A House Divided: How Hatred Aimed At Any Group, Is an Assault On Us All

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I’m sorry, but you have no credibility when you preach faith and scripture out one side of your mouth, and then horrid, intolerant, bigoted, and racist rhetoric out the other. Over the past several days, I have seen nothing but vitriol and hateful fear-mongering in countless memes posted by people I once knew in high school, relatives, and even people I thought I knew better than that. Words matter. Facts matter. Hell, even spelling and grammar matter! These hastily assembled Right-wing propaganda screeds are sloppy, factually inaccurate, full of grammatical and spelling errors, and solely designed to work the faithful flock into an absolute frenzy.
 
Make no mistake, these posts are racist, bigoted, intolerant, uninformed, and hateful, and yet those who spew this garbage somehow justify their offensive behavior by claiming it’s for the good of the country, about national security, their God-given right to bear arms and their last defense against a tyrannical government, or about the very preservation of the Christian values and principles this country was built on. As they see it, only THEY are the true Americans, and somehow, groups of people who may have been here for years (generations), and are loyal and assimilated citizens are outsiders. Outsiders in their own country! They point to homegrown terrorists to prove that even the most seemingly assimilated Muslim families can produce radicalized Islamic terrorists, and no American is safe, with Muslims amongst us. They strenuously object to letting in any Syrian refugees, for fear there will be Islamic extremists among them. Of course, they fail to account for the other 99.9% of homegrown domestic terrorism, perpetrated chiefly by radicalized white Christian males, and compromising the hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings that have occurred increasingly at an average rate of one a day, since 9/11. It is far more likely that an American will be killed by someone who looks like them, than they will of becoming a victim of Islamic terrorism. But that doesn’t fit their narrative. You see, the inconvenient truth is that many of those lone gunmen who shoot up abortion clinics, black churches, schools, and peaceful protests are one of them, and come from out of their ranks….their churches…their anti-government separatist movements, etc. And the rest are severely mentally ill individuals, who somehow fell through the cracks and we failed to see the signs and the writing on the wall.
 
However, it’s important to remember that many in the GOP and Religious Right fail to take responsibility or even recognize their culpability in those ideologically driven shooting sprees, because they fail to see the connection between their angry, divisive, and reckless rhetoric and the actions of those who are undeniably influenced and radicalized by their uncompromising, polarizing and extremist views. Many of these killers are motivated by irrational fears and a sense of duty to avenge and fight on behalf of combatting abortion, protecting gun rights, reversing Obamacare and death panels, targeting blacks and POC in America’s race war, preventing immigrants from entering this country and deporting those already here, and punishing sinners who live gay and alternative lifestyles, among many other sinful and secular offenses.

Those in the far Right media have made careers out of spewing vitriol, hate, and indoctrinating generations of conservatives to hate liberals and progressive, and distrust academics, scientists, environmentalism, the media, Hollywood, those dedicated to social justice and progressive causes. While I agree that there is certainly a liberal bias in the media, at least there is diversity and degrees within that viewpoint. Whereas the Right has a small handful of extremely biased and skewed news sources, starting with the “fair and balanced” Fox News, and heading Right on the spectrum towards bombastic and wildly inaccurate methods of reporting and unapologetic propaganda, with the likes of the Drudge Report, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and others. They know full well that their loud and hateful rhetoric is hyperbolic and provokes and stirs up their viewers and listeners, and the more sensational they get, the more it seems their followers…follow.

The problem is, much of this language is inflammatory and incendiary, and potentially very dangerous. It often gets so hateful and strident, it walks a very fine line between inspiring the faithful in common cause and downright inciting a riot and a literal call to arms. This kind of reckless language is perfectly protected by the First Amendment — as it should be — but responsible journalists and media personalities would know there are limits not only to good taste, but to ensuring heated rhetoric doesn’t rise to the level of violence and vengeance. Sadly, there are undoubtedly many unstable followers who don’t have the mental wellness and capacity, nor the tools to decipher talk from action, and right from wrong. With conservative candidates using harsh and antagonistic language, and decrying the Left for its decadent and permissive ways, the GOP dehumanizes their opposition, and paints liberals in very broad strokes. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect to such vitriol and demonizing, is that it doesn’t allow for compromise or negotiation, but rather, sets up the Left as an immoral and devious straw man, who must be stopped and defeated at all costs. This is where the dangerous rhetoric of religious dogma comes into play, and political disagreements and differences of opinion become cast in the much more black and white world of good vs. evil, and the righteous and the wicked. Liberals are cast as the sinful and decadent libertines, awash in their luxuriant lifestyles of sex and permissiveness, and it is these very unbelievers who are the root cause of all of society’s moral decay and the undermining of fundamental Christian values and a virtuous way of life.

It is at a crossroads, where the Religious Right demonize and blame liberals for all the ills of the world, and suggest that the only way to return America to greatness again is to defeat those on the Left, where the real danger lies. It’s in their epic and inflammatory language, the summoning of religious and moral tropes, and a calculated incitement of terror that promises a proverbial (if not literal) apocalyptic end of days if liberals continue to pollute society, where those unstable individuals among us might find fuel for their fires. When liberals are depicted as grotesque murderers of innocent babies, and accused of harvesting fetal tissue for profit and unethical scientific experimentation, what kind of message does that send to the party faithful? Sure, the reasonably well adjusted and sane may be able to condemn such actions without resorting to violence, but what about that small percentage who simply don’t have the capacity to separate committed political action from overt acts of physical violence and bloodshed?

What about that minority of viewers and listeners who are emboldened by inflammatory rhetoric and such savage and self-righteous condemnation from the Right? The lines become blurred in such cases, and those are the instances where the language has simply become too combative and threatens public safety. In no way am I suggesting we curb free speech, but I’m simply pointing out that this divisive language is part of the problem, not part of the solution. It has no place in a civil society. Just because you CAN say something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD. What kind of world do these individuals want to live in, where every chance for compromise and bipartisan cooperation is met with scorn, contempt, and scorched earth defiance and an unwillingness to meet half way? Do they wish to vanquish all Democrats, minorities, and dissenting opinions? It sure seems like there is no end game here, apart from absolutely obliterating the opposition or converting all wicked foes. It’s literally my way or the highway.

