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The Stupidity of Faith

There is little in the art of writing lazier than faith as a plot point.

See if these lines seem familiar:

“All we can do now is believe in X” (Where X is the protagonist or, sometimes, the plucky sidekick–usually uttered when X is off doing momentous things and there’s a group of people basically just sitting around believing)

“If enough people believe at once, all together, then X” (Where X is something highly improbable to impossible)

“No matter what happens, I believe in X” (X=protagonist.  Generally line is uttered by side-character Y just as something horrible is about to befall them.)

If you find yourself writing a plot that looks like this, then stop for a second.  Take a step back, and look at what you have wrought.  Because, quite frankly, it’s hideous.  As soon as one character starts talking about beliefs, it’s almost a guarantee that they’re going to be rewarded for that belief.  Rare is the time when someone says “No matter what happens, I believe in X” only to be shot dead half a second later because their faith was wildly misplaced.

It’s lazy.  Instead of having your characters try to do something, they’re simply believing in something.

But this isn’t actually a post about the craft of writing.  This is another one of my political posts.

Our culture has been inundated with these tropes.  Oh, religion’s had its input as well, but we have been swamped, over and over again, by lazy writers telling us that the mere act of believing is, in and of itself, valuable.  Not investigating, not observation, not careful, rational thought.  Belief.  And, generally in these plots, belief against all odds.  These lines tend to get uttered when everything looks its absolute worst, but it’s not, because–faith.  Indeed, those who rationally analyze the situation are almost always wrong, because having the obvious be true would also be kind of a boring story.  So we have this dramatic filter beaten into us, again and again; that last-minute saves really happen.  But only if you believe, regardless of what things look like.

So, now, here we are.  You want to know why we’re getting more polarized?  This is part of it.  When belief becomes more important than rationale, suddenly a lot of things don’t matter.  Things like paying attention to the facts.  If belief is better than rationale, then any facts that disagree with your belief are simply wrong.  So, on the left, we get people who are still clamoring for Trump to not be president (there’s several subcategories here, and they’re all dumb.  A Republican Congress isn’t going to impeach a sitting Republican president, and there isn’t going to be a coup.  He’s the president).  On the right, we’ve got people telling us that “the media” (as though it were a singular entity) are simply not giving us the real facts.  You know, the facts that agree with their position.

Belief has no intrinsic value.  The act of believing in something without question is the act of surrendering your intelligence.  Your intelligence is basically the only thing that makes you different than, say, these guys:

Question everything.  Question your own beliefs.  Ask yourself if you feel so stridently about something, why you feel that way.  Have ideas, not beliefs.

Federal 2.0 – the Progressive Solution to the Current Government

Any time you have a problem, you have to boil that problem down to its bare essence.  And the problem that progressives have, right now is not that the President totally opposes them.  It’s not that Congress opposes them.  It’s not the voters, it’s not “fake news,” and it’s not racism.  All of those things are problems, but they are surface-level problems.  They’re not the heart of the issue.

The heart of the issue is this:  the GOP is now in a position to control the financial resources of the federal government.  In doing so, they will drastically reduce the benefits we have worked so hard for.  They will institute massive, destabilizing tax cuts, because after all that is what they have promised to do.

The progressive goal has been to restore pre-Bush-tax-cut levels of taxation and to use that extra money for additional social benefits.  Education, health care, etc.

As soon as you strip away all of the rhetoric, and you realize that this is the essence of the problem, the solution becomes simple.  Haven’t found it yet?  Well, let me give you one more point of data.

There are states in this country that are “givers.”  That is, these states contribute far more to the federal system than they receive back.  There are also states in this country that are “takers,” wherein the reverse is true.  And take a quick guess at the political affiliation of the “giver” states and the “taker” states?  Did you guess that there tends to be a correlation between the progressiveness of the region and the amount of tax dollars it pays?  Then you are correct.

So, here are the contours of our problem, in bullet-point format:

  • Progressives want to pay for more social benefits.
  • Conservatives want to cut taxes and have less social benefits.
  • Progressives tend to control the states where more tax income is available.
  • Conservatives control the federal government and therefore the federal tax rate.

The solution should now be blindingly simple.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, then let me take you through a step-by-step proposal for how the progressive states could salvage things out of this mess.

Step 1:  Recapture the lost taxes at the state level

The federal government is not the only government in this country capable of taxation and spending–states can do it too!  So, step one is drafting a uniform code of taxation that creates a new layer of income tax at the state level – a tax designed to recapture that federal tax you would have paid before Bush’s corporate tax cuts.  We’d also want to draft this code to be flexible and recapture any taxes lost to Republican tax cuts.

Step 2:  Pool this money together for participating states

Progressive states then take their additional tax dollars and create a new fund.

