SJW Parent Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

It’s even worse than they told you.

Two hours and twenty-six minutes of this still image would be a better use of the ticket money and the movie screen.

Transformers: The Last Knight

Spoiler Alert: Sorry to be all philosophy of language about this, but words have meanings, and I don’t believe any information about this movie can be considered a spoiler. A spoiler reveals something about the plot of a movie that would otherwise be a surprise. This movie has no plot. No event in the movie, however ensconced in slow motion and loud music, is actually important to the story. Because there is no story. I guess if you do not want to read any descriptions of the moving images that you have not yet seen in the trailers, stop reading, but only after letting me tell you one thing: under no circumstances should you or anyone you care about go to see this movie.

Bechdel-Wallace Score: -10,000/3 – Negative ten thousand points for disgusting misogyny. After sexualizing a 17-year-old girl character in the previous Transformers travesty – and suffering no negative consequences for it – Michael Bay and Universal Studios decided to see what would happen if they sexualized a 13-year-old girl character (played by a 16-year-old actress) in this movie. I’m not kidding – within the first 30 minutes of the movie, you see her running in slow motion in a tank top. It is really fucked up. And this latino girl’s character is introduced largely by a white boy having a crush on her for being a badass.  I’m not a licensed or credentialed psychologist in any way, but I am going to go ahead and speculate that maybe Michael Bay is subconsciously trying to get caught for being a danger to children and will keep escalating this behavior on film until someone intervenes in real life. In the meantime, don’t leave your children alone with him. Also don’t take them to see this movie. Oh and re: the usual Bechdel-Wallace test parameters, there are three feminine characters with names in the movie and I don’t recall them ever speaking to each other, certainly never alone, and none of them say anything that isn’t addressed to and/or about a man.

Shukla Score: -10,000/3 – There are two, or three if you count voice work, named characters of color in The Last Knight. They have no significant dialogue with each other because there is no significant dialogue in the movie. The negative ten thousand points is because within the first 30 minutes of the movie there is such blatant racist caricature on display (a young overweight black boy is show screaming bombastically and exclaiming that he thinks he had a heart attack) and it doesn’t really get better later. The young black man who is in the movie beyond those scenes is – you guessed it! – there for comic relief, which he provides by yelling about things that scare, surprise, or anger him. The fact that he was forced into a job without adequate pay or any benefits is a punchline. He gets shot by a police drone and freaks out about being killed, but the joke is he only got shot with a bean bag. Violence against black bodies is an ongoing crisis in our Republic, not a comedic relief avenue for an action movie. 

Russo Score: -10,000/3 – I assume there were several LGBT-phobic moments in the movie, but that I already blocked them out of my memory. The negative ten thousand points here is because as far as I can tell, LGBT folks don’t even exist in Universal’s shared Transformers Shitverse. Total erasure.

Kittehs: 0/5 – It’s been a while since I published one of these, so just as a reminder the Kitteh score is how many kittens it would take to distract me from the movie. I am pretty sure I imagined kittens to distract myself at one point, but under no circumstances would I allow an actual kitten to be in a room where this movie was playing. Keep your pets away from this movie.

Low points: The whole thing is a low point for culture. This is the movie equivalent of Donald Trump winning the electoral college. The movie isn’t just really bad, it is toxic. I don’t know what else to tell you. Other reviewers have written artfully scathing reviews that are better than what I can manage. Read them. Or don’t. I mostly wrote this review to discuss the sexist and racist stuff I mentioned above, which gets a mention in other reviews, but I feel like they focus on how bad the movie is at the expense of how offensive it is. Yes, it is, start to finish, incredibly bad – but the offensive angle is even worse. Total erasure of queer folks, sexualizing of a minor, making the only black characters into walking punchlines, body-shaming for a laugh (doesn’t work), a couple of quips that are basically jokes about disabled people – it’s like a bingo game of toxic isms in a movie, except in this bingo game everyone gets all the spots on their card filled up early and then you just have to sit for two more hours and wonder how you ended up there at all.

Highlights: The movie was so bad I could not stop myself from writing about it, which sadly is the first time I have written and published one of these reviews in a while, but I guess it is some kind of silver lining. I felt I needed to warn people. (And I am too extroverted to keep this kind of pop culture despair to myself.)

Dad edits: I deeply regret getting my kid excited about this movie in advance. I am very uncomfortable with the coding of the characters and the subtext of the film. My concerns are heightened by the fact that, unlike other problematic movies, this one doesn’t offer any worthwhile story elements for him to hold on to and ignore the ick. It’s just spectacle and ick rolled up together. I really hope future movies set in the Transformers universe, without Michael Bay directing and with stories set on Cybertron, will be acceptable entertainment for him. Of course the kid loved the battle scenes, but he also took a 45 minute nap on my lap during the second act and did not realize he had slept through part of the movie until I told him afterwards. That’s how little sense the ‘story’ makes.  

Final Thoughts: Do not see this movie. Do not let people you care about see this movie. Do not let people you despise see this movie as their ticket sales will contribute to its financial success and could lead to more such movies in the future. Avoid this movie at all costs. So say we all!

Normally I would put a trailer for the movie here, but instead let’s look forward to something else entirely.

What do you think about this move? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Towards a Useful Taxonomy of American Politics

A brief guide to having more useful observations of, and conversations about, politics.

Hey it was the best I could find, okay?
Hey it was the best I could find, okay?

Normally, when I write about politics, I choose to translate my views into the language that most folks use. I do this because I figure it makes my writing more accessible and because I haven’t bothered to sit down and write out an alternative guide to understanding and describing the myriad ways that the intersection of politics and psychology creates each person’s political views. With the recent, shocking resolution of the 2016 election, I think that the time is right to go ahead and write this out. With any luck a few folks may be persuaded to describe politics – their own and others’ – in terms that have more to do with reality and less to do with an utterly contrived duality that does no good for nobody no how.

The terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ have become useless

One of my many informal life teachers once said “I don’t know if I believe anything is literally true anymore, but I know there are more and less useful ways of thinking about things.” In my own little social bubble, I know at least two people who proudly identify as ‘conservative’ and agree on almost nothing. Certainly I know dozens of folks who would identify as ‘liberal’ – or be identified by others as ‘liberal’ – and spent most of the last election cycle arguing vigorously with each other. So why does anybody use these terms?

The human psyche always offers the temptation to think of some folks as The Other, dehumanize them with a simple label, and then blame and demonize them for whatever we don’t like. Humans also seem to be especially susceptible to contrived dualities – Thing A versus Thing B – even if the duality doesn’t really exist. This is especially tempting to do in American politics because of our two-party dominated system. While parliamentary democracies offer voters many different parties to vote for – and thus many different labels to choose from – the American system really just gives you two choices. Even if you support a third party, most folks look at that as “would-be Democrat votes Green” or “would-be Republican votes Libertarian” with the former still being considered liberal and the latter still being considered conservative. Even if you try to escape the two-party system with your vote, your viewpoint is still subsumed by the liberal/conservative duality. Bummer.

It is this false duality, more so than the two-party system, that causes a lot of the frustration that voters feel when they try to grapple with American politics. Politicians who call themselves ‘conservative’ currently tend to have a radical approach to both policy and conduct in office, e.g. the Senate GOP blatantly violating the constitution (Article II, section 2, paragraph 2) by failing to advise and consent on a Supreme Court nominee. Whereas liberals get into office and tend to be cautious about the pace of change, e.g. Obamacare being constructed in a way that balanced getting people new health insurance against not messing with the health insurance most folks already have. Plenty of GOP voters were appalled at the party’s obstruction in the Senate, but more GOP voters seem to have liked it (certainly the donors did). Many Democrat voters were glad to have healthcare reform pass in 2009, but many felt that Obamacare went neither far enough nor fast enough (some of us felt both).

The terms ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ then don’t really seem to consistently describe anyone or anything in American politics. Instead they lead to thinking in false dualities, encourage tribalism, and produce a lot of disappointment. Worse still, these labels have become an obstacle to American citizens understanding each other and working towards common purpose because folks are voting based on these labels and not based on public policy. So let’s find something better.

How TLP think about politics in America (and other places)

Remembering that we are not trying to achieve a political taxonomy that is literally true, but instead we are trying to find one that is very useful, we can get there by asking two questions, each of which has three possible answers:

What is this person’s general attitude toward the future? (reactionary, liberal, progressive)

At what pace does this person want that attitude to be implemented as policy? (conservative, moderate, radical)

You can also just think of this as a matter of course and speed, but I think the bit about the future is important. Being alive and participating in civilization is terrifying. As much as we love to argue about the past and future, the present is an uncomfortable and unknowable thing in which we all watch what we’re doing become both immediate past and future. We don’t know how things are going to work out, but we have to make decisions, and those decisions are largely shaped by forces beyond our control. America’s past has always been a violent white supremacist patriarchy, and America’s future has always been a peaceful, liberated, pluralistic society.

