2nd Amendment

American Violence: God, Guns, and Gore

gun control

I saw this story today on one of my favorite news sites http://www.rawstory.com/2015/04/fake-georgia-cop-yells-fcking-nrs-pulls-shotgun-on-skateboarders-for-being-in-the-street/ 

I could not help but thing…How, HOW is it legal to buy a Kalashnikov in this country? So because some criminal could “theoretically” have “any” weapon, we should be allowed to buy any weapon to “protect” ourselves? Theoretically, a criminal (who could be ANYONE…gun nuts act as though criminals have a certain physical trait that shows who they are…oh, wait…) could get their hands on any sort of weapon. Should we be allowed to by a tank or a anti-tank weapon? Where does the insanity end? The article really captures the key themes of US worship of guns and violence: racialized attitudes about “protecting property” and self-defense, gun fetishization, a macho attitude and delusions of authority. These themes come up again and again and again but STILL gun “rights” advocates try to divorce the social ills that plague US society from the US obsession with firearms and with crime. It has gotten to the point where I cannot even have a discussion about guns IN SCHOOLS without being called a “gun grabbing fascist” or a gay/sexist slur (it seems to be assumed by ammo-sexuals that one who does not believe in the power of the gun is by default a gay man or a woman). There also seems to be a real religious, especially Christian, obsession with arming oneself against the threat that is the “other” in the world. The Conservative Christian mind in this nation is a mind that is always fearful. It is an issue I am working on in my writing lately…it is a real cause that I am fascinated in and devoted to.

We to make the case, as a civil society, that guns are not the answer to all of our problems and that unlimited gun ownership is NOT a right, it never has been. It is a PRIVILAGE and can be taken away or restricted if you show yourself to be a danger to your family or your community. Even in TEXAS of all places Dallas County is finally going to start confiscating the guns of people convicted of domestic violence. This is also a Federal statute, but many states do not have enforceable laws on the books that protect people from domestic gun violence. We are always told that a gun is “just a tool”, as though this is some sort of argument AGAINST restrictions or of understanding gun violence as a social disease. According to the Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics guns were responsible for the deaths of more than half of all women killed by their partners between 2001 and 2012. So guns are used as the weapon of choice for those who terrorize their partners. That should give unlimited gun rights activists pause.

More education and dialogue is needed on the issue of human violence and obsession with “security” and “purity”. If you want to understand human violence, obsession with “rights” and “liberties”, and mythic tendencies, I suggest reading the books Sapiens and Blood and Soil. Two of the best books I have ever read. Both talk about what makes human beings tick as an animal, what causes them to seek out violent solutions to complex problems and, in the latter especially, how societies and groups go about the ugly business of doing and justifying violence. I worry that a genocidal sort of fury may be coming from the Right in this country…so much misguided fear and hate directed towards immigrants (this obsession with “legality” is just a new of articulating the “purity” aspects of xenophobic nationalism that existed in the past regarding immigrants), towards LGBT people, towards atheists, towards Muslims. When the majority group, Christians, feels as thought IT is the one being persecuted, they start getting paranoid, and violent, and start arming themselves and convincing themselves that the “others”, “Those People” and “their culture” are to blame and that something needs to be done about it for the good of the nation. That is how genocide happens, that is how you get armed racist bands in the streets, and how you get Muslims being herded into pens…I am trying to be more aware of the hate and fear in this country. The gun/2nd Amendent cult obsession and the persecution complex of conservative christians worry me the most

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Politics

My (FAR too early) 2016 Presidential Election Prediction

An accurate depiction of what the 2016 election will look like

An accurate depiction of what the 2016 election will look like

Yes. I will predict the results! I am that omniscient! I AM YOUR POLITICAL GOD—Never mind. Here are my predictions based on my near constant observation of politics for the past, um, 18 years (I was a weird 10 year old what can I say…autism is a hell of a drug). If they are not true then, well, then, I don’t know, Mitt Romney ends up winning it in a landslide. KARMA…or something. Rmoney for all!

Anyway. Sorry. I am overly caffeinated at the moment. The predictions:

PREDICTIONS…FOR REAL THIS TIME!

Prediction for ’16 #’s: Clinton 52%, Cruz 43%, As Yet Unknown Right Winger <5%, Senate goes to Dems, House of Reps firmly gerrymandered GOP

The election will be a functional, if not demographic and ideological, repeat of the ’94 election, with another Clinton winning

Someone from the FAR right will emerge to represent the “right is never right enough” crowd who scarily keep getting more vocal.

Cruz will survive a tough GOP primary race because I’m convinced that he is a somehow a Latino Richard Nixon clone & Nixon was basically the political version of the Terminator.

