Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guns and Growing Up After Columbine

I grew up with guns, lots of them, hunting and sport shooting in rural Colorado. I understand the importance of responsible gun ownership - it's a serious responsibility to own a device that can rapidly discharge directed explosions of metal at living creatures.

I've also traveled the world - to countries with many fewer guns, to countries with more stringent gun laws, and to countries where the police look like soldiers outfitted for war. Increasingly that's how police in the USA look - and that's not a good sign given the countries I'm thinking about.

Unfortunately, years of looking at detailed gun fatality statistics - by state and by nation, as well as nearly two decades of thinking about school shootings, has really eroded my libertarian view on guns. There is simply too much evidence to suggest that the USA has a systemic, unique problem that has risen to the level of a health epidemic - one that we are told we must accept on Constitutional grounds. As Max Boot (not exactly a liberal) wrote, the Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact - and that's a genuine dilemma.

There are many important stories about how a gun has de-escalated a situation or saved someone's life. There are also many tragic stories about a gun discharging and killing a family member, or a domestic dispute that leaves a spouse dead from a gunshot, or a family member mistaken for an intruder and killed. Sadly, I can think of personal examples of each of those stories, as well.

There should remain a place for a responsible person to own firearms, especially for home protection. But guns in the public sphere has become an incredibly difficult topic. We don't allow guns in a bank or a courtroom but now some want more guns in schools. We don't allow guns on airplanes but some now want more people to conceal them on subways, streets, and public events. We don't want police officers to escalate to lethal force but we arm more of our citizens per capita - increasing the fear officers quite reasonably have for their life at every traffic stop. These are striking contradictions that a society with more guns than people have introduced - problems unique in the developed world.

It would appear that a generation of kids who were born after Columbine are no longer willing to accept as normal the possibility that their friends will be shot dead at school, at the movies, at a concert, at church, or at a nightclub. A generation ago, this wasn't part of growing up. Now it is. These teens should be listened to. We should support them. They are challenging us to build a better world together.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Trump's Disgraceful Conduct vs. Christian Evangelicals

Remember back when we had a president and first lady that you would actually want your kids to look up to, learn from, and aspire to be like?

You know, the couple that wasn't mired in conflicts of interest and nepotism, overtly racist statements and disgraceful social media posts, decades of financial ties with hostile foreign powers, and sex scandals ranging from covered-up affairs with porn stars and sexual harassment allegations to bragging about sexual assault and wanting to date their own daughter?

It might be time for Christian Evangelicals, who overwhelmingly support Donald Trump, to reconsider just how important they say "personal character" is in their leaders.  Or stop supporting lecherous buffoons.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Insufferable Studying of Trump Supporters

At this point, I'm insufferably bored with liberal authors, celebrities, journalists, and college professors journeying into the "heartland of America" to try and understand conservative ideology and study Trump supporters like they're some exotic species replete with mystery and awe. They aren't. There are a number of predictable demographic factors (age, ethnicity, education level, economic mobility, contact with other cultures) which reliably create and reinforce conservative political beliefs. This can be demonstrated over and over and is hardly controversial or elusive data.

What we need more of is precisely the opposite; we should be finding ways for people 1) who have always lived within 50 miles of their rural or suburban hometown, 2) have less than a college degree, and 3) tune into Fox News and other right-wing media regularly to have more opportunities to see other parts of the world, meet people who aren't like them, and experience perspectives other than their own.

Can anyone think of a documentary, book, or other published work about a white male conservative from middle America traveling to "the liberal coasts" and talking to people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ, and immigrants about what they believe and why they didn't vote for Trump? Asking for myself.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Least Funny Games

The film "Funny Games" (the 2007 English remake of Michael Haneke's own 1997 Austrian crime thriller) is a no fun, very bad punishment - one we endure without doing anything to deserve it.
I enjoy difficult and challenging art films and picked this one up as a recommendation. I was ready to be impressed, or at least to be engaged in novelty.

But this movie was like watching the snot of a better one drip off the screen and being forced to lick it up. The meritorious craft of the production is ultimately lost in just how cruel, empty, and arbitrary it amounts to be. It is degrading to everyone involved, pretentiously nihilistic, and offers no narrative semblance for what it is doing, why it is doing it, or why we should care. Rather, it cheerfully takes us hostage without any demands and annihilates everyone involved without any negotiations.

And if the rejoinder is that audiences don't have to understand or don't have to care about the film they're watching, I would merely suggest this: don't even bother to watch "Funny Games" in the conventional way, as the director intended. Instead, re-edit the film yourself with the ending you know is already there.