Step 3:  Fed 2.0

Progressive states agree to form an interstate agency to manage these funds for the purpose of providing quasi-federal benefits on a quasi-federal level.  These benefits flow only to those states who have opted in to Fed 2.0.  Elected representatives from each state control the funds in Fed 2.0 in much the way Congress does; the interstate contract for Fed 2.0 would essentially be a second Constitution, operating slightly underneath and parallel to the current Constitution.  This Constitution could condition participation in Fed 2.0 on any number of social justice issues as well as contribution of tax dollars.  Abortion?  LGBTQ rights?  Women’s Equality?  Racial Equality?  Religious separation?  All built in to the constitution of Fed 2.0.  Remember, states are always free to create their own laws and handle anything the federal government doesn’t want to or have the authority to.

Here’s the potential results:

1.  Progressive states receive more bang for their buck on progressive benefits.

Remember that chart?  The one that said (and I’m generalizing and paraphrasing here) that red states tend to be leeches off the blue state’s contributions?  Well, if the benefits are only flowing to the blue states from the red states, the more we can stretch the dollars staying in the blue states.

2.  Progressives in the federal Congress can propose massive tax cuts with no ill effect.

Now, every tax cut in the current federal government just means a shift in funds to Fed 2.0, which is entirely controlled by progressive states.  So in Fed 1.0, progressive start voting in massive tax cuts.  Guess where that leaves the GOP?  Well, the GOP can either vote to cede power to an entirely progressive secondary body, or the GOP can vote against a tax cut.  This is a lose-lose proposition, and it would place the Republicans into a nasty little Hobson’s Choice.  After all, the only thing Republicans would have to do to absolutely kill Fed 2.0 would be to raise federal taxes back to pre-Bush-era levels, ensuring that there was no lost tax for Fed 2.0 to recapture.  Anyone want to place odds on whether they do that?

3.  The stemmed flow of benefits into the red states is going to put serious pressure on the red state poor to join Fed 2.0.

Now, rednecks will be rednecks.  But the more this system proceeds, the more you’re going to see a lifestyle difference between Fed 2.0 member states and non-Fed 2.0 member states.  And that difference is going to be more pronounced the farther down the chain you go.  It won’t be immediate, but the money is going to continue to flow to Fed 2.0.  And as the education of Fed 2.0 begins to completely outpace the education of non-Fed 2.0, this spiral is only going to get bigger.

4.  Power shifts to the progressives.

In one of two ways.  Either the federal government itself re-aligns in a progressive fashion, thus obviating the need for Fed 2.0, or Fed 2.0 becomes a purseholder in its own right to the point where it wields more financial power than Fed 1.0.  Either way, the progressive agenda ends up drastically ahead, because we were willing to pay for it.

Now, here’s the thing.  I’m just an author, and a mid-listed author of fantasy novels.  I’m just a county public defender who has an idea.  If this is going to happen, much bigger people than me are going to have to have the political will to pull it off.  This is the move; the question is whether we can find leaders who will actually pull the trigger on it.

The Reason We Study History

In 264 BC, the ancient Roman Republic became involved in a series of three wars with Carthage.

Bear with me.  I’m going somewhere with this.

Carthage was a tough opponent, and Hannibal definitely gave Rome some problems in the 2nd Punic War, but the upshot of these things was that Rome kind of ended up conquering most of the known world in what it saw as self-defense.  It didn’t mean to take everything; that was kind of a side-effect of beating Carthage.  But, even though it was something of an accident, in 146 BC Rome finished off Carthage and became the sole superpower in Western Culture (yes, I’m ignoring the East here.  Rome didn’t know much about them.).

And it destroyed itself in the process.

See, all of the power, all of the money, all of the expense and all of the responsibility of running a massive conquest like this became a problem.  Because now that Rome didn’t have an external enemy, it fell on itself as the great Roman leaders began to vie for control of the behemoth, each one stabbing each other in the back in a vicious, brutal game of King of the Mountain.

The first to die was Tiberias Gracchus, murdered because he attempted to sway the people of Rome to his cause using handouts and class-warfare reforms.  Next was Caius Gracchus, his brother, and this time in the midst of a pitched brawl in the forum.  Every death caused an escalation, and soon Marius and Sulla tore the entire republic apart with massive civil wars, using armies to hunt each other down in a bid for power.  The Populari sought to buy off the lower classes with handouts–it is from this period of time that the “dole” emerged, the free corn for the poor, as a Grachii reform to gain support within Rome.  The Optimates sought to maintain power concentrated in the wealthy, and resisted any of these handouts.  Neither of these parties were truly benevolent; both simply used their lines of rhetoric to appeal to the base instincts of the people.

And both began to prosecute and to murder members of the opposing faction.  Caius Gracchus continued to run for office, knowing that as soon as he left office he would face criminal charges.  Marius was elected consul seven times before Sulla not only outlived him, but had his bones drug from his grave and thrown in the river as a sign of disrespect.  The Roman Republic system, the system that had seen Rome through the Punic Wars and had built this massively successful entity, turned and devoured itself from within.

A generation after Marius and Sulla, Caesar and Pompey took up their banners.  Pompey the Optimate, Caesar the Populari.  Both of them were assassinated, but not before completely destroying the Roman system and paving the way for four hundred years of imperial rule.

It was almost eighteen hundred years before a Western republic began to come to life again.

Throughout the nineteenth century, the United States was a backwater.  London was the financial capital of the world; Paris the cultural.  The sun didn’t set on the British empire; the Americans had four time zones.

