Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Sabotage" (Ep. 5.17)

-- Sometimes even the smallest doubt can shake the greatest belief.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

This episode, things get real.

No, I mean really real.

One thing we know, people (populations) don't like wars. It doesn't matter how "just" or "right" they are, over time, people want things to be back to normal and to not be involved in wars. Though Clone Wars has toyed a bit with how the common man has reacted to the war going on around them, "Sabotage" makes it real. It brings it home to Coruscant and how the citizens not actively engaged in the fighting are reacting to the war and the clones and the Jedi. It's not good.

There's a definite faction building that is actively protesting the war that's going on and the Jedi seem... Well, more than anything else, they seem baffled by it. They've spent so long never having their authority questioned that they don't really know how to react to the people who are turning against them.

So there's an incident, and the Council decides to call Anakin and Ahsoka back to Coruscant to deal with the investigation since they're obviously innocent of what happened. Because, see, the sentiment is that a Jedi may have done it, so none of the Jedi who were on Coruscant can be trusted.

Of course, then Mace Windu assigns a droid to work with them on the case and no one stops to think about whether the droid, the droid assigned by one of the Jedi who had been on planet when the incident happened, can be trusted. I found that kind of amusing.

At any rate, if I'm remembering correctly, this is a real turning point in the series, and you can tell that the tone of the show was really changing to something a little more dark and a little more serious and a little more great... just to have its plug pulled because Disney bought the Star Wars franchise and didn't want one of their shows on some other network. And, while I can understand that, still, screw you Disney!

"Fear makes even the most trusting individual... irrational."

"There are going to be Jedi who disappoint us..." -- Anakin Skywalker

Monday, May 29, 2017

Life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of Happiness (Part 3)

What is Liberty, anyway?

Probably something to do with being free has popped into your mind at just the thought of that question but, politically speaking, liberty and freedom are not quite the same thing. Let me give you an example:

Let's say you're driving down the highway, speed limit: 65. You're a little behind schedule and, after doing some quick calculations... Wait, who am I kidding? No one does the math to figure out if speeding is actually going to save them any time. [Like the other day when some dude on a motorcycle came weaving through tight traffic at something around 80 mph only to have me pull up next to him at the exit I was taking. So yeah, he save a LOT of time by almost causing two accidents (that I saw) as he zipped between cars.] You're running late, so you step on the gas and punch your car up to 80. Are you free to do that?

Well, obviously; you just did it, right? And this is where it can be confusing, I suppose, because, while you are free to do that (anyone is free to break the law if he so chooses), you do not have the liberty to do that. It's a bit like the difference between "can" and "may." You know:
"Teacher, can I go to the bathroom?"
"Well, I assume you can, but you may not."
So, whereas you have the freedom to relieve yourself (because no one can stop you from peeing right where you stand), you do not have the liberty to go to the bathroom to do it.

Why is this important?

One of the basic principles of the Declaration of Independence is that we have the unalienable Right to Liberty. In practice, this means we have Right to a Government which does not place arbitrary restraints, especially oppressive ones, upon its citizens and takes into account the Rights of all. And it takes those Rights into account for all equally, not favoring the wealthy over the poor, for instance.

Of course, it is natural to think of this idea of Liberty from the perspective that the Government should not be making laws that disproportionately favors one group over another...

Oh, wait, so that means that all of these voter ID laws and all that shit the GOP has been doing in places like North Carolina is a restriction of Liberty of its people. It makes it difficult in a disproportionate way for certain groups of people to be able to vote.

But I was saying: It's natural that we should think of this in the sense of passing laws that restrict the liberties of particular groups of people...

Oh, wait, like laws that make it difficult for women to get the kind of healthcare they need from places like Planned Parenthood or that straight up make abortion illegal, effectively taking a religious belief and imposing it upon everyone. I mean, not only does that restrict the Liberty of women, it's a direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. But, then, the GOP doesn't seem to care about those kinds of things.

But back to what I was saying: It's natural to think of restrictive laws as being the kinds of things that restrict Liberty, but it's more than that.

Like, the GOP's refusal to raise the minimum wage amount to a restriction of Liberty (and freedom) for a huge segment of the population. It makes it so that people in low wage jobs have no choices. It removes their freedoms and, effectively, makes them slaves of the system, working for the profit of others with no hope of bettering their own lives.

There was this comedian, Jerry Clower, who used to tell this story about going 'coon hunting when he was a boy. One of the men he hunted with believed that a 'coon should never be shot of a tree; he thought that wasn't fair to the 'coon. He believed that the 'coon deserved a "fightin' chance" and that the 'coon should be set loose amongst the dogs (so he would climb the tree and throw the 'coon down into the dog pack). That way, the 'coon had the option of whoopin' all those dogs and walking away. It never happened, but at least the raccoon had the freedom to do so.

I'll let you make the connection.

Also, what DeVos and the GOP want to do to education, the funneling of money from the public education system into private and charter schools, is also a removal of Liberty from the non-wealthy. What they want to do will negatively impact something like 85-95%, at least, of the population. It's another of those things that actually takes away freedom from people in the same way that restricting their pay does. You might pay lip service to their Liberty but, when you take away people's access to education, you are removing their freedom to get anything other than low wage jobs. It's just another way to keep people trapped.