It’s not entirely that simple, but for now let’s say it is, and move on to answering the first question: What is this person’s general attitude toward the future?

If the person in question has an attitude of “I want the past back” or even just “fuck that future I don’t like it,” then they are a reactionary. If their attitude is more along the lines of “well the future is coming along on its own, let’s just try to get along with each other while it gets here,” then they are liberal. If their attitude is something like “we see the future and we want to make it happen,” then they are progressive.

Either before or after we assess their attitude, we can also ask about speed: At what pace does this person want their attitude implemented as policy?

If you’re listening to someone talk policy and you notice they tend to see social change as needing to happen slowly, then they are conservative. If they believe in making change through policy at a steady speed, stopping just short of triggering a backlash, then they are moderate. If they believe in making change as fast as the law allows, regardless of the ability of individuals, groups, and institutions to adapt, then they are radical. (Remember that ‘change’ here is a relative term, it could mean changing society to be more liberated or changing society to be less liberated.)

Let’s apply these questions to some examples:

Mike Pence believes in electrocuting gay youths if it will make them not gay (it won’t), criminalizing reproductive health decisions made by women, and only giving police officers body cameras on the condition that nobody ever be able to see the video. Mike Pence wants to see all these things accomplished ASAP via signing laws like RFRA in Indiana and appointing activist judges to the courts. Mike Pence is a radical reactionary – he is decidedly against the future and is utterly unconcerned with the consequences of using institutions to force his views on people immediately.

President Barack Obama believes that cops should be held accountable with body cameras that the public can see footage from, that everybody should have access to affordable healthcare, and that we need to change our personal and professional lifestyles in a way that will help us keep the planet habitable for human life in the long-term. President Obama wants to see these things happen in accordance with social norms and institutional prerogatives, for example he let Congress write the Affordable Care Act with input from a wide array of think tanks and past policy proposals from both Democrats and Republicans, and made not disrupting folks’ current healthcare a priority in those efforts. President Obama is a conservative progressive.

Hillary Clinton believes most of the same things as President Obama, but had a more aggressive plan for pushing all kinds of policies through Congress and/or using Executive powers to implement those policies in a way that would bend, but not break, some political norms. Hillary Clinton is a moderate progressive.

Many Democrats in the Senate from purple or red states – e.g. Joe Donnelly – only support policies that move us towards a more liberated society if they are among those that already have broad public support and little risk of producing a cultural or political backlash. Senator Donnelly et al. are liberals, either conservative or moderate depending on just how cautious they tend to be.

Many Republicans in the House of Representatives want to move America backwards on social justice and economic mobility, but they don’t want to get into any trouble with swing voters while they do it. They try to frame things as being about “tradition” or “values” or “freedom” in order to avoid talking about the actual impacts their policies will have on actual people. These folks are reactionaries, either conservative or moderate depending on the speed at which they try to get policy implemented.

The folks in my Facebook feed who vote for the same liberal/progressive politicians that I do, but then after a loss are all saying “hey we gotta be able to get along with people we disagree with” are liberals (and also, almost certainly, white).

Folks who are Libertarians because they want everybody to be left alone are radical liberals, whereas the folks who are Libertarians because they recognize that if the government stops redistributing resources while folks like them have the most resources, then they win, are radical reactionaries.

Some of the folks who vote for the Green party, based on social and economic justice issues, are radical progressives, but folks who vote Green (or Trump) because they are opposed to free trade and want an immediate return to economic nationalism are radical reactionaries. Yes, that’s right – there are radical reactionaries on the left-wing of American politics. Pretty much anybody who looks at the world through an ideology is stuck being a reactionary as a result; a sorry fate, but not an untreatable one. But I digress.

To put it all another way: Reactionaries want to drive to the past whether you like it or not, liberals want to drive to the future as long as everybody likes it, and progressives want to drive to the future whether you like it or not. Conservatives drive by using the brake peddle or idling, moderates alternate between using the brakes and the accelerator, and radicals are pushing the gas pedal into the floorboard.

If you’ve got an example to share, or want to ask me to apply this model to classify an example you have in mind, please send an email. I will either respond directly or update this post accordingly. This system does work in other countries – in the UK, Tories tend to be conservative or moderate reactionaries, Old Labour were moderate or radical progressives (or radical reactionaries) while New Labour tended to be conservative or moderate progressives, UKIP are radical reactionaries, and the Lib Dems seem to me to be conservative and moderate liberals. This model may have even more flaws when applied to international politics than when applied to American politics. Which brings us to…

This model is useful, not flawless

Some folks, like myself, are radical progressives about any life and death political issue, but are moderate or even conservative about progress in other contexts. It seems that many Americans who voted for a conservative progressive in 2012 were nonetheless persuaded by a radical reactionary in 2016, but that is a topic to chew on in another post. Political militants – those who are willing to sidestep public policy and take up arms to force implementation of their views (e.g. the Bundy family) – aren’t really covered here, but I suppose we could just add an additional militant reactionary category and it would cover all of them, regardless of specific political views.

There are also complications on foreign policy. Non-interventionists might be progressives, or they might be reactionary isolationists, but you won’t be able to tell them apart based on their “don’t bomb people” policy alone. And then you have folks – Hillary Clinton let’s say – who are progressive on domestic issues, but seem pretty reactionary on foreign policy (alas, we’ll never really know).

This model could also be criticized for not being compatible with a number of terms already in wide use – neoliberal, neoconservative, paleoconservative, (lower-case-l) libertarian – but I consider that a feature, not a bug. Most of those terms are coined by someone not in the group, even if they are later adopted by the group, and as a result these terms tend to represent the folks they’re applied to less than they represent the view of those folks held by whoever coined the term. My favorite feature-not-a-bug of this model is that it erases so-called ‘centrists’ entirely, because those folks have no principles and just end up being handmaidens to the extremists they inevitably normalize. But I digress.

Bonus round

There is a third question that can be difficult to ask of public figures, but that is very important for successfully communicating with, or even persuading, someone you know. Call it evolution, or direction, but the question is: Where is this person’s attitude moving?

During the Democrats’ primary, the general election, and now in the aftermath of Trump’s hybrid political victory and cultural defeat, I am watching a number of folks move from moderate liberal to conservative/moderate progressive. Certainly over the last 15 years I have watched a number of Republican folks who were conservative liberals become moderate reactionaries in a somewhat subdued mirroring of the more more dramatic change to the GOP itself. You can look at Marco Rubio’s career and see he is careening to an ever more radical and ever more reactionary politics. You can look at the career of Tim Ryan, who is challenging Nancy Pelosi for leadership of the House Democrats, and see someone who is an odd mix of reactionary, liberal, and progressive and becoming ever more liberal over time.

The point of this third question is less about predicting what a politician will do and more about figuring out how to communicate with folks with whom we disagree. If I can discern one issue where a reactionary friend has a progressive inclination – police brutality/accountability for instance –  I can focus our conversations on that topic and nurture that inclination. I can learn what particular facts and presentations of those facts have persuaded this person to acknowledge that police brutality is a problem and that the lack of consequences for brutal cops is unacceptable. Then I can look for similarly presented facts about, say, healthcare or climate change or reproductive justice, to use in a future conversation with that person on those topics. Alternatively, of course, if I am watching someone become ever more reactionary over time and refuse to acknowledge or accept difficult facts from any source, I can conclude there is no chance of persuasion and not waste my time.

We need to ditch the fake duality of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’

Whether anybody adopts the model I have described here or not, it remains the case that the current conversation about politics in this country is not only useless, but harmful. The word ‘conservative’ provides a kind of veneer of prudence to whoever and whatever it is applied to, which is a big problem in a country where that word is being applied to the most radicalized and most reactionary political movement that we have seen since the backlash to Reconstruction. People seem to understand that there is nothing ‘conservative’ about Donald Trump, but he is actually considerably closer to being an actual conservative than are Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, or Mitch McConnell. With any luck, a Trump administration will give politicians and journalists a good reason to start differentiating between reactionary and conservative. Meanwhile, to their credit, folks on the left are already reckoning hard with what ‘liberal’ does and doesn’t mean and beginning to use the term ‘progressive’ accurately and often. So that’s a good start.