Then, in 1914, a series of three wars started.  The two World Wars, followed by the Cold War, left America essentially in charge of the world.  We won everything.  We are the last remaining superpower.  Hooray us.

The Cold War, the last great threat to American dominance, ended in 1991.  Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves in exactly the position those Romans did.  We run everything, and vast amounts of both income and responsibility are ours to do with as we please.

So of course we’re destroying ourselves over it.

This week has been, bar none, the worst political week in American History.  There’s an election coming up, and I now have both sides posting in my Facebook feed that the other candidate needs to be prosecuted after the election.  I’ve got both sides talking about revolution, and both sides are simply bitter with the other.

And I can’t help but think of Tiberius Gracchus.

We’re there, folks.  This has happened before.  And it did not end well.  But we’ve forgotten that; we’re so focused in the here, the now, that we’ve forgotten the fact that this level of bitterness, of ad hominem attacks, of personal vengeance before reasoned debate is exactly the thing that destroyed the last world-conquering superpower.

Now, everyone reading this post may be sitting there thinking “Oh, he is so right.  Those other people need to stop being so angry and bitter.”  And if you find yourself thinking that, you are part of the problem.  If you find yourself thinking “well, my candidate shouldn’t go to jail, but the other one should,” you are part of the problem.

I don’t like Trump.  His policies are wrong, his self-control is terrible, and his prejudices are apparent.  He will make a terrible leader.  But stop trying to prosecute him in the week before an election.

It’s OK if you don’t like Hillary.  If you disagree with her policies, that’s fine.  I’d love to sit down and have that conversation.  But stop trying to prosecute her the week before the election.

We have entered a political phase where what people want done is no longer as important as who does them.  It’s about credit and blame, not about the good of the country.  It’s about saving your own ass while throwing your opponent as far under the bus as you possibly can.  The Optimates and the Populari are back to destroy another republic.

This post isn’t going to get nearly as much attention as all of the inflaming rhetoric.  People would much rather repost memes about how terrible the other person is rather than debate their policies.  And, as a result, our republic will continue its death-spiral, just as the last republic did two thousand years ago.

Hail Caesar.

No, I’m not doing NaNo. Don’t let me stop you.

No, we’re not doing NaNo this year.  We didn’t do it last year, either.   Fact is, I can’t foresee us doing a NaNoWriMo event ever again.  It’s simply not an event that has value for us at our current place in our careers.

Here’s what’s going on in our writing work at the moment:  We are working on Graceless, the fourth GoG book.  We’re also in the middle of revising Black Powder Goddess, a book whose submission has already been solicited by a major publishing firm.  We’ve just completed several short stories, all of which are already on their way to their respective anthologies.  The next one to be released?  Dragon Writers, an anthology which includes Brandon Sanderson, Todd McCaffery, Jodi Lynn Nye, and Frog Jones.  In short, we have a lot of stuff going on, and we’re not in a position to drop it all to focus simply on running up a word count.

We did try it back in 2014.  At the time, I wrote out a couple of posts dealing with what it was like to go through the experience.  We did it to meet other writers in our area; we left the month feeling a little ostracized and frankly not terribly excited about the social dynamics of NaNo.

It’s Nov. 1, again.  And so, again, my Facebook feed is flooded with writers talking about NaNo.  Now, while I appreciate the break from election spam, I still have to respond to this BS.  And every time I say I’m not doing it, there’s this assumption that I’m less of an author somehow.  I’m not; I just don’t need to add one more thing on my plate.  But, all of that said, I see the value of NaNo to beginners.  If you’ve never finished a novel, NaNo is a great way to start.  And if you’ve got a group of friends who like to write, NaNo could be a lot of fun, I guess.  I’m not here to wag my finger and tell you kids and your month-long writing marathon to get off my lawn.  It’s just that it’s not for either of us.

Here’s some tips, though, based on the one time I did do NaNo:

1.  If you’re doing it in a group, don’t be a dick.

We went to our first write-in and were immediately shunted off to the side.  Literally.  It was in a Shari’s restaurant, and everyone in the write-in was at a booth.  Except us.  We were told to go be in the other booth, where we could have no interaction with anyone.  Couldn’t be sure of the point of the write-in, but it became clear that everyone already knew each other and didn’t care about new people.  As the new people, this made us feel singularly…uncared for.

Esther and I ended up in a booth seat, having a cup of coffee with each other, but we’d honestly just wasted an hour of drive time to come meet new writers and be social only to be shunted into “not one of us territory.”

Here’s the thing about this:  I don’t think it was intentional.  Everyone who knew each other sat with each other, leaving us new folks out in the cold.  I’ve since talked with some of the folks who were there, and they didn’t even realize they were doing this.  But if you’re going to write-ins, then you need to make sure the new people feel like they’re included.  This is how you find a support system for writing, and without new blood your group will wither and fade.