There will be a violent bludgeoning of Clinton in primaries from Left, which will leave her “reformed” enough to garner left/center/moderate votes (and hence why I will be writing in Bernie Sanders…)

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art

Art Work: Old Man

Old Man

Title: “Old Man”, Medium: Black Sharpie on Acid Free Paper,

This work was drawn on the train from Chicago to Elburn, late February. My technique is to start with one random line, and then to work from there to see what emerges. I like to create free form portraits from scratch and to challenge my visual imagination. This work will be available on my store for purchase when I get it up and running!

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art, review, TV

TV Review: Better Call Saul Season 1

Better Call Saul, Mondays 9pm Central on AMC

Better Call Saul, Mondays 9pm Central on AMC

I love everything about this show. Vince Gilligan & Peter Gould took what has long been a pitfall of TV entertainment (the useless and unneeded spinoff) and turned it into what may be the best show on TV. The entire 1st season has unfolded like a slightly off-kilter John Cheever story. The creators and writers have taken an uproarious, ridiculous, sleezy, but quite one dimensional color character from the now classic “Breaking Bad” and fleshed him out into a leading character that we feel for, pull for, and laugh with (and occasionally at). Over season 1 we have watched Jimmy McGill (played, as in Breaking Bad, by comedic impresario Bob Odenkirk) try and build his bellow the bottom the of barrel law practice into something less than a punchline to a life that had up to that point been a literal con job. You see, Slippin’ Jimmy, with the help of his wingman Marco, had made his living on the mean streets of Cicero conning barflies out of their beer money until he finally got in over his head and his lawyer brother Chuck bailed him out, figuratively and literally.

Jimmy went from mail-boy at his brother’s million dollar Law Firm to newly minted (by the law school at the University of the American Samoa) lawyer. Jimmy looks like a dumb puppy who finally went number two on command when he shows his brother his passing grade from the New Mexico Bar. Chuck is less than thrilled, and as we find out as the season unfolds, Chuck (who has some serious, though as yet not fully explored mental health difficulties) finally admits to Jimmy that he sees his younger brother as little more than a joke, a cross to bear that will never be anything but Slippin’ Jimmy in his eyes. Chuck is played with subtle humor and sympathy by the great comedic actor Michael McKean and a character that could have been your run of the mill “disapproving authority figure” but is instead a compelling part of the plot and a source of some of the season’s great moments, not the least of which is the agoraphobic lawyer’s first sojourn into the real world in months, if not years. The scene is beautifully shot, with an enormous elm tree embracing the frame like a comforting hug from a loved one. The scenes between Jimmy and Chuck are incredibly realistic and, I can say as someone who has a brother, the feelings that are on display are dead on in their accuracy. Chuck loves Jimmy, but he hates what he is, who he is, and sees his hijinks, not unfairly, as an insult to the Law profession that he loves just as dearly. It will be fun to see where the writers choose to take this relationship as the series continues.

Better Call Saul is about some rather seedy characters, but it does not have the moral burden of having a literal psychopath as it’s central personality. We don’t constantly have to justify our love for the character, and explain away his actions, like we had to with Walter White/Heisenberg. If Breaking Bad was about the banality and morality of good and evil, Saul is more about those pesky grey area most of the world lives, lies, and loves in. Jimmy is a “bad guy”, sure, at least insofar as he is an unethical guy. Then again most of his “victims” are unethical or at least criminally stupid. Jimmy seems to have an innate understanding of the human capacity for self-justification: the larcenous couple, Jimmy’s clients, who bilk the tax payers out of millions, the brother who who justifies his emotional abuse of his brother by telling himself it is for the poor schmuck’s “own good”. Jimmy knows when to hold them and when to fold them, to quote the great Kenny Rogers, and he knows when someone is trying to string him along. Sometimes he lets them, all the while gaining leverage over his wannabe tormentors and turning the deceit (and greed, and anger, and fear) to his advantage. Jimmy McGill is a bad lawyer, in an ethical sense, but he is not an incompetent lawyer. Far from it; he knows the ins and outs of the law, the loopholes and hidey-holes that can make you a pretty penny if you know how to exploit them. This is how he creates the Sandpiper Nursing home out of whole cloth, and how he stays one step ahead of a violent group of drug runners he runs afoul of in pursuit of a case (or con).

As with Breaking Bad (it is inevitable that this new show will be compared to its progenitor, so why fight it?) “Saul” is buoyed by its supporting characters. The aforementioned Chuck is one example, as is fellow lawyer and one time love interest Kim Wexler. Kim works for the Jimmy’s brother’s firm, and while the character has yet to be fully fleshed out (I am looking forward to this next season) she is played by Rhea Seehorn with a steely resolve and drive that is tempered by a burning-self doubt that seems to be holding her back from her full potential. It is not always clear whether Kim loves Jimmy or just pities him, but she tries to do right by a friend who she obviously has some feelings for. In a flashback we are teased with the fact that Kim and Jimmy were once very much in love, but something, or someone, came between them. That tension is obvious in their interactions with one another, with Jimmy obviously trying his damndest to not drag Kim down into the muck and mire with him.

