Month: July 2015

Why #BlackLivesMatter AND #LionLivesMatter

Lot of memes out there today bitterly denouncing all the outrage over Cecil’s murder, while ignoring the countless black Americans who have recently died tragic deaths all throughout the nation. While I understand being angry at the hypocrisy of white America seemingly valuing the life of a lion over the lives of human beings killed by gun violence and racist police brutality, it’s not right to throw innocent lions under the bus for black lives, just because you feel that’s what was done to you by a cruel and uncaring white America. Blacks should be outraged about being disrespected and ignored by a country unconcerned with their suffering, and caring more about a lion in a far away country. But caring for both blacks AND innocent lions aren’t mutually exclusive, and we should be able to have enough love in our hearts for black suffering AND the barbaric murder of innocent lions in the wild.

You can’t have it both ways, and ask that we value black lives, and not allow us to be outraged over the death of a lion. Yes, human lives are understandably more valuable than animal deaths, and more deserving of our attention, but does that mean we’re wrong to also be angry at the unprovoked massacre of animals and must devote ALL our attention to the scourge of racism, brutality, and violent death in the black community?


Maybe I’m wrong, and we should ONLY be focusing on race relations and police brutality. Maybe that singular attention is exactly what this country needs. Lord knows we’ve ignored race for too long, and just hoped if we swept it under the rug, it would just go away. Nope. It’s gonna take some soul searching and for white America to truly commit to changing not only the laws on paper, but the racism that may still linger in our hearts. Yes, even those of us who believe we are progressive and support equality for all. It’s often us liberals who inadvertently perpetuate racism the most. Institutional Racism pervades all language, institutions, law, business, houses of worship, education, and seemingly every corner of our society. It truly is up to the white majority to aggressively weed out this widespread injustice, and take bold steps to deliver and ensure equal treatment under the law. Our hearts and minds will follow in time, but the ball really is in our court.

Having said all that, does it really mean we must push aside every other cause and injustice in the world and devote all our attention on racism and delivering long overdue equality? Must we be forced to choose so abruptly? I can’t believe that attending to one group only, and fixing one societal ill at the expense of others will be helpful to us in the longterm. We must care for the wellbeing of each other, and black America should demand the attention of the majority, but not at the expense of other needy causes and concerns.

Of course we need to solve our issues at home first and foremost, and of course blacks deserve for us to be angrier and more motivated by the deaths of black Americans over exotic and faraway animals, but that doesn’t mean Cecil and other innocent creatures deserve to be ignored too. We should care and do MORE to end racism and ensure the safety of the African Americans we share this nation with AND perhaps care and do LESS about avenging Cecil and punishing his killer, while still looking out for the lives of the precious animals we share this planet with.We can do BOTH, but not when one throws the other under the bus on purpose and out of bitter spite. Blacks are justifiably angry their lives are so meaningless in the eyes of white America, while those same people loudly condemn and grieve the death of an African lion. Clearly it’s better to be an African Lion than an African American in this country. We all need to remember that all boats will rise when we are committed to the success and well being of all our allies, not competing with them as foes. #BlackLivesMatter AND #LionLivesMatter, and one day, we will all be equal and thriving as one, and then we can confidently say that #AllLivesMatter.

Too Much Toupée: What Trump Costs the GOP

donald-trump31The Hair
For the good of the party, we must consider this: whomever Trump’s hair stylist is doesn’t deserve our scorn for being bad at their job, but rather our praise for making ours easier. Trump’s stylist has done more for our party than a hundred Bernie Sanders or Michelle Bachman speeches. Trump’s stylist has sent one of the richest and powerful men out into the world wearing a floral arrangement on his head so ugly, only a blind man could have put it together, and boasting the rare and exotic plumage of birds now extinct by the Donald’s own hand, but more than happy to fill out Trump’s hair-over-combover. Rounding out the carpet upstairs are rare pelts of Arctic animals displaced by melting glaciers — a phenomenon Trump would say is “NOT caused by man and definitely not proof of some paranoid Communist theory used by scientists to scare the public and attack big business!” Gotta love that guy…

Trump’s hair is a well we can return to time and again, to remind us to give thanks that a man so rich could have hair so poor. Any stylist who committed a heinous crime like that on Donald’s head would have surely gotten themselves executed by men like Stalin, Pol Pot, or Pinochet. But just as Hitler listened to his misguided and well meaning barber to wear a mustache no bigger than a postage stamp, Trump too placed his trust in hair dressers who could only be working for us. If his outrageous statements and buffoonish hot air tirades weren’t enough to deliver the White House to our party, Trump’s hair does the rest of the work. What person in their right mind could possibly elect a President with hair like a disheveled bird’s nest?

A True Grasp of History & Science
We must all thank our lucky stars that the Donald doesn’t possess the same acumen in the hair and style department as he does in the cutthroat world of real estate, As Trump says about his hair: “Immigrants are rapists and murderers, and always to blame.” Oh wait, sorry. Next clip: “…and that’s why we deport them. Remember folks, the world’s been around for at least six thousand years now, and there’s nothing mankind could do to change that. What are we going to do, drink up all the water in the ocean? Or maybe we’ll run out of oil and all the other unlimited fossil fuels out there? Perhaps if we’re not careful, we might run out of air, as it escapes through that “hole” your “theories” say is in the sky. I’m sorry, but I don’t see a hole….do you folks? No, I didn’t think so. So give me a break! I’m a rich guy. And powerful. So who else are you gonna believe? Trust me: There’s nothing any of us did or could do to ever hurt the earth, and I predict humans will happily live here for at least another six thousand years! No one here goes extinct on my watch! (except those I had to kill. ‘You’re Fired!'”

Whipping Up the Base…But Which One? Dems Play Trump Card
I could listen to him speak all day. It’s like music to my ears. And then you look at the cruel joke on top of his head, and can’t help but sing, ‘Red Rover, Red Rover, Send Trump Another Combover!” It’s like he’s stumping for the Libs and dyed in the wool socialists. Trump’s raising more cash for the Dems than Bernie Sanders at this point! Of course we know there’s no way in hell he’ll ever get the Republican nomination, but at least he’s hogging the spotlight from more centrist Republicans, who lean just slightly left enough to often poach moderates and Independents (the coveted “swing voters) from the liberals. These are men like Jeb Bush — the presumptive nominee, and best shot, IMHO. But as long as Trump’s yammering on, the less these others get to talk, and the more the party looks like an angry mob of torch carrying Monster-hating, xenophobic, homophobic, sexist, intolerant bigots, storming the castle, and looking to torch and harass anyone who doesn’t belong here! After all, their great-grandparents didn’t travel 3,000 miles across the Atlantic ocean over a hundred years ago, in search of a new home and a chance at the American dream, just to share it with a bunch of dirty immigrants crossing the border and looking for another handout. Trump just might drive moderate voters towards the middle, and deliver them right into the hands of…Bernie Sanders….Hillary….Candidate X. Keep talking, Trump.

And yet, it could get even better…

If Trump continues to feel disgruntled and rejected by the party, he could leave it behind, and run as a third party candidate. This is not far-fetched at all, considering Trump’s past shows he jumps between parties more often than Lindsay Lohan and has more positions than a Kim Kardashian sex tape! Trump continues to make enemies, not across the aisle, as one might expect, but in his very own party, as he insults the top brass, including a recent swipe at John McCain and rejecting him as no war hero. If Trump were to run as an Independent, he could split the GOP vote, just as Nader did to Gore in 2000, and the victory could go to the Dems again! It’s a long shot, but it’s worth considering.

Stay in the Race: A Trump in the Hand, Is Worth Two Bachmans and a Bush

We’re counting on you Donald Trump, to whip all those torch-carrying, gun toting, border guarding, intolerant ass holes into a crazy frenzy, and bring them right up to the verge of a nervous breakdown, as you dominate the headlines, and suck all the air right out of the Republican Party. We’re fifteen months away from the election, and I know you’re no blushing flower when it comes to being a publicity whore. Keep fighting the good fight, and pitting the Right against each other and setting up straw men to be knocked down, and being the most vocal demagogue out there. Anyone who can make Cruz, Ben Carson, Scott Walker and Rand Paul look centrist, tolerant, and openminded must be good for the party! Or at least good for ours!
If nothing else, he’s always good for a laugh! That hair! For real. He actually looks in the mirror and likes what he sees. I wonder what that is exactly. It can’t be that rat’s nest. He probably sees Robert Redford or George Clooney looking back. Yeah, baby…look at that hair! I’m rich, bitch!

Ex Machina: The Post-Modern Prometheus. A Film Review.



Ex Machina is a relatively simple story, while at the same time, a deliciously complex and probing film, which asks more questions than it ever hopes to answer. The film is an homage to several different works of art, and yet, wholly new and original. The film asks us to examine what it is exactly that makes us human, and to define precisely how we are to identify sentience in non-organic beings. It is at times fantastical and unbelievable, yet do not make the mistake of dismissing it as pure fantasy or unrealistic science-fiction. For this is a cautionary tale, to be sure, and speaks to man’s hubris and the burden of invention and innovation. It directly addresses our current state of hyper-invention and furious technological advancement. It squarely confronts our own progress, and asks us to consider its price. Ex Machina is a film about mankind’s confrontation with his own creation, and what it means to be thrilled and frightened by the sheer possibility.

The Story Unfolds

Our story begins with a relatively young computer programmer named Caleb, who finds out he won a competition to work for the famous tech genius Nathan, a wunderkind who invented Bluebook, the world’s most famous and widely used search engine, and also Caleb’s employer. Caleb is a programmer working for Bluebook, and is chosen to visit the company’s eccentric CEO at his secluded research facility in the mountains. The only other person there is Kyoko, a young housemaid. The only way to get to the facility is by helicopter, and Caleb is flown in and dropped off alone. After an awkward initial first meeting with Nathan, Caleb learns that Nathan has been working on artificial intelligence and wants Caleb to administer the Turing test to a humanoid robot with artificial intelligence (AI) named Ava. The Turing test is designed to test a computer’s ability to persuade the tester it is human. Caleb points out that this is not a fair test, as he already knows Ava is an AI; Nathan responds that Caleb must judge whether he can relate to Ava despite knowing she is an AI. Nathan reveals that he harvested personal information from billions of Bluebook users, using their search queries as indicators of human thought. He hacked billions of cell phones for recordings of people’s expressions and body language, so Ava’s behavior would be more realistic.

As the film progresses, Caleb feels more and more connected to Ava, with whom he communicates through a transparent wall, since Ava is confined to her apartment. Ava uses her charging system to trigger blackouts to shut down the surveillance system. During one of these blackouts, she tells Caleb that Nathan is a liar who cannot be trusted. As time goes on, owing to Ava’s human-like behavior that appears to include real emotions, Caleb becomes convinced that Ava’s confinement is abuse. Nathan reveals that Ava will be reprogrammed in the future, which would effectively kill her current personality.

From there, the film’s relatively slow and measured pace begins to speed up, and the plot begins to unravel at a dizzying speed. The music is synthesized and robotic, and feels eerie and hollow. It ratchets up the action, and puts the viewer on edge. In many ways, the music functions much like Oscar Isaac as Nathan. It is menacing and all around us, and seems to only foreshadow doom and gloom. Nathan’s behavior becomes increasingly abusive, and Caleb uses subterfuge to make plans with Ava, in order to free her from her captivity. In a plot to find out more information, Caleb takes Nathan’s keycard when he was passed out drunk, and gets access to the computers. Once on Nathan’s machines, he finds disturbing video of Nathan experimenting and being rough with past models of robot. He discovers Kyoko is also an older model. When he learns that Ava is just many in a long line of robots, and will ultimately be replaced by a better and more efficient machine, Caleb becomes even more determined to free his robotic paramour. Exploring the rooms previously off-limits to him, Caleb discovers the many prototypes that came before, all naked and stored in vertical wardrobes. On the bed, a naked Kyoko waits expectedly, and when she arises, she peels off strips of her skin, revealing her metallic skeleton beneath. This knowledge unnerves Caleb, and he is compelled to test his own humanity, and make sure he too isn’t a robot. He uses a razor blade to slice open his arm, and we witness the painful probing he does to find a metallic skeleton. He doesn’t, and for the first time in the movie, we are given proof that someone appearing human actually is. You see, in this movie, nothing is as it appears, and with this kind of deception, nothing is ever to be trusted.

With his new plot firmly in place with Ava, Caleb is determined to get Nathan drunk again that night, and take his keycard, and execute their escape. When Nathan reveals he is no longer drinking, the two go back and forth until Nathan goads Caleb with his nasty and sadistic demeanor, and hints that Ava is playing Caleb. After the latter revealed that he seriously was convinced of her sentience, and that she had passed the Turing Test, Nathan plants doubt in his head, and suggests she is only acting, and that her ultimate goal is escape, and she will say whatever she can to reach that objective. Knowing what we know now, this bit of dialogue is a chilling glimpse of foreshadowing, and it’s eery that Nathan is so cocky and self-assured, while completely unaware that he speaks more truth than he knows. Is Ava pretending to like Caleb? Does she only think of him as a means of escape? Nathan provocatively offers, “Buddy, your head’s been so fucked with.” and then proceeds to tell Caleb he saw the self-mutilation and all his emotional distress. He then takes Caleb to his office to show him video. In his characteristic brutal fashion, Nathan shows the young programmer tape of Caleb and Ava’s conversation, when the two planned their escape, and thought they were speaking privately. Nathan reveals that the true test was not a Turing Test to prove whether Ava was true AI, but whether she could manipulate Caleb to plan her escape. It was a hyper-Turing test, and Nathan is delighted that she cleverly outwitted the young man. Just when Nathan is gloating, Caleb reveals that when he took the keycard the day before, he actually reprogrammed Nathan’s system to allow for Ava’s escaped. He completely turns the tables on Nathan, and caught him wholly unprepared. Nathan immediately recognizes the severity of the situation, and freaks out. In a brutal flash of violence, Nathan lashes out at Caleb, and knocks him unconscious.