2.  If you’re doing it then do it.

Don’t say “Oh, I’m doing NaNo tee hee,” plop out a 5k word count in the month, and then pat yourself on the back for participating.  NaNo teaches exactly one thing to aspiring authors; how to put your head down and write.  One of the most common questions we get at cons is “So, how do you keep yourself writing?”  NaNo will teach you the answer to that question (btw–everyone has their own answer.  Mine won’t work for you).

If this is just a hangout for you, join a local writer’s group.  Write the occasional short story.  Hang out.  Have fun.  But if you’re going to accept the 50k challenge, then you’d better make an honest effort at breaking that word count.  Otherwise, what the heck are you doing?


3.  Don’t publish it.

For the love of all that is right and good with the world, the first person (and there will be one) on my Facebook or Twitter who asks me to buy their NaNo novel for 99 cents is going to get an earful from me.  Because it’s not done.  When you’ve “won” NaNo, you’ve only completed a zero draft.  You have the roughest bullshit in the writing world.  It’s not just a draft–it’s a hastily written draft.  I’ve got actual, published books, and the thing I had after NaNo was atrocious.  What you have will not be professionally ready to see the light of day absent major revisions.  So don’t shine that light on it–start revising.

With those provisos, enjoy NaNo.  Have fun with it.  Throw down some word count.  Push yourself to see how far you can really do this thing, and get something on the page that you can revise later.  

Just–stop asking me for my progress.  I’m not keeping count.

The problem isn’t misogyny, racism, bigotry, or hate.

All right, all right; I used a clickbaity title.  This is Rome, I did the thing.  So sue me.

All of those things are problems.  All of them.  But I want to take them all as pieces of the puzzle, as symptoms of a much more fundamental issue that our societies are having.  I’m proposing that there is a larger, more all-encompassing problem.  And it is this issue that I wish to glorify with the label The problem.

Did you see how I pluralized “society” there?  It wasn’t a mistake.

America is no longer a single society.  It’s two.  And the problems that America is having with this are not limited to America.  We can see exactly the same problems in the Islamic world, in Europe, in Africa, in China and Japan, in Russia–all of humanity seems to be battling itself, and the root of the problem always seems to be the same.

It all boils down to externally versus internally imposed morality.

I got to thinking about this after I posted an article on my Facebook page concerning a statement made by the Great Blowhard, Rush Limbaugh.  You can read the thing if you want, but the focal point of what he said really boiled down to this quote:

“You know what the magic word, the only thing that matters in American sexual mores today is? One thing. You can do anything, the left will promote and understand and tolerate anything, as long as there is one element. Do you know what it is? Consent. If there is consent on both or all three or all four, however many are involved in the sex act, it’s perfectly fine. Whatever it is. But if the left ever senses and smells that there’s no consent in part of the equation then here come the rape police. But consent is the magic key to the left.”

The comment thread I have on this is pretty predictable.  Because of course consent is the thing that truly matters.  What in the fuck is he talking about?  It went beyond being disgusted with Mr. Limbaugh and came out in a place where we were simply confounded by him.  But someone in the world is listening to this guy.  A lot of someones.  And they are buying what he is selling.  So I sat down and began to think long and hard about how, exactly, that happens.

The first thing you have to do to understand these comments is make two very simple assumptions.  Ready for this?  Here they are:

Assumption #1:  All sex that is not a single man with a single woman outside of marriage is wrong.  If you have sex outside of a one-man, one-woman marriage, you have done an evil act.  And the act itself was evil, regardless of whether you consented to having sex.  So consent doesn’t figure into the values judgment.

Assumption #2:  Sex within a marriage is the right of the man and the duty of the woman.  Therefore, consent doesn’t figure into the values judgment here either, because the man is entitled to the sex as part of his due for being a husband, and the woman no longer has the right to refuse consent because she is now a wife.

Boom!  All one has to do is assume two basic assumptions, and suddenly consent is meaningless.  Of course, those two assumptions make the progressive morality most of the people reading this article have recoil in horror, but nevertheless.  The comments make sense.  Which means the people listening to Limbaugh’s little rant and nodding their heads take those two assumptions as a given in their own morality.

The next question I asked is:  how?  How in the heck do we get here?  Now, I’m an atheist, so my first knee-jerk response was to blame religion, but that’s not exactly en pointe.  Religion figures in, but I know an awful lot of religious people who share the same horror as I do about that particular mindset.  So it’s not religion, exactly.

And then I hit it.  The only way one gets to those assumptions in life is by starting out with them, and refusing to change.  Someone with that kind of morality has it because they:

1.  Were instructed in what is right and wrong by some form of authority figure.  This could be a religious figure, but it could also be their parent, or a community leader, or really anyone that was seen by the subject as an authority figure on that which is good and that which is evil.  In addition to this, the subject also must

2.  Adhere to the belief that questioning the externally-imposed morality is, itself, immoral.

As soon as I started looking at the world, and the people in it, this way, everything made sense.  Religion is only one vector for externally-imposed morality.  It’s a strong one, but it’s only one.  If you look at the world, though, almost all our social problems stem from the fact that people have been taught what is good and evil, and not how to evaluate a thing for being good and evil.  In the externally-imposed morality, reflection and insight are discouraged.  Adapting and evolving one’s sense of right and wrong are discouraged.  Right and wrong are presented as static lists of things to adhere to, not as a way of thinking about the infinite number of possible situations one may encounter in one’s life.