The real standout from the first season, and in my opinion the most compelling and human story in the show so far, is the saga of corrupt Philly Cop/Muscle for hire Mike Ehrmantraut. Mike was played by Jonathan Banks with a tired authority in Breaking Bad, and he reprises the fan favorite character with an increased sense of urgency and tragedy in “Saul”. We find Mike running a ticket booth at the county court parking lot, where he first meets Jimmy, obviously bored as can be with his life and seeking to do right by the widow of his beloved son. The son was gunned down by his supposed “brothers” on the police force in Philly for refusing to play dirty like his fellow cops, and his father, do and did. When Mike relates the story of his son’s disillusionment with his father and with his career, Banks takes what could have been a maudlin scene and turns it into a tour de force of genuine emotion and pathos. Mike is not the sort to wear his emotions on his sleeve but in this moment with his daughter-in-law he shows a vulnerability and a sadness that is as profound as it is revelatory. Mike in “Bad” was a violent but fair grim reaper of sorts, but “Saul’s” Mike is a man who is trapped in a hell of his own making and who is desperately trying to salvage what he can from the wreckage that he had a large part in creating. Mike’s story line is not integral to Jimmy’s development (at least not yet…) but it is an important part of why the series works as well as it does. I personally hope that Mike’s plot remains as central to the show as Jimmy’s, and I suspect it will as Jimmy becomes Saul and has more and more need for a quiet but effective enforcer. Mike is brutal and unforgiving, but he has a humor and sense of fairplay about him that makes you respect and even love him. He is kind to his daughter-in-law and positively dotes on his granddaughter. Mike is most like the Ronin of such Samurai classics as “Seven Samurai”, “13 Assassins”, and the “Blind Samurai” series. He takes his craft, organized, strategically applied violence, seriously and he never does anything halfway. He also refuses to hurt others unless he absolutely has to, and he takes no joy in causing others pain. He is a force of nature, an inevitability, and he embraces this role. In Jimmy he has met another soul that knows that sometimes you have to get your hands, or a homicide detective’s shirt, dirty in order to get things done. They are drawn together first out of need, and then out of a sort of begrudging respect. Mike wanted out of the dirty world in which he plied his trade, but now that it is threatening to drag him back in again, he is not struggle all that hard to prevent it from doing so. I think there is much more to mine with this character and I expect Jimmy and Mike will find more and more in common as the show progresses.

I have tried, but I cannot find anything wrong with this show. It’s pacing is perfect, its subject matter dark but fascinating and occasionally hilarious, and the writing is so naturalistic it borders on documentary style. This is how people in the real world spin tall tales, how they ply their trade, and how they justify their behavior to their peers and to themselves. The season ended on a low key (but brilliant) note and I have a feeling that Better Call Saul has nowhere to go but up.

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Civil rights

Boycott Indiana!

indiana-protest_0

The people of the US have spoken, through their words, their actions, and through the actions of business that are panicking at the idea of alienating their customer base: The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act is an unconstitutional, unconscionable violation of human rights and dignity.

Some have claimed that the law goes no farther than the (in my opinion superfluous and useless) Federal RFRA, but that is blatantly untrue. The Atlantic has pointed out that the law differs from the Federal one in some subtle, but key ways, namely in that it makes it much easier for a discriminating business to make their case in court that their discrimination is protected by the 1st Amendment and it gives business the right to free exercise of religion that they have never before had in this context (see this link for more details http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/03/what-makes-indianas-religious-freedom-law-different/388997/)

There is much confusion about the Federal Law as well. The right to refuse exists federally only in so far as it does not contradict or violate existing Civil Rights Laws and Statutes. So no, federally, you cannot refuse to serve someone based on sexual orientation and expect to get away with it in court because that is protected at the federal level and the Supreme Court has ruled that the Federal Religious Freedom Act does not apply to the states. Basic federalism. The point with this bill is that it makes it so that a person cannot sue a business for being discriminated against using civil rights violations as a basis. This goes FAR past the scope of the federal statute. It violates the 14th Amendment protection of equality under the law. A free society is not one that caters to individual beliefs and prejudices, but that which strives for equality before the law and a balance of civil rights with personal liberty. The arguments made for this bill are structurally the same as those made for segregation in the late stages of the Jim Crow south. Telling a person they cannot refuse service to someone based on an immutable part of their humanity is not communism, it is not fascistic, and it is not anti-democratic. It is not even close. It is civil libertarianism, the very antithesis of an anti-democratic philosophy. The right to refuse exists as a term of law, as a defense in a civil judicial proceeding. It is not a blank check to discriminate based on religious whims. Again, the Indiana law is actually ANTI-constitutional in that it bypasses the judicial structures that are put in place for someone discriminated against to sue for damages if they feel that the business owner wrongfully refused service.