Certainly the policies that impact folks’ lives should be the number one focus of political conversation. That said, it is possible that changing how we talk about politics and policy will help us better persuade folks to come around on those policies. That makes how we talk about this stuff at least as important as what we’re talking about.

Have a question, comment, or request for one of these thoughts to become a whole blog post? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Shocked, But Not Surprised

TLP’s Mourning in America, Part 1

F*CK! (Image: Google)
F*CK! (Image: Google)

This is the first in a series of short posts attempting to grapple with and analyze the election results and, hopefully, add some value to the newly invigorated conversation about white liberalism and white supremacy in the United States of America.

There are two different kinds of white liberal reactions to Trump’s win

No doubt at this point you have seen at least one, if not a few, written or spoken takes on the phenomenon of “white liberals” being shocked and surprised by Donald Trump’s electoral college victory in the 2016 election and the accompanying victory of the GOP for control of the Senate. (And let’s be clear: Donald Trump carried the GOP to the Senate, not the other way around, but that’s for another post.) Here is an example of some white liberal dismay from Paul Krugman at the NYTimes:

We thought that the nation, while far from having transcended racial prejudice and misogyny, had become vastly more open and tolerant over time.

We thought that the great majority of Americans valued democratic norms and the rule of law.

It turns out that we were wrong. There turn out to be a huge number of people — white people, living mainly in rural areas — who don’t share at all our idea of what America is about. For them, it is about blood and soil, about traditional patriarchy and racial hierarchy. And there were many other people who might not share those anti-democratic values, but who nonetheless were willing to vote for anyone bearing the Republican label.

And then there are the criticisms of those reactions. Courtney Parker West wrote a popular piece about the privilege and problems of this white liberal shock at Trump’s win:

Dear liberal white people whom I often love: advertising your shock and surprise that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and bigotry are pervasive enough to hand that man the Presidency is a microaggression. Please stop.

Folks are encouraged to read both pieces as examples of their genres and know that there are many, many more of both along with countless tweets and status updates of the same. If you don’t like reading, then just take a few minutes to watch SNL parody the entire thing:

This is where I want to make the distinction between white liberal surprise and white liberal shock at Trump’s election. Folks like Krugman and the white characters in the SNL sketch are surprised that there is enough racism/sexism in America to elect Donald Trump, which is a sentiment that deserves to be pilloried.

That isn’t the only thing white folks might mean when we say we are shocked by Trump’s win. Plenty of white folks – myself included – are shocked by Trump’s win because an overwhelming amount of data over a period of many months said he could not win. Trump never came close to being ahead in polling in Michigan or Pennsylvania. Trump rarely had a lead in Florida and looked increasingly likely to lose North Carolina. Were there counter indicators? Sure, but only enough to justify Nate Silver’s reticence, and even his model gave Clinton better than 2:1 odds to win.

There is a difference between saying “I can’t believe there are so many racists/sexists in America” and saying “I am shocked to discover that the white supremacist vote managed to mobilize and distribute itself in a way that delivered Donald Trump 270+ electoral college votes.” There is a difference between ignorant white folks who are surprised that this could happen in America and historically aware white folks who are shocked that it just did happen and how vast are the consequences. Commentators assuming that any expression of shock is just a demonstration of willful ignorance about racism/sexism are minimizing entirely legitimate feelings of dismay felt by those of us who recognize that while the American cultural landscape was the same Wednesday November 10th as it was Monday November 8th, the political landscape has changed very dramatically and for the worse. So, yeah: please stop.

How the shock might improve so-called white liberalism

As an aside, I don’t like using the term “white liberalism” to describe all white folks who didn’t vote for Trump or are otherwise considered on the Left of American politics, but I’m going with it for now because one thing at a time.

Let’s be clear that while some white liberals are shocked, but not surprised, the folks who are surprised are almost certainly also shocked. Based on my personal experience, there is a real opportunity to use the shock that white liberals are feeling to vastly increase the personal and political empathy that we are able to generate for people of color and/or LGBTQ+ folks.

Using myself as an example: I have much greater fears for my child’s safety than I did before last Tuesday. I wonder if he is ever more likely to be shot in a random and/or mass casualty shooting because the NRA is now controlling all three branches of government. I wonder if I will live to watch him – and maybe some future grandkids – starve, or drown, or suffocate on a planet that is no longer able to support human life because congressional Republicans and President-elect Trump just can’t be bothered to science. I wonder if I will get to watch him grow up, because I have some health issues that are not-bad-unless-they-get-bad and I’m very likely about to lose the health coverage that lets me stay on top of all that.

I have the same intellectual understanding of white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism and all that as I did before the election. My emotional awareness of what it is to live with a constant feeling of fear for my health and my child’s safety has been greatly increased by the election, though. But it won’t last. My son and I are both very privileged and could only be more so if we were wealthy and Christian, so the part of my mind that is determined to soothe me will find a way. A lot of white liberal folks might not be interested in admitting this, but it’s true: we have the option of gradually going back to not being completely freaked out and are likely to take it.

The fleeting nature of this mass white liberal shock is exactly why I think it is important not to minimize it, but rather exploit the hell out of it. There is an opportunity here for white liberals who are shocked, but not surprised, to collect ourselves a bit and help our #NotMyAmerica white liberal friends understand that #UmmYeahThisIsTotallyOurAmerica and to anchor this week or two of terror and grief as our best chance to glimpse the emotional reality that marginalized people in America have been living with every day for a long time. Intellectual understanding of the issues gets votes, but emotional resonance can actually generate activity. And activism is what is needed of us.

 

 

Have a question, comment, or request for one of these thoughts to become a whole blog post? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Morning Memo for Thursday, September 1st, 2016

TLP’s Morning Memo is brought to you by all the circumstances that leave me with not enough time to write full length essays about these topics. Enjoy.

marked20160901_ChineseFish_Zhuangzi
MOTD

Morning Memo for Thursday, September 1st, 2016

All (okay, some of) the things in my mind I wish I had time to blog about today. Some of these things may get a full post later, but most will not. As always, many more links can be had by visiting TLP’s Facebook page.

Philosophy, Re: the Power and Impotence of Words

 

My approach to philosophy, by which I mean the ongoing pursuit and love of wisdom, has always been one of joyful or even ecstatic curiosity and enjoyment. My approach to Philosophy, by which I mean the long history of pre-existing philosophical work that one is made to study when one asks to formally study philosophy, is uhhh… …adversarial. There are good things (e.g. taoism) one can find that will hold up pretty well today, including some bits from the Western tradition like Aristotle or the Cynics. Mostly though it is men (and in Western philosophy, white men) writing from a place of privilege in a racially and culturally homogenous society that is not technologically advanced. I am increasingly interested in the problems that result.

For example, let’s talk about the MOTD quote in the image above. It is similar to the first line of the tao te ching (incidentally it is the only line that really matters) in pointing out the fundamental flaw of words, which is that they do not actually convey experience:

the tao that can be spoken of is not the true tao

That’s it. You can’t get there from here. That’s the first line! Everything that follows is an at least slightly untrue representation of tao, because tao cannot be represented. As mind fucks go, it is a good one, because interpersonally and politically, once someone realizes that what other people are saying is an imperfect attempt to describe their own experience, it gets easier to empathize, be curious, and find common ground. There is certainly still a great deal of value in the idea that words are, if not meaningless, then at least a mere stepping stone to meaning. But there is also a problem with this.

Both Laotzi and Zhuangzi wrote as Chinese men in China’s ethnically monotonous, male-dominated society of the time. Put them in a modern society with a multi-ethnic population, advanced technology, and ubiquitous information and what happens? We don’t know. They might be Trump supporters! Make the Wall Great Again! Deport the Mongols! We just don’t know.

We do know (thanks, psychology!) that words have power. Not just in the accurate-but-nonetheless-coopted-by-woo-woo-new-age-people “words shape perception and perception creates reality” kind of way, but in the oppression and social justice kind of way. For instance, here is a definition of stereotype threat:

Stereotype threat is a situational predicament in which people are or feel themselves to be at risk of conforming to stereotypes about their social group.

Stereotypes are spoken (words) both among persons and also in ways that are published and/or broadcast for mass consumption. The current body of evidence tells us that there is a real impact in marginalized folks’ lives, starting at a very early age, as a result of being exposed to stereotypes.

