Friday, December 30, 2016

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth (a book review post)

To put it mildly, I am not overly fond of "Christianity" right now. To be clear, when I say "Christianity," I do not mean Christianity; I mean the modern farce that people pretend is Christianity, whatever that actually is. Because it's clear that there has been a division about what is or is not Christianity right from the very beginning.

Which has nothing to do with what "Christianity" is, and has been for the last several decades at least, in America today. "Christianity" is a religion of hate, exclusion, and fundamentalism; the religion that supported a man to the Presidency who is completely antithetical to everything Christianity represents. Or says it represents.

And, no, the book has nothing to do with modern politics, but it does deal heavily with how different a thing can be from the actuality, the truth, that it was based on.

I think the audience for a book like this is probably fairly small, and not because it's not good. It is. It's well written, well researched, and well supported. However, "Christians" will dismiss the book as, I'll just say, liberal propaganda, which is sad, because it's "Christians" who need this book more than anyone. "Christians" need to be challenged to think beyond the shallow tripe they are spoon fed on Sunday mornings. Of course, being a book ostensibly about Jesus, there's no reason non-Christians should have any interest in the book... unless it's someone just curious about the history.

I'm not going to go into detail about the book -- you can read the blurb from the book for yourself -- however, I'll touch on one part:
The latter part of the book deals with a division within the early church between James (the leader of the church in Jerusalem) and Paul, who was one step removed from being a heretic. Much of our modern church, modern "Christianity" is built around what Paul wrote, a man who never met Jesus, yet claimed to speak with greater authority about him than Jesus' own brother (the aforementioned James) and the rest of the apostles. The piece that history loses is that in his day Paul was an outlier, someone trying to peel off members from the main body of the early church with heretical teachings and who stayed in conflict with James for much of his ministry.

In fact, Paul was losing. And bitter.

Probably, we would know nothing of Paul today had not two things happened:
1. James was assassinated.
2. The Romans leveled Jerusalem, the side effect of which was destroying the central power structure of the early Church.
Basically, this allowed the Church to become a more gentile-centric organization than it would have been if it had remained centered in Jerusalem. It allowed the New Testament to become a book of Paul's teachings rather than a book of Jesus' teachings, and the current "Christian" church relies much more heavily on Paul than it does Jesus. Not that the representation of Jesus is completely accurate.

As a Truth seeker, I found the book fascinating and would highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Clone Wars -- "The Box" (Ep. 4.17)

-- The strong survive; the noble overcome.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Okay, so, the ship they come in on at the beginning of the episode is pretty sweet. I don't remember seeing it in the last episode -- I don't know if I missed it (I get interrupted a lot by child-things) or if they only talked about it, but it's cool -- but it was a cool ship to open with.

Beyond that, though, I'm ambivalent about this episode. On the one hand, we're introduced to a dozen or so new bounty hunters (and there's a great bit dealing with Cad Bane and his hat fetish), and some of them look really cool. However, they are mostly window dressing, and we don't really get to find out any more about them than how they look. Then, again, I suppose that's how the bounty hunters were introduced in The Empire Strikes Back. Other than Boba Fett, it was years and years before we found out anything else about them.

Oh, and don't worry; I'm not forgetting the other hand.

On the other hand, this is one of those video game-like episodes where the bounty hunters are put in "the box," and they have to survive a series of challenges to earn the privilege of being on the team to capture Palpatine. I'm bored of these kinds of episodes, especially in a twenty minute format. It's just a ridiculous idea that has been perpetuated in popular culture through video games, but it makes no sense as something real. Everyone would die, so you wouldn't have any winners from which to form your team.

But Bane and Hardeen seem to bond, which is an interesting development.

Basically, this episode is just a bridge between parts two and four of this arc, but it would have worked just as well for me (okay, actually better) for them to just have introduced the rest of the team of bounty hunters with a "here's the rest of your team."

Monday, December 26, 2016

I Am the Middle Ground

Someone told me the other day, "You need to come to a middle a ground," in relation to my recent political posts and thoughts. I need to come to a middle ground. Hmm...
Actually, I've been told similar things by a lot of Trump supporters, that I am not being tolerant of them and their positions. To that, I say that it is not actually okay to be tolerant of other people's intolerance, that's equivalent to saying that it's okay for the guy down the street to beat his children because it's none of your business what goes on in his house. However, that's not exactly legally true, as you might be accountable if you know there is child abuse going on and didn't do anything about it. Basically, though, this:
Being tolerant of other people's racism is not being tolerant of alternate worldviews; it's participating in racism. In other words, it doesn't make you tolerant, it makes you racist.

Just like not reporting known child abuse can make you accountable for that crime even though you had nothing physically to do with it.
Funny how that works, isn't it? (Yes, for the impaired of you out there, that's sarcasm.)

As for me needing to find a middle ground, let's look at that:

Our nation was founded on the stated belief that "all men are created equal." That was our stated Declaration and reason for our Revolution. So that creates for us a Middle Ground that looks something like this:
(L=liberal, C=conservative)

Of course, that's not how we actually started out. It was a good ideal, but our nation started with a "small" problem that the Founding Fathers were unable to deal with. As such, the wheel looked like this:
It took about 80 years for the social liberals in the government to turn the wheel. And a war. That led us to this:
That lasted through the 1960s, when social liberals, again, managed to turn the wheel to something like the first image:
Of course, that didn't happen without a lot of... turbulence..., to put it lightly. And social conservatives have been pushing back against it ever since. In fact, they have been pushing back against everything that social liberals have done going back to FDR. Newt Gingrich sort of led the charge in the 80s, but it really picked up in the 90s as a response to Bill Clinton's Presidency. What we have, now, is something that looks more like this:
Now, this is where the racism comes in with Trump and those who voted for him. If Trump and his cohorts (people like Steve Bannon) get their way, they will turn the wheel back to the pre-60s wheel with the C at the top. It's already going that way with laws being passed in some states (like North Carolina) which disenfranchise African Americans. Trump supporters, whether they "feel" racist or not, are actively participating in putting in place people who want to enact policies to bring this about:
So... It doesn't matter how you feel about yourself and whether you feel like you're racist or not -- even people like Steve Bannon, David Duke, and Richard Spencer claim not to be racist -- it matters what actions you take. Supporting Trump means you support a racist agenda, an agenda which promotes white supremacy, and that puts you in the racist camp, or Team Racism. And I wouldn't put it past Bannon and friends to want to flip the dial back upside down all together.

