Running for President for Fun and Profit

There is an excerpt from Michael Wolff’s upcoming book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House where Wolff reports that Trump did not want to be president and that he and his people fully expected to lose. The gist of the story is that Trump and others ran the campaign as a method of creating branding, expanding media connections, and in general as a moneymaking operation. (Wolff also reports that Trump went through a number of stages of shock and fear before becoming certain that he was going to be a great president. He lacks nothing in grandiose self-image that is not backed up by anything resembling talent, intelligence, or taste.)

Now some have taken issue with Wolff’s report and poked holes where the details do not align with history so we’ll have to wait a bit longer for that judgment. However I find it entirely credible that Trump at least started the campaign as a moneymaking and image enhancing

The Republican Party has allowed charlatans and grifters access to the presidential nominating process, business people, second tier politicians turned TV personalities, and flash in the pan conservative celebrities flooded the fields, turning the solemn and serious affair of selecting the person to lead the most powerful nation on earth into a cash grab and celebrity stepping stone platform.

It’s really should not have been a surprise that eventually this charade, coupled with a base that had been purified to that rejected facts for ideology, would eventually shove aside any serious politician for the flashier, louder, and most grandiose snake-oil pusher.

This is the doom that the GOP has visited upon America and on the world. This is the end result of their cynicism, their abandonment of principal, and the surrendering of all their honor.

There are a lot of things in traditional conservative thought that are worth considering, worth valuing, worth upholding, but covered in gold plated, celebrity apprentice crap, it all becomes crap.

The nation needs a new conservative party.

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New Year’s Eve Movie

This posting is a few days late but I am still shaking off the effect of this year’s flu, which for many is particularly rough.

New Year’s Eve a local movie appreciation society Film Geeks San Diego hosted an invitation only screening of an undisclosed title. Getting an invitation was easy, all I needed to do was respond to the posting. I arrived at the Digital Gym, a fine micro-theater and school, gave the supplied password, and I was in. This sounds much more cloak and dagger than it was, but the air of what unknown film my friends Miguel and Beth had selected supplied a lot of fun. After three cartoons the title was announced to the twenty people invited to the private screening: Liquid Sky. I had heard of this film but had never seen it and that was perfectly fine by me. I love cinematic experimentation. We stopped the film just before midnight to ring in the New Year and then continued with the screening.

Liquid Sky is a movie about the lives of a small collection of aspiring models, actors, and fashion people living lives of hedonism, experimental music, and drugs an alien spacecraft lands in the milieu, manned by tiny unseen creatures that have come in search of opioids. A scientist from West Berlin follows the aliens into the neighborhood, studying the extraterrestrials and hoping to warn the residents of the dangers that are in. It would seem that the aliens have switched their habits from heroin to opioid like chemicals produced in the human brain. What unfolds is a story of sex, manipulation, assault, and eventually murder as the visitors harvest their ‘crop.’

Though it is a product of the early eighties Liquid Sky, in part due to is highly unusual and stylized make and androgynous characters possesses a strong Ziggy Stardust sensibility. Made on a small budget the film is devoid of the special effects so common to 1982 and for a story with as much sex and sexuality as it had is even restrained in it in on screen depictions. (Though be warned that there is an on screen rape scene presented, as it should be free of titillation.) Liquid Sky gained a cult following and lately there has been talk of a sequel.

Following the feature there were more material presented but I could feel my energies flagging and made the short drive home, all in all not a bad way to start off 2018. I know many people are hoping that 2018 will be a better year than 2017 to which I say, do not hope, make it a better year, the choices are up to us.

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Explaining the Inexplicable

Over the last year there have been a number of articles in mainstream newspapers exploring the supporter of President Trump, seeking to understand why they voted for him, how they have reacted to his erratic presidency, and as we near the end of his first year, if and why they still support him.

With each round of these articles I have seen opinion pieces, blog posts, and general comments from liberally inclined persons irritated, annoyed, and even outraged at all the attention poured upon Trump’s supporters. The lack of articles and investigations into those opposed to Trump and those whose policies are more directly impacted by him feels inexplicable.

I think it is explainable but that the answer is not where you might generally look. The reason lies in bias, and particular liberal bias in the news media.

Now let me take a moment to tell what I think liberal bias is NOT. It is not a conspiracy to undermine the Republican/Conservative efforts. It is not a cabal of reporter and producers and editors working out how they can advance their team or their cause. The caricature of liberal bias in the media by such outfits as Fox news is at best a straw man and more likely a delusion.

What is going in, and there was a great article a few weeks back from a former PBS producer is that there are few people working at the top levels of news with direct experience concerning conservatives and their lives. This creates a distortion born not of malice or intent but ignorance.