It is heartening and inspiring that so many Americans are now standing up and refusing to accept this sort of discrimination against their LGBT friends, family members, and associates. I do not believe this sort of outcry would have happened 10 or 15 years ago, and the fact that this backlash is happening the way it is shows how much progress has been made by LGBT activists, their supporters, and in the culture at large. The expansion and acceptance of LGBT rights in the US is one of the most positive developments this nation has ever seen, especially within my lifetime (I was born in 1987, during the nadir of the Reagan regime). Let’s keep up the pressure, we must not give up the fight. This movement will not a be a success until our LGBT brothers and sisters enjoy ALL the rights straight citizens do. This is non-negotiable in the same way African American Civil Rights were, and movements like #boycotindiana are an important way that everyday citizens can make a difference. Refuse to do business in Indiana until this law is repealed! Send a message to the bigoted Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence. Together we can make this country a more accepting place.

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Uncategorized

Excerpt From my play “Cyclops”

Art by Noah Mann-Engel

“Sadness”. Art by Noah Mann-Engel

[Scene: A field of peppers near a town in rural Valencia. There is a barn and a wagon piled with sacks of peppers. Two people, one old man, one young woman, are bent over picking peppers together]

***

Carlos: I think we will end up doubling our yield, at least, over last year. And Espelettes are popular in the trade market. I love the smell of the dirt. It is familiar.

 

Eulalia: It’s not at all familiar to me. I had never thought of myself as a farmer, never even planted a flower, before this past season. I was always in town, with my father, hawking his silver pieces.

 

Carlos: He was a silversmith, your father?

 

Eulalia: He was. A good one. Made the cases of pocket watches and cigarette cases mostly, but he would sell his more artistic pieces, the moldings and the engraved rings, at least twice a week, out in the market. It was just me and him most days and that was fine.

 

Carlos: So you were assigned a farming trade against your will? That does not seem like the act of an anarchist…

 

Eulalia: No, you misunderstand; I chose a farmers trade. I wanted to be away from the market.

 

Carlos: It bothered you

 

Eulalia: The men were all hard working, or so it seemed, but half or more colluded to keep prices high, and my father was at the head of a craft union that would not hire socialists or radicals. It was something that made me hate my father, and I think he hated himself.

 

Carlos: That’s the way of the market I suppose

 

Eulalia: Yes. He went bankrupt a few years ago when the silver market imploded. Or so he says. I think he just spent too much of his money on his mistresses. Either way we were suddenly poor. So instead of marrying some idiot middle aged merchant I and popping out 6 children I chose to be a farmer. I am still only 18, so I can afford the time to struggle a bit in learning my new trade. I just want to be of some use. Conning status starved men of their meager wages was not something I was prepared to settle for.

Carlos: You don’t sound like a radical

 

Eulalia: I don’t think I ever said I was a radical

 

Carlos: if you are against the Nationalists, you are a radical.

 

Eulalia: Then I am a radical. I am not a dogmatist though.


Carlos: Not much dogma in picking peppers.

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Socialism

Draft of “Capitalism in its Last Days”

art by Noah Mann-Engel

art by Noah Mann-Engel

The following is an excerpt from an essay I am working on about the end of capitalism. Enjoy!

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We forget, often and with deleterious consequences for the public intellectual exchange, that capitalism, or, a system designed for or in sympathy with an economy of exchange of goods for services and the requisite institutions private and public thereof, has no ideological leaning. Systems of capitalism, first colonial, then industrial, and now digital as well as industrial, have always sought to ingratiate themselves with the powers that be, so to speak. Capitalist economies have survived, and even thrived, under republican, democratic socialist, authoritarian and even totalitarian regimes. The pursuit of wealth in material forms as well as in the form of stock, cash, and credit, seems to be a uniquely human disorder. It is telling that in the mind of many a human there is a moment of consideration of making a profit by destroying human life before one comes to ones senses. Capitalism, in the form it inevitably takes when it is hindered only by the most token of regulation, is an economic philosophy of the sociopath and for the sociopath.

This is not in and of itself a bad thing; no product of human thought is “bad” or “good”. There is only relative consequences, for good or evil, that stem from people acting consciously or unconsciously in service of a philosophy. But history and the very structure and morality of capitalism in the real world show that capitalism allows far too many avenues for those who wish to exploit others for profit to do so. At the moment in the United States a conservative and proto-fascistic political party known as the Republicans represent the interests of capital. But it was not always this way. Capitalism benefited under the rule of such liberal paragons as FDR and JFK. Capitalism is an ideological chameleon, metamorphosing from one political shade to another, depending on circumstances.

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