All of that to say, again, as I did in part two of this series, it is time for us to remove our consent to being governed in this way. The Government only derives its Power from the consent of the People; if it does not have that consent, it has no Power. The current GOP led Form of Government has proven, and has been proving for decades, that it is destructive to the unalienable Rights Jefferson points to in the Declaration of Independence; as such, we have Right to alter or abolish that Form of Government. It's time.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Gold Country (part 1)

You know how ideas sometimes take a long time to develop? Well, my wife and I just had the culmination of one of those ideas. I think the genesis of this idea goes back a few years to when I did a series on abandoned places. It certainly put the idea of ghost towns into my head, at any rate. The idea of ghost towns and mining towns has bounced around in our house since I did those posts, which led to some discussion at some point about mining towns, all of which led to my wife and I taking a camping trip through gold country last week. It was educational, to say the least, because, no matter what you think you know, you never really know until you do the thing.

So what do you know about gold mining? I bet you "know" the same kinds of things I thought I knew. So let's talk about some of those things... But not today. Because our first stop on our trip was Sacramento, and I want to share some of those pictures with you.

First of all, they were throwing a protest when we got there:
That's the State Capitol building in the above picture.

The legend of California as it once was:

And we got a private tour of the old Secretary of State's office, which is kind of a funny store... but for some other time:

Then we hopped over to Fort Sutter:
No, it didn't get shrunk. That's a model.

That's Sutter's room, above.

For those of you who don't know, the gold discovery that kicked off the gold rush happened at Sutter's Mill. We went there, too, but that's a different location, so those pictures will come later. The one thing to know about it is that Sutter tried to keep the find quiet, not because he wanted the gold but because he knew what would happen if the word got out. Which is exactly what happened.

More pictures next week...

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Clone Wars -- "The Lawless" (Ep. 5.16)

-- Morality separates heroes from villains.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

Satine is in danger so, of course, Obi-Wan goes to rescue her. Alone. With no backup. Because the Jedi can't get involved because Mandalore is a neutral planet. And, of course, it's a trap, but Obi-Wan actually doesn't know that this time and is caught completely off guard. Probably why Jedi are supposed to control their emotions, I suppose.

In the scheme of things, this is a pivotal episode and one that really shouldn't be missed. At least, it shouldn't be missed if you follow any of the non-movie canon material. Big things happens. Plot threads are tied off. There are deaths. Maybe I should say "more deaths," since we've already seen quite a few in this arc.

One thing I will say -- and it's sort of a spoiler, but it's not a spoiler that's important to the story -- Anakin's ship, the Twilight, gets blown up. I always liked the Twilight (yeah, a part of me rebels (heh) just writing that, but I am talking about Anakin's ship (just to be clear)). It was funky. And cool. And, now, it's gone. Oh, yeah, Darth Maul was responsible for that bit of destruction but, then, if Obi-Wan hadn't taken it without permission... You know, I can't remember if they ever deal with the fact that Obi-Wan got Anakin's ship blown up.

Anyway... Must see episode and all of that, so just go do it.

"It takes strength to resist the Dark Side; only the weak embrace it." -- Obi-Wan Kenobi

Monday, May 22, 2017

LIFE, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness (Part 2)

Okay, so, we're talking about the Declaration of Independence and how it laid the foundations for what came after it. It itself is not a legal document, but we refer to it as a foundational piece of our history, our ideals, and, yes, our government. Last week, we were talking about the pursuit of Happiness, and how we, culturally, have messed that all up, but, really, you should just go back and read last week's post. This week, let's move on a bit and, by doing that, go back to our first principle: Life.

Let's look again at the Declaration:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. -- That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, -- That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it...
 So... Let's reaffirm the Rights we're talking about. There are only three: Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness. Jefferson is saying here that these three things in particular (there could be more than three, but these three in particular) are innate. They have been created within us and the Right CANNOT be taken away. The thing itself can be taken away, but the Right to have it cannot be. To safeguard these Rights, mankind (humankind) institutes Governments, and those Governments only exist through the consent of the people.

The very first Right he lists is the Right to Life. [Remember from last post, I'm talking about adults. There is nothing Pro-Life in any of this. That's a completely separate matter.] Yes, I'm going to talk about healthcare.

See, we have these Rights, and we institute Governments to make sure that the things themselves that we have a Right to are not taken away from us by someone stronger or more powerful than us. Including that government itself. What that means in this context is that the government, our government, is here to protect our Life and our Right to that Life.

Which is what makes it so insulting when a GOP asshole, a member of our Government who has been mandated by the fact that he is a part of that Government to protect our collective Right to Life, says something inane like, "Nobody dies because they don't have access to healthcare." That was Raul Labrador, by the way, part of the Right-wing Nutjob sector of the government defending the new death warrant the GOP call the "American Health Care Act," a bill which clearly favors the insurers over the insured and the very wealthy (who don't really need the help) over the average citizen. It is, in short, a bill that says, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Way more equal.

The GOP has clearly demonstrated that they have become "destructive of those ends" of securing our Right to Life.