There’s a tricky and seemingly intractable obstacle when dealing with those who are fundamentally motivated by faith above reason, fear above facts, exclusion over inclusion, vengeance over forgiveness, exacting justice and punishment over rehabilitation, are distrustful of science, have uncompromising attachments to personal freedoms and civil liberties over the needs of the many, prefer cultural homogeneity to plurality and diversity, and have an unwavering belief in their own righteousness and higher purpose. The most daunting and challenging aspect of dealing with individuals guided by an inflexible — and often misguided — reading of the Bible is that they are convinced to their core that their beliefs are divine and infallible, and any variation from the text is the path of the wicked and dissolute. For example, if we were talking about logic, reason, measurable and quantifiable science, or fact checking and deduction, we would have to necessarily allow time and empirical evidence to dictate the course of our research and the theories we draw. Facts and figures may seem finite and immovable, but in practice, truth and reason are incredibly fluid and compromising. As a general rule, with knowledge and exposure to cultural diversity, it becomes a lot harder to fear, distrust, demonize, oppress, or mistreat our fellow human. Reason, experimentation, and research lead us to such conclusions. However, for those who are compelled by faith alone, we might as well be speaking a different language. That is where the difficulty lies. Their capital T-Truth is unyielding and often quite literally writ in stone. How can you argue with faith? You can’t. It seems we’ve yet to discover the Rosetta Stone that translates between Faithful obedience and science and reason. We are quite honestly speaking two different languages. It’s no wonder we cannot come to a consensus.

Having said all that, I have a faith of my own, and value my own personal spirituality. I think that if there’s a place for science in our society, there should certainly be a place for the metaphysical and divine. Religion can play an invaluable role within a community. I begrudge no man or woman for having deep faith and personally held beliefs and values. In my immediate family, I have several Evangelical Conservative Christians, whom I love dearly, and who I respect and cherish. At the same time, I also fundamentally disagree with about 85% of their beliefs and how they choose to vote and envision a better society. I think many of their views on topics such as immigration, homosexuality, women’s reproductive rights, the death penalty, and others are uninformed, backwards, and sometimes even bigoted. The difference is, it doesn’t mean I love them any less. Nor do I go out of my way to belittle their deeply-held beliefs. Their faith is important to them, and gives them much peace and solace. It would be selfish and hypocritical of me to condemn them for something that guided their life in meaningful and purposeful ways. There’s no science that can account for faith in something greater than one’s self. It’s human nature. If my mother’s devout Evangelical faith gives her comfort and makes her life better and easier in any way, than why would I ever want to deny her that? My version of God and spirituality may not be as rigid or parochial as hers, but it is worthy of respect and consideration. Science-minded and overly-educated liberals often belittle faith and religion, and ridicule those who have it. That kind of behavior is no better than those who would deport all Muslims or make homosexuality illegal. It’s intolerance, plain and simple. We liberals must hold ourselves accountable, and always strive to take the higher road. We must not meet bigotry and contempt with the like, but must model and be the change we wish to see in the world.

Regardless of how accepting I am of various faiths and religions, I am still unrelenting in my insistence they be held accountable for their words and actions, and strive to be a positive force of good in this world, rather than a hateful breeding ground for intolerance and bigotry. And although many conservatives think that all liberals give a free pass to Islam, I am an equal opportunity enforcer of human rights, social justice, charity, empathy, equality, and all of the other egalitarian principles that should comprise any successful civil society.

There is A LOT not to like about some aspects of Islam, and particularly violent and seemingly savage passages of the Koran. It would be disingenuous to suggest that Islam is solely a peaceful religion, and divorce the text from its more ruthless and merciless underpinnings. There are many contradictory and questionable interpretations that one could make, when studying Islam. But by and large, the 99.9% of peaceful Muslims who espouse Islam as a religion of peace are also right. A text is only as useful and just as the people who use and shape it.
Every questionably point I brought up in regards to the Koran can as easily be made about the Bible. The Christian and Jewish Bible is full of numerous contradictions, ambiguous meanings, questionable decisions, far fetched allegory rather than literal truth, a sometimes wrathful…sometimes peaceful divinity, and lots of dictates that are confusing and easy to misread and well open to interpretation. And LOTS of violence and merciless punishment. The Bible can be cruel and savage itself, and again, it all depends on the people wielding that text. My best friend’s father is an Antiochian Priest, and he is very liberal, moderate, inclusive, accepting, compassionate, and uses the Bible as a tool to build bridges, not burn them. This is a man of reason, of science, and of rational dialogue. His faith and convictions are no less deep and committed as, say…a Ted Cruz…but unlike the Texas Senator, he uses his faith to bring people together, not divide them. He celebrates diversity, not condemns it. I only wish the Right had more good-faith brokers of peace and reconciliation for us on the Left to bargain and deal with. I know for a fact that the extremist, divisive, bigoted, and intolerant views of the Religious Right comprising the current crop of Republican Presidential nominees does NOT represent a vast majority of moderate, reasonable, and compassionate Christians and Jews. It says a lot about how broken our system is when a group that once numbered over 20 had essentially the same radical beliefs and ideology. Where is the diversity within the Republican party? It’s increasingly hard to find. 

Getting back to the danger of demagogues and their ability to incite violence, although I would never suggest these shock-jock provocateurs and blustery talking heads are purposefully inciting violence and strategically targeting a cadre of unstable foot soldiers to do their dirty work, and shoot up abortion providers, execute black churchgoers at a Bible study, or blow up a federal government building, that may very well be the unintended outcome. Their language is reckless, dangerous, and irresponsible, and we must hold them accountable for their lies, distortions, and demonizing of those on the Left.

I’m fully aware that the facts are being skewed on both sides of the aisle, and liberals are sometimes spewing all sorts of distorted numbers about guns, blaming firearms outright, and seemingly apologizing for Islam and tiptoeing around the reality that some Muslims are extremists and often susceptible to homegrown radicalization. Naturally, liberals are often victims of their own demagoguery and radical agendas too. The blame goes all around. However, it’s very hard to deny the fact that one side seems to be coming at it from a place of love, inclusion, and social justice, while the other is working from a place of deep pathological fear, distrust, and intolerance.

Surely we can balance national security and the safety of American citizens with the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for EVERY American, regardless of religion, creed, race, gender, orientation, etc. You wouldn’t know it from the Right though. It’s about my guns, my taxes, my land, my religion, my…my…my. That’s not the ideals this country was founded on. The Constitution is bigger than just the Second Amendment. If I can respect your right to own guns, surely we can meet somewhere in the middle to discuss how to keep them out of the hands of criminals. It doesn’t matter that these particular guns were obtained legally. The last ones weren’t, and perhaps the next ones won’t be either. And yet, this reasonable discussion can never take place, because a solid third of this country refuses to even listen to reason, and trust that we’re not even remotely suggesting we take anyone’s guns away. It’s like trying to reason with a child screaming at the top of their lungs with their fingers  stubbornly stuck in their ears.