Another example of the power of words is #BlackLivesMatter. Just say it sometime, somewhere, and watch how fast you can find out a lot about the political and cultural inclinations of the people around you (or the people on your Facebook feed, or Snapchat, whatever). Three words that are, in the United States, radical and revolutionary and have had a dramatic impact on personal perceptions, interpersonal relationships, and increasingly on political institutions and our whole culture. And those three words are particularly powerful. They make a simple proposition, an obvious one, that should not warrant any argument – but holy shit do a lot of people argue with it anyway – and they apply to any and every situation – police brutality, criminal justice, education policy, housing policies, etc – where our society is built around the devaluing of, and violence against, black lives.

Now I will masterfully resolve this paradox between how important words can be to shaping cultural norms and personal experiences, but also their unimportance and basic meaninglessness in the face of nature and personal experiences… …just kidding! But it’s good to be thinking about.

Politics, Re: The Trump Cycle

I am pretty done with the Donald Trump Show and am spending less and less time reading, or even clicking, links related to either Donnie or his Trumpsters. I know other folks who tend to follow things pretty closely and get scared every five weeks or so when the polls appear to narrow. So I wanted to lay out the Trump Cycle, as I have seen it, to explain why I’m always saying/writing “just chill out” about Donald Trump.

Part 1 – The Escalator Pitch: Donald Trump rode down an escalator in 2015 and said Mexican immigrants are… …well he said terrible things that I don’t need to repeat. The Escalator Pitch is when Donnie is at his worst, but trying to present his best. It’s the point where polls turn against him. (This is where we are at in the cycle right now, after last night’s lawn-cross-burning-of-a-speech in Arizona.)

Part 2 – The Spiral: This is when Donnie is at his worst and not even trying to look his best. Retweeting white supremacists, saying whacko crazy shit that his spokespeople trip over themselves to defend for the 24 hours before Donnie contradicts himself again, rinse and repeat. He is just a landed, famous, flailing racist for a few days or weeks, and his poll results get even worse. (This is where we will be this weekend while his newest campaign makeover artist goes on “news” shows to soften up Wednesday’s remarks, while Donnie tweets even more extreme comments on the same and other topics.)

Part 3 – Rock Bottom: This is when Donnie is (relatively) quiet, is facing a huge landslide defeat according to polls, and sometimes is looking to fire one of his top campaign staff. First it was Lewandowski, then Manafort, and my money is on voter fraud expert – and by that I mean he is good at committing voter fraud – Steve Bannon being next. Donald’s decline in the polls slows during this time. (We should be one to three weeks away from this happening.)

Part 4 – MSM CPR: This is when the media, which needs a horserace to get viewers and/or pageviews and needs those to sell ads and needs ads to have money and needs money to… …buy stuff? Anyway this is where the so-called mainstream media resuscitates Donald Trump’s campaign by posting hilariously anti-reality articles about how Donald Trump is about to pivot and he is going to moderate himself and blah blah blah. The media does this for days, maybe even weeks, before Trump decides to inhale what they’re pumping into him, probably because he notices that when they start doing this, his decline in the polls stops. (We won’t be due for this to happen again until near the end of the month.)

Part 5 – Okie Doke: Donnie goes ahead and runs the con being set up for him by the media and says something less-than-usually-stupid about foreign affairs, or maybe makes a less-than-usually-hateful comment about immigration, or maybe even gives a speech from a teleprompter without calling more than a few people names. Now all those pundits can write about how he might be able to win, getting their ad-revenue-inducing pageviews by playing on your fear of the end of the Republic. Donnie’s core Trumpsters are mostly fine with his seemingly moderating about a topic, whatever it is, because their support for him is not about policy it is about white identity and besides at this point they’re in on the con. Donnie’s national poll numbers tick up slightly and het gets closer to competitive in a couple states because he is reaching the voters who think and vote based on white identity politics, but they don’t want to see themselves or be seen that way. (We were just here yesterday.)

Now it is a big media ecosystem and there is lag between how each part of the cycle runs, such that you might have the Okie Doke poll bounce happening even while some media outlets are still pushing a comeback narrative and one campaign spokesperson is still on TV explaining something from The Spiral even while another campaign mouthpiece is being shown the door. But the complexity and overlap are all the more reason to step back and take the longer view of the whole thing. Avoid the coverage. He is just doing the same thing over and over again and the overall trend is towards Donnie losing the electoral college vote in a huge way. Or YUUUUUGE, as they say.

Nerd stuff, Re: New Westworld trailer is much more interesting, also NSFW

Nerd stuff is lite today, but here is a trailer for HBO’s new sci-fi show Westworld:

 

This trailer simultaneously makes me more excited to see the show and also more concerned it will, like so many other recent TV shows, just be too harsh for me.

Image of the Day

Mmm, word play, mmm.
ViolinsWillNeverSolveAnything_GemmaCorrell

(Image is also a link to the artist’s website)

Enjoy your day

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Have a question, comment, or request for one of these thoughts to become a whole blog post? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Morning Memo for Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

TLP’s Morning Memo is brought to you by all the circumstances that leave me with not enough time to write full length essays about these topics. Enjoy.

LionDadCub1

Morning Memo for Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

All (okay, some of) the things in my mind I wish I had time to blog about today. Some of these things may get a full post later, but most will not. As always, many more links can be had by visiting TLP’s Facebook page.

Philosophy, Re: Eudaimonian Parenting

Aristotle’s moral philosophy is referred to as the Nichomachean Ethics, the ten scrolls on the subject Aristotle wrote and dedicated to his father and/or son, Nichomachus. (Such a better dad than Plato!) I can’t get behind everything in there – e.g. Aristotle’s disdain for, and confusion about why people like, mental/physical ecstasy – but for the most part I maintain that an Aristotelian approach to behavior and relationships is a good thing, particularly in the context of a taoist view of the universe, nature, and life itself. The central concept (and goal) of Aristotle’s ethical system is eudaimonia, which basically means “human flourishing,” and if anyone has yet come up with a better concept to put at the center and horizon of thinking about human behavior, I haven’t heard about it. (This statement is not made cavalierly, but after years of reading about and debating the various and sundry objections to a wellness-centric morality and finding all such arguments to be lacking merit, or lacking a coherent alternative organizing principle for ethics, or both.)

I tend to spend a lot of time philosophizing about what I am doing and the last few years that has involved a lot of philosophizing about parenting and/or being a father. As my son gets to an age where he is beginning to really have his own personality, his own evolving personal relationship to suffering/pleasure, and an increasingly complicated set of material, emotional, and social preferences that interact with all that, I find myself increasingly looking for how I can synthesize my longterm, or big picture, parenting choices that are focused on his excellence (diet, education, exercise/activity, sociopolitical awareness, emotional intelligence & mastery, etc) with the short term, one-day-at-a-time focus on happiness. In other words, I try to figure out how each day we are together can be both immediately enjoyable and also fulfill longterm goals, and it is an interesting back and forth. (This is probably just a fancy way of describing what most parents are doing most of the time.)

For example, breakfast: We eat the same thing for breakfast everyday, unless there is some occasion not to (have to leave the house early, decide to go out to eat, etc). Since the breakfast rarely involves sugar, but rather a mix of greens, fruit, and protein, this was not – compared to, say, donuts – “immediately enjoyable” for my son when we started. I initially had to be very affirming and even entertaining about the eating of the protein and greens, but now when I put the food in front of him he just eats it – greens and protein first, usually. He says “mmmmm” and increasingly asks for more eggs. And our days got even better as a result of this, because protein in the morning really is important both physically and mentally. He even drinks tea with me now, which is just delightful.

Eating the same, healthy breakfast every morning is one of the best things I’ve learned to do in my adult life. I decided to take a chance that the benefits – getting a full, balanced meal without having to make or debate choices first thing in the morning – would apply to by child if I took the time to get him used to it. So while initially focused on long-term excellence (healthy, growing) at the expense of some short-term suffering (the months of not wanting to eat his eggs) we have now arrived at a point where there is no debate about breakfast, it is really healthy, and we really enjoy it. Having an ongoing dialogue between happiness and excellence of my child to arrive at a state where the two are integrated; this is what I mean when I say Eudaimonian Parenting.

Politics, Re: About (the stories about) those polls…

In the last few days you may have seen poll-related headlines about “Toomey pulls ahead in PA Senate Race” or “Trump Closing in on Clinton” or whatever. All of those headlines are related to a large set of polls put out by the same polling organization at Emerson College, and they only involve landlines (so no mobile phone calls). All of which is to say: don’t freak out. These polls are outliers and their methodology contains likely explanations for their abnormal results. Donald Trump’s “pivot” on immigration is not getting him anything but scorn from his alt-right base and probably nothing has really changed. Everybody chill.