In fact, the GOP has been clearly demonstrating that for, well, decades, what with their destructive environmental policies, their stance against safety net social programs, their support of hazardous industry over the welfare of communities, their support of the NRA and "stand your ground" laws, and their general willingness to assume that if a cop shoots a black man, even an unarmed black man, he must have had good reason. The whole healthcare thing? That's just them spitting in the faces of the people who got them where they are and saying, "No, we don't like you either."

Government to the GOP has become about how to make a profit and no longer has anything to do with securing our "unalienable Rights." Their Form of Government has become destructive of those ends which secure for us our Right to Life; as such, "it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it." We are "the People." "We the People."

Look, the Republicans continue to say that healthcare is not a Right but a privilege. It's that stance which allows someone like Labrador to say things like nobody dies from lack of healthcare, but people die from lack adequate healthcare ALL THE TIME. In fact, it's the lack of access to healthcare that causes people to die from preventable or manageable illnesses. They can't afford to go to the doctor until it's too late. And, no, I don't have the numbers for that, but I don't really think I need to have them.

What I'm saying here is that the GOP is just plain wrong on this. If we're going to refer to the Declaration as one of our Founding Documents (and the GOP loves to claim how they stand by our Founding Documents), then you can't really get around the fact that it proclaims that WE ALL have the Right to Life. That is, after all, why hospitals can't send anyone away. And, at one point in time, that was the best we could do, but it's not anymore.

And here's the thing, we don't have the right to the best healthcare we can afford; that doesn't work with all men being created equal. If the wealthy have access to better healthcare, that means that we are not being treated equally. The Truth is that we have the Right to the best healthcare available. All of us, all the time. The kind of healthcare you get should not be dependent upon your wealth. That is NOT equality in our Right to Life.

Seriously, it's time for us, the People, to alter our Government. We have a Right to equal healthcare and equal Life. If gaining access to that means abolishing the GOP and their stagnant and destructive ways, well, that's what needs to happen. I do not consent to be governed by the assholes currently holding the reins of power, and it's time we took them back.

Friday, May 19, 2017

With or Without U2

There are moments in life that define us, shape us, turn us into people we wouldn't have been if those moments hadn't happened. Sometimes, we're lucky enough to recognize those moments, and appreciate them, as they are happening (as I did when I came out of seeing Star Wars when I was seven years old; I knew I was not the same person coming out as I had been going in), but, usually, it's not until later, if at all, that we realize those moments happened.

I had another of those moments in the spring of 1987. It was soon enough after the release of "With or Without You" that none of my friends knew what the song was or whom it was by. I know, because it came on the radio one Wednesday night after youth group as we were hanging out in the church parking lot. It's not surprising that I didn't know the song or the group, because it came on the local rock station which wasn't the kind of music I listened to at the time. However, the song instantly captivated me, but the DJ didn't name the song when it finished playing, and none of my friends knew what it was or, even, seemed to care much, but it was the beginning of what I can only fairly call an obsession with me. Not with the song, with the group.

U2 was music of a kind I'd never heard before, but I suppose, having been raised on 60's protest music (Dylan; Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon & Garfunkel), that it should have been no surprise I would gravitate so heavily to them. Within a few weeks, I had copies of all of their music, and they had become "my" band.

I have this cousin who's a few years older than me and who lived in Dallas at the time. He was a theater guy and had gotten involved in theater production work after high school, and one of the things he did was help do stage setup for bands coming through Dallas/Fort Worth. He gave me a call on November 20 or 21 letting me know that he was going to be working on the stage for U2 and had backstage tickets; all I had to do was get there.

Backstage passes for The Joshua Tree tour! Can you imagine? So, you know, I asked my mom, because I didn't have my driver's license yet, and I don't think she'd have let me drive to Dallas by myself at the time even I had. Or maybe she would have, I don't know, but it didn't matter since I didn't have it. Her initial response was "yes;" after all, Dallas was less than three hours from Shreveport.

By Sunday, though, she had reconsidered her willingness to drive me to my cousin's house and spent the day laying a heavy guilt trip on me about how I was shirking my responsibility to work on Monday night as I was scheduled to do. And Tuesday night. There were concerts on both Nov. 23 and 24, and I could have gone to either or both. All I had to do was get there. But, you know, I was supposed to work, and, if I went off to do something so frivolous as going to a concert --because it was Thanksgiving week -- I would leave my church with no one to cover for me... other than her.

She spent all of Sunday reminding me of how irresponsible I was being and, by Sunday night, I broke down and called my cousin and told him I couldn't come.
And that was that.
I never really got over it. I mean, here I am, 30 years later, writing about it, right?
That, too, actually, was one of those defining moments, but one that went unrecognized by me for many, many years. You do try to dismiss major disappointments like that as being unimportant, after all.

I never really did the whole concert thing when I was growing up, not mainstream concerts of the type you think of when someone says "concert," at any rate. [I did see lots of Christian bands, but that was a different kind of thing.] After the whole thing over U2, I decided somewhere internally that concerts weren't worthwhile and were a waste of time and money. After all, if I couldn't go see U2 because they were frivolous, what was the point of spending money on some other band?

All of that to say, when my wife saw that U2 was doing a 30th anniversary tour for Joshua Tree, she knew she had to take me to it. Above any objections I might raise. So she made it my birthday present, and it's really hard to say no to that. And I'm glad I didn't, because...

It was amazing!