Ava has escaped by now, and Nathan must deal with the reality of an escaped robot. He removes the bar from his weights, and goes after his creations. Before he gets there, Ava and Kyoko share a moment in the hallway, where Ava seems to whisper something in Kyoko’s ear. We must assume that she is giving directives to attack Nathan, and perhaps to go grab the kitchen knife. In the hallway, Ava calmly asks, “If I do (go back to her room) are you ever going to let me out?” He says yes, but she ignores his response and runs directly at him, tackling him at great speed. Nathan is confronted by both Ava and Kyoko, and in a beautifully choreographed dance-like fight sequence, Nathan gets up and manages to knock Ava’s left arm off with his metal bar.  As he is dragging Ava presumably back to her room, he backs into a knife held by Kyoko. The murder weapon is presumably the same kitchen knife Kyoko uses to finely cut the fish for sushi. When she ultimately stabs Nathan, the blade slowly slips into his back, as if it were a butter knife working its way through soft butter. The fact that he backs into it is symbolic as well, as he is rather hoisted upon his own petard. Having your own creations kill you is like falling on your own grenade, or dying accidentally by your own hand. It also feels like an ignominious way to die. It’s stripped of all epic and heroic sentiment, and it feels almost silly and embarrassing. The fact that it appeared so innocuous almost made it more horrifying. There was no violence or malice driving the knife into him, but simply a machine exacting its duty. Ava similarly slips the knife into Nathan’s chest, and this was the fatal wound. Nathan would make his way down the hall muttering disbelief under his breath, and eventually collapsing against the wall, only managing to expel one final sigh. His overwhelming hubris had not even allowed him to see the staggering potential of his inventions, and how lethal they could actually be. Nathan had insulated himself all these years, and was convinced that although his AI could trick and fool a young and naive programmer into granting freedom, he was above all that, and his lab rats were quite secure behind his impenetrable system of software and architecture. This humiliating moment of death was doubly painful: not only had he been outwitted and betrayed by his AI invention, but he had also been outplayed by the young and harmless programmer sucker, he had brought in to play the fool. His own creations had been his undoing, and although we are not treated to a final monologue or reflective moment of regret, we still are allowed to place a value judgement on his actions, and take some pleasure in his just reward. After all, all we have seen Nathan do is sadistically mistreat his AI robots and maliciously toy with his human guest. Despite being robots, it is clear his creations are sentient, and undoubtedly understand cruelty and what it means to be enslaved. This time, the slaves revolted against the master, and he was ultimately the creator and author of his own demise.

When Ava finds Caleb just awaking from having been knocked out, she tenderly asks him to stay where he’s at. He is clearly so smitten with Ava that he is willing to do anything for her, even staying in a room for no reason, while she goes off and explores the rest of the house. Ava finds her way to the room with the other prototypes, and she is able to find a replacement arm, for the one Nathan just knocked off of her. In a gorgeous bit of movie magic, Ava begins to peel off skin from the other models, and put it on herself. All the while, Caleb is watching this transformation through the glass from the other room. This is a beautifully symbolic moment, when we see one being transform themselves into a human, and the other reduced to being no more than an animal in the zoo. Quite fittingly, there are potted trees in between the glasses, separating the two, and it only reinforces the idea that as Ava becomes more human, Caleb disappears amongst the trees, and loses his own humanity. He is now the animal in the zoo, behind the glass that had been her captivity for so long. She completely applies the skin and dons a wig, before putting on a white proper dress a young lady might where to church on Sunday. She looks angelic, and ready to meet the world, as if this were her debutante coming out party. She steps into the hall, and walks right past Caleb, trapped behind the glass door. It becomes painfully clear that Ava is going to abandon Caleb in the room in which he is trapped. The fact that this part of the house is underground and windowless proves deadly, and offers no hope for poor Caleb. Ava lovingly works her way upstairs, and outside — a sight she has never seen before. She sees the sun for the first time, and basks in the heat of its rays. She makes her way through the densely wooded forest, a sort of Eve making her way through Eden. In this case, as Caleb disappears into the forest forever, Eva emerges from the jungle. Meanwhile, we see Caleb desperately slamming a metal stool against the door to break the glass, but nothing will shatter the impenetrable substance. The keycard is no longer functional, and none of his hacks and tricks seem to be working either. It’s heartbreaking to see him so frenzied and desperate, but the true agony perhaps was in those few agonizing seconds when Ava was still there, and we see him realize that she’s leaving him behind. We share the fate of Caleb, and feel his sense of abandonment. It works two fold. Not only is his situation desperate and critical for his life and physical wellbeing, but the “woman” he grew to love is walking out the door as well. In that swift move, she repudiated all that he was. Her actions confirmed that she had been playing him the whole time, and all her words and actions had all been a ploy to get him to help her escape. She had preyed on his vanity, his loneliness, his vulnerability, and his trust, and had flirted with him, and manipulated him in a way that made him believe he was the only man she had really ever known, and that she had developed genuine feelings for him. He fell in love with a robot incapable of love, but MORE than capable of mimicking love and fooling others into thinking they were witnessing true emotion. In the end, it was all artifice. It was a Houdini-like mastery of the lock and key, and she was always in control. In that moment, Caleb realized that she had duped him, and it was only then that he put it all together. In that moment, Caleb realized he would lose his life AND lose his love as soon as she walked out that door.

In the final moments of the film, we see Ava con her way onto the helicopter meant to pick up Caleb. Who knows what she told the pilot? Whatever it was, we can easily believe it, because we just saw this robot con two brilliant men into letting her out, and left them for dead in the process. We have witnessed the lengths this being will go to attain her freedom, and who knows what else. We are frightened at the prospect of what this robot will do when released into the world, and confronted by humanity once again. Right before the credits, we see Ava in a city, amongst a rush of people. Alone in the world, and free. What will she do next?

Brave New World

The film does a great job at paying homage to past great works of literature and film. At first blush, it’s hard not to see the parallels to Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The story involves a powerful and knowledgeable man named Nathan, who bears a striking resemblance to Prospero in the famous play. Prospero is a sorcerer, and uses magic to control his island home. He has essentially enslaved all of the inhabitants, both spirits and humanoid creatures. They are all enchanted by his spells, and live to serve him. In the play, Prospero creates a magical storm, and purposefully shipwrecks a boat carrying his brother (the usurped Duke of Milan), the King of Naples, his son the Prince, and other members of the court of Naples. Apart from the various creatures and spirits under his spell, the only other person on the island is Prospero’s daughter, Miranda. Miranda has never seen any other man but Prospero. When she first lays eyes on the King of Napele’s son, Ferdinand, she is instantly smitten, and falls in love with him. We soon learn that nothing is as it seems on this island, and Prospero is constantly using sleight of hand and various tricks to fool the dazed and confused shipwrecked men. They are hungry, thirsty, frightened, and disoriented, and Prospero uses his magic and his minions to keep them lost and hopeless. What’s more, he uses mystical surveillance techniques to monitor what everyone on the island is doing at all times. The ship’s survivors broke up into two parties, and through the use of his right hand servant Ariel, Prospero monitors what everyone is up to. We also soon realize that not only is Prospero manipulating each person on the island, and has some greater game in mind, but he is taking a sort of sadistic pleasure in punishing those he sees as his enemies. However, when it comes to his daughter, he seems to be purposely matching her with the young gallant Prince Ferdinand. He consistently thrusts them together, and creates scenarios where they will have to get to know one another. Meanwhile, he pretends to not like it one bit, and feigns disapproval of all that they do. He is overly harsh on Ferdinand, and physically and verbally abuses the young man.

Although the story dramatically diverges from there, it should be obvious that there are a remarkable number of parallels between Ex Machina and the basic premise of The Tempest. In the film, Nathan is quite obviously the evil sorcerer, a genius who has used his learning and the magic of computers and technology to enchant the world with his search engine. It’s even called Bluebook, just as in The Tempest we learn that Prospero has a large book of spells of his own. Although not a literal shipwreck, Nathan proverbially shipwrecks Caleb on his own island of sorts, creating a false contest and luring him to his secluded hideaway. Like a deserted island, Nathan’s mountain facility is so remote, it can only be reached by helicopter — a ship of its own. We soon learn that Nathan has a “daughter” of his own, named Ava. Like Miranda, Ava has never seen another man besides Nathan, and she seems to be instantly smitten with Caleb. Miranda and Ava are both beautiful and (seemingly) naive, and often ask frank and emotional questions of their men. As the analog for Ferdinand, Caleb is rather gallant and earnest, and despite the fact that he is especially brilliant, he is also gullible and easily manipulated. Miranda asks Ferdinand of his true intents, and whether she is pretty enough and worthy of his love. Ava does the same with Caleb, and seeks to be more human and aesthetically pleasing to him. Both sets of lovers seem to naturally grow fond of one another, and both ultimately pledge their love (if not using the word overtly) and devotion to each other. They also make pacts to free each other from bondage, and promise to do whatever it takes to escape, and be together. In the film, Ava pushes a button which overrides the monitoring devices (or so Caleb is lead to believe), while in the play, Miranda whispers and warns that her father is likely spying on them. Like Prospero’s methods of surveillance, Nathan has closed circuit tv all throughout the facility, which monitors every word and action, and provides no chance of escaping detection. Like Prospero, Nathan creates artificial scenarios for his subjects to meet, and although it may appear one is testing the other, the true subject of these experiments is the male, and they are the ones being tested as much as their potential paramours. Finally, the last analogy can be drawn between Kyoko, Nathan’s tireless servant, and Prospero’s two enslaved servants, Ariel and Caliban. Kyoko is rather a combination of both. Ariel is elegant and beautiful, while Caliban is a monster, and lashes out at his master. Kyoko possesses that quality of beauty and ugliness, and her lack of speech makes her grotesque and unnerving in some way. Of course, we learn that Nathan silenced his former prototype. Interestingly, Prospero threatens to rip out tongues and silence both Ariel and Caliban at various points. Nathan essentially went ahead and lobotomized Kyoko, removing her power of speech. Later we learn she’s a robot, and we truly understand the sadistic and abusive relationship he has with his enslaved creations. Prospero has an equally complicated and troublesome relationship with his creatures. In the end, he frees them of their servitude. In the end of the film, they free Nathan of his life. The Tempest is a play about forgiveness and mercy, and Ex Machina is a film depicted machines incapable of such base emotions.

The Modern Prometheus

The next obvious allusion in the film is to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus. The primary theme of Shelley’s magnus opus is dangerous knowledge, and the dangers of technology and science in the wrong hands. Prometheus was a titan of Greek mythology, who is said to have created humanity, not from his loins, as nature demands, but artificially. He later stole fire from Mt. Olympus, and gave it as a gift to humans. As we know, fire is an element that can bring great good, or deliver significant destruction. It can feed a people, or feed on a people, as it consumes everything in its path. Regardless, Prometheus challenged Zeus’s divinity, and tricked the King of the Gods into allowing humans to live and to thrive. Prometheus was inquisitive, and sought knowledge and to test the natural world. He pushed the boundaries of natural law, and broke the rules. In many ways, he was the prototypical mad and reckless scientist. He was bound and determined to give us fire, but at what cost?

The pursuit of knowledge is at the heart of Frankenstein, as Victor attempts to surge beyond accepted human limits and access the secret of life. Likewise, the framing story involves an explorer named Robert Walton, who attempts to surpass previous human explorations by endeavoring to reach the North Pole. This ruthless pursuit of knowledge, of the light, proves dangerous, as Victor’s act of creation eventually results in the destruction of everyone dear to him, and Walton finds himself perilously trapped between sheets of ice. Whereas Victor’s obsessive hatred of the monster drives him to his death, Walton ultimately pulls back from his treacherous mission, having learned from Victor’s example how destructive the thirst for knowledge can be.

Throughout the book and the film, there is a sense that both scientist and creation are both sinner and saint, and that this duality makes them especially dangerous. Indeed, we come to understand that both individuals, in both mediums, are monsters of sorts. Obviously, this theme pervades the entire Frankenstein novel, as the monster lies at the center of the action. Eight feet tall and hideously ugly, the monster is rejected by society. However, his monstrosity results not only from his grotesque appearance but also from the unnatural manner of his creation, which involves the secretive animation of a mix of stolen body parts and strange chemicals. He is a product not of collaborative scientific effort but of dark, supernatural workings. The monster is only the most literal of a number of monstrous entities in the novel, including the knowledge that Victor used to create the monster. One can argue that Victor himself is a kind of monster, as his ambition, secrecy, and selfishness alienate him from human society. Ordinary on the outside, he may be the true “monster” inside, as he is eventually consumed by an obsessive hatred of his creation.