I sure wish these same people cared as deeply about the other nine amendments as they do the Second, because maybe they’d be holding rallies to ensure the First Amendment protected its citizens from a government impeding their free practice of religion or choice not to practice, rather than erecting Biblical monuments preaching Mosaic Law or calling for prayer in schools. How do they not understand that such measures impede on other people’s freedom of religion? They can worship how they please in the comforts of their own homes and in their houses of worship. The public and municipal setting is a shared space, and one that should be inclusive of all Americans.

Yet somehow I suspect that’s the very sticking point right there. From their actions and words, it’s hard not to conclude that a good number of those on the Right simply believe themselves to be the very successors of liberty and the embodiment of all that is American. Yet, the Constitution would suggest otherwise, protecting all citizens equally under the law, and over time, refining and redefining its protections, to ensure that we are all treated equitably. Republicans are not any more American than that Muslim family who settled in America just last year. If those Muslims are naturalized citizens, they are just as American as a tenth generation white Christian from the south. America is not any one thing, it is a lot of different things, and at the moment, they are all getting mixed together, and we are in a massive state of upheaval. But it takes all kinds, and the sum of our parts must be greater than any one part. That’s what will ultimately unite us as a country. As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently wrote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Perhaps more than at any time in history, we are a country divided. The Civil War may have been fought on the battlefields of Antiedam and Gettysburg over 150 years ago, but we are still deeply divided, and the wounds are still fresh. We are currently fighting vicious and long overdue religious wars, cultural wars, race wars, gender wars, sexual orientation wars, and everything else, at a time in history where it seems one half of our nation longs for the past while the other dreams of the future. One half of America wishes we could return to an idyllic past and simpler way of life, where white Christian values dominated, and people shared similar life stories and beliefs, and the other half recognizes that that America never existed, because it wasn’t fair and just for everyone, as minorities, women, gays, and non-Christian faiths were subjected to intolerable cruelty, slavery, oppression, and worse. For this latter group of people, America is now only starting to deliver on the promise of our forefathers and those immortal words enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and the nation’s best years are actually ahead of us. This is the very nature of progressivism and the liberal movement. It is exactly that…a movement…forward, whereas the Right always seems to be looking back, always trying to recapture that elusive period when “America was Great”…just not for everyone.

 
Some liberals may have resisted calling the recent attacks terrorism, but if so, it’s not because of some conspiratorial love for those who attack America and hate freedom. Why must we hurl those unjust words at each other? Obama doesn’t hate America. Obama is not a Muslim. He is an American President, whose responsibility is to look out for all his citizens, including Muslim Americans. And blacks. And Mexicans. And White Christians. If liberals are reluctant to immediately brand a shooting Islamic terrorism less than 48 hours after the event, it’s only because it’s irrational and unproductive to jump to conclusions without having all the facts. You may recall how quick we were to pin the Oklahoma City bombing on middle eastern terrorists, only to later find out it was perpetrated by a white, agnostic, anti-governent separatist. It’s dangerous to even assume that because someone has an Arab name, they are automatically a Muslim terrorist. I have many Arab friends who are Orthodox Christian. And yet, they are STILL the victims of this anti-Muslim/ Arab witch hunt.

What I particularly hate about this macho and reactionary knee jerk finger-pointing is that it’s crass and undisciplined, and says more about the terror and insecurities of those doing the pointing, than those caught in the crosshairs. It’s not sissy or weak to wait for all the facts, and make well-informed decisions. That’s what those in science and law enforcement do every day. It should also be a virtue found in members of Congress, but one sorely lacking, I’m afraid. After all, politicians on both sides of the aisle profit from a nation gripped by terror and always looking over its shoulder. Rather than appear soft on terror, or explore the complex nuance and narrative of extremism in our world, it’s often easier for politicians to exploit America’s fears of terrorism and Islam, and evoke the specter of 9/11 to prove their own relevance and usefulness. If there ever was a country so blithely unaware of its own post traumatic stress disorder, it’s America – never able to fully forget and never able to fully recover from all that we lost that day. Our innocence was taken from us so cruelly and abruptly, and all we were left with was terror, no closure. Never one to overthink a solution, Bush Jr. struck boldly and blindly at those who we thought were our enemies, but only added thousands more casualties, trillions more debt, and destabilized a region so recklessly, we actually drove bitter and angry Muslims underground and allowed for ISIS to be born. Although we never could have anticipated it then, our unprovoked invasion of Iraq bred more radical Islamists than any mosque or imam could ever do. We are now painfully living the costs of war fought in haste, and decisions made rashly and without all the facts. There were no weapons of mass destruction, but there was a once-mighty and invincible nation reeling from attack, licking its wounds, and grieving its dead and wounded. And in no uncertain terms, fueled by the need for revenge and looking for someone to punish. Sadaam was as good a target as any, and WMD or no, Iraq was a nation long overdue for regime change. 

There’s no shame in admitting one’s fear or uncertainty. These are scary and uncertain times. But that’s why we must be even more vigilant and resolved not to surrender ourselves to fear or let suspicion guide our hand towards violence and injustice. Muslims are not an inherently distrustful group whom we must watch, register, isolate, or deport. Muslims have lived in America for nearly as long as we’ve been a nation. Over 10% of Africans brought over on slave ships were Muslims, although most were forced to abandon their faith and convert to Christianity. During the 19th Century, thousands of Muslims settled in America, many fleeing the Ottoman Empire and the East. Many have been here several generations, and there is nothing to suggest that they are any less American than anyone else whose descendents made North America their new home. It’s shameful how easy it is for some of us to forget that we were all once immigrants to this great nation, and only the indigenous Native Americans can truly claim any territorial birthright.
To that end, Muslims are irrefutably just as American as you and me, and yet, they now live in a culture of fear and suspicion, and are constantly forced to prove their loyalty and trustworthiness in their own country. To most, this is the only home they’ve ever known, and yet, they are made to feel unwelcome and criminal, just for practicing their faith in peace. There has been a disturbing uptick in violence against Muslims, including threatening phone calls, becoming targets on social media, death threats, beatings, the burning and vandalism of mosques, harassment on planes, the subject of boycotts, protests, and sanctions, and of course, the suggestion that they should be forced to register or simply deported outright. For all the misguided fear that many on the Right have of Muslims, I guarantee, most Muslim Americans are far more fearful of those who distrust them and wish them harm. 
If we allow fear and ignorance to guide our hand, we miss genuine opportunities and solutions. Furthermore, we shut ourselves off from facts and reason. Not the made up statistics and fear-mongering claims being passed off as facts in the memes I’m seeing on Facebook. Actual facts. As painful as it may be for some to hear, the truth of the matter is, there is no greater risk of disgruntled Muslims becoming radicalized and violent then your white Christian next door neighbor, with his distrust of the government, stockpile of weapons, and hatred of minorities. In fact, it is far more likely that your neighbor will be the next mass shooter than Mohammad down at the local mosque.
Where are our priorities? Why are we demonizing all Muslims, when barely a fraction of all Muslims in the world will ever be drawn into radical Islam? Why are white shooters given a free pass, and their behavior chocked up to mental illness and their violence dismissed so easily? Why aren’t we rounding up all white Christian hate groups, in an effort to head off any future violence? Why is there a double standard? The hatred and vitriol I have seen in memes and posts over the past two weeks has been disturbing. At the risk of sounding elitist (an insult often hurled at the Left), these posts have been such baldfaced examples of ignorance and bigotry, it’s hard for me to hold out hope of ever finding a rational, reasonable, and committed partner on the Right, just as committed to compromise and bipartisan cooperation as I am. I can’t help but thinking about the very DNA of our two sides, and how fundamentally different we are from each other. Sure, we’re still humans, and all have hopes, fears, dreams, and insecurities, which guide us in life. I have to believe that our shared humanity will someday be enough to bring us together. But for right now, we are a house divided, and I fear we will fall hard before we stand tall again. This culture war is nasty and divisive, but I can only foresee it getting much worse before it gets better. For now, we are speaking different languages, and one seems to be led with the heart, while the other, led by the mind. Eventually, we must learn to be led by both.