Here's the view from our original seats:
BUT! These seats had an obstructed view. You might ask of what, because that's what we asked when they came to tell us and offer us new seats...
And now you can see the OTHER stage that we didn't even know was there! And these seats were closer, so it was a win/win. For us!
Mumford & Sons opened.

The only thing that could have made it better is if they had closed with "40." Maybe next time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Shades of Reason" (Ep. 5.15)

-- Alliances can stall true intentions.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

Just thinking on my feet here, or, really, my chair, though I could be standing while writing this (I have a standing desk), I just happen to be in my chair at the moment. But, anyway...

What's the one thing that tends to differentiate teams when bad guys team up as opposed to when good guys team up? Good guys generally band together to achieve a mutual purpose; bad guys band together to gather power while each one strives to use the others to achieve his own, usually secret, purpose. It never ends well for the bad guys.

So, yeah, Darth Maul and Pre Vizsla have different goals, and, actually, Vizsla's are much smaller than Maul's, but it still leads to... "Conflict" really isn't a strong enough word for what it leads to, but it again shows us why the Mandalorians were a force to be reckoned with, even by the Jedi.

And, hey, I always love it when the darksaber comes out.

None of this is good for Satine, either.

I still haven't managed to get into the second season of Rebels, yet, but, from the tidbits I've picked up about what's going on in Rebels, it seems that this story arc may be more important for what happens in that series than it is for what happens in Clone Wars. I need to figure out how to work Rebels back into my schedule.

Anyway... Go watch this story arc.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Life, Liberty, and the PURSUIT of Happiness (Part 1)

Let me make one thing very clear here before I get started:
The Declaration of Independence is not a legal document, not like the Constitution. There is nothing in it that establishes law or structures or anything of the sort. Nevertheless, we hold it as a foundational document, especially that part about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." So let's look at that for a moment:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Yes, I'm skipping over the equality part this time (sort of) because I talk a lot about equality. Not that I'm skipping it, I'm just allowing it to be understood that all (adult) humans have the equal unalienable rights to Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Also, there is nothing in this that is a pro-life statement. I'm not arguing that one way or the other, so we're going to use the arbitrary definition of talking about "adults." Children do not, under the law, enjoy full rights. If they were allowed to pursue happiness in whatever way they wanted... well, it just wouldn't end well.

I think the order of these three things is important, kind of like Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics:

1. All humans have the unalienable Right to Life.
    (A robot may not injure a human or, through inaction, allow a human to come to harm.
2. All humans have the unalienable Right to Liberty (freedom) except where it would deprive some other human of his/her Right to Life.
    (A robot must obey orders from humans except when it would cause a conflict with the First Law.)
3. All humans have the unalienable Right to pursue their own Happiness except when it would deprive some other human of his/her Right to Liberty and/or Life.
    (A robot must protect its own existence as long as that does not conflict with the First or Second Law.)

Just for a moment, because there is SO much in this to talk about, and I'm not even through quoting the Declaration at you yet, let's talk about this whole happiness thing, because I think we have it all messed up. Actually, I'm sure of it.

See, we've come to believe, somehow, that our Right is actually to Happiness itself, not the pursuit of it. We Americans have come to believe that we Deserve to be Happy. Part of me wants to blame it on McDonald's and that whole "you deserve a break today" crap, but it has as much to do with the current of cult of positivity as it does anything else.

The real problem isn't even the Happiness itself; it's that we have somehow decided that Happiness is the primary Law. We've culturally decided that our own individual Happinesses come ahead of other people's Liberty and Life. And that's just fucked up. No, seriously, it is.

Here's from an actual conversation I had with someone back around the end of October/beginning of November last year (yes, that puts it heading into the election):

Him: But I want to make more money at my job.
Me: It's the Democrats who want to raise the minimum wage...
Him: Fuck that! I don't want to raise the minimum wage. I won't get a raise if the minimum wage is raised. In fact, I don't want it raised at all.
Me: But it would help...
Him: Fuck them! If they can't get a job that pays better than minimum wage, then they don't deserve to make more anyway.
Me: I was going to say it would help the economy, but that's an amazing attitude.
Him: I don't care about the economy. I just want to make more money.

Clearly, he didn't have any real concept of what the economy even is, and he was adamant in his disdain for minimum wage employs, lumping most of them in as "Mexicans, anyway, probably illegals" who don't deserve anything better than they're getting especially if it meant that he wasn't going to be better off.

And he's not the only person I've talked to with that attitude, just the most flagrant about it. He had, as most people seem to have, no qualms about his own "happiness" coming at the expense of others, and he believed it was his Right. At some point toward the end of the conversation, he even said, "I have a right to be happy," which is about where I quit, because there's no good way to approach that mindset. Sure, you can say, "Well, actually, no you don't. No one has the Right to Happiness," because the response is always, "Why not?" And, possibly, "If other people get to be happy, I should get to be happy, too." And, well, those people are already missing the point.

I have to add, here, that facebook culture doesn't help with all of this, but I'm not going to go into that. There have been plenty of studies showing the validity of "keeping up with the FB Jones" and how destructive that whole thing is. And, now, I'm wondering if that's a 50s thing, which would take this whole issue back to the Boomers, probably the most narcissistic generation in the history of the world. Seriously, there's a book about it which I want to get because it sounds fascinating.