Bigotry, racism (hell, the very concept of race as opposed to culture), misogyny…all of these things make perfect sense when viewed in this light.

Ever since the combined movements of the Civil Rights and the Vietnam Protests, we’ve been shifting away from an externally-imposed morality system to an internally-imposed one.  And that makes the people who still exist on the old system nervous.  We progressives actively engage with the concepts of right and wrong; we evaluate and consider a thing based on its merits.  What alt-right conservatives really hear when they hear “Make America Great Again” is “Get Everyone Back in Line with What is Right.”  And to them, Right is the thing their fathers or their pastors taught them; and those people were taught by their etc, etc, etc.

How do we fix this?  No idea.  But all fixes start by identifying the problem, and I think I’m finally starting to figure out ours.

Quality and the Market

Is the new Ghostbusters movie any good?  I have no idea.  I haven’t seen it.

Given the relatively decent review score (not stellar, but pretty good) over at Rotten Tomatoes,  I’m thinking it’s probably a decent watch.  I’ve been busy as hell, but this falls into the category of movies-I-wouldn’t-mind-watching.

I read Brad Torgerson’s analysis of it, though, and that got me to thinking.  His point seems to be this:  if you make a movie to carry a social message, that movie will get destroyed at the box office.  But we all know that’s bullshit.  Not because of Ghostbusters, but rather because of all the other highly message-based movies that have done quite well at the box office.  You think The Hurt Locker wasn’t based on a social message?  Watch it again.  Wasn’t Apocalypse Now pretty political?  How about American Beauty?  All of these movies were made with strong social justice themes, and all of them did quite well.

So the equation that social justice + movie = flop is a vast oversimplification.  It is absolutely possible to make a social justice movie that does quite well.  Also, the basic premise that the market selects the best material?  Also bullshit.  The market does what it wants to, and it is a stupid, fickle beast.  There is no way the crowds actually enjoyed the second or third Transformers movies.  Didn’t stop them from turning out in droves to watch Michael Bey regurgitate their childhood in front of them.


But go back up and re-read the first two paragraphs of this post.  Now, let’s place that in context.  See, I was a kid that loved Ghostbusters.  I knew that movie inside-out and upside-down.  When I hung out with my friends, pretending to be the Ghostbusters was one of the most fun games we had (I generally got Egon, which was even better).  I watched the Ghostbusters cartoon religiously.  I still drop obscure Ghostbusters references where nobody picks them up (and I have even put a reference to Gozar on the record in court).  For me, Ghostbusters was awesome.  It competes with TMNT for the #1 spot on my childhood-nostalgia wagon.

Now that you know that about me, look one last time at that second paragraph, and remember that Ghostbusters, as it sits, falls into the category of movies-I-wouldn’t-mind-watching and not movies-I-have-to-see-right-Goddamned-now.

So what the hell happened?  Well, there’s two possibilities:

1.  I am a rampant misogynist who simply doesn’t want to watch a movie where my favorite characters have all been replaced or succeeded (not sure which) by women.  This possibility can be rather reliably ruled out by a look at my overall posting, or

2.  The marketing on this film sucked.

No, seriously.  I didn’t see anyone talking about this film in anything but a Social Justice context.  I wasn’t told I should go see the Ghostbusters movie because it was awesome.  I was told I should go see the Ghostbusters movie because that’s what people who support women will do.  The entire thing blew up into an SJW controversy, and watching the movie stopped being about whether or not I wanted to see some only-halfway-competent people save the world from destruction and into a job.  And on this point, Torgerson absolutely spot-on.  I don’t want to spend my money and my time for a movie making a political statement.  I want to have fun.

And, by the way, if you’re going to make a social justice statement, why in the hell are the three scientists still white people and the streetwise-but-book-dumb character is still black?  If we’re making a social justice movie, can we at least go the full nine?  Yes?

What’s sad is, for all I know, Ghostbusters is fun.  That second trailer certainly makes it seem like it is.  But liking the movie hasn’t become about liking the movie.  It’s like you can’t dislike it without being a misogynist, and you can’t like it without being a complete lefty feminist.  And as soon as the act of going to the movie becomes a political statement, my mind categorizes it differently than if it’s an act of nostalgia.

I hope Ghostbusters is good.  I hope it lives up to the amazing movie that was the original, although matching up to Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson, and Harold Ramis is a tough, tough thing to do.  Maybe it does.  But it’s likely going to have to do it from Netflix, because to get my fat ass off the couch, I need to be driven.  Ghostbusters’ marketing team could have done that for me.  Hell, if all they’d done was throw out the logo and a date, I would have been fucking there.  But as soon as it became all about the politics, and not about the story, then I walked away.

And here’s the thing:  I support the politics.  I’m all for the gender reversal.  Dirk Benedict was fun, Katee Sackhoff was better.  But Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck wasn’t better because she was female.  She was better because she was better.  She had more attitude, more strength, more conflict, and more heart.  Dirk Benedict was more of a standard rough-and-tumble heroic type.  Katee had depth.