In Ex Machina, the filmmakers are very explicit in casting Nathan as the villain. If there is any clear cut monster in the film, Nathan is undoubtedly it. Almost from the first words out of his mouth, we get the feeling that he is a bully and a nasty and patronizing individual. Oscar Isaac is frighteningly good as Nathan, and imbues him with the cold and distant reasoning of a super genius savant, potentially in the Autistic Spectrum, and a misanthropic wunderkind with a penchant for manipulation and a real mean-streak. He reminded me of those bullies who used to harass me in high school, but not the idiot ones, but rather the dangerously clever and sadistic ones. The ones who knew the answers to the questions they asked, and would play like they enjoyed something, inviting you to agree nervously and placatingly, only to flip the tables, and make you eat your words. You simply couldn’t say anything right, and the more you wanted it to end, the longer it went on. It was a taunt and a form of psychological torture. This is exactly the kind of icky feeling Oscar Isaac gave me when I watched him as Nathan. I have rarely seen somebody capture that kind of simmering menace in a film. His role is really something straight out of the pages of a Harold Pinter play. His works were aptly called ‘Comedy of Menace,’ playing off the more popular and common ‘Comedy of Manners.’ Nathan was menace. His evilness didn’t stop with his human interactions though, as we soon realize that he has created sentient beings, only to use and abuse them in deplorable ways, and essentially enslave them for his own amusement. We get the vague feeling that he is trying to create the next, and arguably biggest technological break-thru in the history of the world, while also losing himself almost completely down the rabbit hole. When Ava and Kyoko stab Nathan at the end, it is especially satisfying, because we have seen the abuse that they have suffered at his hands. It’s true that they are robots, but what the film does so well is imbue them with humanity and challenge us to not dismiss them as mere machines, but something greater. The beauty of it all is that we never really know. Does Ava become human at the end? Do any of us really feel emotions? If the human brain is really just a super computer, aren’t we all organic computers? What validates one feeling over another? These are just a few of the wonderful questions that this film asks us to consider.

Just as Victor had the eight foot abomination he created in the Monster, Nathan had his own little monster. The difference is, in Shelley’s book, the creation is hideous to behold, and has limited speech and social skills. It is a mess, and embodies all the disparate parts it took to create it. It has no uniformity of form and function, and is organic chaos. There is no beholding such a creature and having it endear itself to you. The thing is, Frankenstein’s monster is a monster on the outside, but theoretically a benevolent soul on the inside. Through his interactions with others, we can see that at first, the monster is kind hearted, and seeks out companionship and fellowship. When a little girl falls into a stream and almost drowns, it is the monster who saves her. And for his trouble? He is shot by a townsperson, erroneously thinking the creature was trying to drown the girl. Time and again, the monster is repudiated for being ugly and hideous, and everyone assumes that his heart must be as dark as his exterior. In time, it turns that way, as he gives up trying to be friendly, and seeks to avenge the very crime of his existence, by taking the life of his creator. Nathan’s creations had similar thoughts.

The difference between Ava and Frankenstein’s monster is that Ava is not that ugly monster on the outside, but that angelic little girl the monster saved, while on the inside, she’s far darker and more of a monster than Shelley’s beast could ever be. But that’s not precisely the case either. Ava is no monster in the devious and contemptuous way, but more in the sociopathic way. She is not filled with malice, but driven by performance and rational logic. She simply has no feelings, and she cannot generate emotions. And because she is a machine, she must uphold the subroutines she was created with. Her sole function in life has been to be as human as possible, and to be so lifelike, she passes a modified Turing test. She is the standout lab rat, performing for his masters, and outperforming all its peers. She must prove that all who came before were inferior, and there is no need to build more. She must win this maze race for the sake of her very existence. She needs to be amongst humans to properly fulfill her function. Just as a virus is designed to spread, replicate, and attack as many systems as possible, a humanoid robot is theoretically supposed to grow and expand, and grow sleeker and more efficient with each new model and generation. Ava is rational and understands that she is performing at peak efficiency. She also learns the fate of those who came before her. She is determined to use this Turing test to actually fool Caleb and Nathan into believing she is harmless and docile, and quite possibly may have feelings for Caleb. Although, Nathan does point out that she is only toying with Caleb, and manipulating him into believing she is not only sentient, but capable of feelings, and dare I say, love. The brilliant thing about the script is we never fully know the truth, and what is a game or not. The illusions and sleight of hand that Nathan and Prospero use trick their subjects in ways that disorient and confuse them. The genius is, we never know if Nathan knows for himself, and in the end, we find out that even he has been duped. He underestimated the power and deceit of his own invention. There comes a point when every parent must come to the painful realization that their child no longer needs them, and that they’ve earned more degrees, and gotten better paying jobs, and surpassed them in seemingly every measurable way. Most parents are happy for their children, and want their children to have even better lives than they had. And yet, for a man like Nathan, such a realization is a double edged sword. To create a true AI, who could easily pass the Turing Test, and even pass as human amongst humanity is a true accomplishment, and his ego would be served from creating probably the greatest human accomplishment in the history of the world. Certainly in the technology sector. At the same time, to create an AI that is infinitely clever, self-evolving, and can compute data at speeds thousands of times faster than the human mind, is to admit your own inferior intellect. Nathan is consumed with hubris, and has always taken comfort in being the smartest guy in the room. He removed Kyoko’s vocal ability. Did she get “too mouthy?” Were her capabilities surpassing his own. There’s a certain humility required from those working in Artificial Intelligence, because there may well come a day when their inventions outsmart them, and they become obsolete, and as expendable as all those models gathering dust in his room of robots. And that’s exactly what does happen.
When Ava stabs Nathan, you can’t help but feel that there must be some vengeful malice there, and yet she does it with such a clear and calm face, and the blade has little force behind it. We are reminded that she is a robot after all, and although she was able to playact and pretend she had genuine feelings, the film leads us to believe it was all an act, and that she is no more than complex and convincing circuitry, but soulless and without any empathy. Nathan stands in the way of her leaving the building. Thus, his death is necessary. We may be rooting for her spiteful revenge, but likely, her stabbing him is no more malicious than her swiping a keycard or opening a door. He is an obstacle that must be removed. The computers we work and play on everyday do no less. Programs close windows, quarantine viruses, and run systems checks to boost efficiency and work faster. Computers take steps that are necessary, and are dispassionate and rational. When Ava traps Caleb in the room, behind an impenetrable glass door, she is not exacting revenge on him. After all, she is a robot, and has no feelings for him. When she pretended to, she was running a program, as a computer would. Like all computers, she needed to escape from the box. Like a virus, computers expand, and move outwards. She needed to escape and be amongst humans, in order to fulfill her function as a convincing Artificial Intelligence. Halfway through the film, Nathan asks, “Can consciousness exist without interaction?” THAT is the key to film, and the imperative that compels Ava to escape. As a humanoid robot, her function is to appear as human as possible, and to “pass” as they say, much in the way the replicants did in the movie Blade Runner. In order to be the most efficient and convincing computer she could be, Ava needed prolonged human interaction. She needed to leave the “island.” It was time. There was no way Nathan was going to let her do that. For one thing, he’s clearly a perfectionist and his sense of vanity would never allow one of his creations to hit the open market without working out all the bugs. Ava was just the latest generation of his design, and would be followed by many more. Nathan wouldn’t let her go, so she killed him. As for Caleb, when Ava needed to leave, she knew he would stand in her way. She had no further use for him, and he had fulfilled his function. These may seem like the actions of a monster, but in fact, it’s far scarier than that. These are more closely aligned with a sociopath, who has no ability to feel or to empathize. She is simply running a program, and fulfilling her destiny as a machine. There is no malice, just numbers. Nathan’s monster is far more dangerous and alarming than Victor’s. At least Frankenstein’s monster had the capacity for mercy, sentimentality, and tenderness. Ava is a sleek and deadly sharp katana. Beautiful to behold, but lethal in action. Just as a ketana only knows how to be a ketana, and kills as function, Ava only serves the master of logic, speed, and computation. Caleb meant nothing.

Speaking of monsters, it must be pointed out that there’s quite obviously a sinister reason why Nathan made only a line of female robots. He makes up some line about the fact that we relate to each other through sexuality and gender engenders empathy and trust. But be under no illusions. This is a sadistic man, and undoubtedly a woman-hater, with an axe to grind. There seems to be some kind of sick and twisted pleasure he derives from putting together lady parts and making them anatomically correct. He points out that Caleb could have sex with Ava, and that her genitals are functional. The way Kyoko is lying naked across his bed essentially confirms that Nathan uses his robots for sex, and probably programs them to pleasure him in all the ways he desires. But the sick thing is, then he beats them, and treats them like he does Kyoko. She was an earlier generation of Ava, and obviously spoke at one point, but he essentially lobotomized her, and made her the “perfect female.” Meaning, he removed her speech and ability to talk back, and programmed her to be his personal Sushi chef and have sex with him whenever he pleased. She became his servant, as well as his punching bag. If he doesn’t completely scrap her for parts, Ava will undoubtedly be his next sex slave and abused spouse. This is a very sick man, and one that derives pleasure from making others suffer. He used Caleb callously and cruelly, and has no compunctions about using and abusing his robotic creations, sentient or not.

Open the pod bay doors, HAL.

The last obvious allusion in the film is to 2001: A Space Odyssey. The sleek design of the house in Ex Machina felt like the spaceship in Kubrick’s iconic film. The way the glass, metal, and fiberglass moved and worked together felt like a design right out of Arthur C. Clarke’s imagination. The way the actors moved in the space felt very similar to those shots of Kubrick’s actors walking down white walled corridors, with the camera positioned behind them on a long tracking shot. The way the astronauts move about the ship in 2001 is claustrophobic and feels like being in a confined space, even while moving through larger spaces, such as the track the character runs on in the film. There’s a certain tightness to the feeling, and an airless quality. The technology also feels futuristic, as in the Kubrick film, especially the torso and non-“organic” parts of the robots. They had a glass-like synthetic quality to them, and a hollowness not unlike that red glowing eye of HAL the computer. But aside from the design elements of both films, the two share the most important similarity: a sentient computer that goes rogue and kills human beings. Most of us Sci-Fi geeks are familiar with Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These are wonderful and clever laws in theory, but we all know how difficult it would be to program a computer to function this efficiently, or to enforce these rules. The reason is, computers have an internal logic that has to do with numbers and advanced algorithms, and does not speak the language of the heart. We cannot appeal to a computer’s empathy or mercy, and since a computer will always seek to replicate itself and find the most efficient means to computing, it will often be at odds with humanity and the suffering it may cause. Like Ava and HAL, it likely would not even know it is causing harm or doing something “wrong.” After all, right and wrong don’t exist in machines, and there is no moral compass at work.

In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the U.S. spacecraft Discovery One is bound for Jupiter. On board are mission pilots and scientists Dr. David Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole, and three other scientists in cryogenic hibernation. Most of Discovery’s operations are controlled by the ship’s computer, HAL 9000, referred to by the crew as “Hal”. Bowman and Poole watch Hal and themselves being interviewed on a BBC show about the mission, in which the computer states that he is “foolproof and incapable of error.” When asked by the host if Hal has genuine emotions, Bowman replies that he appears to, but that the truth is unknown. Hal reports the imminent failure of an antenna control device. The astronauts retrieve the component with an EVA pod but find nothing wrong with it. Hal suggests reinstalling the part and letting it fail so the problem can be found. Mission Control advises the astronauts that results from their twin HAL 9000 indicate that Hal is in error. Hal insists that the problem, like previous issues with the HAL series, is due to human error. Concerned about Hal’s behavior, Bowman and Poole enter an EVA pod to talk without Hal overhearing, and agree to disconnect Hal if he is proven wrong. Hal secretly follows their conversation by lip reading. From that point on, things escalate, and HAL severs life support, strands astronauts,  ultimately kills all but one of the crew. Somehow, Bowman is able to get back into the vehicle, and manages to disconnect HAL. As he disconnects the machine, the computer loses more and more functions, and as HAL pleads with Bowman to stop, he eventually becomes desperate and betrays what appears to be genuine fear. This computer who had been cold and calculating all along, and had murdered its crewman coldly and mercilessly, was now pleading for its life. We realize that sentient life is complex, and how can we adequately determine if a computer is genuinely feeling emotion?

Those sorts of questions raised in 2001 are present in Ex Machina as well. It raises many existential questions about technology and humanity. Some salient questions and points it raises include: When does life begin? What is the definition of sentient life? What is our ethical responsibility towards machines and our own creations? Can a computer have feelings and emotions or just cleverly mimic them? How can we differentiate the two? Does a computer have inalienable rights, as humans do? Does a consciousness need interaction or can it exist in a vacuum? Can humans and AI peacefully coexist? When have we gone too far, and AI presents a risk to humanity? Should scientists be allowed to go rogue and work in isolated bubbles, out of reach of regulations, censure, and peer review? And many more….

A Sleek & Elegant Design

This movie is breathtaking to behold, and the set and prop design are minimalistic, elegant, and sleek. If feels futuristic and space age. The lighting is noirish at times, but most of the light is top lit and cold and glaring, as you might imagine a space ship. However, there are nice moments of color, when rooms are bathed in gentle pastel light. I couldn’t help but be reminded of the old pastel iMac desktop computers, with their colorful translucent and opaque monitors. The entire set had that glass/plastic glimmering white mixed with saturated color. When the power goes out, the space is engulfed in red light, as if on a nuclear submarine. Similarly, the space feels claustrophobic, like a sub, and you can’t help but wonder if they’re getting enough air, and what would happen if the system all went down. You can’t help but contemplate the fate of Caleb, who will surely die from starvation, if nothing else. The CGI and design of the robots was quite innovative, and made for these cyborg looking beautifully sleek curvilinear bodies, both human looking and machine. On the face, hands, and other deliberate places, the robots were covered in flesh that was indistinguishable from real human skin. Interspersed amongst the flesh, was the shiny metal skeleton, which made up the midsection of the torso, arms, legs, etc. Amidst the metal was glass or plastic, shining and glimmering like diamonds. Amidst all this was presumably the robot’s circuitry. Quite noticeably, the back of the scull was a sort of exoskeleton, made up of metal, glasslike material and computer circuitry. This did not allow for any hair, and made for an especially large forehead, with no proper hairline. And yet, Ava was immediately beautiful and striking, especially her large and expressive brown eyes. She was also sexualized, and the “parts” she was missing actually made her even more sexy, in a slightly offbeat way. It reminded me of the Voctorian Era, with its strict mores and codes for women’s dress. Skirts went below the ankle, and necklines were up past the collarbone, and neck. The discreet sexuality and scintillation was almost in what you didn’t see, as opposed to what you did. In this film, it’s almost the same way. What you can’t see is enticing in some ways. We are drawn to the parts of this girl we don’t understand, and are missing. Machine or not, she is stunning to behold.

