was reading back through the comments I noticed that the one after mine took the time to break down how the camera perspective meant Glenn was the guy being beaten to death with a baseball bat.

Beaten to death, with a baseball bat. Let that sink in for a few, because it is a wakeup call. One of the most popular shows on television ends its sixth season with one of the most loved characters on TV of the time possibly being beaten to death with a barbed-wire wrapped baseball bat. We’ve come a long way from The Andy Griffith Show, just to mention another totally random show featuring a character that has a sheriff as its lead. Even if you compare TWD to Gunsmoke, the changes in America’s viewing culture is quite shocking.

It also bears noting that there is a certain amount of fatalism inherent in shows like TWD. All of the characters will die unremarked by anyone around them, because it is a story about the zombie apocalypse. No one will be left to record their last words, because there will be no one to recount the story. This is above and beyond the fatalism of TWD comic book fans who already know how your favorite characters die in their comic books. A literalism that they attempt to write onto the screen with every passing episode.

I can safely say, with not a hint of spoilers, the death wasn’t Glenn’s as the other commenter described. Not that Glenn didn’t die anyway. As I said, no spoilers. I binge-watched season seven on Netflix this past month, prepping to binge watch the final season this fall. Seventh season’s viewing numbers were so low that AMC decided to end the show on a high note and wrap it up with a second season of Negan vs. Rick.

I should thank TWD for making me finally cut the cable. Within a month of watching the season seven opener, the Wife and I decided we didn’t need to spend money on cable television that we weren’t going to be watching anyway. With BBC America moved to the even more expensive tier of cable subscription than the one we had, there was nothing on the TV we were overpaying for that we wanted to watch. Aside from which, it was less jarring to watch TWD on Netflix as a binge event, and not paying for cable TV has saved me a couple of thousand dollars by now.

On the subject of the eighth and final season of TWD, I’m having a real hard time believing Negan isn’t dead yet, much less figuring out why anyone would follow the son of a bitch anywhere. My experience over the last two years of TWD has shown me that you can’t take comic books and make videos out of the stories and characters directly (as if the DC movies are not proof of this already) it is better to let people who understand the medium of television write for that medium themselves.


The promo for the mid-season opener popped up on my feed yesterday asking,

2 weeks left. Is the Kingdom ready for one last stand? #TWD

TWD on G+

Of course, the pro and con trolls then proceeded to make hay over their various opinions on the subject of TWD in general and not the final half of the final season in particular, including one particular troll who threatened bodily harm to the naysayers. I haven’t watched the first half yet, not being willing to spend actual cash on seeing it before the season is finished. But opinions? I have a few.

I started with Threatening  us with injury is a punishable crime; as is everything Negan does in the show. I don’t accept that the character of Negan is realistically drawn or portrayed. I don’t accept that people will simply do as they’re told because they are afraid. There are too many examples of the contrary being true throughout history. The Governor was far more believable as a character, which means TWD has done the evil leader thing already in the show, and done it better previously.

Religious zealots who adopt labels like savior, groups that submerge the self, like Fight Club and Tyler Durden, they have a certain way of speaking and thinking, at least on the screen. This is important if you want your audience to come along with you for the ride. The first Negan’s, the first saviors our heroes meet in TWD? They displayed this behavior in a vague sense. It was a nice teaser, as far as teasers go.

Unfortunately it was a tease that was completely lost when we meet the Negan himself. He is no Tyler Durden. He doesn’t suffer to show his followers his dedication to the cause. The Negan is just another dictator. Kill him and the cult of personality dissolves because the power, the person, is lost. The problem of repercussions is negated if the saviors fall apart without him. The more complex, religiously motivated cult-like group is probably what the comic portrays (I don’t know or really care) but the writers for the television show wrote something else.  Negan grooms his people to blindly follow him. Without him they are nothing. This is just basic character motivation here. It isn’t hard to follow.

No, Negan would have been dead the first time he handed Rick the bat. Be honest. There wasn’t enough saviors there to do anything except die. The show has been torture porn since the end of season seven. I have only continued watching out of vague curiosity as to how the writers will complete the story. I ceased caring about the characters somewhere about minute 45 of Last Day on Earth. I ceased caring out of  a sense of self-preservation. It was clear through the course of that episode that the writers were purposefully tormenting the viewers with the death of their beloved characters. I don’t have time for that kind of mental illness.

If you are enjoying torture porn, you might want to ask yourself why? It’s a question everyone watching should ask themselves, and at least be truthful with yourself about the answer. What the answer implies is between you and your conscience alone. After all, no one will remember why you died in the zombie apocalypse. They won’t even remember that you lived.