Ghostbusters tried to sell me on it being awesome because of female characters.  And that simply didn’t work.  If you really want to drive the point home, be awesome and have female characters.  There’s a subtle difference, but it’s a big one.  I wanted the movie to tell me why it was going to be awesome.  It’s answer was “because gender-switch.”  So I lost interest.  Does that make me a misogynist?  Well, I don’t think so.  I think “because women characters” and “because men characters” are equally stupid reasons.  What I wanted was “because awesome comedy” or “because sweet action” or “because tense drama.”

Does Ghostbusters have those things?  Swear to God I don’t know.  This could be another John Carter of Mars situation here (a great movie with the worst marketing ever).  There’s certainly a lot of great reviews out about it, and those are starting to bring me around, but a lot of them focus on the social justice angle, which doesn’t.  I’ll watch it, eventually.  And when I do, if it is actually good, I’ll be pretty pissed off that the marketing folks concentrated on things that aren’t part of the story.  I listed a bunch of movies with strong social justice themes earlier.  None of them were advertised that way.  They just had them.  Maybe there’s a lesson there.

Third Parties and How to Build Them, or, Joshua Harris for Mayor of Baltimore

I’m not sure if you’ve been paying attention, but we’ve got a couple candidates running for President who seem to irritate even their own parties.  This has led to another rash of third-party candidates poking their heads up like mushrooms from bullshit.  On the left, we have Jill Stein, who is almost on the ballot in half the states.  On the right, Gary Johnson has impressively managed to get on the ballot in 36 states.

And Dan Savage has said it better than I ever could.  You do not build a party by running a candidate for president once every four years.  You run people for smaller, more local offices.  It’s not a movement if you only ever see them on presidential rates.  Grass-roots means bottom-up, folks; if you’re going to build a Green Party, you have to start at the bottom.  You have to start with local campaigns.

I’ve got a lot of friends who keep talking about how the two-party system is bullshit.  And you know what?  They’re not wrong.  I’d love to see more parties.  I’d love to see someone have to build a coalition government in Congress.  I’d love to have a choice amongst more viable candidates for President.  But that’s not going to happen at the presidential level first.  It’s just not.  Jill Stein and Gary Johnson aren’t going to be President.  And we all know they’re not, but people keep talking about voting for them anyways, as though that vote will have meaning.  As though Washington will sit up and take notice of a third party if they get a fraction of the votes regardless of their loss.

And it won’t.  Washington didn’t sit up and take notice of Perot, and it didn’t sit up and take notice of Nader.  It ignored them both, because Washington doesn’t care about losers.  It cares only about winners.  You want a viable third party?  Win some elections.  It’s the only way to be viable.  And that means you don’t start with President.

Now, here’s the thing:  I have put my money where my mouth is, on this one.  I’m not supporting or voting for Jill Stein, because that’s a waste of a vote.  Mathematically, it is the same as not voting.  Sorry to all you protest voters, but nobody else cares about your third party candidate.

But I would like to see a viable third party at some point.

So I’ve donated to a Green Party Candidate.  Not Jill Stein, no.  I found the Green running in the most local election I could, and I made a donation to him.  Specifically, I made a donation to Harris for Baltimore.  Is he viable?  Not at the moment, but if enough of you Bernie-or-Busters sent some cash his way, he probably would be.  There’s not enough money flowing in the Baltimore mayoral race to hold back the tide.

That would be a crack.  It wouldn’t be a bring-down-the-house revolution, but it would be a crack in the dam.  It would be the first, solid step a third party took towards becoming a viable party in this country.

As I recently pointed out, change in this country comes slowly if at all.  We debated slavery when writing the Declaration of Independence; we didn’t end it until four score and nine years later.  The Seneca Falls Convention was in 1948; 72 years later, women got the right to vote.  The Human Rights Council?  1924.  Gay marriage nationwide?  2012.  Change happens slowly, but it starts with little steps.

So, here’s my challenge to you, Bernie-or-Busters.  I know I’m not going to convince you to step down your doomed support for Jill Stein.  But if you really, truly want to see the Green Party become an honest-to-God 3rd party, then I want you to also support Josh Harris in his run for Mayor of Baltimore.  Throw some money to his campaign.  Blog and do stories about him.  Because you’re going to have a much bigger impact on that race than you will on the Presidential one, and that’s what can start this ball rolling.  You want a third party?  Start here.  But if you support Jill, and you don’t support Josh, then I know you’re full of it.

Harris for Baltimore, 2016.

On Doing Something

I know all about the hating and the sneering.  I’m a member of the why-bother generation myself.  But why did I bother to come out here tonight?  And why did you?  I mean, it’s time.  It begins with us.  Not with politicians, the experts, or the teachers, but with us.  With you, and with me.  The ones who need it most. – Happy Harry Hardon, Pump Up the Volume

I was born in 1980.  That makes me either a young Generation Xer, or an old Millenial.  I used to identify as “Gen Y,” back when that was a thing, and I still kind of do.  The above excerpt is why.  Pump Up the Volume was a seminal movie for me, and it shaped my life in probably more ways than is directly comfortable.