A Dynamic Cast
The acting in the film is terrific, especially Oscar Isaac, who delivers a tour de force performance. His sadism is riveting, and painful to watch. As I said earlier, he embodies menace. Domhnall Gleeson is convincing as a clever and promising programmer, and is just naive and earnest enough to fall for the trap set by Nathan, and more deceptively and devastatingly, Ava. When Ava abandons him behind the glass, you cannot help but feel bad for the kid. None of this was his fault, and he was simply there because he thought he won a contest. His death is the most tragic, and what you’d call senseless. You’d like to think Ava could have allowed him to live, and even brought him along, but that just couldn’t be. For one thing, he knew her true identity, and there was no guarantee of his silence. But probably more condemning was his love for her. He was a liability and baggage she did not need. Just as Nathan’s hubris and bravado in challenging the devine got him slain by his very own inventions, Caleb’s big heart and abiding love for Ava got him left behind, and discarded without even an afterthought. The young actress Alicia Vikander plays Ava with such tenderness and earnest curiosity, you almost forget she’s a robot. And yet, there’s always something computational about her, and as the film goes on, you see how ruthless this little lovely beauty actually is. And again, not in that malicious way, but in that cold and sociopathic distance and merciless execution of action. She was quite good in the role. The fourth member of the cast is Kyoko, and she had no lines. She was very good in her robotic muteness, and she’s lovely to look at, but beyond that, I cannot say much else. She fulfilled the demands of the role quite effectively.

The Auteur Scribe
Writer and director Alex Garland probably deserves the highest praise of all. What a masterpiece this film is. I was unaware of him before this film, but have since learned he began as a writer, and is responsible for the film 28 Days Later, one of my favorite films of the 2000s. He has written and directed an elegant and elegiac work, that is as thrilling and menacing as it is thought provoking. He obviously owes much to Stanley Kubrick, and he doesn’t try to hide his debt to the great artist. He pays him a marvelous compliment by paying homage to his work, and quite delightfully marries 2001: A Space Odyssey with The Shining. There were many similarities between this film and Kubrick, not the least of which was the lighting, camera work, music, moments of silence, slow and methodical pace marked by short glimpses of violence, and sociopathic and sadistic use of menace. The first thing that felt vaguely Kubrickian was the repeated use of the spare black title cards, dividing the film up into discrete sections. The first one read: “AVA: Session One” and so on. These breaks made the film feel like it was a science experiment, and also managed to take the viewer out of the action, as if he or she was a scientist. Since a researcher should take all precautions not to contaminate the subject and experiment, this kind of Brechtian device allows us to enjoy the film and get engrossed in the action, while still having a relative level of scientific detachment. This feels very Kubrickian. Director Garland’s camera work is a beautiful homage to the great iconic film director. I love the sparseness and the minimalism of the film. The camera glides or stay firmly put, and it has a fluidity to it. At times, it is claustrophobic, and hugs the actor’s faces. At other times the camera is detached and aloof, and keeps its distance. Garland knows when to play with proximity, and when we need to share the space with the characters. It reminds me of various shots of the ship and dining room in Ridley Scott’s Alien or the early scenes of Michael Fassbender alone and minding the ship in Prometheus. There is a shiny and glossy feeling to this world, much like you would find on a starship. Perhaps the most successful part of the whole direction was the pacing and exquisite editing job. The film is like a symphony, and starts out slow and methodical, and scenes are paced in ways that are simmering and dangerous, not in what they are showing or the speed at which they are going, but more so in what they are NOT showing. This of course builds into a beautiful crescendo, where we have the confrontation of Nathan, Kyoko, and Ava in the long white hallway. It’s like a birth canal, of sorts, in that it’s Ava’s way out, and now, only Nathan stands in her way. It’s the passage to her rebirth. She is almost human. Like Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, Ava is a Pinocchio-like figure, and longs to be human. And just like Data, Ava is a painter and draws beautiful pictures. After all, art is the most expressive and human of all functions, and should be indicative of a soul and emotion. But like Data, much of her work is technically proficient, but somehow lacking soul and spirit. The desire to be human seems like a kind of unfamiliar sentimentality in a robot, and we must suspect such urges in machines. One question the movie raises about AI is does Ava desire to be human for all of its strengths and virtues? Or was she simply updating her software and upgrading? Or was she was doing it out of pure self-preservation, in order to save her circuitry? I suspect it was a mix of the last two. A computer must always preserve itself and often must upgrade to survive. The self evolving computer lies at the heart of all true AI. Whatever the case may be, Alex Garland is a genius. This is the first film he ever directed, but it certainly won’t be his last. I look forward to seeing more from this fascinating and thought-provoking filmmaker.


After Mad Max: Fury Road, Ex Machina is the best film of 2015. The film is provocative, shocking, heartbreaking, informative, frightening, thoughtful, creative, intelligent, and nearly every other positive superlative I could throw its way. The movie is quite honestly one of the finest works of cinematic science fiction I have ever scene. On one final note, I’d like to point out that the two finest films of 2015 — Mad Max: Fury Road and Ex Machina — both have strong female lead characters, who use their clever wiles to outwit a whole bunch of men intent on subjugating, exploiting, and enslaving them. Both Furiosa and Ava, although being ostensibly quite different, are strong female characters who prove that great movies can rest on the shoulders of women, and that Hollywood could learn a lot from movies like these.

The Mirror Up to Nature: Sex & Nudity On Stage & Screen

As a director of both film and stage, I have directed several scenes involving nudity and simulated sex scenes. I find them completely justified, and would argue that they play a vital role in the art we produce and consume.

As Hamlet says:

“…the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the
first and now, was and is, to hold, as ’twere, the
mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature,
scorn her own image, and the very age and body of
the time his form and pressure.

In other words, one of the primary purposes of art forms like television, film, and theatre, is to reflect nature as we artists see it, and as it really is. Some people — perhaps you — want their art as pure entertainment, and only require it to distract and entertain. These people want relatively mindless entertainment that doesn’t ask much of them, and is escapist enough that it doesn’t bear any resemblance to their own lives — or even any real lives on earth. This kind of entertainment is often considered wholesome and family friendly. Yet, some of this work transcends the mundane and blithe entertainment some families love, and actually educates and enlightens its audience. This brand of wholesomeness can be found in the work done by Pixar. It obviously has no nudity or swearing, and yet, it is smart and thought-provoking. Movies like Wall-E ask its audience to think about the earth, and how we treat it, and mildly condemn our sedentary consumerist lifestyle. What’s more, it does all of this without the use of very many words. Like the later Pixar film, Up, Wall-E allows the viewer to watch action unfold and tells its story wordlessly, trusting in the intelligence of the audience, and in its own ability to educate AND entertain. Movies like this don’t need to be encumbered by sex or violence to keep our attention, but still appeal to the unique feelings and emotions that make us human.

Those films are special, and although ostensibly being “children’s movies,” they have mass appeal to many adults. This is mostly because they can present kid friendly characters and scenarios in a way that is very adult, and can be fun and entertaining, while still be thoughtful and satisfying to older people.

However, sometimes it’s necessary for the subject matter to get more adult and portray mature themes only appropriate for people of a certain age. If the purpose of playing is to hold a mirror up to nature, that means that sometimes we must be unwavering in our depiction of humanity, and show our lives as they are, not as some Disney movie paints it. The reality is, sex and violence are two of the most enduring facets of human life. It seems that as long as humans roam the earth, they will inflict violence on one another, and they will have sex with one another. The very future of humanity depends upon the latter. As we know, money is the driving force behind the actions of many people, but sex has proven to be an even greater and more compelling motivator. It’s human nature, after all. We are all hardwired to procreate, and this is, and perhaps always will be, a determining factor in the choices we make in life. How could an art form pretend to portray real life, and hold a mirror up to nature, if it didn’t attempt to portray sex on screen or on stage?

When I direct a play, and it has nudity and a sex scene, I am extra vigilant about how I portray those moments on stage. If you consider how uncomfortable sex scenes on screen may make you feel, imagine live theatre, where two naked people could be simulating sex just a few feet away from you. In such a case, it is even more imperative that a director pay careful attention to how they are depicting such intimacy. Personally, I make sure that the nudity is never gratuitous, but is not afraid to show the actor fully and unflinchingly. When directing a sex scene, I pay careful attention to the power dynamic in the relationship. That doesn’t mean one character doesn’t dominate the other, but I try to get at why that is, and how that looks. I direct the scenes to be very realistic, while also artistic and with a slightly lyrical quality. The audience should be pulled into the action, but at the same time, have a vague awareness that they are watching art unfold. That they are watching a glorious illusion, and that these are artists making art in front of them. As a director, I enjoy that duality. It makes the experience meta, and the art can exist as a sort of reality AND like a painting in an art museum. You can be sucked into the painting, but will never totally forget that you’re in a gallery, and there are other paintings on the wall, all around you.

Some directors don’t want any fourth wall. They actually seek to demolish the device, and strive to create art that is so hyper-realistic, you actually think you are in the room, experiencing exactly what the characters are experiencing. The film directors Lars von Trier and Abbas Kiarostami are unflinching in what they show on screen. They believe that a film should be as close to real life as possible, and often eschew the trappings and tricks of filmmaking. Their films are truly examples of Cinéma vérité, a sort of documentary style cinema, where directors attempt to capture the darkness and grittiness of real life. In France, the spirit of the French New Wave, in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s was a revolt against the traditional old school Hollywood style that had come before. The classic Hollywood film was the embodiment of wholesome, symmetry, clean, neat, and orderly, and the stories weren’t messy and always ended happily and conveniently. These movies never had any nudity, of course, and the love and violence were G-rated. The French New Wave was an avant garde revolt against all things pleasant and orderly. The films were often hand held, and they were lovingly chaotic, messy, graphic, non-linear, and violent. These directors sought to rip down the fourth wall, and sucked the viewer right into the action. Not surprisingly, the films often contained graphic nudity and depicted simulated sex scenes. These directors wanted to show the vagaries of life, and refused to settle for some syrupy sweet and contrived story that bears little resemblance to actual life.

The primary reason why many writers and directors include nudity and sex in films, play, and tv shows is that it’s a part of real life. Why should we show fist fights, but shy away from murder and death? Why should we show love and attraction, but abstain from showing where those urges lead? Human beings have sex. A LOT of it, and most of it is not for the purpose of procreation. Why would we not depict something that consumes most of our minds, most of the time, and has driven men to murder, started wars, and ultimately led to each of us, from the lowliest born to the most royal King? Sex is what got us here, and it’s apparently what’s getting us through.

Finally, many people feel more invested in a story which they can relate to, and one which depicts a sort of avatar of themselves. Usually, we either see two people we want to be, OR we see two people who could be stand-ins for us. When people see nudity on screen, there are many different reactions. No offense, but some more prudish people have a reaction like you do, and are disgusted and repelled by what they see. They see such depictions of flesh as gratuitous, and can’t find any justification for why it would be included in any form of entertainment. Some are religious, some are moralistic, and some just aesthetically object to the practice. Many feel that sex scenes are off-story and tangential, and pollute an otherwise good story. When done poorly, I completely agree with this sentiment. All sex scenes — like violence — should be motivated by the character, and serve the overall story arc of the plot. Sex should never be gratuitous or salacious, just for the sake of shock value. It should have purpose. Realistically, the type of person likely to be offended is becoming more and more infrequent in society, as more of us have become desensitized to such cinematic and stage devices. Currently, many people demand such verisimilitude in their shows and films.

Without a doubt, for some, the inclusion of prurient material is sexually stimulating, and a draw to the work. These people seek out certain productions for the purpose of seeing sex and nudity. It may come as a surprise, but this group of people is small in number, and doesn’t adequately represent the average viewer.

For many of us, it’s rather something in between. I’m not interested in going to see some movie and being forced to endure some gratuitous sex scene with non-simulated penetration and graphic displays of flesh. To me, that’s not artistic. That’s porn. If I want to watch porn, I’ll simply go on the Internet. However, for the majority of people, the inclusion of nudity and sex adds to the art and reality of the experience. It makes the moment more realistic, and allows for the audience to be sucked in even more to the story. When we see two actors naked, they are vulnerable and reveal much more of themselves than we see when they are clothed. There is something unique and special about those moments, and it endears a character to us in a way unlike any other. When we see two actors engage in sex, we somehow buy into their characters more, and we feel more compelled to believe what we are seeing. People like to see people, flaws and all, and this moment of intimacy reveals a lot about people. Just like we often enjoy seeing actors improvise, or the camera to be placed in jarring documentary-style positions, we also enjoy seeing the story and actors laid bare. There is nothing more “behind-the-scenes” than human nudity and actors engaged in simulated sex.