Online comments reposted to the blog, with an addendum. “It is always now on the internet”

Czar Putin Declares Pogrom Against Russian Love Story

That is the headline that The Guardian should have gone with when they wrote this story,

Christian State-Holy Rus, a radical Russian Orthodox movement, warned in February that “cinemas will burn” if Matilda was screened.

This month, another Orthodox Christian activist destroyed part of a cinema in Yekaterinburg, the central Russian city where the royal family was murdered, by driving into it in a minibus containing gas cylinders and a barrel of petrol.

Uchitel, whose film studio in St Petersburg was targeted in an attempted arson attack in August, says police have ignored his appeals for protection.

Natalia Poklonskaya, a prominent MP with Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party, has said the film “insults the feelings of religious believers”, a criminal offence in Russia since 2013, and has called for it to be banned.

With the declaration by the Russian Orthodox Church that this film should not be seen held firmly in our view, with a member of Putin’s government calling for prosecution of the makers of this film, it becomes almost a human duty and definitively an American’s patriotic duty to take the time to watch this film. There is no more basic difference between Russia and the United States than the widely misunderstood notion of freedom of speech.

2017 Matilda Trailer It took me a bit to find a trailer with English subtitles.
I would love to see the film dubbed in English. Here’s hoping there is an English version.

The last Czar of Russia, Czar Nicholas, was the equivalent to the pope of the Russian Orthodox Church, and has been elevated to sainthood in the revived church. A church which has been in ascendancy along with Vladimir Putin, and not coincidentally by many accounts. What is left unsaid in this pogrom against the film is that Vladimir Putin should be seen as the current figurative head of the church (the Pope in Catholicism) or Czar of Russia; or would be seen that way if his hand was allowed to be seen initiating this persecution of free expression in his country. Vladimir Putin is far too canny to be seen so transparently manipulating his people.

When Jesus Christ Superstar was originally on Broadway, it was scandalous,

The Broadway show and subsequent productions were condemned by some religious groups. Tim Rice was quoted as saying “It happens that we don’t see Christ as God but simply the right man at the right time at the right place.” Some Christians considered such comments to be blasphemous, the character of Judas too sympathetic and some of his criticisms of Jesus offensive. At the same time, some Jews claimed that it bolstered the antisemitic belief that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death by showing most of the villains as Jewish (Caiaphas and the other priests, Herod) and showing the crowd in Jerusalem calling for the crucifixion. The musical was banned in South Africa for being “irreligious”. A 1972 production of the play was banned in the Hungarian People’s Republic for “distribution of religious propaganda”.

When The Last Temptation of Christ was first released on film, it was boycotted around the country and protested outside the headquarters of the film’s creators,

Because of these departures from the gospel narratives—and especially a brief scene wherein Jesus and Mary Magdalene consummate their marriage—several Christian groups organized vocal protests and boycotts of the film prior to and upon its release. One protest, organized by a religious Californian radio station, gathered 600 protesters to picket the headquarters of Universal Studios’ then parent company MCA. One of the protestors dressed up as MCA’s Chairman Lew Wasserman and pretended to drive nails through Jesus’ hands into a wooden cross. Evangelist Bill Bright offered to buy the film’s negative from Universal in order to destroy it. The protests were effective in convincing several theater chains not to screen the film. One of those chains, General Cinemas, later apologized to Scorsese for doing so.

I attended a viewing of The Last Temptation of Christ on principle. I’ve actually seen it several times. I won’t sing its praises the way I will Jesus Christ Superstar, but then I’m not a christian and most of the issues that christians objected to in the film miss me by a mile. I think Jesus should have given up his hatred of family and settled down to raise one. He would have lived longer. The world might even have been a better place if he had. If that unexplained tangent confuses you, you probably should go watch The Last Temptation of Christ and retain your American Patriot status.

The creators of Matilda should be lauded for being willing to take on the subject of Czar Nicholas and the end of Czarist Russia, not persecuted for daring to tell a tale deemed to bawdy and uncivilized for a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. I will be paying to watch the movie in a real theater if I can find one showing the film in my area. It is the least I can do to support the arts and freedom of speech across the globe. Every America should go see it because it will piss off Vladimir Putin, if for no other reason. After giving us president Trump, it is the least we can do in return.

I originally titled this piece Pope Putin Declares Jihad Against Russian Love Story. I mixed the religious connotations on purpose; Jihad for the violence the label recalls to mind, Pope because most people don’t know that the Czar is the pope of  the Russian Orthodox church. As usual, my attempts at clever word play are too clever by half. Now revised to its current form, it stands in testament to the fact that clever headlines never again sound as clever as they did the moment you come up with them. Most of them just start sounding offensive and stupid. It still should be Czar Vladimir, not Putin. Czar Romanov wouldn’t tell you which one of the Romanovs was currently the Czar, and it is a duplication of terms since the house of Romanov was the Czar’s house for several hundred years. But Vladimir has too many syllables, and Vlad is somebody else in history. We’re not doing vampire stories on this blog, and Vlad the Impaler wasn’t Russian.

