Cultural Criticality

The sudden and widespread exposure of sexual misconduct across widely disparate fields feels like a cultural tipping point has been passed. This seemed to start with the Harvey Weinstein expose and then like a row of tumbling dominions it spread, but that dominion simile is not quite correct. No, this is more like a nuclear chain reaction. To my mind that picture is also a much better analogy for grasping what is going on and what could happen in other areas of the social sphere.

Imagine you have a large number of 1-gram blocks of Plutonium. In this thought experiment you take the blocks and assemble them into a cube. One by one you pick up a cube and add it to the others, and wow nothing is happening. They just sit there. You can do this thousands of times and nothing will happen, but somewhere around 11,000 times you will add one cube and the mass with become critical. At that point you are dead. The chain reaction takes off and the cubes that had presented no serious danger before are now all presenting a lethal threat. The last block you added? There was nothing special about that one. It was exactly the same but adding it to the pile did not provoke the same non-reaction.

Why the Weinstein expose and not the Cosby one? We can never know, here the analogy is not a perfect fir, but it still serves. It feels like we have hit a critical reaction and going back to the way it was before is looking less and less likely. (Not a bad thing in my opinion.)

I think we are still facing a similar situation with mass shootings. Newtown and a cowardly murderer targeting children did not change things, but we were and are still below criticality. It is not the individual event and its character that will matter but with some future some ineffable sense will change and sudden it won’t be the same game anymore. If there happens to be a Democratic controlled Senate at that time it would not surprise me to hear that they are suspending the filibuster for legislation in order to pass something. (And if they do pass something Trump would sign it. It costs him nothing and he can bask in the warm glow of praise. All that matters to him, that and money.)

This is the danger that I see pro-second amendment factions are ignoring. By taking no actions, by offering nothing at all, and there are things that they could offer that are not gun control and bans, they are removing none of the block from this growing pile.

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Post LosCon 44

The fact that I did not post during the con is an indication that this past weekend’s convention, Loscon 44, was a lot of a fun. Once I arrived at the hotel Friday evening there was simply too much to do to take time out of my schedule to sit at thee computer and bang out an update.

Friday night I did find a quite corner and completed my writing for the day and the end of the novel is pulling up over the horizon but beyond that it was panels, parties, games and good conversations all weekend long.

For those not in the know LosCon of the Los Angeles Area Science-Fiction Convention and this year was number 44. I have been attended for about twenty years and last year I participated as a panelist though this year I was simply a member having fun.

The convention runs from Friday through Sunday afternoon, but I miss the daylight hour events on the first day, as at my day-job I simply do not have the seniority to take that day off from work. As soon as I got off work my Sweetie-Wife and drove to L.A., listening to old episode of the NPR news quiz show Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell me.

A goof convention, and this one fits the bill, recharges my enthusiasm and revitalizing my creative muse. I am ready for more 10 hours work days and more long session producing prose.

 

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Do You Want Humanity on Mars?

Then you had better hope that the tax bill is never passed. The changes to the tax code in respect to high education will devastate the postgraduate population. You cannot get humanity off this damned planet without Ph.Ds.

Do you want research into aging?

Well you better kill this tax bill because we are never going to conquer that condition without advanced medical skill and if you dry up the pool of graduate students you will be cutting you own throat.

That’s just one aspect of a terrible terrible bill flying through congress. It permanently lowers taxes on corporations and the ultra-wealthy, while temporarily reduces them on the middle class as a budgeting gimmick, leaving the middle class to face tax increases to fund the afore mentioned cuts.

Cuts that aren’t even required.

Corporate profits right now are at an all time high. Employment is near full employment. There is no shortage of cash for any of the massive corporations that are preventing them from expanding and razing wages.

Hell, even those commie socialist liberals at Forbes magazine are attacking this plan as a bad one for the US Economy.

If it is so clearly a bad bill why on earth are the elected Republicans hell bent on getting it done. Trump is more easily understandable by some estimate this will save his personal family; nearly a billion dollars but the GOP Representative and Senators passing this will not gain such a reward.

However rewards and incentives are key to understanding this. In American politics there are two major sources of power, a motivated voter base and large donors. If you have both firing on all cylinders you’re in a great spot. If you have one or the other you can work what resources you have and save your job, sometimes.