Nerd stuff, Re: New Warriors feat. Squirrel Girl coming to TV, maybe

 

All the superhero clickbait today is based on a report from TV Line that Marvel and ABC are looking for someone to broadcast and/or stream a New Warriors TV show:

Described as the junior version of The Avengers, the New Warriors are a superhero squad made up of teenagers, one of whom would include Doreen Green (aka Squirrel Girl). For the record, SG can do more than just communicate with the world’s vast squirrel population; she also possesses super-speed and strength.

Super Girl is high on the list of fan favorites to get a TV show or movie. I am still hoping for Kamala Khan or a near-immediate move to the big screen for Riri Williams, but New Warriors could be good too.

Image of the Day

Sent in by a good friend. I particularly appreciate that they got Poohcard’s jacket so right.

PoohPigletDarmok

 

Meme of the Day, aka MOTD

Quote, from Khalil Gibran:

Keep me away from the wisdom which does not cry,

the philosophy which does not laugh,

and the greatness which does not bow before children.

Image: lion dad submitting to lion cub face sniffing

marked20160831_LionDadCub-KhalilGibran

Enjoy your Wednesday

Have a question, comment, or request for one of these thoughts to become a whole blog post? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Morning Memo for Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

TLP’s Morning Memo is brought to you by all the circumstances that leave me with not enough time to write full length essays about these topics. Enjoy.

I know how to sit still, but not like this guy.
I know how to sit still, but not like this guy.

Morning Memo for Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

All (okay, some of) the things in my mind I wish I had time to blog about today. Some of these things may get a full post later, but most will not. As always, many more links can be had by visiting TLP’s Facebook page.

Philosophy, Re: patiently struggling with patience

I find it very difficult to practice patience and, truthfully, am not entirely convinced of its virtue (yet). The idea of all things being used in moderation finds a lot of purchase in my mind and I apply that to everything including patience (and, for that matter, moderation). Context provides a lot of the information needed to discern which virtue(s) to apply, and how. In the tao te ching Laozi is pretty clear about a lot of things, including the importance of patience. He first speaks directly of it in Chapter 15:

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn’t seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things.

I am actually okay at this kind of patience, which I think of as personal or interpersonal non-action. To wit: A stressful situation develops and I don’t know how it is going to turn out, but I want it to end, my way, now. The intense desire to know and bring about the end of the stress prompts a flurry of mental action – what am I going to say? what am I going to do? who will help me? – that isn’t really based on reality (aka what is actually happening) so much as it is based on fantasy (aka what I wish would happen). Acting on fantasy in conflict with reality is a bad idea. Reality tends to (read: always, every time, without fail) win that fight.

How does on practice personal or interpersonal non-action? In my case at least, the flurry of mental action at the beginning of the process is inevitable, so I use it as step one in my non-action practice. Because as long as I don’t take behavioral action, all that mental action is really doing is bringing my options, my resources, and my allies into my awareness. These are good things to know as I allow the situation to develop without interference. So that is step one. Step two is asking myself two basic questions: What is actually happening? What do I need to do right now to prevent real harm? The first question helps separate my fear of what might happen (fantasy) from my understanding of what is actually happening (reality). If you’ve ever had a personal or professional relationship with someone who likes to make veiled threats, this is really important, because people like that rely on you to give their meager words the might of action, but really they’re just talking. The second question is a good way of figuring out if this is really a time for patience, and even if so what actions might be exempt non-action practice. For example: If water starts leaking in the kitchen, I probably shouldn’t call the landlord and yell at him about it just yet, but for sure I need to put some towels down right now, find the leak, and end the flow of water to it. Step three is the simplest and most difficult: wait for the best possible solution to emerge. I have no idea how this works for people less extroverted than myself. I hear some folks have epiphanies in the shower – that sounds great, try that. I am more likely to have my epiphany while talking to someone about showering, because nearly 100% of my “ah ha!” moments come through dialogue. So take a shower, or phone a friend, or meditate – you do you. The solution will come.

Of course life isn’t limited to the persona/interpersonal realm; there is also the cultural, political, institutional, and spiritual. This is where I have some trouble with patience, and where Laozi’s second mention of the virtue in tao chapter 67 comes to mind:

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

With both friends and enemies? Not so much. At the rate at which black women and men are being extra-judicially executed by police, children are falling into severe poverty, transgender folks are being murdered, and our drones are dropping bombs on foreign civilians – among other concerns – patience as an American has a body count that I find unacceptable. Even compassion gets difficult, here, especially when so many folks I know are already patient and compassionate with the warmongers and white supremacists in our midst. It seems to me that the “let’s walk to the future together, hand in hand, at whatever pace suits you” position has been overfilled, whereas the “hey fuck you, the future is here, stop crying about it and deal with it” position needs a great many more applicants. Even the kind of patience to look at the bigger picture and think “hey I may be yelling at this Trumpster right now, but in the grand scheme of things he will lose and we will win,” is only really available to me because I am an intelligent, able-bodied straight white cis man. My compassion for the struggle and oppression of folks who are not like me seems to conflict with the only kind of patience that I can find for corrupt institutions and a culture of domination.

This is where a good blogger would tie it all together and put a bow on it. Sorry! Not going to happen. I don’t know the answer. Human civilization is better than ever – global poverty and conflict are on the decline – but it isn’t getting better fast enough. And my country, where poverty in particular is concerned, is actually going backwards and I see way to many people boisteroulsy proclaiming their support for the policies, parties, and politicians who will make things even worse. I fail to see any way to apply the virtue of patience to all that. Surely patience in response to oppression, injustice, and deprivation becomes a vice.

If you encounter a personal quandry or an asshole at the office, I think the process I outlined earlier is a good move. Just wait. And while you’re waiting for the best solution to those problems to emerge, maybe donate to #BlackLivesMatter or go register folks to vote. Right now.

 

Politics, Re: Ted Cruz, Donnie and the Trumpsters, Citizen Kaine? What the Hill!

IngrahamNaziTrump
This is a real image of a real thing that really happened.

Let’s see if I can catch up quickly:

On Wednesday night, Ted Cruz gave a speech where he pointedly did not endorse Donald Trump and then got epically booed by the crowd. Cruz is getting cool points from a number of folks – reactionaries and progressives alike – for “standing on principal.” Cruz later told the Texas delegation that he didn’t back Trump because of Donnie’s attacks on Teddy’s family during the primaries. What the fuck ever! The only principal Ted Cruz is standing on is that he wants to defeat President Clinton and win the White House in 2020. Everything Ted said and did – or will say and do for the next four years – is about his desire to be President. He needs Trump to lose for that to happen, so he humilitated Trump on national TV. Deft? Yes. Courageous? No.

On Thursday night, Ivanka Trump came out to introduce her dad and made a speech full of Democratic policy goals to introduce her dad, who she says will make America great again. Ms. Trump then tweeted a link for folks to buy the dress she was wearing from her fashion line at Macy’s. The dress is not manufactured in America.

Donald Trump then came out and auditioned for the role of America’s Next Top Despot. I don’t think he will get the job since it doesn’t even exist. Trump got kudos from some folks – and contemptous surprise from many others – for using the prompter and mostly staying on message, thus prompting the question: is this new, better, general election Trump? The answer – umm, no, not at all – came during a press avail the next day.

ClintonKaine
*yawn*

The next day, Friday, aka yesterday, Hillary Clinton announced Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. Look, I get it: Kaine is a Senator from a state with a Democratic governor – unlike Senators Warren and Booker – which means he can be elevated without costing the Democrats a much needed Senate seat. Kaine is good on some issues, or so I’m told (he speaks Spanish?), but is also problematic on other issues (reproductive justice). Young/left voters are pissed because they wanted Clinton to pick somoene to persuade and even get them excited about voting for her. And while I may have wanted the same thing, I understand the realpolitik of picking Kaine.

The fact is that Kaine will help Clinton keep some voters she might otherwise lose to Trump and maybe even win over some Trump voters. Kaine is also competent to be President if something happens to Clinton, which is always the fundamental concern in picking a VP. As for the young/left voters, the harsh truth is that they don’t tend to vote in general elections – either by not voting at all, or by voting for someone who stands no real possibility of winning. The irony here is that if young/left voters really want national-ticket Dems to cater to them in the future, the best way to make that happen is to show up in droves to vote for Hillary Clinton this November. Probably not going to happen, so the cycle will continue – disregard causes disengagement causes irrelevance causes disregard.

But hey, from a Taoist perspective, Clinton is much better at the patience thing than I am. Kaine is meant to reassure as many freaked out white people as can be reassured, and that hurts Trump, and anything that hurts Trump helps all of us. Kaine is an entirely uninspiring, but not unintelligent, pick for VP.