There is, among people of my age range, a deep-set cynicism.  Everybody knows that the world is broken, and nobody can see a solution.  We complain about it on Facebook.  But, at the same time, we talk about how goofy the older generations are.  We mock the churches, we mock the social clubs who try to do at least some bit of good in our communities.  We want to see big changes, but we don’t put in the work for little ones.

Sorry, fellow millenials.  But you know it’s true.

There is a sense – and social media has become a large part of this sense – but there is a sense that complaining about something and doing something are the same thing.  If you repost a meme about (insert issue of choice here), then you’re doing your part.  You can be as strident as you want to, because reposting a meme has all of the illusion of being pro-active, with none of the actual investment.

And still we sneer at those who put in the work.  We complain about homelessness, but we don’t volunteer at the shelter.  We point out the problems with poverty, but we don’t work at the food bank.  We complain about discrimination, but the only people we talk to about it are people who agree with us.  We want to “raise awareness,” as though raising awareness and fixing the problem are the same thing.

Here’s a thing:  it’s not.

So, I’ve been the chairman of the board of a local non-profit for a little over a year now.  We provide housing and support services for homeless teenagers.  It’s not “raising awareness,” it’s “actually putting a roof over someone’s head and food in their bowl.”  There’s a difference, folks; that second one is a lot harder.

But today, I took a new step.  One that, had you asked me about it five years ago, I would have shrugged off in a cynical haze.

Today, I was inducted as a member of the Skookum Rotary Club.

Wait.  Hold that thought in your head for a second.  That reaction you just had?  The one where you asked yourself, “Frog?  Rotary?  Why?  WTF? How in the world do those two things go together?”  Hold on that thought for a second, because I am here to tell you this:  that reaction is the entire problem with our generation.

Let’s talk about the reaction I would have had to that news if you’d asked me five years ago.

Five years ago, I viewed all such gatherings (Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.) as futile endeavors.  As places where people gathered to pat themselves on the back for helping without actually having to help people.  I had that assumption because I had a different, more fundamental, more disturbing assumption:  any attempt to render such assistance will ultimately fail in the face of the overwhelming entropy that is humanity.

Boom.  There it is.  Everything sucks, and doing small things on a local level isn’t going to change the fact that everything sucks.  So forming these organizations that do small things on a local level is a waste of time.  Because I could be using that time to post Facebook memes about the bigger issues on a national level.

Now that I type it, it seems silly.  It was silly.  But there you have it; the flawed logic that I contained, and that I believe is contained within a not-insubstantial number of you.

I’ve been going to the Skookum Rotary meetings for about a month and a half now, and I’ve discovered something:  the people there are (1) by and large of an older generation than me, and (2) devoted to doing good in the world.  They understand that they can’t do it by themselves, but they also understand that their contributions can help, with others, slightly edge the world in a positive direction.

In the time I’ve been going to the meetings, I’ve watched local students get scholarships.  I’ve watched local schools get funding for programs their own budgets couldn’t cover.  I’ve watched local non-profits get funds to help people.  And I’ve watched the Rotarians working to make all of these things happen, without expecting praise for it in return.  They don’t do it to be lauded by their peers.  They don’t do it so that everyone on Facebook can hit a “like” button and assuage a fragile ego.  They do it because they see this as the way they can make the world a better place.

And…they’re right.

No, the efforts of the Skookum Rotary Club are not, in and of themselves, going to completely change the world for the better.  But the efforts these good, honest people are putting in are one grueling step towards that goal, and one that they’re willing to take.  Instead of going onto a social media site and demanding massive change right now with no work, they do and expect the exact opposite.  They go to their local club meeting and put in a massive amount of work for a small amount of change, because all change is good.  All improvements are worthwhile.  And actually moving the world in the correct direction is a long, slow process.

I am throwing my lot in with these old people who ignore the easy life of cynicism for the arduous path of optimism.  I am signing up to throw my back behind the work that they do, because I’ve seen them do more actual good than anyone simply reposting Facebook memes.  This isn’t an announcement that I’m going to stop posting on Facebook; I’m still a loudmouth know-it-all.

But irony was my shield.  So long as I believed nothing good could be done, I didn’t have to trouble myself to do it.  Now that I know that positive change is possible in small increments, I can’t ignore my own ability to contribute in some way, however small.

This isn’t a call for everyone to join Rotary.  That’s the way I’m going, but everyone has their own path.  This is a call for you to take a second, just this one second staring at your screen, and think to yourself about what you could be doing instead.  What time could you contribute, and how, to make the world just a tiny bit better?

Because if all of us did that, I assure you that the tiny bits would add up a hell of a lot bigger than any of us could initially dare to dream.

This is how come we lose so GD always.

You know why people don’t like liberals?  Cause they lose.  If liberals are so fucking smart how come they lose so God-Damned Always?  – Will McAvoy, The Newsroom

By now, anyone who is internet savvy enough to read this blog has already seen the opening scene of The Newsroom.  You’ve watched with glee as Aaron Sorkin’s always-sharp pen destroys the concept that America is the greatest country in the world.  McAvoy runs rampant at both sides of the political system, and effectively dismantles and patriotic jingoism anyone that may be watching has.