The point, though, is this:
In a world where we consider slavery to be wrong and equality to be right, 
this world:
Then I am the middle ground. The problem is that those on the Right, conservatives and fundamentalists of whatever sorts, have pushed their bar so far to the right...

(and in a world where white cops can routinely shoot unarmed black men and not suffer any consequences for it, we are certainly far, far into the Racial Inequality section of the Social Justice Wheel)
They have pushed it so far to the right that I now seem to be standing on the far left. To them. Because I haven't moved. I'm still standing in the same place where I believe in equality for all men. All people.

People, this is where we make our stand, a stand for equality. A stand for "all men are created equal." If we allow the Trumps and Bannons and Farages to spin the wheel back around so that the Conservatives are in ascendance, it will likely take decades to move it back to a place where equality for all is again a goal. We can't let that happen.

This is a time for standing up for what is right, not look to meet conservatives somewhere in the middle, because in the middle is already too far from equality. A Trump presidency is wrong, not because he's a Republican (he's not), but because he and his ilk represent and perpetuate an evil on the world, and we can't step aside and let that happen in the name of "finding the middle ground."

We are the middle ground, and we need to claim it and hold fast to it. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.


Additional Note:
You may have noticed that there is nothing on the liberal side of my Social Justice Wheel:
That's because we've never been there, so I'm not really sure what's over there. I think conservatives have the irrational fear that it's some form of socialism or communism (even though they really have no idea what those terms actually mean), the ultimate evil to many, many conservatives. [I got called a communist recently on FB for posting a quote from Abraham Lincoln about racial equality.] However, if I had to guess, I would guess it would be something like this:
Clearly, we are nowhere near to approaching that! And it may be the thing that social conservatives fear the most. I mean, if we let women be equal to men, we might have to admit that they sometimes ought to be in charge.

Friday, December 23, 2016

world war four (a book review post)

It's no secret that I'm a fan of Briane Pagel's work. He has a contemplative style of writing that really works for me. Generally speaking, his stories deal with some deeper question, some "what if?" that the story is addressing. So, like, in his excellent novel, Codes, the question is something like, "What if people were like computer "codes" that could be copied?" That's a good book, by the way, you should go read it.

Which is not to imply that most stories don't begin with some kind of "what if?" by the author, but Pagel's questions, or his answers, at least, tend to have a philosophical bent to them. So Codes is more about the effect on a person finding out he's a copy rather than a runaway adventure story about clones. I suppose it's the way he answers his questions that set him apart from most authors.

Which brings us to world war four, Pagel's most recent collection of short stories. I already tend to have a contentious relationship with short stories, and these are no different in that respect.

I think my main issue is that the two main stories (or what felt like to me to be the two main stories), including the title story, "worldwarfour," felt incomplete to me. This is actually a very common response I have to short stories, that they're too short. Like there should have been more there but, for whatever reason, the author just didn't finish it or fill it out enough or got bored. Something. That's how I felt with "worldwarfour" and "if i'd been in charge of einstein's brain."

And, with both of those stories, I couldn't decide what they were about, what the question was that Pagel was exploring. That said, I did really like what was there of "worldwarfour." It felt very much like a -- I'm going to guess 10-year-old (because either I've forgotten or it was never said) -- boy wandering in the woods while playing a game with his friends. Pagel captured a stream-of-consciousness that really feels right. It's just that the story has no real conclusion, and I was left wondering if, maybe, some of the story got left out of the book.

The other three stories are good, but I wouldn't say they are great. "zanzibar" both feels complete and incomplete at the same time. Like the necessary story is there, but it's not fleshed out enough. Except that it is enough to tell the story it's telling, just probably doesn't answer the questions it will generate. Sometimes, I find this to be a very good quality in storytelling, but I wasn't quite satisfied with it here. (But, then, that might just be related to my general dissatisfaction with the world in general, right now. It's hard to say.)

"7 pigs" and "pete & repeat went out in a boat," I both quite liked, but they're... oh, I'll say that they're less serious stories, which isn't quite right, because they're not, but they're handled in a less serious manner, I suppose.

So what I would say here is this:
If you're a fan of Pagel's work, you should read this one. It doesn't require a huge time investment, and there is some good stuff in it. However, if you haven't read Pagel before, go get Codes; it's a better introduction to his work, and it's good stuff.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (a movie review post)

Before I get into the review itself, let me say up front that I loved this movie. I was very trepidatious about this movie ahead of time. It's not like Gareth Edwards, the director, has made anything prior to this worth watching: Monsters was the cliche of every indie movie out there, full of dialogue that was written to verbalize the personal philosophies of the director, and boring; and Godzilla was... well, it just was. That coupled with the fact that Disney took the movie away from Edwards back in June or July to do re-shoots because it was testing so poorly with audiences leads me to believe that the quality of Rogue One is due more to Disney than to Edwards.

But I did love it. In so many ways, it was like being a kid again and watching Star Wars for the first time. Not in a nostalgic way, which is what Abrams was going for with Force Awakens (and which didn't work for me at all, because I don't want to see the same thing again because I already saw that movie(s), and Lucas did it better than Abrams), but in that way of seeing something new and brilliant for the first time. Something that excites you. Rogue One did that.

Which is not to say that there aren't plenty of nods to the original trilogy, but that's the thing: They are just nods, not throwing the same story back at us.

Rogue One sets itself apart from the very beginning: There is no opening crawl. The lack of it was... weird, and I immediately went to a negative space of, "Oh, man, this is going to be bad." It went on from there to offer place name subtitles, which reinforced that initial internal groan. The movie, however, quickly overcame those initial misgivings.

So what is there that I can say about it that is not spoilery? Rogue One gives us a real view of what the Rebellion is all about. I think there is a lack of understanding about how much Luke Skywalker changed the Rebellion and what it was. The Rebellion grew out of the destruction of the Jedi. We see that at the end of Revenge of the Sith, normal humans witnessing the destruction of the Jedi Order, the protectors of peace and freedom in the galaxy, and determining to resist and fight back... on their own.