Nerd stuff, Re: Star Trek Beyond

Hey, Star Trek Beyond came out this week. Read the TLP review here.

More nerd news another day, out of time for now.

Image of the Day

From #SDCC

HowsWaldo

Enjoy your Weekend.

Have a question, comment, or request for one of these thoughts to become a whole blog post? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Progressive/Nerd/Parent Review: Star Trek Beyond

Better than the second, not as good as the first, but the most fun of any of them.

Jaylah sits in the captain's chair while Kirk looks at Scotty all bumfuzzled
Somebody call Vice-Admiral Trump, this undocumented immigrant just took Kirk’s job. Sad!

Star Trek Beyond

Spoiler Alert: There are no spoilers in this review that were not already delivered via trailers and TV spots for the movie. That said, they gave up a lot of plot points in the trailers and TV spots so consider yourself warned.

Bechdel-Wallace Score: 1/3 – Two women barely ever shared the screen during the whole movie. Their character backgrounds, development, and activities were almost all centered around men. Even one point seems a bit high, but hey there was more than one named female character, so okay. Seriously though – it’s 2016 and this is a Star Trek movie. I expect better. That said, Uhura’s relationship with Spock was not an absurdity in this film as it was in Into Darkness and Jaylah is not seduced by, or seducing, any of the Enterprise crew. So that’s something.

Shukla Score: 3/3 – Well, okay, so there are at least two named characters that are people of color and they do speak to each other about something other than race. There is one sequence where Sulu and Uhura are working together for a minute, and that gets 3/3. The only other scenes that might pass the test are a few where Uhura and Krall (played by Idris Elba) are talking, but Elba’s face is hidden away for most of the movie underneath a great deal of makeup – including the scenes with Uhura.

Russo Score: 3/3 – Even if you didn’t see any of the hoopla about it online, the movie clearly identifies Sulu as a gay family man. No fuss is made about this and Sulu goes on to be pivotal to the developments of the film and in no way a caricature. Indeed, one of the best emotional moments of the film is a brief shot of Sulu as he realizes his family is in jeopardy.

Kittehs: 😺😹😻😺/5 – I enjoyed the movie a great deal, although it was not entirely engaging – the first and third act both had some uninteresting moments – so I score it four kittehs. The laughing and love-eyed kittehs are for the second act, which showcased the best of the new Spock/McCoy relationship and had the best action and story moments of the whole film. Folks who saw the first trailer for the movie and, like me, thought “oh no this looks awful” will be pleasantly surprised by how not-awful, and even good, Star Trek Beyond turns out to be.

What a waste of such a fine face.
What a waste of such a fine face.

Low points: *NERD ALERT* As a severe Star Trek nerd, I find stupid continuity errors hard to forgive. As you’ve seen in the trailers, the marooned crew of the Enterprise find an older Starfleet vessel – the USS Franklin, NX 326 – to use in the third act of the movie. The problem is that the Franklin is described as being one of the first Warp-4 capable ships from the beginning of the Federation. Now, I’m not saying anybody should watch Enterprise, but plenty of people did and maybe the filmmakers should have run this by one of us since we could have said “well, the NX01 Enterprise was pre-Federation and could go Warp-5, so maybe say “first Warp-6″ vessel instead and avoid a stupid error.” But no, they went with stupid error. *end nerd alert* If the movie had any other low points, they weren’t anything significant. I think it was a waste to put so much makeup on Idris Elba for so much of the film; I think the starbase shown in the movie is just completely preposterous, not to say the Federation couldn’t build it – I like that part – but just that it seems odd to put something so large and fragile and full of people next to a big, dense, chaotic nebula and then, you know, hope for the best.

Highlights: Well, so, that starbase is a highlight too. Even if the positioning of the thing is absurd, it is cool to see folks imagining the Federation as a bold venture of civilization into the vastness of space. Partly I’m sure due to budget and effects limitations in the past, Starfleet ships and bases always had a fairly standard military feel – especially the bases. Here the space station is imagined with all the resources and engineering skill you’d expect a multi-planetary space-faring alliance to be able to muster. And it looks like a beautiful place to live. An overall great thing about the movie is that they finally get the hell away from Earth, unlike the first two movies in the franchise that were very Earth-bound and suffered for it. Seeing the ship and crew in deep space was cool and gave me some serious nostalgia feels. Another highlight actually turned out to be the motorcycle sequence; not wanting to spoil it, but this looked like the stupidest thing in the first trailer and it ended up being the most fun of the whole movie. Last but not least, and again without spoiling it, the solution the crew devises for dealing with the alien swarm is absurd, hokey, and so simple in the end it is kind of stupid – classic Star Trek. I loved it. Into Darkness was so, well, into its own darkness. But in Beyond the franchise remembers how to have fun again. Yay!

The classic superior strength demonstration: lift Kirk up by the neck.
The classic superior strength demonstration: lift Kirk up by the neck.

Dad edits: Damnit, this was so close to being the first Star Trek movie I could take my son to, but not quite. Several people are shown during or after having the life drained out of them. Some folks are vaporized on screen. Many, many people are blown into space. A bit too much death in general, plus a dash of torture at one point, has me saying this movie earns its PG-13 rating.

Final Thoughts: I still haven’t quite let go of wanting a return to the less frenetic, more cerebral, Star Trek movies that I grew up watching. Beyond, if a bit too flashy and hectic for my preferences, was nonetheless a lot more enjoyable than Into Darkness and came much closer to replicating the near-total awesomeness of 2009’s Star Trek. I think the folks running this franchise now are learning from their mistakes and really getting the hang of it. I am relieved this movie turned out so much better than I expected and I am excited to see what they do in the as yet untitled Star Trek 4.

What do you think about this move? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Morning Thoughts & Links for Wednesday, July 20th

Morning thoughts and links are brought to you by all the circumstances that leave me with not enough time to write full length blog posts. Enjoy.

Note the absences of either bottle or glass.
Note the absences of either bottle or glass.

Morning Thoughts & Links for Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Welcome to the new feature, where I will write down the things in my mind I wish I had time to blog about today. Some of these things may get a full post later, but most will not. As always, many more links can be had by visiting TLP’s Facebook page.

Philosophy, Re: writing both creatively and well

There is a quote, often misattributed to Ernest Hemingway, imploring us to “write drunk; edit sober.” The quote is a sort of Hemingwayified paraphrase of a much longer thought that is sometimes misattributed to Dylan Thomas:

“Sometimes I write drunk and revise sober, and sometimes I write sober and revise drunk. But you have to have both elements in creation — the Apollonian and the Dionysian, or spontaneity and restraint, emotion and discipline.”

That thought did not come from Thomas himself, but rather from writer Peter DeVries, whose 1964 novel “Reuben, Reuben” featured a protagonist based on Dylan Thomas. Hemingway would not actually say any of this as he was supposedly strict about writing in the morning before he started drinking, saying instead:

“My training was never to drink after dinner nor before I wrote nor while I was writing.”

And again, Hemingway:

I have spent all my life drinking, but since writing is my true love I never get the two things mixed up.

Of course Hemingway didn’t have a blog, but his wisdom applies. I generally don’t try to use my faculties if I have done anything to impede them – it just seems like a lose/lose proposition – but have found there are a couple times when blog posts are not too ill-affected by a drink or two. Specifically tv show/movie reviews and contemporary Republican/right-wing politics. Even then, while the former can be helped by an uninhibited “fuck it, just publish the thing,” the latter is more likely to lead to a “fuck it, why am I even writing about this” well before anything is ready to publish. I can’t imagine how someone like Christopher Hitchens – who famously drank every day and evening while nonetheless producing copious copy – was able to pull it off. I suspect that a fair number of aspiring writers have fantasies about being drunken prophets, which dreams are presumably only half realized, but I prefer my personal excuse of being too busy to write. It feels virtuous and is much less fattening. But I digress.

The intention of the original misquote, fleshed out by the actual original passage by DeVries, is to draw attention to the need to be both disciplined and uninhibited while writing; both focused and careening. Altered states – be it from drink or ADD meds – tend to provide one at the expense of the other, so that’s a bad move. In my limited experience as a writer, and much more extensive experience as a conversationalist, the best way to get Apollo and Dionysus playing nice together is to  have as little self-image involved as possible. I set intentions for the pieces I write – a Game of Thrones recap needs to be funny, movie reviews should have a dash of serious but never ever be severe, a critical response to another writer should be vulnerable and even self-effacing – while making my best effort to have no intentions for myself as a writer. Having some sort of writing-ego-based rules that always apply would be (and used to be) stifling. Sticking with the Greek mythology archetypal metaphor, my inner Apollo brings its own rules and my Dionysus won’t suffer any, so there is nothing to be gained by me setting them. The big bonus here, too, is the vulnerability; if I’m never sure who I am as a writer, then I get to be surprised each time I write something, and that keeps it fun.