Whether Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, black or white, or any of the other infinite and joyous combinations we may be, we are first and foremost…Americans. The values set down in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are egalitarian ones, and strive to provide liberty, freedom, and protection to every American. And when our Constitution failed to get it right, we improved upon it, and have amended it 27 times since it was first written. Because as it says right there in the Constitution’s Preamble, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” We must heed those words….to “FORM a MORE perfect union.” Those words imply it’s not done yet. Perhaps it will never be. But with each new amendment, each new court case won for the side of equality and social justice, and each step closer to true equality and justice for ALL, we are one step closer to the America promised in our very charter. THAT is the true America, not some fabled past when America was “great.” It’s in front of us. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we can heal our wounds and move forward as a nation. Let’s make America great for ALL! 

Why My Heart Still Won’t Open For ‘Eyes Wide Shut’

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When it comes to the film Eyes Wide Shut, I know that I’m often in the minority when I condemn it as being far and away the worst film Stanley Kubrick ever directed. Since I’m obviously writing this short review over sixteen years after the movie came out, I have had lots of time to process the film, and decide exactly what it is I don’t like about the film. About three months ago, I sat down and attempted to watch the film for the first times since I saw it in the theatre. I only made it about halfway through, before I had to turn it off. So truthfully, I have only seen this film one and a half times, but it was seared into my memory, and because I often have a photographic memory with work I judge harshly and have a strong negative response to. I know that many people are quite fond of the film, and that although my opinion aligns more closely with the harsh criticism directed its way by film critics and the media, there are many fans who have difficulty finding any fault with a Kubrick film.
I decided to write this brief review today, as a response to the article, Be Thankful For Eyes Wide Shut by Scott Wampler, and posted by my friend, Matthew Constantine on his Facebook page. My friend Joe Vincent had also liked the article, and although I have great respect for their opinions about movies, art, and culture, I knew I had to at least make an impassioned and reasoned argument AGAINST Eyes Wide Shut. As you can read in the article above, the writer takes great pains to praise the film, and make sure we understand it should be considered amongst his best. That rather than criticize the film, we should be thankful we ever got it. Especially considering Kubrick died a week after delivering the final cut. I have a very personal and visceral aversion to this film, and feel compelled to share my thoughts about the movie. I had problems with the article, and thought it was poorly written at times and did nothing to convince me to reconsider my views on Eyes Wide Shut. The writer felt young, and at times, more than a little wet behind the years. I seem to recall him mentioning being a teenager and how blessed he feels to have seen the movie on opening night. It was certainly his last, but perhaps also his first Kubrick opening. Like him, I also saw this movie opening night, but I was at the premiere, in Hollywood, while living in LA. Going into the film, I was a very big Kubrick fan, but coming out, I was severely disappointed and left with a terrible taste in my mouth.

 
This writer erroneously states that those of us who didn’t like the film, must have been uncomfortable with the subject matter, since the filmmaking was unimpeachable. This is patently false. I might not have enjoyed the story, but I had many more problems with the narrative, casting, direction, set, and execution of the film. Although some of the intrigue and murder plot elements in the context of this secretive organization were interesting to begin with, the script never seemed to gel. It never fully came together, and there was a disconnect  between this sexual dysfunctional relationship between husband and wife in their safe and small home, and the sprawling mansions of the organization, with naked flesh everywhere, and a sea of undulating sex as people  joined the larger orgy. The disparate parts of the movie felt clunky and didn’t always fit. One might argue that the relationships are broken and don’t work properly, like his marriage, and that is reflected in the structure and interactions in the film. I think this is often a cop out, and if Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman felt awkward and unnatural, it wasn’t a choice. It was a reality.

The other reality of the film is that this is a frightfully chilly and uninviting world. The characters were cold, and kept at a distance, alienating them from the viewer, and not allowing us access to anyone’s emotions, or engendering empathy in the viewers. At the holiday party, the first time we meet Sydney Pollack’s character, Victor Ziegler, he is soliciting Tom Cruise’s character, Dr. Harford’s help, to revive a naked and bleeding hooker, who just had some kind of sexual relations with Ziegler, and as well as overdosed on a mix of drugs. He naturally has a wife, and she’s presumably somewhere else in the homeI This is HIS holiday party, and he’s absent from his guests, doing drugs and banging a hooker. When she seems to be in bad shape, Ziegler is dismissive and talks of her like trash. He flops her body around like she was a rag doll, taking no care with her in the slightest. He just wants her out of there. This is our first introduction to this large character, and he is instantly unlikable. You can’t help but root for the girl. Dr. Harford is gentler with her, but still rather callous and indelicate. These are not the loving hands of a gentle family doctor, but a man pulled away from a party by one of his patients, to revive a hooker who ODed on a speedball, and to make sure they don’t have a dead hooker on their hands. Her nudity throughout the season is uncomfortable, and we the viewer feels culpable in their mistreatment of the girl. Dr. Harford is a party to all this, and becomes somewhat unsympathetic early on. As the film goes on, we meet more people who feel cold and detached. The characters are  simply too dead inside or corrupt with money or power. It’s hard to care for these characters, and without empathy, it was hard for me to care whether any of them lived or died. The film was frigid throughout. So no, I didn’t necessarily enjoy the subject matter, but not because it “challenged me” and “made me uncomfortable” — feelings he takes pains to point out that he enjoys in movies, but wildly assumes viewers new to Kubrick must not. I enjoy movies that challenge me as well, but only good movies, and not uneven ones. This film was very uneven, and although it had some great themes and motifs that pulled it together, it was cohesive as a whole. Wampler’s statement is reductive and a fallacy, because it implies that the only reason we could have to not enjoy the movie, was because of the off-putting plot.