Fight back against the Empire, which includes both the Emperor and Darth Vader. With no Jedi.

That's the world we find ourselves in, and there are no holds barred. As such, this movie is... there's no other word for it than brutal.

And it's excellent.

The cast, also, is great. Felicity Jones, whom I was also trepidatious about after her performance in The Theory of Everything (which probably wasn't her fault; it just wasn't a very good movie, and her role was rather weak), performed admirably as Jyn Erso. There's not a moment when you don't believe she is not a strong, street-smart young person. You can tell she is trouble right from the beginning of the movie, unlike Luke.

In fact, there are so many great performances (from the most diverse cast of any Star Wars movie and, possibly, one of the most diverse casts of any movie (no, I haven't done the research on that, but, at least, on the rebel side of things, there are virtually no white, male cast members, highlighting the white male human supremacy of the Empire)) that it would take too long to go into them all. The only performance I was disappointed in was that of Forest Whitaker, an actor I really like, but I think that was mostly due to the very brief screen time the character of Saw Gerrera was given.

This next thing might be considered a spoiler, but it's something definitely worth noting, especially since, as far as I can tell, no one is talking about it. At least, no one is talking about it in any of the more mainstream reviews that I've seen.
Rogue One contains what I believe is the first homosexual couple in Star Wars: Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. It's not explicit, which is what makes it beautiful. These are definitely two men who care deeply for each other, and I think anyone would be hard pressed to make the case that they are just "good friends." Not without some creative bending of the facts. They bicker like an old married couple and are just as affectionate. And I would really like to delve into this more, but I really can't without giving actual spoilers. Maybe I'll come back to it at a later time.

Unfortunately, I haven't had time, yet, to go see the movie for a second time, but I have a great desire to. I walked out of this one wanting to go right back in, and that desire hasn't diminished. At the moment, Rogue One is in my top three Star Wars films. It will hit you on a visceral level (my wife cried often during the movie) and leave you not knowing what to do with yourself. Other than seeing it again, that is. There's more I could say about that, but that, also, would be a spoiler. It shouldn't be (because no one ought to actually be surprised at the ending of the movie), but it would be. Just go see the movie. If you are at all a Star Wars fan, you will in all likelihood enjoy the movie immensely. If you don't like Star Wars, you might like it anyway.

It's that kind of movie.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Friends and Enemies" (Ep. 4.16)

-- Keep your friend close, but keep your enemies closer.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Cad Bane needs a new hat. Of course, the first one he picks up is a very familiar looking fedora. It's worth the whole episode.

Which is saying a lot, because it's a good episode. This is a good arc, possibly a very important arc; I just can't remember how important.

Anakin is hot on the heels of Obi-Wan's killer, the problem being that Obi-Wan's killer is in fact Obi-Wan. (Oh, come on. If you watched the previous episode (and you should have watched the previous episode!), you already know this.) Considering the animosity between Rako Hardeen and Cad Bane, this only makes things worse.

Of course, it's Palpatine who plays on Anakin's anger and puts him on the trail of Hardeen. Every time we have one of these instances where Palpatine encourages Anakin in his anger or jealousy or whatever negative emotion it is, I wish I had kept a record of how many times it had happened. How many times does a Jedi have to give into anger to fall to the Dark Side?

This arc is where season four really begins to heat up.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Children Will Pay

You can think of the photo as a metaphor.

So far, in talking about Trump I have focused on the overt racism (and sexism!) his campaign and presidency represent. This is like a piece of cheese covered in mold, and I mean covered. Something that looks like a chunk of green and white fuzz rather, and you only know that there was cheese there because of the packaging. It's disgusting and vile and you probably don't want to smell it, much less take a bite of it. However, it's possible that you could be tempted to want to try to cut the mold off to get down to the good cheese, and, based on the number of people who voted for Trump, a lot of you out there think the overt racism (and sexism!) is just some surface thing that can be cut away.

What I'm saying is that the surface mold was more than reason enough to throw away that (previously) orange piece of cheese. But, you know, since we didn't do that, let's look at what's under that horrible growth of mold.

Actually, wait a minute, let's stop and look at that mold again for just a moment:

Because it's not us, the adults, who will pay for the fungal racist bloom growing in America right now. It will be our children and our children's children. They will be the ones who will have to spend decades repairing the damage to race relations after a Trump presidency.

But that, at least, will be repairable. As bad as that could be, it will be repairable.

There are other things that are not repairable that we may be consigning our children and their children and their children to live with forever. And let's just skip the potential for nuclear war that's wrapped up in Trump's tiny little tyrannosaurus hands (along with his tiny little dinosaur brain).

As bad as everything else will be with Trump as President (and you're living with your head up your ass if you don't believe it will be bad) -- it's going to be a disaster, worst deal ever -- the absolute worst thing is going to be what Trump does to the environment.

And I get that a lot of you out there don't believe the science, don't believe the world isn't flat, but what the data shows is beyond scary. 2016 is the hottest year on record in something like 130 years of record keeping, and that's following nine other hottest years on record in the last 15 or 20 years. The science says we're at a tipping point, and Trump and his new buddy Scott Pruitt are going to do everything they can to push us over the edge. Or, to put it more directly, they are going to do everything they can to keep the people holding us back from a whole Earth climate disaster from being able to do that anymore.

This is what is reprehensible:
Trump, and others like him, have no vision and no long term plan. Their only concern is how much money they can make NOW, and the way to do that is to rape the Earth. Destroying the environment for profit has been the way of man for a long time, now, but we are at the end of what we can destroy and still retain the world as it is. Men like Trump and Pruitt DO NOT CARE. They don't care if what they leave behind is a desiccated husk as long as they get what they want.

And, sure, maybe Trump really just doesn't believe in climate change; maybe, he really does believe it's a Chinese hoax, but that just makes him a special kind of stupid, and we shouldn't have someone like that running the country.