In an environment where every rational person understands that Trump is at best erratic and petty and at worst corrupt and authoritarian voting against him is so expected as to be unquestioned. No right thinking person could do otherwise. But to vote for him, to support him, and to do so after he has been active for nearly a year, that seems inexplicable. That has to be investigated and understood. So of course more pieces, more surveys, and more trip to ‘Trump’ country are engaged as that understanding is sought. The bias that makes supporting trump inexplicable drives the desire to explain it.

Now they should investigate his support, it is an important question, but we also need to understand the opposition and those directly impacted by his erratic and often petty decisions.

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Rebels and Mutineers

So this post will be about a bit in Star Wars: The Last Jedi that has upset some corners of fandom, that means there will be spoilers, light ones, and if you are not in the mood for spoilers, engaged your hyperdrives now.

 

Ok, you have been given fair warning.

 

Star Wars, all the films, are American stories, told by Americans and aimed, principally at Americans and Americans love rebels. Our national was born in rebellion and even when a segment of the country took up arms against the rightful government we tell the story as one of honor and duty, not slighting those who rebel against us. It is baked into our national psyche to root for the underdog, the person throwing themselves against impossible odds. This carries over in our science-fiction.

Think how often commodores and admirals of Starfleet are either idiots, morally compromised, or simply insane, and our heroes are forced to ignore orders, throw mutinies in order to do what needs to be done. Over and over again we are treated in our fiction to mayors, governors, presidents, and police captains that must be disobeyed and ignored. This is one of the most used and well-known tropes of fiction. (Hell, I use it myself in the military SF novel currently being shopped around.)

So, even setting aside the gender issues and those are no insignificant, in The Last Jedi when Poe Dameron defies Vice Admiral Holdo we are conditions by generations of story telling to side with Poe. He’s our known hero, we’ve adventured with him before in The Force Awakens, this Holdo is an unknown, a stranger, and a superior who disregards our Hero’s sound advice. Of course we are going to think that its Poe who is in the right, we’re going to pull for his mutinous actions and secret keeping, and we’re going to expect that Holdo will get her comeuppance.

Only, that isn’t what happens.

Holdo knows what she is doing and it is Poe who is off the reservation. Poe’s action threatens everyone and in the end his mutiny is just that, a mutiny while under fire from the enemy.

Now some have tried to push the blame back on Holdo because she did not share her plans with Poe, but that is wrong. Poe, a hotheaded pilot disciplined for ignoring orders, has no need to know her thoughts or plans. No superior military officer is obligated to explain themselves to their junior officers. (Only in the face of illegal orders does a junior officer have not only the right but also a duty to disobey.) Poe was not command staff nor was he part of the logistics to implement the plan. Given his record and his position Holdo is perfectly justified in telling Poe only what he needs to know. In the end Poe learns how wrong he is and that is part of the theme of the film. We learn from our mistakes and Poe’s mistake costs them dearly but know it was his mistake.

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Spoiler Free

 

As is our custom my sweetie-wife and I waited until Sunday morning to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi, crowds are more behaved and the ticket prices are cheaper. I enjoyed the last film in this saga, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I can certainly see the critique that some of leveled at TFA as nothing more than a rehash of the original Star Wars. Now, I believe that going back to the original story beats was a feature and not a bug. I think the powers that be knew that they had to regain the fans trust after the terrible disappointments of the prequel trilogy. That leaves the question ‘Will the next film be a rehash of The Empire Strikes Back?’ IF the sequel to the new trilogy were a rehash then the franchise would be nothing but call back and a money grab.

The Last Jedi is not The Empire Strikes Backs.

It is the middle film of a trilogy and this is the section of the story where things get darker, where the antagonists gain an upper hand, and our hero suffer defeats and loses. All that happens in The Empire Strikes Back and The Last Jedi, but the story beats and more importantly the themes are very different.

The Last Jedi is a very different beast of a Star Wars movie. The theme takes a new path, the reveals are more nuanced, and the backstory that is uncovered strikes right at the heart of Campbell’s Heroes Journey. There is one reveal that I have already seen people flat out refusing to believe is accurate. Just as so many fans refused to accept that Vader was in deed Luke’s father; this bit of information is also rejected. And just as with the ‘I am your Father’ reveal this one fits too perfectly with the story’s theme to be a red herring.