 
I would argue, that in addition to the subject matter and content, I had major problems with the script, including structure, language, and style. I thought it often felt contrived, and fantastic. And characters spoke in heightened and stylistic dialogue that sometimes felt stagey and melodramatic, and often recoiled against the more natural elements of the film. The biggest problem with the film is that it’s all a much ado about nothing. Sure, there is this secret society, and a hooker does end up dead, but we don’t ever know exactly how. We never know what happens to Nick, the piano player. Did he get killed off too? The secret religious sex organization and its rituals are dark and shady, but apart from having illicit sex, what true threat are they? What are they covering up? Are they killing prostitutes regularly? It’s implied that the people under the masks are important people, but we never learn who, and therefore, we never learn how high the stakes are. Are they priests and moral religious leaders? State Senators? What it all comes down to, is for all the “atmosphere” that Kubrick provides — black cloaks, grotesque masks, spare piano cords, dark shadows, stained wood, people following Dr. Harford, drugs, illicit sex, a blindfolded piano player who gets roughed up, and more, the film actually provides little concrete action and tangible danger. Nothing really happens. The movie, therefore, feels a little like an elaborate film noir sleight of hand. It has that moody and dark intrigue, with always the constant threat of danger and menace, but rarely do we see it. Is this a movie about a man discovering a secret sex club that murders prostitutes and is filled with many important members of the community, who must remain anonymous film about a couple struggling with their marriage? The wife is having these sex dreams with a sailor, and Dr. Harford is flirting shamelessly with beautiful women, and on more than one occasion, soliciting sex from strangers and acquaintances. This couple is broken, and needs something to happen, in order for them to stay together. At the end of the film, Cruise simply falls apart with guilt. He breaks down in tears and decides to tell Alice the whole truth of the past two days. The next morning, they go Christmas shopping with their daughter. Alice muses that they should be grateful they have survived, that she loves him, and there is something they must do as soon as possible. When Bill asks what it may be, she simply says: “Fuck.” What does any of this mean? They haven’t had sex in a while, so did they have to go through this elaborate charade, in order to feel alive, and find their way back into each others’ lives? Why have we seen no emotion or crying from Tom Cruise’s character all movie, and now we see this vulnerability? It’s too little, too late. We never saw the human before, so we can’t be expected to empathize with his new-found feelings. He was trying to get laid, mixed up in murder, and treating overdoses casually, and we saw none of his guilt or pain. This is a serious oversight in the script, and the relatively stunted character arc of the character. No character in this film is allowed to grow and evolve in a natural and organic way. Tom Cruise the actor may not have the chops, or Kubrick may have directed him to play his cards close to his chest. And that’s what he did. We saw very little early on, to indicate what we would see towards the end. Kidman has even less screen time, and has these psychosexual dreams with the sailor, which are never fully explained.

The Achilles heel of Eyes Wide Shut is that it creates all this film noir, secret sex society intrigue and possible murder plot line, but then throws in all these red herrings and seeming non sequiturs. But it seems it’s all just widow dressing, because very little of it actually goes anywhere. It seems to have elements of the quirky, dark, and menacing atmosphere of a David Lynch film, or specifically, a show like Twin Peaks. Yet those shows went somewhere, and although they had their fair share of red herrings and misdirection, they also pursued the clues and leads they had dropped along the way. EWS has many scenes and unique characters that often stand out, but rarely serve practical and dramaturgical purposes. They are texture, and are included in order to establish mood and atmosphere. They’re also oddball and memorable characters, who sometimes provide levity and entertainment.

After a fight about their faithfulness to each other early in the film, Bill is then called by the daughter of a patient who has just died; he then heads over to her place. In her pain, Marion Nathanson impulsively kisses him and says she loves him. Putting her off before her fiance Carl arrives, Bill takes a walk. He meets a prostitute named Domino and goes to her apartment. Alice phones just as Domino begins to kiss Bill, after which he calls off the awkward encounter. Early on, we see Dr. Harford is wandering and lost, and seems to be looking for love, lust, affection, or something, in the arms of other women, He seems to be in search of anonymous lovers — perhaps in order to keep love out of the equation.

After learning from Nick, the piano player, about the costume party, he gets the password, and goes to a shop to rent a costume, The scene in the costume shop is surreal and absurd, starting with the owner, Mr. Milich, and his daughter, played by oversexed and underdressed Leelee Sobieski, who appears to be getting intimate with two Japanese men in the back, but almost to her delight and with her overjoyed permission. Her father gets angry at the indecency, and yells at the group. The scene is nearly slapstick absurdism, and could easily have come out of a Beckett, Ionesco, or Jean Genet play.

After Bill arrives at the mansion, and uses the password to get in, he is wandering around the large rooms, when he is approached by a woman. Although he is masked, the woman takes Bill aside and warns him he does not belong there, insisting he is in terrible danger. She is then whisked away by someone else. Bill walks through the rooms, and witnesses several acts of sex, with various people engaging, and others watching, Finding himself in the ritual room, Bill is approached by an imposing Master of Ceremonies, and asks him a question about a second password.  Bill says he has forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies insists that Bill “kindly remove his mask”, then his clothes. The masked woman who had tried to warn Bill now intervenes and insists that she be punished instead of him. Bill is ushered from the mansion and warned not to tell anyone about what happened there.

The next morning, Bill goes to Nick’s hotel, where the desk clerk (Alan Cumming) tells Bill that a bruised and frightened Nick checked out a few hours earlier after returning with two large, dangerous-looking men. Nick tried to pass an envelope to the clerk when they were leaving, but it was intercepted, and Nick was driven away by the two men. The scene could have easily been in a film noir from the late ’40s or ’50s. The circumstances, with the bruises, the two big defensive lineman-sized goons, and the desperate letter he was trying to pass, are all familiar tropes in these kind of gangster flicks.