Honestly, I don't care what you think about anything else about Trump: If you can't see and understand this threat that Trump represents then you, also, only care about your own immediate self-gratification without regard for the damage that you're doing (listening to Trump voters, I think this represents the vast majority of them) or you, also, are a dumbass who doesn't believe in science and should go back to living in a cave and hunting your food with a pointy stick. Or you could be some combination of the two.

Seriously, there are SO MANY individual reasons that should have been enough for people to avoid Trump like the moldy cheeseball that he is, but this, what he will allow to be done to the environment, is the greatest. This is the one that we won't be able to come back from. Trump voters, you've all just driven us off the edge of a cliff. I hope you're satisfied with yourselves.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Madame Butterfly (an opera review post)

Unfortunately, this will be the last opera review for a while. Performances don't start again until June. However... what an opera to end on!

I'm gonna have to lead with with the fact that the set was crap. It was, in fact, almost non-existent, consisting mostly of concentric circles on the stage and a sliding screen. Granted, you don't really need anything of consequence for Madame Butterfly since it all takes place in the same location, a small Japanese home near a cliff, but I think I would have preferred a bare stage to the circles on the floor, which seemed to have been used for nothing more than to lay out the circular patterns the servants moved in.

Also, the costumes were crap. As with Aida, they brought in an outside artist to do set and costume design, in this case Jun Kaneko. Don't get me wrong, Kaneko's art is definitely interesting -- I especially like his sculpture work -- but his style would have fit more with the movie Dick Tracy -- being largely composed of bright, primary colors done in odd block patterns -- than it did here. The costumes distracted from the performance rather than enhancing it, and that's always a problem.

In our opera viewing, I've come to break down the performances into four categories: sets, costumes, visual performance (acting), and vocal performance. As you can see, half of my categories for this opera have already received horrible marks.

That said, this was my wife's favorite opera of the season (so far (since we have three more in JUNE)), and she agrees with me about the set and the costumes (though my wording is probably a bit more harsh than how she would say it). The singing was so amazing, especially from Lianna Haroutounian (Butterfly), though, that it completely overshadowed and made up for the lack of any real set and the gaudy, distracting costumes. I'm going with Don Pasquale as my favorite so far because it gets better overall scores, and, if I was going to watch one over again, that's the one I would choose. Butterfly comes in a close second, though, and, if I was just going to listen to one, I would choose it.

So, yes, Haroutounian was amazing. You could say that her singing in this performance went to 11. Or, maybe better, "to infinity and beyond."

Vincenzo Costanzo was also very good as Pinkerton. He was a believable asshole. I hope it was the acting and not just his personality coming through. I kid! Okay, well, I don't kid; I do hope that, but I'm not trying to imply that I think that... Oh, never mind! He was great in his role.

And I really enjoyed Julius Ahn as Goro.

As a contrast to what I was talking about in my review of Aida, I want to point out that Butterfly had a very diverse cast. It was good.

This production of Madame Butterfly, even with the set and costume issues, was well worth seeing. I sort of feel like I should talk some about Puccini because he's a very interesting character himself, but it really doesn't have anything to do with this production. Anyway, his opera is powerful, and I appreciate the symbolism of the long musical interlude even if it is difficult to sit through. And, see, that's the thing: this production had a lot of what I would consider to be serious issues, and it was still amazing.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Deception" (Ep. 4.15)

-- All warfare is based on deception.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

For anyone having their first experience with Star Wars through The Clone Wars, this could be a traumatic episode for it opens with the assassination of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Wait, what?!

Yeah, you heard me: the assassination of Obi-Wan Kenobi.

To say that Anakin doesn't take it well is somewhat of an understatement.

And Cad Bane is back, and you can't dismiss Bane.

I remember wondering, when I was watching this the first time, if this was in any way related to the set up for Revenge of the Sith, since that opens with Palpatine being rescued from the Separatists and the actual plot of this arc has to do with a kidnap plot against Palpatine. Guess what. I can't remember if this relates or not, so I get to find out all over again! However, since I can't remember, I'm going to guess that it doesn't relate.

There's also a brief appearance by young Boba Fett and Bossk.

It's a good episode, and that's all I'm saying.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Sad Thing

Let's talk philosophy.

But only a little and only bouncing a bit on the surface.

Throughout most of human history, we have operated under this idea of "might makes right." We can talk about the concept from a number of angles, but they all come down to the ability of a person or group to silence his/their opponent(s). Often by death: combat, war, whatever. The stronger person/group then gets to set the rules, the "right."

Frequently, we (as a race) have used "God" as our justification. "I won because God was with me; therefore, I must be right." "God" wouldn't side with a loser, right?

Only, through the lens of history, something previous eras have not had to the extent we have today, we can see that that is, in fact, not true. Or, actually, we can see that "God" certainly wasn't on the side of the winners since they were clearly in the wrong (unless "God" is an immoral capricious bastard). These things we can see even today as the bully beats up the kid in the bathroom and stuffs his face in a toilet. He doesn't have any god on his side; he's just stronger and can, therefore, enforce his injustices on those weaker than himself. Or a group (the Republicans) can make it inordinately difficult for another group (African Americans/minorities) to vote thereby throwing an election in their favor.

And since this is a blog post, I'm not going to run through all of the historical examples of this faulty logic. Might doesn't make you right, but it might just make you an asshole.

As an aside, "might" is the root of racism.
But I digress...

Of course, in our "modern American society," we tend to frown on violence being used as a way to assert might (which is not necessarily so in other parts of the world). Instead, in the US, we tend to use wealth and, well, shouting. Shouting the loudest is our current iteration of beating someone up or challenging someone to a duel. It's this "yelling the loudest" thing I want to focus on.

Disclaimer: I'm writing this "off the cuff" from personal observations and what I already know about psychology (which is a lot considering I have a degree in it). I'm not citing sources, so, if you don't trust what I'm saying, do your own research. (Which is probably a good thing, all things considered.)

One thing that is known about people is that they tend to follow a show of force, which is why bullies tend to gather followers and why gangs attract people. There are too many reasons why to get into that, right now, but you can probably accept that as true. Another thing that is known is that what is true/factual is not of great importance to most people. People want more to follow someone who can "prove" they are right rather than working out what is right on their own. People, unfortunately, don't want to do that much thinking for themselves and most people are perfectly fine with being told what and how to think. Not that they even realize that that is what they are doing.
[The proliferation of fake news, right now, is a good example of people being willing to believe whatever is put in front of them and also an example of the type of people susceptible to it (those on the Right have been shown to be MUCH more susceptible to believing fabricated stories than those on the Left).]