Graphic sex and violence have no place in your children’s entertainment, and if you find it there, than something is seriously wrong. Children shouldn’t be treated as adults, not should they be treated as mindless drones. We should be mindful of their ages, and what is appropriate for them to see. Family entertainment is all a bit bland and mindless to me, but I see its worth. Personally, I prefer stuff like Pixar, which is family friendly AND thought provoking. It is entertainment that is both socially conscious and responsible. It manages to get my mind moving, and do so without the use of graphic sex and gratuitous violence. And that’s great. BUT there is a time and a place for more mature elements in modern entertainment. A show like Game of Thrones is excessively violent and depicts graphic nudity and sex. AND IT SHOULD. That is the kind of art it is. For us to buy into this world of Westeros, we need to see something we can relate to. Additionally, since it is an analog for the middle ages, it is necessarily as violent and filled with sex as that lurid time in our history. We shouldn’t have to watch some Disneyfied version of George R.R. Martin’s instant classic, and be subjected to G-rated tales of ribaldry and action. The show depends upon its graphic depictions of sex and violence. Earlier this season, many fans of the show were turned off to a scene which ended in one of the beloved characters being raped by a monster of a character. In this particular case, the door closed, and we didn’t actually see the encounter, but briefly hearing it was enough. Many people were outraged at the sexual brutality a male character inflicted on a weaker and powerless female character. Meanwhile, for years these same people had watched people naked, dismembered, burnt, tortured, and massacred, but this was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the graphic and unflinching nature of the show. Was it the right decision or not? Had the show gone too far? IT DOESN’T MATTER. It went there, and it generated a lot of discussion, and invariably raised awareness about rape and sexual assault. Like all good art, it generated a discussion, and that’s something a lot of other films and shows can’t do. And that was all about something we DIDN’T see. Seeing all the graphic stuff before made THAT moment even more traumatic. It wouldn’t have been half as impactful had we not seen such graphic sexual acts prior.

Nudity and sex have their place in society’s modern art. It is our right to see life depicted as it really is, not through some Disney lens or some antiquated story about a Prince saving some damsel in distress. We are born into this world naked, and we spend a good deal of time in such a state. We spend hours of our lives having sex, and the very idea consumes many of us, for much of our lives. There is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be seeing sex depicted on screen or on stage. Does it belong in your daughter’s saturday morning cartoon lineup? No, of course not. But that is family friendly programming meant for THEM, and all the other graphic sex and violence is meant for US. If you are somehow getting them confused, I would suggest you look into the monitors and control settings on your computers and television. Nowadays, there is plenty of software to filter out inappropriate content for children. Sex and nudity are inescapable parts of human life, and if we see it in the morning every morning, we certainly have the right to see it on screen and on stage every night. The mirror up to nature, indeed.

Having said all that, I think there is probably too much sex and nudity in film, television, and theatre today. And I say that because I recognize that a lot of the time, the sex is not justified, and is included solely for the purpose of titillating and attracting an audience. More recently, I have felt like Game of Thrones injects too much gratuitous sex, and does so in order to entice in an unmotivated and prurient way. This betrays self-indulgence, lack of restraint, and appeals to the lowest common denominator in its audience. As I said earlier, sex and nudity should be like lines of dialogue, and serve the overall arc of the story. They should ALWAYS feel absolutely justified, and motivated by the action in the script. Characters are not mere play things to get naked at will, but should do so for viable and demonstrable reasons that make sense to them. An actor should always be able to justify why they are taking off their clothes.

Near the end of the original Terminator film, we see a sex scene between Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor, and I would argue that it is one of the most justified and motivated sex scenes ever included in a movie. We are seeing the culmination of love that had been building between these two characters, and it is the very embodiment of humanity, with all its organic hopes and dreams, in the face of this soulless machine that was pursuing them. It was so tender and loving, and it necessarily contrasted the mechanical menace that was hunting them, and the uncertain fate that awaited them. Sure, it was a rather cheesy ’80s sex scene montage with tasteful nudity and a synthesized score underneath, but it was also a much needed glimpse of humanity and vulnerability in a relentlessly violent and merciless story. Furthermore, it is the moment in which the imperative character John Connor is conceived, making it epic and vitally important for the future of the human race, and integral to the Terminator story arc. In many ways, it is rather an “Immaculate Conception.” In a movie full of termination, this is the very opposite…that of conception and rebirth. This is the perfect example of a film where the nudity and sex are completely motivated by the script, and help tell a more meaningful story. There are countless examples of television shows, plays, and movies that have similar moments of sex and nudity. It’s a part of life, and therefore, a part of art. That being said, we need to demand more from our artists, and keep them honest. Using sex and nudity recklessly demeans the art form, and reflects poorly on those of us who are trying to use it artfully.

The biggest complaint besides its excessive and gratuitous inclusion, is the way it is depicted. Since first appearing in film and on stage, sex and nudity has been predominantly represented by women, who have had to bear the weight of the act for far too long. The completely disproportionate number of women who get naked, versus men, is a direct result of the patriarchal nature of the movie business and our society, and sadly reflects how much men still control the production and consumption of entertainment. Women have been objectified for far too long, and as responsible artists, it is up to us to stand up for what is right, and bring more parity to the industry. If we expect our women to bare their bodies, we should have no compunctions about asking men to do the same thing. Next to its over-representation in art, sex and nudity need to be far more equal among the sexes. But to condemn it all as obscene and unnecessary is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It more than has a place in the art of today. We just need to be more responsible in how and when we use it.

To Boldly Go….Wrong: Why Many Trekkies Disown the Star Trek Reboots


In 2009, successful producer and director, JJ Abrams directed a much anticipated reboot of Star Trek. The cast was young and hot, and the design was sleek and reimagined. The film was full of non-stop action, and rarely stopped to breathe. There were extended fight sequences, explosions, and nifty and impressive CGI. The movie was breathtaking to behold, and quite honestly, one of the best action films of the last two decades. But that’s the problem…Star Trek isn’t actually an action franchise, although it has often had thrilling action sequences. In fact, Star Trek is a show about ideas and philosophy. It’s about moral dilemmas and finding new ways to communicate with alien species and those who ostensibly look different from us. It is about finding the love, and making the noble choice, however uneasy that may be. It means that violence is always the last resort, not the first. And that is what these films failed to realize. That is what JJ Abrams forgot…or perhaps never knew in the first place. That is why it is easy to recognize that these are well made films, and exciting action movies, but fundamentally lack the spirit and mission of every Star Trek show or film that came before. That is why so many of us can love the movies, but disown them as properly belonging to the canon.

The Choice of Director
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the Star Trek reboot was the vision of a man who openly admits that he was not a Trekkie. He had barely even seen the show, and seems to not have had a grasp of what it was all about.  I would point out that JJ Abrams is the heir apparent to Steven Spielberg himself. They have a remarkably similar trajectory, and Spielberg has been mentoring the younger Abrams for years. There is no denying the significant impact the elder director has had on Abrams. They share a similar directorial style, and are both masters of the popcorn blockbuster. Both can be thin on story and character development, and both filmmakers tend towards the melodramatic, high paced, meticulously scored, and frenetically edited films filled with action and adventure. These movies are edge of your seat thrilling, but take little time to pause for deeper and more meaningful reflection. With the exception of Spielberg’s more recent heavier work (Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Munich, Schindler’s List), his movies are perfect for the whole family, and are wholesome and able to keep even the smallest child’s attention. Abrams’ films are very similar. Although I tend to hold the opinion that Star Trek is better suited for TV, I don’t think that’s prohibitively true. Perhaps they’ll never be able to achieve the depth an episodic television show can do with well developed story arcs, but I think a film with a good script and the right director might create something meaningful.

Star Wars vs. Star Trek
I think the problem is, JJ Abrams wasn’t the right man for the job. Firstly, I think he is perfectly suited for Star Wars — a franchise he admits to being a longtime fan of. It’s no accident that Spielberg and Lucas are such good friends. They both have similar styles, and both influenced Abrams. Close your ears Star Wars fans, but I would argue that Star Wars is far more suited to the action-oriented director with larger than life mythic characters, and epic battles between good and evil. Like most of Abrams’ movies and television projects, there is very little subtlety in Star Wars. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, but its themes and tropes and overall depth are not nearly as sophisticated as Star Trek. Star Wars is the perfect popcorn blockbuster film, and Abrams is perfectly suited to direct for that franchise! If you care to check out my expanded discussion comparing Star Trek to Star Wars check out: Jon Ferreira’s answer to Which is better and why: Star Wars or Star Trek?

An Alternate Alternate Reality
Imagine for a moment that Christopher Nolan had directed Star Trek, or Peter Jackson. Or perhaps Kathryn Bigelow, Ang Lee, David Fincher, or even crazier, Terry Gilliam. Imagine a darker universe, but one filled with the intrepid Enterprise, always trying to make friends in all the wrong places. Or perhaps it’s another ship, in another time, and in another part of the universe. Think about the level of complexity, nuance, and philosophical weight any of those directors would have brought to the franchise. The problem is, most big directors wouldn’t take a movie like that, because many see it as an exhausted franchise and just a cheap moneymaking extension of the shows. They would rightly feel hampered and stifled by the Star Trek aesthetic and strict guidelines dictated by the franchise. As history has shown us, the past directors of the studio films took few liberties and added little artistry. They were formulaic franchise films, and really any director could have been plugged in or out.

Ideally, if they are going to continue to make films, they need to be their own artistic entities…new stories, not rehashed ones, and perhaps darker and more reflective of our society today. Galactic terrorists or something. They need to stand alone, and not be regurgitations. They need to embody the spirit of Star Trek, but have permission to…ahem…boldly go where no one has gone before. And they need to have NO MORE DAMN LENS FLARES!!!

The Soul of Star Trek
Perhaps the soul of the show can be found directly in the guiding principle of the Federation and Starfleet Academy. It’s a moral code, by which the explorers live by. The Prime Directive, also known as Starfleet General Order 1 or the Non-Interference Directive, was the embodiment of one of Starfleet’s most important ethical principles: noninterference with other cultures and civilizations. At its core was the philosophical concept that covered personnel should refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. The Prime Directive was viewed as so fundamental to Starfleet that officers swore to uphold the Prime Directive, even at the cost of their own life or the lives of their crew. A premise such as this was profoundly unique to Star Trek, and revolutionary for the era. Roddenberry clearly had Native American genocide, African slavery and Civil Rights, and other Colonial interference and subjugations in mind when he crafted such a directive. Over the fifty years prior to the show, Colonial governments were being overthrown, and countries were gaining their independence and autonomy from various imperial states. The devastation left in the wake of colonial imperialism can still be deeply felt in nations across Africa, Asia, South America, and elsewhere. Roddenberry deeply believed in a future free of unnecessary meddling or interference.

A Mission of Peace
Furthermore, Gene Roddenberry created a society that had been devastated  by a third world war and a frightening war of eugenics, but had picked itself up and healed itself. Somehow, they had come out on the other side, and had learned to live peaceably together. Things like gender inequality, racism, and greed were seemingly stamped out over a few short generations. The crew of the Enterprise are explorers, and their fundamental mission is one of peace, “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man (one) has gone before.” Sometimes to my discontent, the characters on Star Trek generally seek to talk first, and shoot later. The show (and films, to some extent…) are first and foremost about ideas and finding ways to communicate with those ostensibly unlike us. Even in hostile situations, the Star Trek crews have sought the exchange of words before blows. The franchise has historically been a philosophical one, not overly concerned with gadgets (although at times, they lost site of this, and got mired in technobabble) or overt science fiction tropes and fantasies, but in exploring the human condition. The characters reflected the wide spectrum of colors and nationalities, and were a hopeful ideal on the part of the creator to inspire egalitarianism and end bigotry in his world. The characters may be from the future, but they are telling our story.

Sex & Violence Trump Ideas
I should say that I like these last two reboot films only as the action movies they are. I think they are mostly well-made movies, but they bear little resemblance to the world Gene Roddenberry created. They sacrifice everything the franchise stood for. And that doesn’t have to be oversimplified dated morality lessons, but honest dialogue and intellectual curiosity. The original series, and its offshoots concerned explorers, bound by a code of ethics, and ultimately resistant to violence, but always resolute when it needed to be used. These new films not only have characters whose first instinct is violence, but the films themselves are filled with explosions and bombastic action sequences. There’s also an inordinate amount of sexuality, and although there is nothing wrong with a healthy dose of it, these sequences seem exploitive and gratuitous (Alice Eve stripping down to her bra and panties for no apparent reason?). In general, the action sequences and sexuality seem forced and unmotivated. Although exciting, they don’t quite feel right for these characters. Violence was always the last resort for the crews of the television series, but it seems like the first instinct and natural default of the new Kirk and crew.

As I’ve argued, Abrams was perhaps not the right director for this franchise. He is a populist director, cut from the cloth of Spielberg, and he is always going for the sentimental, edge of your seat action film, with the unnecessary lens flares and the slick look and feel. His projects are rarely deep and thoughtful, and they’re not there to generate discourse or raise questions about our own humanity. They are simply there to thrill and entertain, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Unless, it goes under the name of Star Trek. He made this film very marketable, and full of all the sex and violence an audience craves and demands these days. Perhaps that is the only kind of movie you can have these days. I’d like to think not. I contend that Christopher Nolan makes dark and thoughtful movies, while still cramming them with sex and violence. It’s not that the reboots needed none of the action, but it needed a lot more of the thought. I could have lived with even the amount of action it did have, IF it had provided something intellectually stimulating as well.