The next we hear of Nick is when Bill is summoned by Ziegler to discuss the events of the last few days. We learn that Ziegler was one of the sex participants, and that he had Bill followed, and that the society’s warnings were meant to scare him, but that the society is capable of acting on their threats, telling Bill: “If I told you their names, I don’t think you’d sleep so well”. Bill asks about the death of Mandy — the prostitute from the beginning of the film, who it turns out, was the masked woman at the party who’d “sacrificed” herself to prevent Bill’s punishment. Ziegler insists that Nick is safely back at his home in Seattle. Ziegler also says the “punishment” was a charade by the secret society to further frighten Bill, and it had nothing to do with Mandy’s death; she was a hooker and addict and had indeed died from another accidental drug overdose. Bill clearly does not know if Ziegler is telling him the truth about Nick’s disappearance or Mandy’s death, but he says nothing further and lets the matter drop. This is one of those scenes that is so frustrating, because it’s meant to be mysterious. and plant doubt in the audience’s mind, but because we haven’t actually seen the society inflict any harm or seen anyone die, everything is suspicious. And I don’t just mean, in the world of the film, Bill doesn’t know who to believe, but I am accusing the filmmaker of being suspect. He has played with our trust and not betrayed any feelings in his characters, so it’s hard to place any real trust in the very veracity and reliability of the script and the greater film. Lots of red herrings had been dropped, lots of random colorful and suspicious characters had been introduced, but the film was over two hours now, and Kubrick may be the master of pace and creating taut and tense atmosphere, but there was only so far he could take the menace and dark foreboding of the society. It doesn’t matter how grotesque the masks are, familiarity breeds content. Set pieces and costumes lost power and the ability to scare or intimidate us. This masquerade could go on no longer. This raises major plot hole questions:

  1. It’s not clear whether the plot line surrounding the society and Bill was just supposed to fizzle out, like it appeared to
  2. Or is this scene supposed to be more intense, and it is meant to scare Bill straight, once he learns how close he might have come to being killed himself? This would actually work best, with his crying scene with Alice directly following. The problem, is that I never feel like Bill’s life is in, or was in, imminent danger. 
  3. Why doesn’t the screenwriter ever allow us to see one of the society, or threaten having one of them exposed? Their true identities is a vulnerability, that actually takes away their power in the movie, and makes them less imposing
  4. What is the connection between the society and getting back together with his wife? Nothing ever really seems to happen, and yet, he seems to break down crying as if it did. Why happened?

One of the other considerable problems I had with the film, was the very obvious set that was built to stand-in for Greenwich Village, New York City. I was thoroughly not convinced of the fake New York City set built at Pinewoods Studio, because they essentially filmed only the same corner from similar angles, and the camera never followed the actors anywhere. It felt like exactly what it was — a fake facade of a Greenwich Village street corner. We always saw the same two shops, the same street signs. Throughout history, there’s likely never been a film shot in NYC that didn’t have tracking shots, cranes, dollies, and steadicam, following the actors through the streets of New York, Instead, this set was small, tight, and claustrophobic. This film was clearly not shot in NYC and did nothing to convince me that it was. Without an authentic New York City taste, the audience is subtly taken out of Manhattan, briefly alienated from production, and asked to enter through another door, knowing they were never in New York City. That may seem minor, but those little things add up. To the discerning eye, the set looks fake and like a set. Whenever THAT happens, it can be a slippery slope from there. If they can’t buy into the set, what else won’t they believe? Will they buy into your script? How about those characters who all seem very cold and aloof, and aren’t especially likable?  Can you hold them for over two hours?  Sometimes, it can all begin with one little thread, and quickly unravel from there. I think the case can be made for Eyes Wide Shut being Kubrick’s weakest and least effective film, for many reasons, including the set and production design. No matter how expertly they dressed the block, anyone who’s ever lived in New York City, could tell that was no Manhattan block. Arguably, NO Stanley Kubrick film before this could ever have been accused of looking like a set or feeling inauthentic in any way. They had all been meticulously constructed,  fastidiously painted, and painstakingly dressed. 

Having said all that I have said, there are a number of elements which I do enjoy considerably. After all, this movie was still directed by Stanley Kubrick. Which means, even at its worst, even as HIS worst, it’s still hundreds of times better than the average movie. I would watch this easily, before I’d watch half the crap in the theatres today. Kubrick is arguably the best auteur director to ever live. This is is still a masterpiece. it just has a LOT of problems, and does not have the kind of consistent quality we’ve come to expect in a film by Stanley Kubrick. The Kubrickian techniques and elements I enjoyed were:  The isolation and loneliness of the main characters. The mystery behind ritual and darkly staged ceremony. The steady and deliberate pace. The long tracking shots. The unique framing. The brutal violence and nudity. The haunting score, and use of music, especially piano cords. The piano leitmotif of the chilling few notes. The skillful editing. The evocative costumes. The blocking and choreography was deliberate and intimidating. The nudity was slightly shocking and contributed greatly to those scenes. The taut tension and anxiety marking the scenes. The menace in the air.  The VERY talented cast of new and recognizable character actors. Reocuring motifs and thematic imagery. The homage to several film genres: absurdism, slapstick/vaudeville, psychological bedroom drama, Gangster/ Film Noir, Horror, and Drawingroom Murder Mystery, 