What I do know for certain is that we, as a cultural, have to abandon this idea that we have a Right to Happiness and that it's okay for it to come at the expense of others. The pursuit of happiness is not the same thing as the happiness, and we have to give up on the idea that it is and on the idea that having a lot of stuff is what is going to do that for us.

In fact, your Right to pursue your own Happiness doesn't get to come at the expense of others' Rights to pursue their own Happiness. If you think it does, you're the problem.

Friday, May 12, 2017

7 x 7 x 7 (a movie(s) review post)

I first saw the original The Magnificent Seven when I was a kid. I was into westerns, possibly because Saturday TV was dominated by them and that's what I would watch if there was no one to play with, and I saw most all of the big ones at some point or other. That doesn't mean I had any significant memories of it, though. My memories are dominated by the Lone Ranger and the Rifleman with a little bit of Rowdy Yates, the Cartwrights, and Matt Dillon.

At any rate, when the new  iteration of Magnificent came out, I figured I should go back and re-watch the original, too, but let's start with the new one.
What a great cast, right?
But sometimes movies don't live up their casts, and this is certainly one of those, to no fault of the cast, though. Whoever was responsible for adapting the original failed in almost every possible way to grasp what both the original Magnificent and Seven Samurai (what Magnificent was based on) were about. I'm just going to touch on two things:

1. The villain. In Seven Samurai there is no "villain." There's a group of bandits -- yes, they clearly have a leader, but he's not an individual character -- who raid villages for their food. Why? Because they can. In the original Magnificent, there is a similar group of bandits. In that movie, the leader of the bandits is an individual character, but he's just the embodiment of "we do this because we can."

However, in the new Magnificent, I suppose they felt they needed to make the bad guy more nuanced, because they gave him "motivations." I mean, he might not really even be a "bad guy," just a guy trying to achieve noble purposes through the wrong methods. It's a big wagon full of bullshit, and it doesn't work. It doesn't make the character more "rounded" or three dimensional. Bad guys didn't and don't take what belongs to others so that they can use it to "build a better world;" they do it because they can. What we get in the new Magnificent is not a more complex villain or, even, a conflicted villain; what we get is a stupid villain.

2. The hero. Identifying "the hero" in Seven Samurai isn't as straightforward as it is to identify the hero in an American made film but, for ease of translation, we'll go with him being Kambei Shimada, the leader of the samurai defending the village. Kambei reluctantly agrees to help the villagers, but he is only reluctant because he's tired of fighting and war. He's interested in doing the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing (unlike the many other samurai the villagers have asked for help). Likewise, in the original Magnificent, Chris Adams (played by Yul Brynner) eventually agrees to help the townsfolk not because of the money (because it's only a token amount) but because he wants to help the villagers. He has empathy for them and wants to help. The good guys are good guys because they are good guys.

But that's just too simple, I suppose, because in the new Magnificent, they felt they needed to give the hero, Chisolm (played by Denzel Washington), "motivations" of his own, namely revenge. Really? They had to go to that? It's like people have come to believe that the only possible motivation for anyone to ever do the right thing is for the sake of revenge. So Chisolm is completely uninterested in helping the townsfolk until he discovers that the "villain" they are being threatened by is Bartholomew Bogue, with whom he just happens to have a score to settle. Well, once he finds that out, he's all in. Again, this doesn't make the character more nuanced or complex; it just makes him a selfish prick out for his own interests.

I did watch the new Magnificent first and, even before re-watching the original, I found it lackluster at best. It focuses on being flashy and having lots of guns and stunts but not much of anything else. It is especially lacking in heart. It was a waste of an excellent cast.

After watching the new one, I went back and watched the original and while, yes, it does look dated, it was a much better movie and deserves its status as a classic. Despite the use of stereotypes in both the Mexican peasants and the Mexican bandit leader, Calvera, the characters themselves are still much more believable than the ones in the remake. All in all, it's a more intimate movie, and the deaths of characters are much more meaningful.

Which brings us to the original inspiration for both movies: Seven Samurai
Considering the influence Akira Kurosawa had on George Lucas and, specifically, Star Wars, I'm sure I've not watched enough of his films. I had never seen Seven Samurai before this, for instance, and I can't even say why since it's been a movie on my to watch list for... a long time. I'm glad I finally got around to it.

To say that Seven Samurai is a more complex film than the two Magnificents would be an understatement. For one thing, the external conflict of defending the village from the bandits is not really what the movie is about. That's just the vehicle for exploring concepts of class conflict, which I have to suspect were happening in post-WWII Japan, though I'm not really versed in the Japanese history of the time. It's a movie that I believe still deserves to be being watched today...

Which is not to say that I think most people will be interested in seeing it. It's black & white and subtitled and long, all three of which are barriers to the mainstream movie-going audience. But it's full of well-rounded characters and lots of nuance.

Really, although based on Samurai, the original Magnificent is a completely different movie and different kind of movie, not less good but certainly different. Both films are worth watching. But you can skip the new version of Magnificent and not have missed anything.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Eminence" (Ep. 5.14)

-- One vision can have many interpretations.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

You know in comic books how every so often all the bad guys will get together to take down the super hero? You know, like the Sinister Six in Spider-Man. Or all the time in Batman (okay, not really, but it sometimes seems that way). Oh... You don't read comics? Well, it's a thing, the bad guys teaming up. This episode is like that.