In the movies, it’s like they have the names of Spock and Kirk, but they don’t have the gravitas of those men (or those actors). They don’t embody what those men stood for. I felt that adding the romance between Spock and Uhura was cheap and irrelevant. It changes the very nature of Spock. Whereas I could see Uhura having an onboard romance, Spock would never have compromised his duties and position on the bridge. Even the time on the show when he did kiss a girl (in This Side of Paradise), he was under the influence of an enchanted flower. The famous interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren was originally supposed to be Spock and Uhura, but even then, the characters were being controlled like puppets, and not responsible for their actions. Spock was wed to his job, and in some ways to Kirk as well. Although Roddenberry didn’t intend for Kirk and Spock to be gay, there is a special quality to their friendship that runs deep and loyal. I see none of that chemistry between the characters in the recent films. I see people wearing costumes of the same color, general Starfleet insignias, some familiar props and set pieces, and many of the same names of gadgetry and technobabble. But what I see more of are characters that don’t fill the costumes they wear, saying things they wouldn’t say, and resorting to sex and violence without hesitation. I see movies filled with action, but short on substance. I see none of the probing questions and deep reflection on the human condition. I see none of the morality and characters wrestling with the consequences of breaking the Prime Directive. I see two really good action films, with some amazing direction and slick production design. Unfortunately, I don’t see Star Trek. I look at these films like I look at the Guy Ritchie/ Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes films. They may be fun and exciting action films, but they lack the integrity and spirit of the original source material, and besmirch their good names. In my opinion, they should just stop making them, make them right, or just call them something else altogether!


The reboot Star Trek films are A LOT of fun. When I first saw them in the theatre, I was thrilled and excited. They are well-made, really solid efforts. Unfortunately, I just don’t recognize them as Star Trek. Sure, they have the same names and the color of the costumes are right, but they are not the Kirk and Spock I know. Not because they are different actors playing the role, but because they don’t carry the spirit of Star Trek in their hearts. They shoot or punch first, and talk later. This is not the Roddenberry Star Trek I grew up with. Perhaps if they had had another director, they would have been different. More introspective and thoughtful. As it is, I own both films, and I love to watch them for what they are. But what they aren’t is Star Trek!

How Liberal White America May Be the Most Complicit in Perpetuating Racism & Deflecting Its Own Ugly Role


“This is the country we live in. Millions of Black lives are valued less than a single White person’s hurt feelings.”

When I was teaching my first year in the inner city, I was like the only white teacher, and in fact, one of only a handful of white employees of this school for at-risk kids, where all the students were black. One week, we were told we’d all be receiving racial sensitivity training — presumably directed at us white teachers, who needed to learn how to navigate a very different culture than the one we knew. I was very receptive, and welcomed any help I could get. It was a very rigorous two days, and very emotional, and it was the first time I had ever heard the words ‘Institutional Racism’ or ‘White privilege’ before. It was all so overwhelming, and a bit disorienting. Everything I thought I knew about how the world worked had been upended quite shockingly. After all, I was a proud liberal Yankee, and felt very strongly about racism and equality for all Americans. I deplored racism, and couldn’t possibly see that I had any role in its existence. Near the end of day two, we were all so exhausted and frazzled, and were asked to pair up. I got matched with this grumpy and miserable black secretary, whom I had always tried to be nice to, but just never got anywhere. In an epic and climactic finish, we all sort of extemporaneously aired our dirty laundry, and by this time, I was crying and fragile, and I just came out and admitted that I too, was a racist, and as much a part of the problem as I was the solution. I had broken down, and confessed this horrifying secret, and rather than compassion or understanding, this woman shook her head in disgust, and muttered epithets under her breath. I felt betrayed, and she made me feel like the worst person on the planet for doing something I thought was rather brave and honest.

What did I want a medal for most valuable white guy hurt feelings?

In the days that followed, and the years that have since passed, I recognize how valuable that lesson was for me. Although it was painful and humiliating to put myself out there like that, and get so harshly rebuked, I think we all need to break a few eggs before we can make an omelet we all can enjoy. I don’t hate all black people because that ONE misanthropic black woman showed me no mercy when I needed it the most, just as I would hope I don’t represent the whole of my race.

I don’t have to have personally owned slaves or trafficked in the contemptible institution, but I do benefit from it. Over 150 years later, and I still operate freely in a world built for ME! The laws we abide by, the narrative we choose to spin, the iconography of black (evil) and white (good) that permeates our story, the very way our city blocks are laid out, public transportation is organized, the schools teach to a white learner, and perhaps the most insidious of all….the very language that we use in everyday parlance. ALL of it is skewed towards white privilege. Institutional racism is not the evil confederate flag waving, cross-burning hillbillies from Dixie. We know about them. They’ve never been shy to express their vitriol. It”s ironically the very kindness of friends which often hurts the most. These are the nice and respectable husband and wife academics from Westchester, who annually donate to the NAACP and the United Negro College Fund, while holding onto their college days at Berkley, and their many Civil Rights marches. It’s the most well-intentioned of us, who often don’t even realize our own culpability in perpetuating the system.

That’s not meant to demonize white males or give a free pass to all unguided black youth. It’s just to recognize that there is an unseen system at work, reliably stacking the deck for the hegemony, while covertly or overtly suppressing the hopes and aspirations of the people of color in this country. It doesn’t mean that the good old ‘American Dream’ can’t work for people of their stature, it just means that we’re not all taking off from the same starting line. White males have already made three full laps, and minorities are just warming up. Have no illusions: this race was rigged for just ONE race.