What this comes down to is the person who can yell the loudest being declared the victor even if, maybe especially if, what the person is yelling is false. From experience, people with facts tend to be quieter people. They tend to be the thinkers. And they tend to erroneously believe "the facts will speak for themselves." The facts almost always speak too late or, rather, are listened to too late. Your opinion is only as strong as my fact until your opinion actually runs up against my fact and is crushed by it.

In fact, I think wrong people tend to yell all the more loudly because they know they know they have no facts or truth but want to assert themselves anyway. Having grown up in a household with a father exactly like this (to the point of yelling at me about text books being wrong because he was right because he said so godamnit!), I'm pretty good at recognizing this behavior, and Trump is exactly the same kind of personality.

So, yeah, thanks climate deniers. In four years when the climate is destroyed by Trump and his cronies, you'll know just exactly how strong your opinion was.

The one thing this election proved is that Trump is a blowhard. He relied upon bellowing loudly that he was right without ever having any facts to prove it and, the sad thing is, people swarmed to him. Yes, he proved that he has "might," that he can yell loudly. That he could yell more loudly than Clinton who mostly relied upon statistics and facts and experience, all concrete things that she believed would speak for her.

At this point, you might be saying, "But Clinton won the popular vote," which is true, she did, but she didn't win the EC because Trump cowed so many people into not voting by yelling so loudly about what a horrible person Clinton is. When half of the country doesn't bother to even make a showing, something is horribly wrong.

You know, we like to think we are all enlightened these days. That we are smarter than people of the past. But that is demonstrably not the case. Our technology and progress are not due to "people" but to select individuals who have been building on facts and truths over a long period of time. Quiet people. Thinkers. People who were, in their own times, frequently drowned out by people shouting over them.

"People" are a sad thing. Lemmings. Because Trump is certainly going to lead everyone off the edge of a cliff and, well, most people are not just going to follow willingly but delightfully. The problem is that the people who don't want to follow, people who see Trump for what he is, a bloated sack of flatulence, are going to get dragged off of the edge of the cliff, too. And, well, because it's America, we could actually drag the whole world with us.

[Yes, I know a lot of you are rolling your eyes, right now, and think I'm being "a bit extreme," but I will have another post soon on why this is not extreme but, actually, a clear and present danger.]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Moonlight (a movie review post)

So it's Oscar time again... That means that my wife and I have started our yearly venture into trying to see all of the potential best picture nominations ahead of the awards. Yes, that means lots of movie reviews will be coming up. I'm already behind.

When someone asks you what a movie is about, there are two ways of answering: You can give them a synopsis of the plot, or you can tell them what the movie is about. Generally, I choose to do the latter. Anyone can look up a plot synopsis (or, if we're talking books, read the back cover), but that's not necessarily going to tell you if you want see the movie. Sometimes, though, all you can do is give a plot synopsis.

What is it I'm saying here? Well, don't ask me what Moonlight is about, because all I can tell you is that it's about a black boy and his journey to adulthood and figuring out who he is.

Is it good? Well... it's okay. Okay, no, it's good. Yeah, it's good, but it's just not really more than good. I mean, it's been more than a week since we saw it, and I still can't tell you what it's about. Not anymore than that it's about growing up. And, well, I suppose that's enough, but I don't feel like I came away from the movie with anything that I didn't go in with. Honestly, upon reflection, it reminds me too much of Boyhood but without having taken twelve years to film.

The acting was good, though, especially Mahershala Ali. Unfortunately, there's not enough of him in the movie.

The movie is told in three sections, each one dealing with a different life stage of Chiron: childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. Each of the actors for the three chapters does a good job with the role. They are all believable. However, Ashton Sanders, who plays Chiron the teenager, may be the best of the three. He is awkward and fumbling and doesn't seem to know how to wear his own skin, much less his clothes, but, then, with a drug-addict mother, he's somewhat fortunate to have any clothes at all.

Really, this isn't a movie for everyone. Or, even, for most. It has moments, and I'm glad I saw it, but it's not a movie I'll want to watch again or, even, a movie I would suggest to anyone that they needed to see. It's the kind of thing that's worth a watch if you're presented with the opportunity to see it, like the book you pick up in the airport because you might as well, right? Probably don't rush out to see it in the theater is what I'm saying.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Clone Wars -- "A Friend in Need" (Ep. 4.14)

-- Friendship shows us who we really are.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

The return of Death Watch... and a plan to assassinate Dooku?

Having the Death Watch around is always interesting, and, hey, it's always cool to see the Darksaber, but I actually don't want to talk about what the episode is about. No, again, I want to focus on something that's off to the side of the story.

When Ahsoka, R2-D2, and Lux Bonteri arrive at the Death Watch camp, the members of the Death Watch are busy torturing... droids. For fun. Their pattern seems to be to torture the droids into inoperability then have someone fix the droids up so that they can torture them some more. And I know some of you, right now, are thinking, "So...? They're droids."

It's important to remember that in Star Wars, droids are sentient. They have self-awareness and value themselves as individuals. This isn't a subject that's ever explored in Star Wars, but it's certainly there in the background. It's actually a parallel line of thought to that of the clones.

Now, most people would probably say it would be wrong to torture clones; they're alive, right? But not everyone believed that. They were, after all, built, so doesn't that make them something like organic machines? "But they can feel pain!" Sure, but so can the droids. "It's not the same!" Why not?

Why not?

Of course, after the Clone War, the making of clones was made illegal. So was the making of droids for combat purposes, though that's barely touched on.

Did you know that science (yeah, I know, for a lot of you, I may as well have just said "magic") is showing us, right now, that dolphins and other marine mammals are self aware? They have names for each other. So, you know, when a dolphin gets caught in a fishing net and pulled out  of the water, some other dolphin out in the ocean is going off to tell the pod, "Samson got caught in a net..." Imagine how you would feel if you found out your neighbor caught and ate your dog.