After barely escaping with their lives last episode, Maul and Opress are picked up by Death Watch. That's a match made in Hell if you're Obi-Wan Kenobi, because, really, there's no one around who hates him more than Maul and Pre Vizsla.

But the fun doesn't stop there! No, Maul hatches a plan to raise an army... from the criminal underworld! We have what I think is the first appearance of Black Sun in current Star Wars canon material, having first appeared in a 90's era video game which I can't remember the name of and don't feel like looking up. There's also the Hutts. And more.

This episode has a lot of action but also a lot of development. It's exactly what Ob-Wan was warning about at the end of "Revival," a warning that really went unheeded because of his "vested interest" in Maul. No matter what happens -- and I'm not saying what happens -- it can't be anything good.

"After careful consideration, we will join you."

Monday, May 8, 2017

Day 20 (a future history)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

I got my mom to give me 20 bucks this morning before school. I told her it was for school, for book replacement since the soldiers took so many of our books. My mom didn’t want to give me the money. She said we need it for food and that the soldiers would just come take the new books, too. Everyone was talking about how the soldiers came to the schools and took all the books, so my mom already knew about it when I got home yesterday. I told her it wasn’t for the same books but different books and that we had to have books and the school said to bring $20.

She really wasn’t happy about it, but she gave me the money.

It made me feel bad for lying to her.

But I wasn’t totally lying to her! I wanted the money for books. Just not school books.

I took the bus to the mall after school and walked over to the BAM!, which I think I’ve only ever been in, like, once, and I still have only been in it once, because it was closed. Not like closed for the day, closed “until further notice,” whatever that means. I bet the army did it, but the sign on the door didn’t say. I tried to look in the windows, but they were those dark windows to keep the sun out and the lights were out in the store, so it was hard to see in. It looked like the shelves were more empty than full, though.

So I walked back to the mall, but there are no bookstores in the mall, which I knew, but I was hoping maybe I just hadn’t noticed one before. Then I checked at Target, but all of their bookshelves were empty except for a few books on one shelf, and they were all by Donald Trump! The Art of the Deal, Think Like a Champion, Great Again. It made my stomach sick looking at his face and knowing that his were the only books available.

Other than those, they only had a few magazines, but that’s not what I wanted. So I checked every store that I thought might have some books, any books, but no one had any books unless they were Trump books. The person I asked at Target said she didn’t know if they were even going to carry books again, just that soldiers – she said army men, which I thought was funny – came and took them all away.

It all made me kind of frantic. Like when you’ve lost something really important to you that you thought you knew where it was but, when you go to get it, it’s not there and you end up tearing your room apart trying to find it. Not that I'VE ever done that! Only this was something really important that I hadn’t known I’d had and, now, it’s gone, and I want it back. I really, really want it!

After the mall, I took the bus to the library even though it was getting late and I knew I might not be able to catch another bus to get home on. Which I didn’t, and I had to walk, which I wouldn’t have minded if my trip to the library had been worthwhile, but, after walking the couple of blocks from the bus stop, I found the library all locked up, too. There was no sign on the library; it was just closed.

I might have made it to a bus, but I stood there staring at the chained up doors for a long time feeling sick in my stomach and trying not to cry. I hate crying. Probably because it makes me think of how weak my mom is when my dad makes her cry. She acts so helpless, and I don’t want to be like that. Strong people don’t cry.

But I wanted to cry, and I had to hold it all in all the way to the bus stop. But no bus came, and I had to walk home, which took two hours, and my mom was freaking out by the time I got home. I started to say, “Well, you should get me a cell phone, and I could have called,” but I couldn’t have called, because cell phones don’t work anymore. They disabled all the towers or something. To keep people from calling places they don’t want them to call. Places Trump doesn’t want them to call. So I didn’t say anything except that I had tried to go to the library, but it was closed, and I missed the bus.

Mom was still mad.

Then I almost gave her back the money but realized while my hand was in my pocket that I couldn’t because, then, she’d know I lied about what I wanted it for, and that made me feel even more bad about the lying. But I put the 20 in my hiding box, so that’s good thing.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Addiction: It's a Mindset

On Monday, I was talking about how providing free housing to homeless people reduces healthcare expenditures on those people and mentioned an experiment with providing free housing for homeless people, an experiment which has been duplicated with positive results in several different cities, by the way. Well, this experiment yielded a separate, unlooked for result. It showed that providing housing to homeless people also "cured" the majority of them of their addictions and/or addiction behaviors.


Yeah, you heard me.

This shouldn't have been as surprising as it was because we've known for a long time that one of the drivers of addiction is hopelessness and despair. It should be obvious that people with nowhere to live instead dwell with hopelessness and live in despair. Take those things away -- yes, I know; it's not always that easy -- and suddenly the impetus to "drown your sorrows" is gone.

But it's about more than that. It's about purpose.

So let's take a step back a moment.