So there is my take: have fun writing; have fun editing. Or if you like it in a more judgmental tone: If writing doesn’t feel like play time, then you aren’t doing the work. I look forward to being flattered by seeing to whom those quotes get misattributed.

Politics, Re: GOP Convention Day 2  (a mini Voyeur Recap)

Well the political story at the moment is still the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Day two sounds – or at least reads – like it was as bad as day one.

There was another kind of plagiarism seeming moment in Donnie Junior’s remarks, but it turns out it was just his speechwriter recycling his own previous work. Maybe today we can be more focused on all the white nationalism happening at that convention instead of the plagiarism stuff.

A speaker from the NRA unwittingly made the case for much stricter gun laws.

Dr. Ben Carson ditched his prepared remarks that figuratively demonized Hillary Clinton in order to, well, literally demonize Hillary Clinton. Seriously, he spent time talking about how Hillary is in league with Satan.

Plenty of other crazy shit went down, including Chris Christie leading a mock trial of Clinton so the folks on the floor could spend another night shouting “lock her up.”

Not entirely related to the convention, but the NYTimes has a lot of background on how Trump’s VP selection process went.

Nerd stuff, Re: making Batman V Superman funny and Star Trek stuff

My thoughts and feelings on Batman V Superman are on the record, as well as my views about how Batman should be portrayed on screen V how Batman has been portrayed on screen. And while I do not hold out much hope that Warner Bros DC Cinematic Murderverse will be getting better anytime soon, I did at least find great joy this morning in watching the Honest Trailers take on Dawn of Justice. It’s over seven minutes long, but wow, what a cathartic seven minutes:

In other nerd news, ScreenRant is all over Star Trek news right now with scoops about Star Trek 4 is already a go, the series (thank goodness) will not be recasting Chekov after actor Anton Yelchin’s death, and JJ Abrams continues to be one of the few directors of nerd fare who can reflect on his missteps, in this case regarding Into Darkness, after fandom has helped point them out.

Image of the Day

This has to be the best image I found on the interwebs yesterday:

GnomeAnn

Enjoy your Wednesday.

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Morning Thoughts & Links for Tuesday, July 19th

Morning thoughts and links are brought to you by all the circumstances that leave me with not enough time to write full length blog posts. Enjoy.

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One of his campaign promises was to not be a Nader, and he kept it. Nice work Senator.

Morning Thoughts & Links for Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Welcome to the new feature, where I will write down the things in my mind I wish I had time to blog about today. Some of these things may get a full post later, but most will not. As always, many more links can be had by visiting TLP’s Facebook page.

When is Hillary going to run a pro-Hillary campaign?

So far, it seems like the Hillary Clinton general election campaign has been almost entirely anti-Trump, with very little pro-Hillary. Take a look at this ad:

Of course it is excellently done, completely devastating to watch, and probably more than a little bit effective in making folks think twice about the normalizing of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. That said, it is indicative to me of what I have read about rallies Clinton has held, particularly with Senators Warren and then Sanders, where she gets an endorsement (yay) even though most of the time is spent dogging on Donnie.

On the one hand, I have some serious and severe policy and perspective disagreements with Hillary Clinton. On the other hand, I have learned enough about her as a person and policy maker to be excited about voting for her in November. So when the hell is her campaign going to try to get other people excited? Surely accentuating Donald Trump’s negatives is an integral part of a general election strategy, but just as surely that strategy should also include a concerted effort to redefine Clinton in the minds of as many voters as will listen. Maybe this effort will start at the Democratic National Convention and they just wanted to multimedia carpet-bomb Trump for a few weeks first, and I hope so. It would be a shame if the campaign wasted an opportunity to repair Hillary’s favorability ratings and in the process spent a bunch of prime time talking about Donald fucking Trump.

#RNCinCLE Night 1, Highlights and Low Points

Steve King went explicitly and literally white supremacist during an interview last night.

Melania Trump plagiarized passages from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech – remarks about honesty and hard work, no less!

Other people were there and talking and being horrible, which you can read about via Andrew Sullivan’s liveblogging of the evening. Reading that liveblog (I don’t watch this shit) lead to another kind of low point last night…

Speaking of people making problematically white supremacists remarks…

During his live blogging, Andrew Sullivan made some comments that, for the first time in the 18ish months since his blog went offline, made me think the internet might be better off without him commenting about things so much. Sully equated #BlackLivesMatter with white folks who are irrationally scared of crime despite historically low crime rates. He made this comparison because he is apparently living in an information bubble with only a recent paper, which Sully said he finds “conclusive,” that is incomplete and just, ugh, I can’t even. Here is Kim LaCapria from Snopes.com’s excellent debunking of claims like Sully’s:

Fryer’s findings weren’t necessarily misleading, incorrect, or wrong, but there were numerous obvious problems with the bombastic manner in which the New York Times framed his paper (for starters). Fryer’s paper was neither published nor peer-reviewed, and it was certainly not a “Harvard study.” (A similar controversy erupted over a “Harvard study” on of gun rights was found to be a paper penned by supporters of that issue.)

Critics noted that Fryer’s sample size was exceedingly small (possibly skewing the results) and relied on the narratives of policemen and women party to officer-involved shootings. Moreover, Fryer’s background in economics was certainly useful for crunching data, but it lacked the scope and working knowledge present in criminologists and researchers in related fields. The paper is still a work in progress and hasn’t been fully vetted, but even in its “working” state it has been the target of multiple assessments indicating that its findings are far from complete.

If I have time to write a full post today, it will be about this. Sullivan was minimally informed and maximally condescending in his remarks, coming from a place of bias-fueled ignorance as he condescendingly accused BLM supporters of being ignorant and fueled by bias. I don’t say this often, but is was shameful. I emailed him the snopes article at the address supplied during the liveblog. He clearly got a lot of feedback about his comments, some of which he posted, but then he kept digging his hole deeper with his responses, until suddenly he just didn’t mention it again for the rest of the night. I have my fingers crossed that he will be correcting himself, maybe even apologizing, this evening.

Coming soon to a Bye, Felicia! near you…

Roger Ailes, the mastermind behind Fox News since 1996, is either going to be fired or forced to resign sometime real soon, it seems. (Click the link for more info.)

Ailes’ downfall coinciding with the Trump-fueled implosion of the GOP provides a lot of room for interpretation and commentary, like this piece by Rebecca Traister, and I am sure many more to come.

***

That’s it for now, I hear small people waking up downstairs. More links and images will be posted on the Facebook page today. Here is my favorite found image from yesterday:

Take that, Sully.
Take that, Sully.

Enjoy your Tuesday.

Have a question, comment, or request for one of these thoughts to become a whole blog post? Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing. 

Voyeur Recap: Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter”

Welcome to TLP’s Voyeur Recap – a guide for staying conversant with friends, family, and colleagues who are really into a show that you do not have the time and/or desire to watch. The first and so far only series to be included in this feature is HBO’s Game of Thrones. (FYI spoilers abound)

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Lovely view.

What is Game of Thrones? Based on a series of novels written by Coldplay frontman Chris RR Martin, Game of Thrones tells the story of the conscious unseptupling of the seven kingdoms of Westeros right before they all plunge into the first cold, lonely winter in many years. The winter brings with it an army of magical zombies and their hordes of mindless, ravenous servants called “wights,” which are obvious allegories for music industry execs and groupies, respectively. The books, which were written as a way for Martin to cope with his difficult feelings during his divorce from actress Gwyneth Paltrow, have been criticized for the absurdly emo way major characters just get brutally killed off without warning – except for the attractive (and mostly underage) women who are terribly mistreated, but always survive to have sex, commit murder, or stand naked in fire again another day.

What is a Voyeur Recap? The voyeur recap is here to help non-viewers like us stay conversant with friends, family members, and colleagues who are watching the show and talking about it. All of the information provided about the show is completely accurate, except for the stuff that is totally made up. Folks who watch the show are also welcome to read and get a laugh from this recap, but be aware there are spoilers.

Which episode just aired? Sunday night’s episode was season 6 number 10, the season finale, titled “The Winds of Winter” and I need to confess that I actually did watch this episode after reading about it.

What happened in the episode (and what should you say about it)?