Here was the absolute deal breaker in this movie: Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman’s relationship and the actor’s uneven and fizzling chemistry. They were so bad, that when I tried to rewatch the film again, just three months ago, I couldn’t even make it halfway through the film. For a couple that was actually married in real life, I thought they had some of the worst onscreen chemistry I’ve ever seen. I simply did not belief that they were a married couple! It sounds almost unbelievable that an actual married couple would have such a hard time convincing an audience they were married and had chemistry. Instead, it was a weird energy, and not one that felt intimate and affectionate. So many moments felt forced and were not subtly in the least bit, perhaps none more so than the scene where Nicole Kidman smokes a joint and goes completely crazy. Nicole’s character is so over the top in this scene, she’s just chewing the scenery from the inside. I’ve often seen unskilled actors playing drunk or high, and make the mistake of “acting drunk” or “acting high” and go completely over the top. In reality, people that are drunk and high, often do whatever it takes to appear sober, so they’re actually fighting against the intoxication, and that gives an actor so much more to play with. She was staggering and stumbling like a drunken sailor, and it was painful to watch. As the story progressed, I became engaged with Dr. Harford’s pursuit of this mystery, which lies at the heart of the story (yet, we’re curiously never told exactly what it is), is a compelling one, and as he gets deeper into the mystery and intrigue, the better film became. However, Cruise is not an actor with a tremendous amount of emotional range, and so, Bill’s journey was a solitary one, and not one he shared well with the audience. He’s clearly the protagonist, and having trouble in his marriage. He’s become reckless with his life, ending up with prostitutes, followed by gangsters, frequenting a secret society of sexual fetishists, and since the film never gives us definitive answers, potentially the target of a future hit. It is most likely, that Bill caused the deaths of Mandy and Nick. She gave up her life to save his in the ritual room, and Nick gave Bill the password and told him of the costume party in the first place, leading to them finding out, exposing Nick, beating him up, and presumably, killing him. THAT might very well be our answer. THAT might very well be the slap to the face that wakes Bill up, and drives him back into the arms of his wife. That might be enough to make a grown man bawl like a baby. when held in the arms of Alice. He hadn’t known what he wanted, except for maybe vaguely sex with anonymous women. He took great personal risks, and in a fair world, Bill would have paid with his life. But he had an advocate — Ziegler — whose life he had practically saved earlier, and to whom he owed a big favor. Ziegler put his neck out there, and was admonished for his carelessness. Victor had brought Nick into the fold as a blindfolded pianist, and Nick had brought Bill into the society, with tragic consequences. Shouldn’t Bill be the one to die, since he’s the trie interloper? When Ziegler recognized it was Bill though, he had to intervene, and in so doing, he needed a sacrifice. Nick should have known better, sure, but he hardly deserved to pay with his life. It’s no coincidence, that Dr. Harford begins the movie saving Mandy’s life, and then near the end, Mandy ends up saving his. In essence, Bill saves her life at the beginning, and then he causes her death at the end. The only way for Bill to live, is if Nick becomes the scapegoat. Bill must know this, when he goes to Nick’s hotel. He at least makes an effort to save his life. He knew he was in grave danger. There’s an important element to take into consideration in all of this exchange of lives and sacrifice of strangers. And that is the socioeconomic picture. It’s easy to see that the society was made up of extremely wealthy businessmen, surgeons, politicians, lawyers, judges, heiresses, millionaires, and other titans of industry. Ziegler was an extremely wealthy patient of the presumably wealthy, Dr. Harford. These two BELONG in that mansion. They are wealthy, elite, and members of a small select few of people who run that City. State. Country. I have to wonder if they know who each other are. Do they always wear the masks? Regardless, its plain to see, who inherently didn’t belong in that setting. Nick was a poor pianist who once might have had a bright future, but he somehow ended up playing piano gigs throughout the city. He came lower middle class, if not from the poverty class. He was an artist, and he didn’t belong. Except as their entertainment. And that’s what’s Mandy was: entertainment. She was even lower status than Nick, as a prostitute. To these powerful people, she was a piece of meat, attractive as it may be, but one which you service your pleasures, and discard once you’re finished. If she hadn’t ended up strangled and lying as a Jane Doe in the Morgue, she’d have overdosed and ended up there anyway. Mandy was utterly disposable. The identity of these wealthy elite was imperative, and someone had to die. If Ziegler vouched for Bill, then it was obvious who had to be eliminated. Better two untouchables, than even a single from their own class. Which begs the question, now that Ziegler has been exposed, and made the group vulnerable, does he stay? If so, is there any possibility that Bill actually get invited to join the society? If so, is there any way that ALL of this was a test, to see how committed he was — even willing to sacrifice two people? These are questions the movie does not answer, but are certainly worth considering.

The storyline of murder, prostitution, secretive organization, and more, was engaging, but only to a point. Although I consider Kubrick’s pacing to be one of his strongest suits, I felt this movie dragged at points — running nearly three hours, I feel it is just too long. This story could have easily been told in less time.

I can’t help but return to the nucleus of Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, at the very heart of this film, but never quite successful and cohesive. I know Stanley Kubrick wanted to work with a husband and wife team, but there must have been any number of actors he could have gotten for those roles. Not that they had the chops, but just to throw out some names: Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger, Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson, Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick, and probably many more. Tom Cruise is a VERY limited actor, and I honestly don’t know what went wrong with Kidman — an actress whom I otherwise enjoy.

The film is very impersonal, alienating, aloof, distancing, uncomfortable, and sometimes just hard to watch. Although I cited above that I enjoyed seeing Kubrick play with many genres, I felt that also hurt the film. The movie never quite knew what it wanted to be. Was it a romance? Film Noir? Horror? Psychological Bedroom Drama? Or something else entirely? That meant, there were a lot of red herrings, but not always deliberately placed there, but rather, left there, after having fallen out through holes in the script. And there were many. The society was never quite threatening enough, and I never felt Bill was in danger. I would have liked to see him come closer to the line. If the society essentially knows who each other are, what is the big deal about having others inside see them? Presuming the society ordered the deaths of Mandy and Nick, WHY did they have to die? What is the problem between Alice and Bill, and how is so easily fixed with a “fuck” as she says at the end? Their relationship was arguably the weakest in the film, because we knew so little. All we were allowed to see from Alice was lurid sexual dreams about a sailor she fancied. Bill goes searching for women, and certainly has chances, but never quite gets there. Tom Cruise simply doesn’t have the depth to give us true insight as to what was happening in his mind. It was his story, after all. What drove him away from Alice, and what drove him back? Kubrick really could have helped the actor out here, especially by providing a script that fleshed out more of the character. The biggest problem besides not knowing exactly what kind of movie it wants to be, and having a husband and wife team who are not as strong as the script demands, is having a script with too many holes in it, and too many questions brought up, but not enough answers provided. It’s a confusing movie at times, and a few more drafts of that script, could have cleared a lot of the problems up.  If this was the work of any other director, it might be praised more than it has been. To some degree, it’s still quite a masterful film. The problem is, it’s Stanley Kubrick, and he was arguably the greatest film director the world has ever known. With an honor like that, you can be sure his body of work is profound and unrivaled. And it is. His films are unmistakable works of art, and each unique unto itself. This film, does not quite reach those heights. In fact, it falls quite short of that mark, and so we compare this film not to any other director, but against his own work and rigorous high standards. It is undoubtedly, the weakest film he ever directed. The film was not a commercial or critical success, receiving only fair to poor reviews. and has not come down through the years as a fan favorite. Most Kubrick accept the movie for what it is, but it’s not likely making anyone’s top five list. As it is, it’s a very divisive film. There are a surprising number of fans hopelessly devoted to Eyes Wide Shut, while others–such as myself — are quick to point out its many egregious flaws, and only wish it could have lived up to its considerable potential. 