When this experiment, the one about providing free housing to homeless people, was first proposed, many of the critics said it would never work because all of the drug addicts (including those addicted to alcohol) -- and face it, a majority of those who are homeless suffer from some kind of substance abuse issue -- would just sell off all of  the furnishings (which are also provided) to buy drugs and end up living in what amounted to no more than a flop house or a drug den. While it was acknowledged that that was a distinct possibility, enough people wanted to see what would happen to go through with it. After all, it was an experiment.

I don't think what happened was what anyone really expected to happen but it is, nevertheless, what happened, and that's that people cleaned up. Not gradually, either, but almost immediately. Sure, there were some people who did sell off all of the furniture for drugs or whatnot, but those cases were relatively few and, when they did, the furniture was replaced -- yes, even over and over again -- and many of those people also cleaned up, as soon as they realized that what was happening was real.

The consensus was that it was about more than hope; it was about purpose. These people, these people who had been living on the streets, some for years and years, had had no purpose. They had simply been existing but, given a place they could call home, they suddenly found purpose in their lives and the need for the drugs (including alcohol) dissipated. They had something to live for, even if it was just caring for their new living space, which the vast majority took great pride in.

So now let's get a little philosophical.

For a long, long time we've know that our current method of trying to break people from drug addiction doesn't work. That method amounts to taking the drugs away from them and telling them "no!" Most people who go through rehabilitation programs relapse because the programs, though they get they drugs out of the addict's system, don't do anything to address the causes of the abuse. What we really expect is for people to just "power through it" and through an effort of willpower to say "no" to the drug everyday. Even when that's not what they want to do.

I use that term "want" in the same way someone who is overweight might say, "I want to lose weight," while never taking any actual action to accomplish that. Or someone might say, "I want to have a clean house," while never actually cleaning up. Or, "I want to write a book," while never putting pen to paper. What these statements really mean is, "I want to have done it," but the people saying them don't really want to expend the necessary energy to accomplish their "goals."

Most addicts who go through programs "want" to be clean in that same kind of way. Generally, they are not there by choice but because someone they care about has somehow coerced them into it. So, sure, they "want" to have never gotten hooked to begin with but they don't really want to quit.

And they don't really want to quit because they have no reason to quit.

Look, when you talk to any addict who has cleaned up his/her life, you'll find it's because the person found something else to live for, even if that something else is actually being sober. That can be the purpose; it's just usually not.

Oh, by the way, another big contributor to everything that happened in these free housing experiments was community. Suddenly, the homeless didn't feel alone. They lived in communities with each other, and that helped with... everything. Loneliness and alone-ness are big factors in addiction. And, even when you love someone, even when you believe that person is not alone, that may not be how the addict feels.

So what is it I'm saying? I'm saying two things:
1. As with healthcare costs, we can cut addiction among the homeless population (which also affects healthcare costs) by doing the simple thing of providing them living spaces. For free. No strings.

2. We can cut addiction in the rest of the population by striving to help these people find purpose. It's not so simple as just taking away the drugs and saying "no." And, yes, I realize this is not an easy thing I'm saying here. It's not an easy fix with a one-step solution like taking away the drugs and saying "no." It's a solution that would take some work, but it's a better solution.

And it's why I said, "Let's get philosophical," because the solution will be different for every person. What is "purpose" for one person is not necessarily so for another. Maybe I should have said, "Let's get psychological."

Look, I'm not saying that addiction is all in the mind and that you can just think your way out of it. If that were true, addiction wouldn't be a problem at all. However, we can do much more to approach addiction in a mentally appropriate way, and that starts with getting to reasons why addiction happens in the first place.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Clone Wars -- "Revival" (Ep. 5.13)

-- Strength of character can defeat strength in numbers.

[Remember, you can sign up to join the Clone Wars Project at any time by clicking this link.]
[Well, actually, considering that we're into season five, now, probably no one new is going to sign up, BUT! Hop over to The Armchair Squid for his take on the current episode.]

For any of you following along with both the Squid and me, you will have noticed that our episode recaps have been off by a week since season five began. This is the episode why that is so. See, season four ended with an arc involving the return of Darth Maul, and, I guess, they felt like they needed to air a Maul episode to start season five to give people a feel of continuity, but this episode doesn't belong at the beginning of season five as it is the beginning of a new story arc and belongs in the here, as they placed it in the DVD collection.

So, yes, we are beginning a new Maul/Opress arc.

This episode features Hondo and would have been good without him, but he makes this episode even better. He said so many great lines, I couldn't choose just one to include, so you're getting THREE Hondo quotes below!

The episode also features the death of a Jedi, and not one introduced just to be killed off. The Jedi in question has been featured in many episodes of The Clone Wars and also appeared in, I think, two of the movies. It's kind of a big deal, I suppose.

That's really all I'm going to say about "Revival," which, I know, is pretty close to nothing, but the Maul story line seems to pretty important seeing that he's been carried over into Rebels. Not that I've seen those episodes, yet, since I still haven't managed to start watching season two. Let's just say that the episode is about Obi-Wan's vested interest in seeing Maul return to the land of the dead. The astute of you out there will know how that turns out.

"Well, that settles it. Those traitors are no longer my men. I want their tongues!"

"Leave you alone with the two crazies...!? Well, okay."

"Insolence? We are pirates! We don't even know what that means!"