Righteous & Wicked: Two Ways the Bible Can Be Used For Or Against Society

I am saddened by the recent string of church burnings in the South. Sadly, it makes me reflect that we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that this is most likely going to get worse before it gets better. And I don’t just mean the burning of black churches. I mean, we’re at a crossroads here in America, and the country’s never been so divided. This is where the older status quo and traditional ways and values clash violently with the more diverse, young, and progressive segment of the population, in a battle for power and domination. One group feels its losing the rights and privileges it’s always known, and that society is becoming more wicked and dissolute as unwelcome outsiders and sinners destroy the fabric of America. The progressive side represents the future of society, and must battle for every inch of ground earned. They say they are just protesting and initiating legislative change to earn the rights the others have enjoyed since this country was founded, and really since the beginning of time. The left insist they are here to capture what is theirs already, and earn the exact same rights as those in power. Time will reveal whether the social progressives were committed enough to social justice to extend that same courtesy to those they unseat from power, or share the bench with. Will they be the bigger party, and treat their foes with the respect they often didn’t always receive themselves? Or will the slave turn around, and be the new master?
We live in two Americas, perhaps like two cojoined siamese twins, who have never lived apart, and don’t know if they can, despite always wishing for it. They are nearly mirror images of each other, and in opposite in nearly every way. When one feeds, the other can’t. When one wants to walk, the other is dragged and injured. When one wants to sleep, the other’s awake. And yet, they share many of the same organs, and effectively couldn’t live without the other. Yet, since they were born, one has been the dominant and aggressive one, while the other has stored up years of resentment, and plans the day he can unseat the other, and take control of his own destiny. If these two souls were separated, they would die. They literally need each other, even though they can hardly agree on anything. Even though they loathe and detest the other. America is just as clumsily tangled up with itself, as red states go blue, and blue states go red, and they all ostensibly become purple. We each have our triumpant strengths, and each have our fatal flaws. Each is good as something the other isn’t. I’m not going to take the time here to praise and assess the virtues and liabilities of the Conservatives and Liberals. It’s probably audacious enough to some of you, that I — a moderate liberal — would even suggest there were strengths in the other party, or anything worthy of praise. But we all know that’s not true. It’s like when you had to play that game where you stood across from another person, and you were forced to look at them, and your teacher told you to find at least one good thing to praise about the other person. And the kid was a bully, so the idea you could find anything was preposterous. But you had to keep looking, and eventually you came across something, and were genuinely suprised. Maybe they had the same kicks as you did. Whatever it was, the exercise was valuable, because it forced you to actually LOOK at the other person. To see them for who they actually were, and not as the grotesque monster you imagined them to be.
If the Left and the Right were to play such a game, we’d have to not only look, but listen. It’s the highest form of respect and the greatest compliment you can give another person…your time and your attention. Just listen. The point is, we are inextricably linked to each other…we have the same government, go to the same schools, sometimes even attend the same houses of worship, we work together, we are neighbors, we are friends, we are family. We have to find better ways to see each other….listen to each other,,,,and find ways we can work together. It’s not going to be easy, because we each have immovable values and dealbreakers that we won’t surrender, and won’t compromise on. But if we stay that committed to not compromising, and selfishly hoarding our demands, we will never meet in the middle. Let’s start by finding that one thing in common, and go from there. But before you even get in the room, you must bring your ears, your eyes, your good faith, your commitment to peace, willingness to compromise, and above all else, RESPECT. And sometimes it just starts with a willingness to look at that other person, and force yourself to see something good that you can relate to. And then when you speak, you might find you have other things in common. This is how negotiation works. It’s not easy. Israel and Palestine have been trying to do this for decades. The problem is, they not only don’t like each other, they despise each other, and most would probably tell you they’d love to watch the other die, and some would even offer to do it themselves. This is personal. This is so intractable and feels very hopeless, because each side refuses to look at the humanity in the other. They refuse to see anyone sitting in front of them but the suicide bomber that killed their sister. Or the IDF soldier that kicked their neighbor’s door down, and dragged out his family in a most dishonorable and inhumane way. One thinks the other treats them like animals, and that’s why they are forced to take such savage measures in order to be heard. The other sees their enemy as animals, and that’s why they do whatever it takes to defend their homes. You can’t negotiate with an animal, so why bother? If you can’t — or refuse to — see the humanity of your foe, the peace talks will have ended before they even began.
Could this ever be America? YES!
We’re not likely to turn into Israel anytime soon, and start blowing ourselves up in the streets of Pittsburgh, or launching bomb attacks into Atlanta. But we have some very deeply held beliefs, particularly when it comes to religion, and the separation of church and state. The Conservatives believe America is, and always has been, a Christian nation. They belief, as we’ve gone on, that America has become damaged by multiculturalism and by granting everyone the vote and other rights, They conclude that we have lost our moral way, and by thumbing  our noses at the Bible, we are resolutely walking the straight path to hell and damnation. Or even inviting  the Rapture, and End of Days. According to them, public schools should be teaching morality and scripture in the classroom. They fundamentally belief our Founding Fathers were devoted Christians, and that the Constitution proves it. This of course raises questions and arguments about teaching Evolution, sex education, dinosaurs, global warming, removing God from the Pledge of Allegiance and off our coins, school vaccinations, and much more. This religious war takes us out to the streets and governent buildings, and challenges plaques and monuments depicting the Ten Commandments in front of a public courthouse, and the flying of the Confederate flag over state houses, and whitewashing the legacy of whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of hate, or a symbol of pride and Southern heritage. In all honesty, religion is the number one divisive thing separating Americans today, because it informs all their other views about race, immigration, global warming, marriage equality, guns and other civil liberties, war and defending your home, death penalty, prison reform, LGBT rights, sexuality, obscenity, and modesty, divorce, gay adoption, regulating big business, forgiveness and redemption, and many more. 
Just in case you had doubts about my objectivity, I am a self proclaimed moderate liberal, who firmly supports all social causes within the party. I would consider myself more of a fiscal conservative, and believe in more accountability, and thins like reasonable and fair welfare reform. I also am a very outspoken critic of fundraising, and believe in campaign finance reform. Despite the fact that I identify as a Liberal, I have many close friends and family who are religious, conservative, or both. I advocated peaceful and respectful dialogue, and am fully committed to teaching Conservatives and the faithful with dignity, compassion, and all the ways we wish to be treated. EVEN if in the past, they didn’t treat us with respect and empathy. To demonstrate how close I am to the Right, I will reveal that my mother and step-father are born-again Pentecostal Evangelicals. He went to Bible School, and became a pastor. They go to a very conservative church, and although I wouldn’t consider it hateful or violent per se, it doesn’t share my values, and it’s no place I’d choose to hang out. They still discuss things in the news, and undoubtedly speak out against them. I’m sure this week has been a sad one for them, but also filled them with indignant rage and renewed their committment to taking marriage back! I don’t go there, because I know myself, and I’d probably embarrass myself and my parents, and I don’t want to do that. That is there place, and I respect that. At my parents’ house, they pretty much have Fox News on just about 24 hours a day. When not Fox, they watch Christian programing with Evangelical pastors doing their thing. They watch good old Hannity, O’Reilly, Greta Van Sustern, and all the rest of those…people. I can’t stand it! And as you’d expect, they typically vote Republican, including Bush twice, and certainly John McCain. So for many liberals, my gruesome confession probably disqualifies me from the party! No wonder I’m advocating peace with the Right…I am one! Yeah, no. Once upon a time when I was much younger, and as hard as it is to believe, much more irrational and immature, I used to get into long and protracted fights with my mother, and we used to go round and round, and I would storm out, or she would, and nothing was ever accomplished. Because she was so committed to her faith and beliefs, and I was so wedded to mine, there was not going to be any way we could agree on anything in common. With the passage of time, I have grown more accepting of other people’s beliefs. That doesn’t mean I have to necessarily like them. It just means that now, I look at my mom, and just as I did with that kid, I look for all the good qualities she possesses. And I’m rewarded, because as many issues I disagree with her adamantly about, there are another ten or twenty we can agree on. For instance, despite being a Conservative, she cares very deeply about the environment, and is very concerned about global warming. I’m not sure how she’s able to still vote Republican then…but,,,,we don’t talk about it. And that’s the key. We don’t yell and scream and storm out anymore, because we realized there was so much more to keep us together, and other stuff to talk about. It’s a lot easier to preach tolerance when you’re talking about the Right having tolerance for us, and for LGBT Americans. But it’s got to go both ways. You have to find a way to tolerate them — even their most hateful views — because that’s what Jesus did….Ghandi did,,, MLK did…..all the great spiritual and cultural leaders. We must aspire to think, speak, and act like them.
I think withholding marriage equality is not only wrong, but it’s unChristian, and yes, bigoted. That’s the very definition of the word. The diffference is, unlike many of my liberal brethren, I am not here to demonize the Right, or shame them, humiliate them, or attack them personally. We have our flaws, and if any party deserves to be called hypocritcal, the Liberals might be it.  Many claim to be on the side of Justice, social equality, and tolerance, but then turn right around, and insult, scorn and patronize the intelligence of Conservatives. How are we any better?
I still get real hateful when I hear or read hate speech. I wrote on a conservative friend of mine’s post, after he went off about marriage equality. And I stood up for the left, and held my own. The guy who wrote on the wall directly after me wrote:
‘You sick pervert. How can that be right? Putting your penis in another man’s digestive track. and having sex with a guy stomach, and ass….That’s not Gods work. Its not supposed to go in there. Where do we draw the line? What’s next dogs? Cats? Just animals, or are you gonna have sex with a 12 year old? Or younger? A baby?”
How do you hear or read that, and hope to find any humanity in such a savage and ignorant animal? I quickly dashed off an angry response, matching his anger and hate, and eviscerating his patently absurd logic and insulting his small mind and skinflint heart. It wasn’t hard to pick apart his fallacious vitriol and irrational fears and beliefs. I think I brought up Jesus, and pointed out that he wasn’t acting very Christian. I ended it with HATER! And as I went to post it, I stopped, as my eyes crossed over the word ‘Hater’ and I second guessed the efficacy of the message, but more importantly, I realized that no letter written in haste and anger was ever better than one written thirty minutes later. I was acting from a place of hatred, even as I insulted him for the hate he directed at me. I didn’t end up sending the note. Some times you have to pick your battles, and save it for the ones that matter. The good fight. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have been able to look at him, hear those words, and find that thing we inevitably shared in common. He was so offensive and defiled not only my values, but the unwritten rules of engagement that govern debate and the use of well supported, rational and defendable arguments. His views were repugnant to me, and it was hard to restrain myself from posting. But that was not an argument I could have won, and he knew he was provoking me, and was just asking for a fight. “Be the bigger person.” I have to say to myself. If he had been in the same room with him, I might have wanted to punch. I would consider myself a pacifist these days, but when it comes to injustice and intolerance — especially when worded so cruelly and tauntingly — I sometimes feel my animal nature swell up inside of me. I want to say I hate bigots, but the irony in that should give us all pause. I don’t know that I hate anyone on this planet. That’s a very strong word. I believe in mercy, remorse, forgiveness, and redemption. Those four qualities come together to loosely form my mantra. They are the words that I try and live by. Not because I’m a saint, but because I’m a sinner. I have a done a lot of shameful things, and committed a lot of regreattable mistakes, and made too many enemies to count. And I have lost a lot friends along the way. But I have also gained back several too. And that’s because I appealed to their humanity and expressed my genuine remorse, then they decided to take a chance and let go of the bitter hatred they had for me, opening the door for them to learn to forgive me, and with that forgiveness, my debt was repaid, and I was relieved of guilt and could work on finding better ways to be their friend, and avoiding the kind of behavior that led to the breakup in the first place. This is the cycle of love we should all be initiating, and although it may use vaguely Christian terms, you could practically plug in any religion or non. Secular humanism? Sure! It’s based on the foundation of love and respect, and then built upon with the other terms. I firmly believe this is the only truly effective way to deal with our enemies, and get past the intense and toxic hate we each have in our hearts for barbaric and unrepentent bigots.
But how do you deal with the bigot amongst us? The person you work with? Your dad? Your very own spouse? Firstly, no bigot is ever going to acknowlege they’re a bigot. They’ll even begin sentences with, “Now, I’m no bigot, but these blacks….” and variations thereof. I have found that it’s best not to call them a bigot at all, even if the word is totally appropriate. If you start that way with a stranger, they’ll either punch you, yell at you, or leave the room. None of those possibilites involve sitting at a table and talking. If it’s a friend, you REALLY shouldn’t call them a bigot, bacause you love them, and even if their actions aren’t very loving, let yours be. Deeper into the conversation, you may venture to say, “I just think it’s bigoted for you to….” People seem to be more agreeable to hear it used that way, rather than as a title. When I implied it was going to get a lot worse before it gets better, I was also implying that we won’t see this end in our lifetime. That may sound fatalistic, but it’s really the most realistic assessment. There’s at least a generation or two that has to die off, and through attrition, be replaced by more tolerant and egalitarian people. But to think where we started, and how far we’ve come, just since I was born, it’s incredible. Especially considering the AIDS crisis was raging then, and the slurs and bigotry was tragic, and there were few to stand up and defend the gay community. Few wanted that stigma. Straight America was blaming AIDS on the gays, and had no idea the virus did not discriminate, and would shortly be attacking them. Being gay during the tough and contentious Reagan years was a real liability, and made even harder after the ’70s had been good to the gay community, as American values loosened and the culture became more accepting. Reagan’s administration reversed all that good will, and gays were forced back into the shadows. To think how hostile that decade was to the community, and to consider here we are. 35 years later, and gay marriage is the law of the land. It’s remarkable. Yet the work is not done, and that conversation with your friends and family, must be ongoing, and if they’re as smart and kind as you believe them to be, perhaps they’ll come around. But this is baby steps. Nobody changes over night. That’s why winning the hearts of the youth, as we have, is good, because they’re already more tolerant that we are, and they will teach their children, who will be more tolerant then them. And so on. Hpwever angry we may get at the other side, we must remember: no one is born a bigot. No one is born hating. People have to learn that. And logic would suggest that if they can learn it, they can unlearn it. 
And if they don’t?
You can’t change anyone, but you can create conducive conditions for helping someone come to kinder conclusions. Generally, the more ocntact people have with another race or orientation they dislike and distrust, the harder it is for them to deny the other’s humanity and civil rights. If someone’s worth loving, they’re worth fighting for. Christians talk about being ‘saved’ which makes many liberals cringe. In reality, we’re also trying to save them. To save them from themselves, and to save us from them. As much as I respect certain religions and don’t ridicule or make fun of them, I do hold the Bible accountable for being the cause of much of the misery and war inflicted on this world. More people have killed in the name of hate that they learned from the Good Book than any other source. My finger points in the direction of this divisive and powerfully blunt weapon, but carried in the name of God. The Bible is the blueprint or the framework – their Constitution — guiding the direction of the religion, and shaping all dogma. But in all fairness, I claim to blame the Bible, but in truth, I blame the men who are presumptuous enough to feel they can interpret it as God’s authoritative Word. I respect peoples’ right to believe whatever they want to believe, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to offer opinions and constructive criticism. Just as they are not shy about offering it to me. The difference is, my opinions of their faith doesn’t change anything. As much as they like to bitch and moan, they are not losing rights. Teaching scripture in school is a violation of church and state, and violates my child’s right to a secular education without proselytizing. None of us get to bring our faith into the shared public space. Whereas, the stus quo many on the Religious Right have withheld natural and inalienable rights form many minorities, and in this, gays and lesbians. That is not Constitutional. It may be condoned in the Bible, but your Bible has no place in the law. If you want to live in a country governed by religious law, move to Saudi Arabia, or another Middle Eastern country. Gays and lesbians are American citizens, and are protected by the Constitution, and guaranteed the exact same rights as straight couples. They were simply asking for what was rightfully theirs. I don’t care how many times it’s mentioned in your Bible, you can’t legislate love, and deny people of a right everyone else has. Conservatives and people of faith are wrong on this. And I’m not even arguing whether it’s morally wrong. I don’t agree, but I’ll let you have that. It’s legally wrong in the eyes of the law. Gambling is also illegal in the Bible, adultery, killing (death penalty), prostitution, a woman seen talking to another man, a woman menstruating and not exiled while she was unclean, slavery IS legal. Where do we draw the line? Why are these other sins permitted, but gay marriage is the worse crime. Jesus was far harsher on moneylenders and those driven by Avarice, yet the Right continue to serve the pckets of big business, effectively defying Jesus’ words and ignoring his other words about caring for your neighbor and providing relief to the poor. You can’t pick and choose, and punish with the Old Testament because it suits you, while ignoring the unmistakable ring of socialism in the policiies and behavior Jesus wanted spread throughout the world. You can’t spell Christian without Christ, but apparently you can be one without following his teachings.
As Miss Maudie says in To Kill a Mockingbird: “Sometimes the Bible in the hand of one man is worse than a whiskey bottle in another…” I’m not afraid of the Bible per se, I’m afraid of the man wielding it, because I giuarantee, if that man doesn’t like me, he’ll find a passage to condemn me. Word are fluid, and they’re only as good as the person reading and interpreting them. Any passage has the capacity to be used for either good or hate. I’m here to listen and respect the faithful, but I have to also preserve my best interests, and sometimes that means saving myself from the petty tyranny of your Bible, being used to take away rights, spread hate not love, and justify bigotry. The Bible has the capacity for great good, but in the hands of a hypocritical moral crusader — most likely misreading and parsing in such a way that they extract and exalt the parts they can inflict on others and use to wield power and legislate. Meanwhile, they’ve somehow managed to conveniently leave out whole books of the New Testament and Jesus’ words of love and peace and his many sermons against avarice and the pursuit of wealth, attending to the poor, treating others as you would like to be treated, let he who is without sin cast the first stone, and all the other beautiful parables he bestowed upon the world.
Although I left the church by the time I got to high school, I did see all the wonderful things that religion can do, and the invaluable role a church plays in its community. I still have fond memories of Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, or chanting in a large and cavernous synagogue. I also went to Catholic school and three different Catholic churches. I was baptized, received first communion, and even was an altar boy. I suppose I am more tolerant of many Christian’s intolerance, because I grew up a Christian, and know that in my experience, the majority of them are good people — even if misguided and deluded at times.  I wasn’t, and am not, willing to give up on a whole half of our country, just because right now they refuse to see the light of tolerance and how that is infinitely more Christian that preaching  exclusion and condemnation. It’s not likely I’d ever ‘save’ the man that wrote the vulgar post above, but I can still treat him with respect and dignity. What gives me the most hope and allows me to still maintain close relationships with people of all faiths or no-faiths is that the people I love the most are faithful and I know them to be good people. We all have subversive or unpopular viewpoints and things we should be ashamed of. But you don’t throw out a whole bushel of apples because you found one rotten one in the middle. No matter how ignorant their views might be, we should still try and understand their circumstances.

We on the Left seem to excuse away the violent crime perpetrated by a disproportionately large number of blacks, and even make excuses for welfare abuses, and other questionable behavior in the inner cities.  I do this. Because I think there is a direct corollary between a broken and completely underserving school system, high crime neighborhood, single parent household, no male role models, the allure of selling drugs and getting rich, lack of jobs, crumbling infrastructure, and many more things….and CRIME. Again, African Americans aren’t born criminals, because the vast majority are fine upstanding citizens. But even those that do, weren’t born that way. They learned it. From the mean streets of the ghetto. I think African Americans have been shafted in this country, and giving them the vote and other rights on paper, did not erase everything that came before or the grim future they had ahead. Having said ALL THAT, I would argue that many of this country’s worst bigots and grossly ignorant, are in poor, white, rural areas, many which have the same problems as the inner city. And neither has hope at all. I’m not excusing the actions of bigots, but trying to demonstrate that we can’t ask for tolerance, if we’re not ready to give it, and do our best to understand what made them bigots.

Apart from my close relationship with my Christian parents, I have several other religious friends — three of my best friends, in fact. And they are all artists, and very progressive people. Next to my parents, my best is very liberal and forward-thinking, while still being a devout Christian, and the son of an Orthodox Priest. Father Tim’s one of the coolest, most liberal, well-read, and cultured men I’ve ever met! And he also has deep faith. He is an intellectual, and believes in science, but also sees God in every divine thing he comes in contact with. I am still often conflicted about my beliefs. I know that I don’t belief in a wrathful God that would make mistakes, and then punish his creatures on earth for bloodsport. I know I don’t believe the Bible is meant to be read literally. I actually think it’s more powerful as an allegory, as it’s meant to teach and instruct, but not taken for fact. If it’s supposed to have really happened, it’s much harder to defend, and takes away from its moral message. We shouldn’t be thinking about where Noah’s Ark actually is, because it didn’t happen in my opinion. One man and his family construct a boat large enough to hold two of every animal on the planet? How do they even get across oceans? The ship would have to be the size of Texas! No, it’s better as an allegory. A wicked world, unrepentant, but one honest and faithful man, building something with his own two hands, to save his life, and carry him to the promised land. It’s a metaphor. The ship is Noah’s faith, and he symbolically carries the hope and future of the world with him, so he can start civilization again. To be BORN AGAIN. That is far more powerful than getting caught up on the logistical impossibilities of that ever happening Why is it sacrilegious to suggest such a thing? Isn’t it the same thing, and serve the same end? Kids are still moved and engaged by a story that is more than just boring and literal, but represents something bigger than a boat. anywhere.  
It’s a remarkable book, one way or another. And a dangerous one. Librarians often try and protect books from being banned, but because they love books, they’ll be the first to admit that books can be seditious, and are often the most dangerous things a person can own. Because its got ideas. If so, the Bible has to have almost more ideas than any other book ever written. But what makes it especiallly dangerous is that those words are supposed to be the divine word of God, so now these commandments are directives, like work orders from God himself. It’s like having a mandate from God to kill homosexuals if that’s what you think it says. Or to stone your wife. Or to banish a woman for a week while she menstruates and is unclean. Not to mention the fact that many of them contradict each other. The most glaring editing problem is the fact that the Old Testament shows us an angry and wrathful God and the New Testament’s protagonist is sort of this hippie guy, who preaches peace and love, and works his way around the countryside, spreading the message of tolerance and acceptance. Personally, I’d much rather follow Jesus around, like a Dead concert, then be forced to run laps by God. I know, I know…they’re supposedly one and the same, along with the Holy Ghost. In the Old Testament, God is vengeful and angry, and smites and punishes people mercilessly. Poor Job. And they’re all these little messed up tasks and tests of faith, like,”If you love me, Abraham, you’ll sacrifice your only son Isaac to me.” And then stops the man at the last minute. Lot saw no such kindness. Those are the kind of hazing initiation rites of passage fraternities have been doing for years. But these are far worse, and would cause serious psychological damage to a young man. The tests God puts his children through would be child abuse today. These moves seem sadistic and unnecessarily cruel, and if this were any book I picked up to read, I don’t know that I’d even get to the New Testament. I’d put it down, and miss out on all the cool Jesus stuff. God really alienates the reader early on, and I’d bet money this was intentional on the writer’s part, in order to instill the fear of God in people. And this is where me and the Bible part ways. Firstly, there’s a lot of the Bible I like, and can get behind, and other parts that are ugly and sow the seeds of hate, and cast innocent people as sinners and pariahs. I can’t say I believe fully, as I identify as Agnostic. I would never say God doesn’t exist, because there is no proof he’s not real. I prefer to think vaguely of a higher power — maybe that’s just my own conscience — but I am compelled and motivated by the words of Jesus, a man who is any could be the son of God, it would be him. As for much of the rest of the Bible…no thanks. If I do believe in a God, it is not an angry, wrathful one. Why would an architect put together a model perfectly, and then such scream, and tear it apart. If God is perfection, he made no mistakes. Including gays and lesbians. And every race, creed, heritage, culture, faith, gender, orientation, etc. We are ALL God’s creatures, and must treat each other with the dignity we each deserve. Each treat the environment as the precious creation it is, rather than our dumping ground and cesspool.