Picking up where the last film concluded, The Last Jedi carry on the struggles of Rey as she tries to discover who and what she is, Poe Dameron and the resistance fighting for their survival, and Finn finding that his loyalty still facing deep tests. The movie is two and a half hours long but it rarely drags. The plot moves at lightspeed, and with the well-established disregard for space’s vast distances. (Really, how does the Falcon get from Hoth to Bespin without a working hyperdrive?) But with Star Wars you disable those critiques. This is fantasy not science-fiction and it must be approached in that manner.

The film makes several very unexpected moves. Going into this knowing it is the middle of a story creates expectations, ones that the writer/director seems to delight is subverting. This too is a feature and not a bug. I had a great time and can’t wait to see how this all concludes.

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Movie Night: Xanadu (1980)

There is no denying that the musical/fantasy Xanadu is a bad film. The main character has no real arc, scenes just sort of happen with advancing even its threadbare plot, and for the ending is incomprehensible.

With all that said it is an emotional favorite of mine. The movie is pure Romanticism, a celebration of love, and the heights that love can take us to personally and artistically. In addition to this the central theme of the film, and many films fail to even have a theme, is stated in the line ‘Dreams don’t die, no, not by themselves. We kill them.” is a principal I continue to live by.

So when a local organization, Filmout San Diego, hosted a presentation at a Landmark theater, well I just had to be there.

Filmout San Diego is an organization that uses film and films screenings to raise money and awareness for local LGBTQ issues and groups. The fact that money spent on the ticket would help these groups was an added benefits in my book.

The screening sold out but I got my ticket before that happened. It was quite interesting to see this movie again in a theater with an enthusiastic audience. While I own the movie on blu-ray, the shared experience of seeing a movie is quite different than the home viewing experience. There were fun trailers for equally campy films before the main event including Roller Boogie and The Apple. During the film people clapped in time with the songs performed by Olivia Newton John and the Electric Light Orchestra, bursting into applause at the end of each number.

While I noticed new flaws in the script, as I said it is not a good film and suffered from continual rewrite throughout the filming, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and basked in an evening of happy nostalgia.

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Movie Review: Jigsaw (2017)

Saturday night I went out and caught this film before it left theaters. Jigsaw is the eight film in the long-lived horror franchise but it is the fist that I have seen. It earned a decent review from a critic I like and mostly agree with and it was directed by a pair of brothers, the Spierigs, whom have turned out some fairly enjoyable pictures. These two factors were enough to prompt a ticket sale.

Jigsaw takes place ten years after the death of the serial killer known as Jigsaw, AKA John Kramer, whose M.O. was to capture people he considered to be sinful and place them elaborate death traps which offered a chance for survival but usually with pain and sacrifice involved. As bodies start appearing around the city bearing marks and wounds

that suggest Jigsaw is back on the hunt, then police and a forensic team attempt to unravel the mystery and discover if Kramer survived his reported death.

In a story told through parallel editing we also follow the latest victim players in the cruel, deadly games. Unlike a lot of ‘torture porn’ out there the Saw franchise is built upon the conceit of a twisted form of justice and the victims are not innocent people simply being maimed and killed but rather individuals who have not taken the requisite responsibility for their actions. Let me be clear that in no way justifies Kramer’s actions as judge and executioner, he’s just out right skipping the jury role, but it changes to morality of experiencing the film, and that is important. The death traps in Jigsaw are elaborate and mostly within the bounds of reasonable disbelief and provide moments of genuine suspense and empathy.

When the final mystery is unraveled the answer to Kramer’s fate revealed it is a satisfying resolution that leaves open questions for further films. To get the answer before the film launches into its ‘how I did it’ explanations audience need to pay attention character given when discussing Kramer’s first game and that game’s first victims.

Overall I enjoyed the film and do not regret going to see it at a late showing. It may not be to everyone’s tastes but the Spierig brothers, who brought us Undead, Daybreakers, and the unmatched Heinlein adaptation Predestination continue to be filmmakers to watch.

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Franken Resigns and the Democratic Party Strengthens

So after eight women came forward and leveled accusation of misconduct at Minnesota Senator Al Franken the Senator announced his resignation from his position. Now Franken tended to provoke strong reactions, I know people who adored him as a senator and dreamt of presidential plays and I also know people for whom it seemed impossible to mention his name without a personal insult travelling along side I had no such passions about the man. His comedy was so-so and his political positions were fairly solidly liberal and predictable.

All that said the party forcing his resignation was in my opinion the best move that they could have made. Did the Democratic Party lose a high profile member with name-recognition? Yes. Did they lose a member whom could be counted upon as a consistent liberal vote? Yes. Will the Republicans be shamed into taking action against their members accused of sexual misdeeds? No. So how is this good for the Democratic Party?

It is the long game and there are two advantages in what has happened.