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Homeless/Healthcare Connection

Healthcare is a big deal. It's probably a bigger deal these days than it's ever been. Or maybe that's just my age talking. Maybe it's always been a big deal but, for most of my life, I just didn't pay attention to any talk about healthcare. Certainly, young people, unless something bad just happens to happen, don't give healthcare a second thought. They just assume the health part and don't stop to think about it.

Which is not an indictment against the youth of today. I certainly didn't think about healthcare, ever, until after I had kids. Or, really, until we were trying to have kids and my wife almost died from a miscarriage. But, certainly, once we had kids, it was a big deal.

There was this period when we didn't have any health coverage. I was working in a church making next to nothing and with no health benefits. Our coverage came through my wife's job, then her department was dissolved, and we were suddenly without any kind of health insurance.

Which would have been fine except that my younger son, maybe a year and a half at the time, got sick. Not a little sick, either. He was running a temperature of 105-106, and we were freaking out, because we couldn't get it to come down. And, well, no one wanted to see us.

The first day he was sick was the last day of our coverage, so I took him to his doctor. They were worthless, gave us some ibuprofen, and told us to keep an eye on him and bring him back the next day if he wasn't better. The second day was when his temperature topped 105. I called them about an appointment, but they said they wouldn't see him because we didn't have coverage anymore. I took him to the office anyway (remember, freaking out), and they actually locked the door when they saw me coming in with him and told me to go away.

We ended up in the emergency room where they left me sitting with him for hours because, well, no coverage. They didn't want to see him either, but they couldn't actually tell me to leave, so, instead, they let me set with him while he burned up in my lap. For HOURS. While I sat and worried about brain damage. [This is the son who is super smart, the one I did the education series on a while back, so you might think, "Well, it seems like everything was fine with that, then," but I sometimes wonder if he would have been even smarter if they hadn't left him with that fever for so long.] Eventually, I kind of forced someone to bring him something for the fever, and, hours after that, a doctor finally saw him.

Not that they offered any better advice or anything to do other than keep his fever down. We didn't take him back again and, a couple of days later, he got better. We still don't know what he had. However, we did get a bill from the hospital for over $1000.00 when he saw a doctor for less than 30 minutes and all they did was give him some liquid ibuprofen and leave us sitting around for something like eight hours.

And that's what it's like not to have health insurance.

And it's the kind of thing homeless people deal with all the time when they're sick, because they have no other alternative. They have no other alternative because there is this sort of endemic belief that "those" people don't deserve healthcare. I mean, why should we pay their medical bills when they're just going to end up back out on the street with their drugs and their alcohol and sick again. They should just get it together, get themselves jobs, earn their keep, and be worthwhile human beings, right? Then they can pay their own medical bills. After all, that's what the rest of us do, isn't it?

Well, actually, no, but I'm not going to get into that, right now.

I'm also not going to try to convince you from any kind of humanitarian argument about how providing healthcare to people is "the right thing to do." Clearly, that argument has not worked and the people (Republicans) who do not want to provide universal healthcare are not going to be swayed by it.

So let's take one brief, very practical look at dealing with healthcare for the homeless.

One of the issues with the way we do healthcare is what are called "super users." This is the small percentage of users who use the system way more than everyone else, essentially using the most dollars from the system. These users tend to be older, chronically ill, and, yes, frequently homeless with no kind of healthcare coverage. This means that when a hospital sees one of these people (through the emergency room because they have no other option), the hospital passes on the costs to everyone else. I don't have the exact figures in front of me and I'm not going to look them up right now, but let's say (because this is a pretty close to correct number) these people spend 90% of all healthcare dollars.

There are two solutions to this issue:

1. Give everyone healthcare.
But let's toss that one away because, obviously, with the Republicans in charge, that's not gonna happen. (Why would they ever provide anything to anyone who "doesn't deserve it"?) But, also, that doesn't keep those same people from being super users. It does lower the cost of them being super users, and that's good, but it doesn't address they actual issue.

2. Get rid of the homeless issue by giving them free housing and food.
Oh, no, I hear you already. If we're not going to give them healthcare, why would we give them housing?! That's crazy talk!
And, yeah, I agree that it sounds like crazy talk. BUT!
There have already been some experiments done with this and, from just a practical standpoint, this is the most efficient way to eliminate unwanted healthcare costs. See, just from providing housing to homeless people, it automatically makes them healthier people! No kidding. There are lots of whys and wherefores of this and you're free to go do the research if you'd like, but I'm going to let that statement stand and you can go do the research yourself. [Trust me; it's good for you.] For those with chronic conditions (like diabetes, which is very common), it allows for preventative healthcare (because we know where they are) rather than always having to resort to emergency care. Preventative care is always cheaper.

But what abut the housing costs? Sure, there are housing costs, but there are plenty of options for low coast housing, and all of them cost much, much less than what is currently being spent on healthcare for the same pool of people. Much, much less. Hundreds of millions of dollars less, even with the food costs.
"But they don't deserve it!"
Sure, and why don't you continue to stab yourself in the nose to spite your face, because now you're at the point of choosing to keep these people homeless as nothing more than punishment, and that's totally on you.

Look, if nothing else, you wouldn't have to complain about the homeless cluttering up your streets anymore. It's a win-win. Maybe even a win-win-win.