Populism has stolen the GOP base away from the main elected members. The movement that carried Trump to an electoral victory ignored him in Alabama for the more fiery populist candidate Roy Moore. Steven Bannon is leading digital crowds of pitchfork wielding peasant in assaults on the ‘establishment’ fortress. They have lost control of an energized base that leaves the large donors as their resource to fight off both liberal and the revolting peasants. They simply cannot afford to alienate these mega-donors and the donors want this tax cut. One GOP congress is quoted as reporting that his donors are telling him get this done or never call them again.

We are in serious trouble.

 

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A Difference in Magnitude not Kind

It has been interesting watching the political debate surrounding Moore and Franken. On both sides there are people calling for resignations and on both sides there are people calling for pragmatism.

Moore may be a child molester and a hypocrite but he’ll vote for the right policies and his opponent will not

Franken may be a molester of adults and a hypocrite but he’s a good progressive, standing on the right side of almost every issue his replacement may not.

Do you see that these really are the same argument?

I am certain that I know the number of ‘free’ assaults Democrats would allow a conservative is zero, and I am equally certain that number of ‘free’ child molestations the Republican’s would allow a liberal is an equally low zero.

The Tea Party has taken ‘compromise’ to be a dirty word and for the most part politics is compromise but there are things upon which you should not bend and basic morality is one of them.

I walked away from the Republican Part when is embraced torture as a ‘pragmatic’ solution because party unity mattered more than right and wrong. As such I have no qualms about voicing my opinion that Moore is a terrible person and should be gone.

Franken’s assault, though not against children, are also terrible.

If you do not hold people to standards then they and you will never meet those standards. Be wary of pragmatism over morality for in the end you may be left with neither.

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Franken

Let me make this real quick as I have a novel that is not going to write itself. (And believe me I have tried that method.)

If there are creditable accusations, and I have not taken the time to make that judgment, then he should step down and Minnesota should hold a special election to replace him.

See, that was easy.

To conservatives who want to hide behind Clinton and Franken hoping to retain control of the Senate with that nut-job Moore.

Franken and Clinton aren’t your shields.

Moore is a direct result of the party you have built over the last few decades. When angering and trolling liberals is more important than policy or ideas then you get men like Moore and he will not be the last.

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Blogging will be Light

 

For several months there I was pretty good about some sort of update on just about every weekday but that is not going to happen these last couple of months of 2017.

This is the super busy period at my day-job as the applications of Medicare Replacement plans flood our inboxes.

This is good. I make nice extra money working overtime and truly the work is good work, but something has to suffer. I am still maintaining about 1000 words or so a day on my novel and therefore it is the blogging that will take a hit.

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The Lesser of two Evils is Still Evil

It would appear that for some Republicans and Conservatives the Senatorial effort of Roy Moore is a conundrum. Credible accusations have been laid out that he is a sexual predator. Those accusations have not been proven in a court of law and under that standard he remains innocent until proven guilty, but election a person to any public office, high or low, is more than just political philosophy, it is an endorsement of character. Character judgment does not require the high burden of proof of a criminal trail and we can still look upon the flawed character and ask ourselves ‘is this the sort of person who should have power over the lives of others?’

I have seen it argued in the pages of conservative publications that this should be a line in the sand, that to endorse this man would be a compromise too far.

Really?

The GOP has already embraced torture. It is headed by a man that many consider to be a cheat, a liar, a narcissist, and a sexual predator, but now you are trying to argue that the line you cannot cross has suddenly appeared?

Buddy, that line came and went years ago. I know I was a member of the GOP and I walked away because I will not compromise right/wrong for fell fickle politics.

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Movie Review: Murder On the Orient Express

Based upon a novel first published in 1934 this week saw the release of another film version Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. Assembling an all-star cast, just had been done in 1974’s version, Kenneth Branagh stars in directs in this murder mystery.

Branagh plays world famous detective Hercule Poirot. In this adaptation Poirot is portrayed as a man who suffers from OCD before that condition had been recognized much less named, Recalled to London on an emergency he manages to get passage on a the Orient Express though all the cabins had been reserved. During the trip from Asia Minor, while traveling through the mountains of Eastern Europe the train becomes stranded and a passenger is murdered. Passionate for justice and suspecting that the local authorities would likely convict and execute the wrong person, Poirot endeavors to solve the locked room mystery before the train is freed from the snow.