First, you cannot claim to be a party of values, standards, and principles unless you live up to them. Sweeping Franken’s accusations under the rug would be a bold loud proclamation that political victory matters more than any principle. That these women’s trauma matters less than getting a vote on policy. That is damaging. It corrodes the Party’s brand and helps erase any distinction between them and their opposition. For liberals it may hurt to lose one of their favorite stars but you can only hold the moral high ground by consistently being moral.

This is a lesson the Republican Party failed to learn. Over and over again when faced with this sort of thing they chose the path of political expediency and destroyed their claim to any moral standing.

Second, it builds a bulwark against sliding into chaos and angry politics. If the party turned a blind eye to Franken then when another crisis of principle arises it becomes that much easier to turn that blind eye again. When called out on it the only course to defend against such blatant hypocrisy is stoking anger and hatred in the Party’s base for all those who are not lock step with the Party. Personal destruction of all enemies, within and outside of the Party, becomes the norm and acceptable discourse plummets to the gutter. Soon only the loudest, angriest, voices carry any weight.

Does this sound like a familiar history? It should. No organization sets out to corrode what they fight for, and yet so many do. It happens because when faced with expediency over principle they take the easier path and like getting turned by an enemy intelligence asset, each step makes it that much harder to regain your proper course.

As I said I have no strong feelings for Franken, but my analysis is that the Democratic Party did the right thing and they should continue doing the right thing. And if you still think that his votes, his policy matters more than the things he is accused of then you are making the precisely same argument as those who intend to vote for Roy Moore. Choose politics over morals and eventually you will be reduced to no morals.

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A Bonanza of Movies

I must say that looking forward over the next few weeks my troubles appear to be finding enough time to see all the movies I want to see.

Next weekend The Shape of Water opens and I am both a fan of the Universal Gill-Man movies and Del Torro, so this movie if aimed right at me. The week after that of course if the opening of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and I thoroughly enjoyed The Force Awakens so this one is also on my radar. (I also have no doubts that JJ Abrams is a much better fit with Star Wars than he is with Star Trek.)

On Dec 13th I will be joining a bunch of fans for a sold out screening of 1980’s musical fantasy Xanadu. (Now this film is really a bad movie. The script is terrible and apparently was subject to daily rewrites but there is an emotional core that resonates with me making it a personal favorite. See you can love art that is not well executed. All that matters is that it speaks to you.)

Coco has opened and that is a Pixar movie that has really grabbed my interest. In addition to that I admit a more than passing interest in the latest entry in the Saw franchise, Jigsaw, even though I have never seen any movie of that series. (It’s the directors, they are talented and the three previous films the brothers have all worked for me.)

Sadly this is also the time of year when I am working 10 hours a day helping people get the insurance that they want and that leaves limited hours for going out.

Still, no complaints. Life is good and on the 15th my latest short story hits publication on the web so while I am tired I am happy.

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Revisiting my Youth

So, as I have mentioned the notion has been bouncing around my head to try my hand a pulp style adventure. I have received some good advice that perhaps I should start with a short story first and then perhaps attempt a novel.

A few weeks ago my sweetie-wife and I was walking near the Antique Row area of Adam’s Avenue in San Diego and as we passed the Adam’s Avenue Bookstore, a treasure horde of used books and my favorite used bookstore in town, I popped inside to see if they had any of the old Doc Savage novels.

They had one: Fear Cay.

I bought it, and bought another book that my sweetie-wife wanted and we headed home. Now when I was a young teenager I discovered the Doc Savage novels shortly after discovering science-fiction in general. These were pulp adventures written in the 30’s about the superhuman hero/adventurer Doc Savage and his team of five fantastic men as they spanned the globe fighting evil. There are more than 180 of these novels and I think I have read maybe twenty, but my memory is one of fun, adventure, and a pseudo-supernatural mystery that always turned out to have a scientific explanation. Really just the sort of thing I am thinking about exploring. Armed with my pulp novel I settled in to read Fear Cay.

Wow. The prose is terrible.

The adventure unfolds pretty much as I remember most of these adventure unfolding, but I had no recollection at all just how clumsy, expository, and plain bad the actual writing was. I have worked my way through this book but I can attest that it was not a smooth and effortless journey, Certainly I do not want to imitate the prose style of something like this, only the atmosphere of grand adventure. I have a short story coming together for my own pulp hero and after I finish work on my novel that will be by next project.

As an aside, apparently writer/Director Shawn Black (Iron Man 3, Lethal Weapon, etc.) if planning on making a live action, period set, Doc Savage movie staring Dwayne Johnson as Doc. That should be interesting.

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Literary Saboteur

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