And some of you are saying, "So what. It's only a dog." Or it's only a dolphin. Or... it's only a black person. Or a Mexican. Or a Muslim. Or a faggot. It's not like they're people, right?

"You don't want to make them angry; they are far from rational."

Monday, December 5, 2016

You Might Just Be Stupid (or Burn It All Down)

In the last few weeks, I've heard a lot of Trump supporters attempting to defend their vote for Trump and explain how it is that they did not cast a vote for racism (and sexism). Some of these have been declarations online (whether they were blog posts, articles, editorials); some have been actual conversations I've had with people. After listening to some very blatantly racist things being said (the least of which was repeatedly referring to President Obama as "Osama") followed by the statement "I don't see how that's racist," I've come to the conclusion that racism may not have been the only reason people voted for Trump... but I'm not sure the alternative is better.

Let's look at the three reasons (or kinds of people) people voted for Trump:

1. Overt racism: You can't deny that Trump's campaign didn't promote and encourage racism. All of the racist termites crawled out of the woodwork during Trump's run for the Presidency, and, now that he's won, they don't plan on crawling back in. Participation in White Supremacy groups is spiking upwards as are race-based and hate crimes. These people feel like this is their time, their time to "make America great again" by putting minorities back in their place.  Just to point out, these people, also, do not claim to be racist, not even someone like David Duke, former leader of the KKK, CLAIMS to be racist. People don't label themselves "racist" just like they don't label themselves "asshole," no matter how apparent it is to everyone else.

2. Inherent racism: This is where most of Trump supporters lie, and they don't call themselves racists because they don't fall into the first category, though, as I said, even the people in the first category don't call themselves racist, so it's rather a moot point, but it is why people are so upset about suddenly being on Team Racism. If I woke up on Team Racism one day, I would be upset, too. Of course, I would also immediately do everything I could to get off of Team Racism, which none of these people seem to be doing. Rather, they are defending their stance of being on Team Racism by saying, "Yes, I want to play on Team Racism, but I am not a racist." Sorry, it just doesn't work that way.

Which is not to say that I don't understand the logic. No, really, I get it. Trump said he would give you A, B, and C, all things category two desperately want, but he said he was going to give you those things by being racist and misogynistic to the point of persecuting certain peoples and, yet, you said, "Okay, I'm willing to leave with that." That, my friend, is RACIST. This is the equivalent of me offering you a piece of the best chocolate cake ever BUT, every time you take a bite, I'm going to punch a black person in the face. You think to yourself, "Well, I would never do that, never punch a black person in the face so that I can have cake, but I'm not going to do it, and I really want that cake...," so you tell me to go ahead and let you have the cake and you don't really want me to punch the black person but you're willing to allow it so that you can have cake. Of course, the black person doesn't have cake or even enough normal, healthy food to eat (which you do), so it's adding injury to insult as you agree to allow him to be punched in the face so that you can have cake.

IT'S RACISM. Because the message there is that you having cake is worth more than the well being of these other people, and it's worth more BECAUSE YOU'RE WHITE.
But, still, you're not racist.

Of course, the joke is on you, because Trump isn't going to give you any cake. He and his rich buddies are going to eat all the cake while also punching black people and brown people and gay people... well, anyone who isn't white and male... in the face.

Let me give you a real, concrete example of this kind of thing (and you can read the whole story here and here (actually, that's just a part of the story, but it's the most essential part)):

When I was in my early 20s, the church I grew up in was finding itself in financial difficulty due to the aging out of the congregation and the church's inability to draw in a younger crowd. This inability to draw in a younger crowd was directly related to its unwillingness to allow people of color into its congregation of old white people. My church, itself, wasn't a young church; it was somewhere around 80 years old. Many of the elderly members of the congregation had spent their entire lives being members of that church.

Now, you would think (or, at least, I would think), that when you had built something up over that length of time, you would want it to continue on. You would want it continue to grow and persevere through hardship. However, when the aging white congregation came to the point of conflict over whether the church should continue by being welcoming to (mostly black) persons of color in the neighborhood or whether they should just destroy it all and go somewhere else, they chose to destroy it all and go somewhere else. I call this the "burn it all down" option.

It reminds me of that episode of The Jeffersons when George gives CPR to a white guy and saves his life only to have the white man tell him that he would rather have died than be saved by a black man.

The vote for Trump was a "burn it all down" vote. It's the vote that says, "I would rather destroy the USA than share it equally with people of color and women and people of non-normative orientations." It's the vote that says, "White people, specifically men, should be on top, and I'm willing to sacrifice everyone else to see that that happens."

So, yes, a vote for Trump was a vote to join Team Racism.

However, there is a third category:

3. Blatant stupidity: Sorry, I don't know any other way to say that. Initially, I didn't think anyone was THAT stupid, but I've talked to a few people who are completely convinced that Trump just says things because he has no "tact," but he doesn't really mean the horrible things he says. Basically, he's just thinking out loud but he would never really do any of the things he says he will. Which, you know, boggles the mind on how you could then believe he would do any of the "good" things he says, but that's some mental manipulation that I can't quite wrap my head around. The short of all this being that maybe there are some people who legitimately believe that Trump is not a racist asshole and just says stupid shit. I suppose those people could have voted for Trump for reasons that don't include inherent racism BUT that makes them blatantly stupid, people who bought into the lies of a conman. And, you know, even smart people get conned sometimes, but Trump isn't even very good at it, so anyone of fairly normal intelligence should have seen the con for what it was: Trump getting to have his cake and eat it, too, and getting to have your cake and eat that, too.

[Frequently, these people also cannot understand how the racists things they say can be considered racist. Sometimes, this is willful or ignorance (or just denial) but, maybe, some of these people really don't understand, cannot understand, how offensive their language is. This plays into the stupidity.]

So, you know, if you're one of those people out there claiming, "I'm not racist!" feel free to lump yourself into category three. I won't argue with you about it.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Aida (an opera review post)

No, the cat is not part of the review, but the cat insisted on being in the photos. Every single one of them. He just followed me around and sat on or next to the book every time I tried to frame the cover in the picture. Maybe he's trying to tell me something about Aida? Or wants to read the program? Or just likes the pretty picture? I guess we'll never know.