Free State of Jones

Smithsonian

We watched Free State of Jones starring one of my favorite Austinites, Matthew McConaughey, Friday night. I really, really wanted to like this movie, which is probably why its meh presentation frustrated and disappointed me so thoroughly. It’s slow in places. The film makes some unexpected turns and time jumps that leave the audience puzzling over events and characters, distracting them from what is happening on the screen.

Perhaps another editor could have fixed this problem? It’s really hard to say. Films like this one are a testament to just how hard it is to get even the most gripping stories and well-written scripts in front of audiences in a form that they will understand and appreciate. Thousands of people have to do their jobs flawlessly. The directors, editors, and producers all have to have the same vision of the finished product in mind the entire time that the film is in production. The actors have to create believable characterizations that can speak to the viewing audience. The film crew and audio crew have to capture those performances flawlessly. If any one group of people fails to do their job, including craft services, that failure will be noticeable in the finished product. If what the audience ends up watching doesn’t connect, for whatever reason, all of those people’s time, energy and dedication can come to naught. It is heartbreaking when this happens to good actors and good stories.

The story of Free State of Jones is one that everyone should be familiar with, but have probably never heard before. It is a portion of the life story of Newt Knight, a plantation owner who never owned slaves while living in the slave state of Mississippi in the years leading up to the Civil War,

“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said Moulds. “Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat. A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”
Smithsonian Mag.,The True Story of the ‘Free State of Jones’, March 2016

After volunteering for the Confederate army and being involved in several botched battles with heavy casualties, he deserted the army and returned to Jones County and his now-ruined plantation. All of this is covered in the movie, to some extent. What extent is real and what is contrived for the convenience of filmatic storytelling is open to question; open to question because not even historians agree when it comes to the details of Newt Knight’s life. The one thing they all do seem to agree on is that, after the war was ended and the South was returned to the Union, Newt Knight remained a supporter of equal rights for all without regard to skin color. Which is why he’s still a pariah in his home state and even in the county of Jones, Mississippi. It is also one possible explanation as to why the film about his story is so hard to follow. It’s hard to follow because the principles involved in the film are too close to the subject matter and so cannot see the big picture, the story that needs to be told.

Which is a shame. Because the story of a white Southerner who rebelled against secession, a plantation owner who hated slavery, is exactly the kind of story this country needs right now. It just isn’t the story that the film Free State of Jones ends up telling. Maybe someday the events of that war, the history of slavery in the US, all of it will be far enough in the past that we can give the story of Newt Knight a proper telling in a visual medium. Maybe in that future time there will be a monument to Newt Knight in the Jones county seat, and not a monument to the Confederate soldiers of the Civil War. The existence of that monument is a testament to the fact that the cause of the Civil War still exists in the minds of the people living in the old South and all across the United States. The cause still has converts living in the US right now. Maybe someday we will end that war, if we are lucky.

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” – William Faulkner

Expanded from four sentences, 27 words and a web address, written as a Facebook status. To say I expanded this one is just a bit of an understatement. 

I am a Patriot, and I Love My Country

“The first round of explosions has started.”  –  A July first Facebook status post.

I’m hoping the people who try to burn down our neighborhood every 4th of July will finally make friends in the country so they can go out there and frighten the wildlife. Either that or get someone to drive them downtown for the city’s fireworks display. My dogs hate the explosions and I haven’t celebrated independence day for almost a decade now. Between the dogs and my own disabilities, there is little sense in mucking up the air with burnt offerings to the gods of independence. All of us are dependent on somebody. Some of us are just more cognizant of this fact than others.

The episode of On the Media that was playing in my headphones when I started writing the reply to the above status post was topical for the looming July 4th holiday. A similar holiday also happens on July 1st in Canada. Canada is celebrating 150 years as a nation. Except they really aren’t. Celebrating, that is. Not in the way Americans would recognize.


On The Media Happy Birthday, Canada? June 29, 2017

“Canadians kinda don’t need [patriotism] we have hospitals” – Stephen Marche

Snark aside, there is something about the July 4th holiday and the near-manic manner in which it is celebrated that leaves the outside observer and likewise the cynic wondering “what do they have to celebrate?” With incomes at all-time lows for the average American, with poverty on the rise and the mega-rich in ownership of the entire US government; with popular denial of science leading to defunding of scientific ventures like the SSC, the international space station and the space program which in turn has led to Europe breaking new ground in science exploration over the last decade, one really wonders what it is about America that we really are celebrating.