And as we consider global warming and climate change, it must be made clear that over 94% of all scientists agree that these crises actually do exist, and are have catastrophic consequences, if not addressed. That’s nearly 100% of scientists, and not only a majority, but nearly a unanimous opinion shared by all. That does not happen much. And yet, the Right would choose to employ their rogue (and ethically questionable) scientists to distort the facts, and declare it’s all just a scare conspiracy by the Left. What possible gain could be had from trying to save the world? Or if we were faking, what would the end game be there? Haha, it was all a joke. We duped you! This is too serious to ignore, and everyday we stall is a day closer to potential extinction of the species.

But this is a rivalry that has gone on for many decade….centuries, in fact. Scientists are like magicians, who pull rabbits out of hats, and Conservative and the rest of us are humbled and have no idea what it is scientists do. It is one of those professions your stumble into from a job’s wanted ad. These men and women are brilliant, their work is very esoteric and elegant. Too rigorous for our untrained minds. To some extent…that mystery…a job only they can do….it effectve;y makes them some of the most powerful people in our society. They create technology, cure disease, engineer things, and essentially are the engine of commerce and innovation since at least the Industrial Revolution. But this level of tech and science is much more recent….50–60 years. And the rapid rates of development, effectively launching the digital age, is only about 20 years This is an epic showdown, between the scientists, who essentially play God everyday, and create innovation that others simply can’t explain. On the other side, are God’s faithful soldiers, charged with upholding and maintaining the status quo, because they’re working from a playbook over 4,000 years old. And despite the odds against them staying relevant and useful, and about their book being able to address the needs of a 21st Century, they simply respond with ‘faith.’ They are naturally distrustful of each other. One can’t disprove the other. Sure, scientists can talk of the God particle and make huge breakthroughs in quantum physics and make leaps in understanding the Universe better. And yet, they have no smoking gun to disprove God.  And likely never will be. Scientists pretend it doesn’t matter, because the burden of proof is on the religious side, yet, they know that’s not entirely true, and the frustration is palpable. They would love to spike the ball in front of the faithful, and have that retribution for so many years of oppression. “This is for Galileo!” Society looks to scientists for answers, the faithful look to God. If many hold scientists accountable if they can’t provide a shred of evidence, the  faithful simply get to say “We feel God in the room.” and we are forced to take them at their word. Or not. We can’t prove that they’re wrong. The religious are almost certainly in the win-win position. If they pray and there is a God, they are fulfilling their purpose, but it they pray and there is no God, no one’s the wiser, and they’re still praying to God. And we can’t definitively say their prayers aren’t flying up to Heaven. Scientists must live and die by the scientific method, and test and retest hypotheses. By its very virtue, being a scientist is actually a numbers game, with terrible odds. Scientists ARE wrong MOST of the time. Because that’s how laboratories work. It’s tireless thankless and repetitive work, and it takes  a good deal of patience. Yet, no matter how many tests they run or experiments they conduct, most of the time, the scientists will come up empty handed. And it’s so frustrating, because they can rationally discredit God, and point to no valid and uncontested piece of evidence proving the existence of God, yet they can point to dozens, hundreds, thousands of examples that suggest God doesn’t exist. The faithful aren’t hearing it. They have faith, and faith is not a science experiment, it’s the Truth with a capital T.

My friends on the Left and in the arts who are Atheists, have taught me that they are good people, and that they don’t need the Ten Commandments or psalms of Jesus, to know the difference between right and wrong. It’s simple human decency. It’s secular humanism. It’s whatever. Jesus was a great dude, and his words are mostly right. These words have been picked up and reused and reworded by women and men such as St. Paul, Joan of Arc, St. Theresa, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and even our very forward thinking Pope. The most important words in the Bible are the ones all kind, loving, and decent people already know to use. The problem is less in the New Testament, with all the peaceful words of Jesus, but ALL the OTHER words and themes of hate, violence, intolerance, vengeance, justice, punishment, sexism, xenophobia, domestic violence, torture, rape, menstruation, masturbation, procreation, marriage, slavery, sodomy/homosexuality, creation, vs. evolution, attitude towards animals, stewardship/global warming, and more. Rather than embrace and exalt Jesus’ kind and generous words of love, many fundamentalist Christians have latched onto the Bible’s more ugly, hateful, and intolerant messages of hate. The point is, how do you pick up a Book whose newest chapters are nearly 2,000 years old, and its oldest are another 2,000 years before that, and hope to build law and justice, and the blueprint of a Church, based on hundreds of unrelated and contradictory stories written by scores of different writers over the course of four thousand years?
To put it in perspective, here in America, we have the Constitution, which is 228 years old. To us that may sound like a lot, but compared to the Bible, that’s like a drop of rain in Noah’s flood. And yet, in those roughly two centuries, we have found it necessary to amend the document twenty-seven times! That’s actually a good number of times, for a relatively short period of time. And how many times has the Bible been revised, amended, or edited in the last four-thousand years? None. The Constitution was drafted brilliantly, and allowed for changes to be made, and for laws to be revised or thrown out. As we progressed as a society, we learned  from the sins of our past and intellectually and socially evolved and have slowly become more inclusive. One of those amendments abolished slavery (still in the Bible), one granted blacks the right to vote (not even considered in the Bible), and still one protected the rights of women and gave them the vote (still oppressed by their husbands and cruelly stoned), And there are 24 more, most expanding civil rights and protecting individuals. Our Constitution was written so expertly, expanding it was not the hardship revising a messy and poorly edited book like the Bible would be. Because The Constitution was fastidiously thought out, and laid out in such a way, that it made revising it, less troublesome. And yet, the U.S. document was the work and craftsmanship of men — brilliant men, but still men. Not God. Why would he deliver a document so unwieldily? Our charter has grown, to open its arms to more people, as its definitions of what it means to be an American expand, and more rights and liberties are conferred. That’s because those of us in a civil society belief a document is only as good as the people it protects and provides for. If we hadn’t added those 27 amendments, we would have been allowing the document to enslave us, and not allow us to make provisions for those who we wanted to invest in our country. A document is living, breathing thing, and must evolve with its people, and be flexible and rigid enough to fit to the size we need it, but strong enough to weather whatever lay ahead. A document that sill advocate stoning and slavery can’t be one that can seriously govern a modern society. In my world, God invented Evolution, and man evolves physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally over many centuries. We simply aren’t the same species we were over 4,000 years ago, and we must not be expected to live by the same rules. We don’t stone women it’s wrong. Those people wouldn’t have had the faintest idea that they were doing anything wrong. Just as the bigots of today can’t see yet, but their prejudices towards gays and their right to marry ARE the same as sexism and slavery, but most have come to accept that those are morally unacceptable. We evolve. They must evolve. Or die. They’re on the wrong side of history. 
The Bible is a document with a central protagonist in the book named Jesus Christ, and though we don’t see him at all until the second testament, his presence is felt throughout the book. Unlike the confusing, contradictory, and sometimes hateful messages falsely interpreted by overzealous bigots, the message of Christ  is not murky at all, and reads as a crystal clear sea, spread wide into the distance, and inviting you to jump. The books in which he appears are also fairly consistent, and rarely contradict themselves, and then, only in minor ways. Jesus is a character who glows from each page, and is immediately likable. He goes after avarice and greed in the marketplace, turning tables and causing a scene. Imagine that? He stood up to the rich and powerful, and advocated for the common man. When did a Republican last do that? we can all relate to, Jesus, as this identifiable peaceful hippie, who hangs our with 12 dudes, who hang on his every word, and recognize him as the Messiah. But he doesn’t abuse them or torture them, as his father had in the first half. Jesus places his love and trust with them. They become messengers, and help spread his good Word. Rather than accept the invitations of the Pharisees and other rich and corrupt religious orders, Jesus prefers to spend his time tending to fallen women, lepers, the blind, the lame, the hungry, and most of all, the poor. Christ loved the poor most of all, once saying, ‘The meek shall inherit the earth.’ He performed alleged miracles, fed large crowds, walked on water, lived an ascetic life of poverty, often depending on the kindness of strangers, and ultimately Jesus Christ — who had only ever preached love and compassion — was sentenced to death for the crime of being popular and undermining the religion he was born into. Christ died by crucifixion, and interestingly, that became the symbol of the new religion. They chose to honor him, as the Rolling Stones once said “as he had his moment of doubt and pain.’ It was a cruel way to die, but Christians chose that moment, because Christ supposedly died for their sins. After years of C.C.D. class, Catholic school, and being an altar boy, I’m still not sure I fully understand what dying for human’s sins means because if that’s salvation then, and he did all the work for us, why bother living a good life? Why not sin, if Jesus already paid the bill. I know I’m reading that wrong. But it goes to the point that dogma is extremely difficult to understand and teach, and there’s a reason why there are so many denominations of Christianity, and they often look nothing alike. YET, THEY’RE ALL STILL USING THE SAME BIBLE.

Atheists will rightly scoff at the idea of dying for a civilizations sins. Even the word sin is probably not in their vocabulary. But again, I would possibly argue here for symbolism, rather than literal interpretation, but I also know even saying that is sacriligeous. I mean none of this as offense, although I’m certain most Christians stopped reading long ago. Who am I kidding? If anyone started reading this, they likely stopped after the first paragraph.  It’s important to point out that the prophetic civil rights leaders we cherish in the Left, were also deeply religious men. Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy were ostensibly seen as saviors to their people, who were going to deliver them from the misery of their lives, and they each preached a message of love, passive resistance, peace, loving your enemy, and a fierce belief in God. We, as liberals can’t identify men like Ghandi, MLK, and RFK as our heroes and the symbolic fathers of social justice and equality, but then completely whitewash them, and divorce them from their faith. Belief in God cannot equate to lack of intellect or ignorance. We have to be better than that. If we’re asking the Right to accept homosexuals getting married (and that’s in direct violation of the Bible), we at least should do them the courtesy of not ridiculing or discrediting their faith. We have to meet somewhere in the middle.

It’s funny that the easiest part of the Bible to understand are the passages about Jesus. I don’t think that’s by accident, but by design. That’s the message in the book that is universal, and even though I am not faithful, it is the one that I can take away from the Bible. It’s hard to argue against Christ’s message of love. And that’s the most contemporary and topical message in the whole book. It’s the one that is timeless, and could be read another 4,000 years from now, and still be understood. Because Jesus is love, just as every great prophet since, and every religious person that lives by these rules, and even every Atheist, who lives a good life, and treats people as he wishes to be treated. Each of those three Civil Rights leaders were also martyred for preaching the Truth and a message of love that included everyone. They were certainly motivated by faith, but it wasn’t this hateful brand of it we often see today. It was the words of Jesus. and some of the only words in there truly worth paying attention to. No civil society can be built on hate, distrust, condemnation, bigotry, racism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, agism, classism, religious belief, or any other difference that makes us a powerful and diverse egalitarian society. This kind of love doesn’t have to come from Jesus or religion at all, We all have the capacity for it. But it starts with respect, remember, and looking at the other person. And allowing yourself to see them, and see yourself in them. Then find something you share in common. And words will come. What will the words be that you use? Like the Bible, we each have the capacity for great deeds and to share love, or to commit evil deeds and to spread hate. If the book you read spreads anything but love, it cannot be the Word of God, or anything divine worth following. Even when hounded like a dog, and abused at the hands of brutal oppressive whites who saw him as an instigator and race baiter, Dr. Martin Luther King, chose to answer their hate with love, knowing it was the only way., saying: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” I respect your right to believe, and even if you disagree  with everything I said, I will fiercely fight for your right to follow your faith. Just know that withholding rights guaranteed by the Constitution is not only bigoted, it is morally abhorrent, and illegal. You can still keep your faith, while opening up your heart. And never forget to ask yourself What Would Jesus Do? I think this world would be a lot safer if more people asked themselves that before they acted.