Aida is not the worse opera I've seen, but this presentation of it was far (FAR) from the best. I say "this presentation" not because I've seen some other presentation of it but because Aida is one of the most prominent operas in the world, and I have to assume there's a reason for that. [After each opera we see, my wife and I check the reviews to see how our views match up with the people who do that sort of thing for a living (so far, we're doing pretty well), and the reviews of this presentation of Aida  tend to say that it was below expectations and that it was mostly due to the musical director.]

So what was the problem?

It was too slow.

I don't mean there wasn't enough "action" in the traditional sense of "action," but this opera had a lot (a lot!) of that standing in place and singing thing that removes any potential action from a scene. Even to the point where one guy, Radames, the Egyptian general, is singing about how much he wants to be made commander of the forces while all of the other soldiers are just standing still watching him. Seriously, no one was moving. And it just went on and on like that. If the soldiers had been doing stuff in the background, like they were working or something, while he was singing, it would have added some life into something that was about as entertaining as watching someone take a nap.

Which is not to say that the quality of the singing was not as great as it always is -- the performers were all great as far as the singing went -- but there was obviously a directorial decision made that had the performers being rather static during the performance.

The other thing of note about this production is that the set was... disappointing. They made a big deal about working with Los Angeles artist Retna on the set design (he did the art for the cover of the program book in the picture above), and the art was cool and interesting, but, other than the art pieces worked into the set, the set was rather bare. It was very minimalist, so not even the set added interest to the performance.

The other thing that bothered me is something that may not be fair; I actually don't know enough about opera and the opera world to know. The setting of Aida is during a war between Egypt and Ethiopia, yet the cast was nearly all white. It's possible that there may not be any way around that as far as the primary cast goes; opera tends to be pretty white. However, it seems to me that they could have done something more diverse with the chorus characters and the few dancers. It would have been nice to have a something that looked like representative of a war between Egypt and Ethiopia. But, again, I don't know enough to say that definitively, and it's not like there is a tradition of Aida being performed any other way (despite the fact that it was commissioned for the opening of the Cairo opera house in 1870(ish)).

Still, and I sort of hate to always go back to this, it was better than last year's Usher House. At this point, I'm pretty okay with any opera I'm seeing as long as it's better than that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Escape from Kadavo" (Ep. 4.13)

-- Great hope can come from small sacrifices.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Things didn't end well for the Jedi in the last episode. Anakin has been taken by Queen Miraj to be her personal slave while Obi-Wan and Rex have been sent to the Kadavo slave camps. If it was just Obi-Wan, it wouldn't be a big deal, but the commander of the camps has threatened to kill people of the Togruta anytime Obi-Wan disobeys. He does just that to about half a dozen of them to prove the seriousness of the situation.

Basically, then, the whole episode is a prison break type story but they have to rescue an entire population. With the complication of Dooku trying to have them all killed.

It's a good arc, and this is an exciting and interesting episode to wrap it up.

But I want to focus on what was probably sort of a throwaway line in the show or, at least, not meant to carry the kind of weight I'm going to give it.

One of the Togruta is punished for something innocuous Obi-Wan has done. It was totally arbitrary on the part of the slaver and completely because he wanted to punish Obi-Wan and prove that he had more power. After the incident, the Togruta slave blames Obi-Wan saying, "Keep away from me. Jedi only make things worse." It seems to me this is the Separatist line that people in the galaxy are buying into during the war: Jedi only make things worse.

It reminds me a lot of our current political turmoil. The abusers spin out lies about who is at fault as they continue to heap on the abuse. It's rather like the abusive husband blaming the wife as he abuses the child. Or, you know, blaming the Mexicans for the loss of jobs while you have your own products produced in China.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What's the Point of the Electoral College?

There's been a lot on about the Electoral College, lately. What is it even for, right? I mean, why don't we just elect our President directly? One vote is one vote and all of that. People usually default into thinking that it's about State representation because it uses the same kind of system as the House of Representatives, but that's not it.

The conflict was over whether there should be a popular vote at all. Some wanted the President to be chosen by popular vote of the masses while others wanted the choice for President to be handled by Congress. The obvious issue with the President being chosen by Congress is that it could lead to the President just being a puppet for Congress, negating the whole checks and balances of the Executive branch from the system all together.

So what was the problem with the President being chosen by a general election of the people? Well, the possibility of a Trump being elected was the problem.

Basically, many of the Founding Fathers didn't trust the general population to make the best decisions; after all, the vast majority of them were uneducated to the point of not being able to read and write. They were concerned that the "people" could be taken in by someone with the "talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity," someone who was ultimately unqualified for the job but, for whatever reason, popular with the people. The Electoral College was created as a buffer between the "will of the people" and Congress.

The general election, then, was done to produce a pool of candidates for the Electoral College to look at, and the task of the Electoral College was to independently choose the best person for President from the pool of candidates. Basically. The main thing, though, was that the Electoral College was there to make sure that someone qualified got the job, not just someone who was popular.

To state it plainly:
The purpose of the Electoral College, as the Founding Fathers saw it, was to prevent people like Trump from becoming President. Period.

Of course, then parties developed, which complicated everything, and, because each State was given the power to choose its electors, etc, we have ended up where we are now, a system which undermines the purpose of the Electoral College. A system which, because the electors are no longer allowed to deliberate and choose the candidate they feel best suited for the job, has, ironically, given us the one thing the Electoral College was designed to prevent: a Trump.

So... do I think the Electoral College should "rebel" and not support Trump for President? Well, yes, if we are going to have an Electoral College, I feel that they should do exactly that. They should fulfill their function and act as a buffer between the "will of the people" and the most powerful office in the United States. They should look at the potential candidates (that used to be the top five vote getters; I'm assuming it still is, but that may not be true anymore) and choose the person most qualified to assume the role of President of the United States.

If they are not going to do that, if they are not going to serve the purpose for which they were created, we should abolish the Electoral College, because they have no point and, in this instance, have wrecked the country by both ignoring the will of the people and delivering to us the most unqualified person in history as the President. Yes, I'm saying "in history," and you can take that however you will, but I'll stand by it. You will be hard pressed to find someone more unqualified. My cat is more qualified, and he's a certified asshole.