Though the plot is more than 80 years old I will not spoil the mystery on the off chance someone reading this is unaware of the rather unusual nature. I will say that it stays, generally, faithful to the source material, as I understand it, including Christie’s horrible habit of withholding clues, yielding a mystery unsolvable by readers and audiences. As an additional demerit the mystery’s resolution is silliness and utterly impractical.

That said, this is a movie worth seeing, and worth seeing in a proper theater. The film is lush, vibrant, and lovely. While not all the CGI train shots work perfectly more than enough do so to transport the viewer to another time and another place. However what really makes this watchable are the performances. This movie is really a series of scenes in a confined space, so it is not abut action, stunts, or thrilling sequences, but about characters interacting and the cast is superb.

If you have the slightest interest in the film and in watching some great actors go at each other, see this.

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Movie Review: Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is the third stand alone film based the character of Thor, who is in turned based on the mythological Norse god of Thunder. Many people feel that Marvel studios have been floundering a bit with what exactly to di with this character. His first outing in Thor many said was a story and scope that seemed to small, too constrained for such a gran operatic character, while the second movie Thor: The Dark World many accused of trying too hard for gravitas. Personally, I enjoyed both movies and Blu-rays of each sit in my library, but they are also not my favorite films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

This time out Thro is dealing with Ragnarok, the Norse myth’s end of days prophecy, and event being hastened along by Hela the Norse goddess of the death. Taking a tonal cue from the successful Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, Thor: Ragnarok is a film that has serious potiential outcomes for its character and the MCU’s grander continuity while also playing many of it’s beats and scene for laughs. This is a very difficult balance to effect and while I think there were one or two miscues overall Thor Rangarok lands well and it a very entertaining movie. Chris Hemsworth, following on his performance in the remake of Ghostbuster, proves that comedic muscles he displayed in that re-envisioning were no fluke. Mastering the emotional turns of dram to comedy with flair and competence. Tom Hiddleston continue to show why he is the most popular actor in the MCU, and sadly Idris Elba continues to be criminally underused for an actor of his tremendous talents. Of course it wouldn’t be an MCU film without newcomers to welcome to the grand canvas. Tessa Thompson show good range and depth with her character, a scavenger with a mysterious toe to Asgard. However it is Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster that simply steals scene after scene, proving that while Hiddleston and Hemsworth has charisma and talent they are no match for old age and treachery. Goldblum has always guided his performances with a off-center balance that makes them difficult to predict, and in this role his abandons all pretense of balance craft a villain that is at turns comedic, threatening, and full of guile. Of course there has been plenty of chatter about Cate Blanchet as Hela. Cate is Cate and her performance is enjoyable. What a treat it would have been had Hela and Grandmaster share a scene or two.

Mark Ruffalo returns as Banner/Hulk and for the first time I truly enjoyed a Hulk sub-plot. Upping the characters’ verbal abilities and improved FX makes it possibel to have the Hulk as a character.

If you enjoyed and mix of drama, action, and comedy seen in the two Guardians of the Galaxy films then Thor: Ragnarok is likely to be a hit with you.

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Feet of Clay

Well, Kevin Spacey has long been one of my favorite actors, going all the way back to his brilliant turn as Mel Profit on the television sires Wiseguy. While I have not love nearly all of the films but a country mile his performances in them have always been stellar. His rise as a beloved actor, based on his talents, was well deserved.

And, it the reports are to be believed, he is a reprehensible human being.

Quite damming for him is that fact that this is not a single episode, but as what nearly always happens with people who behave this way, there is a long history and once people start coming forward the avalanche starts and as the Vorlon said ‘it is too late for the pebbles to vote.’

Spacey’s apparently cynical ploy of coming out to distract from the story has rightly enraged a number of people in the LBGTQ community. He attempted to use their lives, their persecution, and their pain as a shield for his own hide. That alone says quite a bit about character. We do not need to hold him over the lip of a volcano to see his true self.

The word pedophile has been tossed around but from first blush this may not be the case. Pedophilia as I understand it is defined as sexual attraction to someone five or more years younger than you and who is pre-pubescent. It sounds to me like his victims, and yes I will use that word, were post-pubescent but still quite young and immature.

When you are 24 and you seduce a 14 year old sexually, that is not a level playing field. That is not an interaction between equals. It is predation. It is using the guile, authority, and power of adulthood over someone who has none of those attributes.

It doesn’t matter if you are an A-list star, or Mary Kay Letourneau, such actions, if true, makes you a predator.

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