In King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister killed, had killed, or had tortured to death everybody that has been mean to her. She got kids to kill one guy, she got a zombie to (it is implied) rape a woman to death after Cersei spends a minute wineboarding her (which is how one-percenters torture folks), and she got another kid to stab a guy in some catacombs so that we could watch him slowly realize the big thing Cersei was about to pull off. See, these religious fanatics called the “Faith Militant,” who wear dirty pajamas all the time and believe folks wearing real clothes are sinners, had an adversarial relationship with Cersei and her family because of all the fancy clothes the Lannisters wear. Things got really ugly and there was to be a trial of Cersei at a church called the Bale of Skeletor, or maybe it was the the Sept of Baelor, I can’t keep all the names straight. Anyway it doesn’t matter anymore, because down in those catacombs Cersei had found some magical napalm left around by a previous angry monarch type, and she used it to blow up the Skeletor, everyone in it, and anything nearby it. Good news for Cersei: all her enemies in the city were killed all at once and she became queen. Bad news for Cersei: one of her enemies in the city was Margarine, the wife of Cersei’s son, King Tommen. It turns out Tommen was one of those people that really loves Margarine (you know how some people are) and he self-defenestrated when he realized what his mother had done. That’s how Cersei became queen; sort of the Game of Thrones version of leaning in, I guess.

What to say: “What good is a crown if you have no allies left to help you keep it?” or “I hope she saved some of that wildfire to use against the wights later!” or “So wait, her goal this whole time was to protect her children, and the result is that they’re all dead… …wtf?!”

What to predict: “Jaime will have to kill her himself, I bet. Knowing this show, probably while they’re having sex.”

What to say for a laugh: “Now I know why they call it King’s Landing. Ha Ha Ha! Dead kids are totes funny.” or “I guess it is too late to tell her that when folks say moms have to make sacrifices for career advancement, they don’t mean it so literally.”

Up in the North, the ever creepier and crazier Lord Petyr Baelish, aka Littlefinger, revealed to Sansa Stark that his long term goal is to sit on the Iron Throne and have her as a wife, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since he has spent years moving himself geographically further away from the throne while also marrying Sansa off to several other men even creepier than himself. When Littlefinger moved in for a smooch, Sansa denied him in a classic “man misinterprets woman’s loathing every iota of his existence as her wanting a kiss” moment. Elsewhere in Winterfell, a guy named Davros who fans really like despite the fact that we all know he eventually creates the Daleks, confronted Melisandre about that one time she convinced a guy to burn his daughter at the stake for good luck, but he got bad luck and died instead. Awkward! Davros asks Jon Snow to have Melisandre executed, but instead Jon gets all Solomon on it (probably because Melisandre brought his ass back to life) and expels the Lady in Red from the North. Later at a big meeting of Northern families, a prepubescent lady named Lyanna Mormont shames a bunch of old lords into supporting Jon Snow as the new King in the North. Folks got really excited about this scene on Twitter, despite the fact gaining this title has so far been a death sentence for loved and loathed characters alike.

What to say: “Where was Ghost this whole time?”

What to say for a laugh: “Winter may have come, but Littlefinger got blue balled. Lulz!”

What to tweet/hashtag: #LyannaMormont2016 – because fandom loves ambitious girls so long as they don’t grow up to be ambitious women.

What to predict: “So I guess Cersei and Baelish are going to need to get married or something before they realize they have no friends.”

Meanwhile, in Riverrun or the Twins or Somewhere, Walder Frey gets a few moments on screen with Jaime Lannister to remind us that both of them are awful and Walder is just grossly so. Later we get to see Walder eating meat pie and complaining that his sons aren’t around. The servant girl feeding him turns out to be Arya Stark, who apparently learned how to change faces after all, and she lets Walder know that she killed, carved, and baked his sons into the pie he has been eating. Walder only gets a moment to process this fact before Arya slits his throat, just as Walder’s bastard son Walder did to Arya’s mother Catelyn a few seasons back. Fans of the show on Twitter went wild with joy when this happened, which makes sense because comeuppance is satisfying, but is also a bit off considering that a girl killed two people, fed them to their dad, then killed him too.

What to say about it for a laugh/grimace: “I always just assumed it was Shepherd’s pie, but now I am really wondering if it is shepherds pie! So gross…”

What to say: “Did anybody but me notice that when Arya told him he was eating his sons, Walder made a regurgitation face instead of, you know, actually throwing up? Because I’m pretty sure he should have actually thrown up.” 

In other North-ish news, Samwise Gamgee made it to a big library with a cool light and a lot of books and nobody knows why he is there yet. More consequentially, north of The Wall, Benjen ‘Coldhands’ Stark ditches Bran (who is six feet tall and can’t walk) and Meera because Benjen can’t go south of The Wall due to magic spells written into the stone that are bad even for good guy zombies. The undead Benjen does not even so much as craft a new sled for Meera to use to pull Bran before he rides away on his horse. What a shitty uncle! Of course there is a nearby tree so Bran and Meera get straight to work on… …having a vision into the past, where Bran learns for sure what we all already figured out back in the pilot episode, that Jon Snow is no bastard son of Ned Stark but is instead born of a union between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Folks got really excited about this on Twitter too, which is fine. This is like the one scene you can really just be happy about. I mean, other than that poor woman dying after childbirth without ever holding her baby and Jon Snow having grown up his whole life shunned as a bastard despite being two kinds of royalty and Ned Stark being thought of as a bit of a hypocrite because he came back from a war with a bastard kid even while being preachy about honor all the time. Other than that stuff, a purely uplifting development for the series!

What to say if you want people to think you read a lot even though we all know you just binge watch streaming television all the time: “That library just looked like heaven to me. I would so make the same face as Sam did! And totally leave my wife and child behind on my way in!”

What to say if you are the kind of ass that wants to keep the Jon Snow parentage non-mystery alive a bit longer: “Well you didn’t hear everything Lyanna whispered to Ned, so maybe Jon isn’t Rhaegar’s son. He does have Baratheon-looking hair, you know.”

What to say to be clever: “So I guess a few episodes ago they could totally have burnt Jon’s corpse and he still would’ve come back to life, maybe with a flaming sword or some dragon eggs or something, and no scars. Thanks for nothing, Wun Wun.”

In Dorne, and then in Essos, and then back near Dorne again, Varys visited Dorne to forge an alliance between the Sand Snakes, Tyrells, and his choice for eventual ruler Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen. Dany stayed in Essos to break up with her NSA sex pal, Daario, because nobody brings a side piece with them when they’re off to reclaim their family’s throne on another continent. Duh. Then – and really, this was sweet – Dany made Tyrion the Hand of the Queen in a scene that was magnificently played by actor Peter Dinklage. After all that they set sail apparently for Dorne, because the next time we see them they are all together – Dany, Varys, and Tyrion – at sea in a fleet with the Greyjoys, Tyrells, and Dornish navy, with Dany’s Dragons flying overhead.

What to say to sound like everybody else: “WTF does Varys have a teleporter now? How did he get from Meereen to Dorne back to Meereen again in an hour?!?!”

What to say to sound smarter than everybody else: “STFU, the different scenes in the episodes, like the different plots of the season, aren’t all happening concurrently and in real time. Just use common sense to figure out how things fit together instead of complaining about not having everything explained to you.”

What to say to make peace if you are caught between those two people: “It’s true the show does have a flexible relationship with narrative time that can be off-putting, and the information is there to figure out what is going on. Let’s just agree that a little “three weeks later” text at the bottom of the screen would help sometimes. Anyway, who do you think would win in a fight between Star Trek and Star Wars?”

What to say if you are a woman in a mixed gender and/or age group discussing anything of consequence: “Do shut up. Let the grown women speak.”

What to say for a laugh: “Well I have to admit I really thought we were dorne with that subplot. Eh? EH? DORNE with that subplot! Get it?!?!” (Be sure to explain it in detail if people don’t laugh the first time.)

Further Reading:

HBO released an infographic to let everybody know for sure that Jon is a Targaryen.

Vox Media: “Game of Thrones season 6 was good TV that shows why the series will never be great

io9: “Game of Thrones Showrunner Confirm There Are Only 15 Episodes Left, Max

Screen Rant: “Game of Thrones Showrunners Tease Next Seasons

Questions?

If you have any questions about the show that you would like to be answered by someone who doesn’t watch it and has never read the books, use the links below to contact TLP.

Tell TLP what you think of this episode!  Send an email, comment on Facebook, or tweet on Twitter. There is also Tumblr and the comment field below, if you’re into that kind of thing.