I mean, we aren’t the free-ist. We aren’t the happiest. We aren’t the richest. The one thing you can put your finger on that we do better than anybody is build an impressively large military, spending more on our military than the next 8 countries combined. We pay a lot more for healthcare than any other country, and we get some of the shoddiest results from this overspending. We  consume the most. We throw away to most. We throw away so much usable stuff that there are countries whose economies are benefitted by buying our cast-offs and putting them to use.

I set this piece up with the chorus from Jackson Browne’s song I am a Patriot several years ago. Before Trump. Before Obama’s second term. That is how long I’ve been stewing on these ideas I’m putting down here, the conflict at the heart of America’s need to scream their love of themselves at the world. There is something really, horribly wrong with this picture.

I am a patriot
And I love my country
Because my country is all I know
I want to be with my family
The people who understand me
I’ve got nowhere else to go


Jackson Browne – I Am A Patriot

This observation is at once achingly true and laughably simplistic, which is why this song rings true with me. Most people are patriots because, what else would you want them to be? Hate their lives and where they live? Who lives long in that state of mind? Not too many people. Consequently, everyone is a patriot and no one is, simultaneously. This is a truism just as everyone is as free as they want to be is a truism. Absolute freedom is to be released from constraint, to not have to eat or sleep or breath. Not have to feel pain or feel anything at all. Absolute freedom is death, to not know constraint of any kind. Are the enslaved then to blame for their own enslavement? Only if you believe death is a preferable state of being. Of non-being. Embracing freedom as a concept that can unite all people in the third verse is an acknowledgement of the universal appeal of these fuzzy concepts, and yet freedom is as indefinable as patriot in the real world.

So I don’t hate my country anymore than the next fellow. I just don’t understand why it is we in the US feel compelled to try to burn the whole place down every 4th of July. If I had to pick one thing, just one thing, that I thought was superior about the US, about America, I can give that answer without much thought. The best thing about our country is the first amendment to the constitution. Freedom of speech makes everything else possible, because the ability to form concepts and communicate them to another is possibly the most human thing we do. The most distinctive thing about us as living creatures. It is the first of the four freedoms for a reason.

That is why when the US fails to live up to the promise of the First Amendment, it can be so devastating to those caught in the crossfire. People like Aaron Copland.


The United States of Anxiety Episode 4: Music, McCarthy, and the Sound of Americana May 23, 2017

“Copland’s scores and recordings were banned in hundreds of overseas libraries. Access officially denied.” – Sara Fishko Fishko Files

I recognized Fanfare For The Common Man as the inspirational music for Air Force One almost immediately. But then, I’m a movie buff as even a cursory reading of this blog should illustrate.

Every Independance Day for the past decade and more I have sat down and watched movies with The Wife. My go-to film is 1776 on laserdisc. I like this version better than the streamed or bluray offering because it is actually a statement on the divisive nature of American life.  Visible across the length of that film are splices and ink-marks and scissor cuts where Jack Warner at the direction of the Nixon White House cut scenes and whole songs from the film. Nixon didn’t approve of the apparent cowardice of the conservatives as portrayed in the play. Their stated willingness to allow others to risk so that they could preserve their wealth and security. The words may be placed in the mouths of the actors on the stage, but the sentiment of the time is beautifully captured in the verse of the songs, the fervor of John Adams, the melancholy of the (real) dispatches from George Washington in the field. Franklin’s open pragmatism. The feeling that America must be free to find her own destiny, not ruled over by Europeans intent on subjecting it for the purpose of profit for themselves, no matter the cost. This version speaks to me in my soul, the tension and conflict then and now. The pulls in different directions, to risk for the sake of principle, to recoil at the prospect of loss. This is life in the US and possibly life as it is throughout the world.

The Wife watches either ID4 or Live Free or Die Hard sometimes both of them. Over-the-top explosions, hammy one-liners and the good guys winning in the end. I think she shares more with the sentiment of the average American than I ever could just in her choice of movies. Nothing in life has ever been that simple for me, and maybe that’s the point. She seeks escape in her movies. I seek new ways of looking at the world and myself, insights that have never occurred to me before. That I haven’t driven her screaming mad in 30 years of life together is more a testament to her strength than it is to my willingness to compromise on what movies I will sit and watch repeatedly.

Dead Again Movie Review

Dead Again, 1991

I really wanted to like this film. I don’t hate it, but it really isn’t that good. It was so forgettable I forgot it and mistakenly rented it a second time thinking I hadn’t seen it. Not even Robin Williams’ (the reason I queued it up a second time) brief appearance is enough to save it from its mediocrity. It delivers what the trailer promises. If you are into these kinds of stories and haven’t seen it, you won’t be disappointed. Still, it could have been better. Maybe.

Rotten Tomatoes movie review backdated to the blog.