Or better yet, just put it on, walk out, and do something better with your life for 111 minutes. That's the best way to watch this movie.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Has American Politics Officially Bottomed Out?

Imagine if I told you a few years ago that in 2017, we would have a president with at least 16 accusers of sexual harassment or assault against him... endorsing a candidate for the Alabama senate with 9 accusers of sexual harassment or assault against him - including several underage girls.

And then I told you that their best rationale for not resigning immediately was based on their ongoing denial of these accusations even with dozens of corroborating witnesses to contemporaneous accounts of these heinous actions, going as far as threatening to sue the women making the accusations and the journalists who report their accounts alongside research that supports material evidence of the predatory behavior of these same men.

And then I told you that this special election in Alabama looks like it will be incredibly close because the Democratic candidate, who prosecuted two KKK members who had killed four African-American children in a 1963 Birmingham church bombing, was accused of being "soft on crime" by the president who bragged about grabbing women by their genitals, walking into the dressing rooms of underage girls, and repeatedly joked about dating his own daughter.

And then I told you that the rationale for supporting the accused child molester was because the Republican party really, really wants to pass a "tax reform" package that vastly favors the wealthiest individuals and corporations while making cuts to healthcare programs and eliminating a variety of deductions that working class people rely on while penalizing taxpayers in Democratic-leaning states - all of which will add around $1.5 trillion to the deficit and relying on the myth of "trickle down economics" to boost wages and job growth without any historical or contemporary evidence that such wealth transfer to financial elites will accomplish that.

... If I told you all that, would you believe me?  And would you care?

Friday, November 3, 2017


Dear Snowpiercer, I haven't gone in with higher expectations or left with more disappointment in a very long time.

What were they thinking?

This film has some laudable ambition, a solid cast, fantastic production design, and a premise that is interesting and original enough to hold great promise. Apparently, many reviewers really liked it given the film's 84/100 on Metacritic. I can recognize those worthwhile elements.

But they absolutely do not add up. The film earns its gory R rating but has some incredibly childish dialogue that belongs in a young adult novel. Yes, Tilda Swinton does very well with her role and there are some other notable successes in the cast (the classroom scene was by far the most well-directed). And Chris Evans carries the film well enough except for a macabre monologue about eating babies (can a good guy ever eat babies?).

But not since "The Matrix Reloaded" have I seen such a clumsy, unsatisfying deus ex machina. Ed Harris channels his role from "The Truman Show" here with a fumbling finale that underwhelms and feels almost insulting to sit through. After a two hour train ride, this really isn't where we should be getting off.

What's worse, the film is all too eager to kill off basically every character we meet and grow to care about, leaving us with very little worth rooting for when the small band of surviving characters finally escape from their Flakes on a Train experience.

And what do we have left? A totally unsurvivable wilderness that cannot possibly sustain these untrained and ill-equipped passengers. Nobody seems to have thought this through - not the characters, not the filmmakers. By nightfall, temperatures will drop and they will desperately flee back into the train they just blew up in order to salvage whatever they can to build a habitable environment in their former prison. Where is Matt Damon from "The Martian" when we need him?

So we're left with a trite and superficial meditation on classism and population control, a banal plot twist involving child labor, and a vague cautionary tail against geoengineering. I was truly hoping that the antagonist's big reveal was the frozen landscape being an intentional act by the train's designer to purge humanity and rule the remaining world from within his train car. But what we get is much simpler - and the realization that the film has greatly over-promised and under-delivered.

Best case scenario: the polar bear brings in his family to feast on the sorry lot of human corpses strewn about for half a mile. THE END

Or a happier ending would be if the polar bear attacked the survivors until Leonardo DiCaprio shows up to suplex the bear, tame it, and then teach everyone how to build igloos and go ice fishing.  THE END

The 2016 Election, One Year Later...

--- SUMMER OF 2016 ---

Berners: We want Bernie! He is going to mobilize more first time and independent voters.

DNC: Clinton is the best candidate! She's a longtime party favorite and she's been covertly stuffing our coffers with cash for a year now. (source)

Berners: No, her numbers are bad, Sanders are much better! She is going to lose against Trump.  (source)

DNC: It's our party, we know what's best.


DNC: OMG!  Clinton lost against Trump! How could this happen?!?


Berners: We told you, her numbers were bad, Sanders were much better. And a year later, her numbers are worse, his are even better. (source) (source)

DNC: Yes... but... He wasn't really a Democrat, anyway! There's nothing we could have done differently.

Berners: You really don't want to win these things, do you?