But this line is buried, kind of at the top of the rant, and it’s the line we need to be paying more attention to.  If liberals are so fucking smart, how come they lose so God-Damned Always?

Well, we’ve seen some examples.  The Bernie-or-Busters have given us a fantastic repeat of the Nader supporters showing us what it was like to eat our own.  But not even that is the real issue.

No, the real issue comes with things like our response to mass shootings.

Let me throw out some data points for you, people:

1.  The Constitution must be amended, or the Supreme Court must change its interpretation of the Second Amendment, for the guns to get taken away.

Please don’t respond to this post telling me all the good reasons (or the bad ones) for gun control.  Gun control is a losing issue for us.  The Constitution is basically the stopgap, the thing that makes it an issue we can scream and rant about all day, but not do anything about.  That can be a good thing for us, too, by the way – that’s the thing making gay marriage and abortions legal, after all.  But it can put a stop to our reforms.

Put mildly, gun control is a loser.  Every time we gear up for a fight about guns and gun control, we lose.  And we look more and more silly each time.

2.  The political response to mass shootings is beginning to get predictable.  Which means entrenched.  Which means bad.

We have hit a point in our country that I never, ever wanted us to hit, but it’s time to admit that we’re there.

Stalin once said “One death is a tragedy.  A million deaths is a statistic.”  That’s gruesome, and horrible, and not entirely wrong.  We’ve now had so many mass shootings in this country that everyone who pays attention to the news cycles at all already knows what comes next.

Step One, mass shooting.  Step Two, hopes and prayers.  Step Three, Liberals talk about guns and conservatives talk about mental health.  Step Four, nothing gets done and we all get distracted because Kanye did something outrageous and there’s a video of it up on YouTube.

Rinse, repeat.

3.  These two factors mean that no mass shooting will result in gun control laws.

With each successive mass shooting, the shock value gets less and less, which means the political motivation to do things gets less and less.  Orlando was horrible.  In a week, we won’t be talking about it.  All the politicians have to do is talk for a week, then change the subject.  That’s it.

It is to the advantage of politicians to keep issues alive.  Doing something is not as important as having an opinion on something.  If there’s an issue you don’t have resolution on, then you are more likely to vote for the person who espouses your opinion.  Democractic politicians know point #1 damned well; they’re never going to make the kind of gun laws we need because they can’t.

But they can talk about how much we need them and rack up massive points with the base without ever actually doing anything.  Because doing something means fixing a problem, and that problem is giving you far more votes than fixing it would, even were fixing it possible.

4.  The mental health system in this country is a shambles.

It really is.  We’re terribly underfunded, and there’s a constant use of the criminal justice system to provide mental health services.  Mental health is a real issue, it’s a healthcare issue, it’s a progressive issue.

Will doing something about mental health stop mass shootings?  Almost certainly not.

But it will help a massive segment of the population that’s struggling right now.

5.  Republicans tend to be the ones holding back our mental health systems.

All the issues with our mental health system?  Almost all of them exist because a Republican doesn’t want to spend money on crazy people.  So our mentally ill are suffering in order to get more military spending and more tax breaks for the wealthy.

6.  Republicans could be forced to eat mental health reforms in the wake of a mass shooting.

Mental Health is the Republican go-to explanation why shootings happen.  Guns don’t kill people, people kill people; we have heard that mantra.  And (according to them) the mentally ill are to blame for these shootings, not the fact that you can walk into any Wal-Mart and pick yourself up an assault rifle.

Now, the Democrat’s response to this is to call it out for being bollocks.  And that’s a fair response, because it is mostly bollocks.  But it isn’t a smart response.  Because as soon as the Republicans start sounding off about mental health, we have an opportunity.  A golden opportunity.  Get the Republicans on board to fix a mental health system in order to save the guns that nobody was taking anyways!

7.  There will be another mass shooting

We’re getting them pretty quick, nowadays.  There will be another one.  We’re not implementing gun control (see above).  Institute your mental health reforms.  Put as much towards mental health reforms as you can, because (1) you actually have an opportunity to get things done, and (2) you are letting the Republicans walk far, far out on a limb.  Mental health money should have stopped mass shootings, right?  Well, it didn’t.  There’s some more corpses.

By agreeing to work with Republicans on mental health funding, you play their hand against them.  Either they give us a lot of money to deal with mental health, or they publicly destroy their own argument vis-a-vis these shootings.  As there is going to be another shooting later anyways, we can go after them on guns after we’ve used their money to deal with an issue we want dealt with, and simultaneously shown that their way doesn’t work.  We win, twice.

But, sadly, we’re not doing it.   We’re not going to take this maneuver; we’re just going to rant and rave about gun control.  And nothing will be done, because nobody wants to do anything about it other than talk.

We can’t prevent the next mass shooting.  We may be able to prevent the one after that if we played the politics perfectly.  But we won’t, because we’re liberals, and we lose so goddamned always.