I'm sure some of you are wondering if I understand the ramifications of what I'm saying here. Yes, I do. Yes, I realize that if the Electoral College was to actually not confirm Trump as President that it could lead to violence. However, I also believe that any violence that would take place because of that will be far less than what results from a Trump presidency.

And, sometimes, you just have to stand up for what's right. Actually, that should be always, but there are moments when it is especially called for, and this is one of them.
(And it shouldn't go to Pence, either, because he's possibly worse than Trump.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

How To Watch Opera

So... As you regular readers are well aware, I've been doing opera reviews for a while now. This is not something I'm doing to prove how cultured I am or anything like that. I review a lot of the entertainment I take in: most all movies I see at the theater, books that I read (though I skip some of the short stories), some of the TV shows I watch. Reviewing the operas we go to is a way to both cover something local (which is another thing I do lot of, talk about local events) and to share something that I'm doing. I don't actually look at going to the opera as being something highbrow.

Yes, I'm well aware that "people" tend to view opera as highbrow, but that's not because it is. Opera suffers from the same fate as lobster.
Yeah, I'm not going to explain that right now, but opera, traditionally, was entertainment for the masses not the rich and elite, just like, during his day, Shakespeare was "popular media." My position is that it should, again, be entertainment for the masses.
Yes, I know there are barriers to that, barriers that will probably not be overcome, but that doesn't mean I can't hope and encourage you to check out some opera.

Here's how to go about doing that:

1. Go see Hamilton: An American Musical. Okay, so, sure, that's a bit impractical for most people including myself, even though it is coming to San Francisco. At least for the foreseeable future, it's way out of our price range (more on cost later). However, if you want to get into the technicalities of musical theater, Hamilton is an opera and, if nothing else, you should listen to it. And then again. And probably again. Trust me, we've been on about Hamilton in our house for well over a year (including having had custom Hamilton t-shirts made for 2/3 of our kids for Christmas last year (and I would show you a picture if those weren't in the pictures I lost in the great hard drive crash)).

The point? To show you the potential of opera. The medium itself is not confined to centuries old music and people in fancy clothes.

2. Watch some foreign movies with subtitles. This is the big roadblock for most people, and it's because most people don't read. People who don't read can't keep up with subtitles and also watch the movie. Not that it's not possible to develop the skill of watching something with subtitles without also being a reader, but people who only take in movies and TV are much less likely to move in the direction of shows with subtitles.

So, yeah, most (by far) operas are performed in languages other than English, mostly because they were written in other languages than English. However, some venues offer supertitles [Basically, a subtitle. No, I don't know why they're referred to as supertitles at the opera, but they are.], which I strongly recommend. If not, translations of the songs are available, so it's possible to follow along that way. [SFO always has nights with supertitles for each opera they're doing, and we always go to those shows, even when the opera is being performed in English. (Believe it or not, it helps.)]

3. Pick a genre you like. This is a bit more difficult to do, because it's not like opera contains all of the genres in modern pop culture. Or all of the sub-genres. In one sense, all of opera breaks down into two broad categories: tragedy and comedy, but, then, isn't that true of all fiction? (Or non-fiction, for that matter.) All I'm saying is do your research. Puccini is not like Mozart. Find a story category you tend to like, then...

4. Listen to some music! Don't worry about the words since it's most likely going to be in Italian or French or German, but you want to find music you feel like you can listen to, you know, since you'll have to spend a couple of hours listening to it.

5. Evaluate the cost. This can be a big one. I'm not going to try to tell you that going to the opera is like going to the movies, though movies are expensive enough! However, check out ways to make going cheaper. For instance, many venues offer staggered pricing on the seating, so, if you're like us, you're going to want to choose the cheap seats. Also, the San Francisco Opera offers package deals so, if you buy, say, tickets to three operas at once, you get them for significantly cheaper than if you bought tickets to three individual operas. For us, with what we do, the tickets end up being about $25 each. That's actually a pretty good value.

I'd also suggest getting some on disc to watch, but that's a lot more difficult than you'd think it would be.

Or you can skip all of that and do what I did, which was kind of just to jump in. Okay, so that's not precisely true but, effectively, it's true. When my wife finally agreed to let me take her to the opera (after years of refusing because she thought I wouldn't like it and didn't want to have a bad experience with it (because she loves it)), I let her pick the first operas we saw. That, admittedly, is an easy way of doing it. Basically, you should find something that works for you.

Look, what I'm saying is this:
Give it a try. It's not like you can lose in that scenario. Sure, you might not like opera, but, then, you just might. And, really, I'd say try two or three different ones, because you might not get a good one the first time (like the first opera I saw when I was 20 was horrible, and I let that convince me for a long time that all of opera was bad, but I was a kid; what did I know?). And seriously, go check out Hamilton.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Clone Wars -- "Slaves of the Republic" (Ep. 4.12)

-- Those who enslave others inevitably become slaves themselves.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]

Obi-Wan and Anakin need to track down the Togruta colony that have been taken as slaves by the Zygerrians. They decide to go undercover. There's no way anything can go wrong with this, right? Especially with Ahsoka posing as a slave. (Remember that I said that Ahsoka is Togruta?) Because she just has the perfect temperament for that, right?

With Anakin's baggage from being a slave and the fact that he's the one who is hotheaded and tends toward rushing in without a plan, you'd expect it would be Anakin's doing for things to go south. Right? But not this time. Nope. It's the levelheaded one that gets them into trouble.

There is a nice nod to Return of the Jedi in this episode, and a similar kind of arena scene from Attack of the Clones, but most of the episode is dedicated to things going from bad to worse for the heroes.

One interesting bit: Anakin has a conversation with the Zygerrian queen in which she accuses him of being a slave (no button pushing there!), but she quickly clarifies that to mean that he is a slave to his commitments and to the Jedi Order, a slave to the Republic. Of course, if he wanted to, he could join her and be truly free and rule the galaxy! Okay, she didn't really say that, but, clearly, that's the implication. Also, that freedom is getting to do whatever you want to whomever you want without any regard for anyone other than yourself.

Huh. That sounds kind of familiar.