The War on Truth & Intellect: Anti-Intellectualism & The Religious Right

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A reasonable person might ask, how could anyone vote for someone as stupid as Dr. Ben Carson? Why would you ever want to elect an ignorant person to the most powerful and influential job in the world? The sad fact of the matter is, not everyone in this country places such importance on intelligence as a prerequisite and qualifier for President. As much as the Right condemns those of us on the Left for having no values and attacking their faith, one of the most fundamental values we cherish is that of intellect, and the pursuit of knowledge. Intellectualism and human betterment have always been deeply held principles, and reason is central to progressive belief. There are plenty of religious people who count themselves liberals, but more often than not, they are reasonable and embrace plurality and diversity of opinion. Being a liberal or progressive does NOT preclude one from being faithful or religious.

Conservatives often rightly condemn us as elitists, but they often wear their own ignorance proudly, and as a badge of honor. As if being less intelligent and more faithful and religious was a good thing. But to them, it is. Faith will get you into Heaven, but don’t forget where Knowledge got poor Adam and Eve. Almost from the outset, some read the Bible as a cautionary tale against seeking knowledge and questioning God’s will. Asking questions and being too clever was looked at as sinful or prideful, and often severely discouraged and punished. Naturally, this is just one narrow and rigid interpretation of the Bible, but it has been led to a persistent and pervasive attitude towards education and learning that has found its way down through the ages, and into many evangelical and conservative faiths today.

The people considered fundamentalist have the narrowest view of the Bible, and are rigid in their condemnations of others for  behaviors they view as sinful. They seek to return America to its “Christian values” and fanatically believe America is being eroded by moral decay and a culture of permissiveness and sex. They are distrustful of medicine, science, technology, socialism or other types of government, non-Christian religions, minorities and laws like affirmative action, homosexuality, immigrants, Hollywood, the media, gun control, and many other hot-button issues. These are the people who vote and support candidates like Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and once upon a time, George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. This is a very different Republican party than Eisenhower, Nixon, and William F. Buckley inhabited. And as much as they love to claim them as their own, Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt truly belonged to a party closer to resembling today’s Democratic Party. Anyone who knows the history of the parties and evolution over the last 150 years, knows as much. Over the last 40 years, the party has been hijacked by the Religious Right, and there has been a war on intellectualism. The days of Buckley’s incisive criticism and articulation of the party’s views are long gone, and the GOP is left with deeply faithful fanatical Christians, who have very little intellectual chops, but aren’t short on faith and moral outrage. They prey on fear, and use minorities, women, immigrants, and xenophobia to scare their base, and whip up the party.

People like Ben Carson can say outrageous and patently false statements, because 1) No one on the Right is going to fact check him, and 2) It doesn’t matter what facts and figures he has, because they’re not judging him on his intellect or veracity, but on the faith in his heart and commitment to fighting the culture wars from the Oval Office. They want an advocate to outlaw abortion, impose the death penalty, overthrow gay marriage, remove all environmental regulations, work to bring Creationism to schools and remove Evolution, build border walls and brutally enforce strict immigration laws, remove regulations from business and stoke a free market, cut taxes, reverse Obamacare, eliminate most social entitlement programs, and work to undo all the other progress the Left has made in this country. They care about moral crusaders and the soul of their candidates, but the mind is perhaps the least important part.

When Donald Trump uses the slogan, ‘Making America Great Again,’ it’s insulting to many Americans, and so sadly misleading. When was it great to begin with? Was that during the genocide of Native Americans, and when the country stripped them of their land? Or was it during slavery, and the years the country was bitterly divided and fought a civil war? Or when the Irish were rejected work? The lynchings and Jim Crow era? Perhaps it was when women were denied the right to vote or to work, or Japanese internment camps. Or was it Vietnam and the turbulent ’60s? The point is, there was no time America was “great” because it wasn’t great for everyone. Sure, maybe if you were a white, male, wealthy, Christian landowner in the south, there might have been great times. But it sure wasn’t for their slaves and the women in their households. America is a great country, and since the lofty goals outlined in the Declaration of Independence, and added upon in the Constitution even still today, it aspired to be something greater than it was. ALL men created equal. And women, and blacks, and gays, and every other person in this great country. But there is no ‘great’ to return to, Mr. Trump. The great is in front of us, as we take steps to make this country great and free for everyone.

The truth of the matter is, Intelligence is often the biggest indicator of tolerance, acceptance, open-mindedness, and a commitment to social justice. The pursuit of egalitarian principles is most often achieved by the smart and the bold. On the other hand, ignorance is the biggest indicator of bigotry, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia, jingoism, and violence and a predilection to fight. Poverty is often the leading cause of ignorance, and not surprisingly, education and a war on poverty have been two of the biggest pieces of agenda on the Democratic platform. By stamping our poverty, we stamp out so many other things, such as violence, ignorance, and bigotry. Yet the Right has proven time and again, that it would rather spend countless trillions of dollars on foreign wars of election, than on educating every American, and lifting them out of poverty. Imagine what kind of education we could have provided with all the money spent on Afghanistan and Iraq. But again, since intelligence is not valued and cherished by many on the Right, either is education. It’s apparently more important to build walls to keep foreigners out and to build bigger and better weapons to fight wars and exert dominance over the rest of the world. This is a macho, jingoistic, xenophobic, truculent, and violent mindset. One who shoots first, and asks questions later. Only a mindless cowboy seeks fights, rather than keeps the peace, and avoids them.

If this world is ever going to achieve peace and tolerance, it will have to be won by the intellectuals and reason-minded. That doesn’t mean an attack on faith or that religion has no place in a civil society. Faith can play a tremendous role in a community’s health and well-being. Religion doesn’t have to be at odds with science and reason, or intellectualism and rationalism. The two are not mutually exclusive. That is, until you make them so, and admonish intelligence, and uphold blind faith and hateful, ignorant views. The people who vote for Ben Carson are not voting for intelligence, but his eternal soul. The President represents ALL Americans, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, and every other faith and belief there is. We don’t need another devout zealot trying to shape this country back into the Christian nation it once was, because it never was. The Founding Fathers did not intend it to be, and made it abundantly clear that there was to be a separation of Church and State. So go ahead, and get angry whenever a state removes a Ten Commandments rock from the statehouse grounds or prohibits prayer in school, but then go and read the Constitution, and get a clue already. A vote for an ignorant man — brain surgeon or not — is a vote for poor leadership. This is arguably the hardest job in the world, and a President probably makes at least a hundred decisions a day. This is subtle, nuanced work, and it takes a considerable mind to process all that information, face tremendous resistance, work successfully with opposing parties, use diplomacy effectively, keep peace or judiciously wage war, and make small and large decisions that could have catastrophic results. This is not a job for the feeble-minded or anti-intellectual. We saw how well George W. Bush did with his eight mindless years in office. He took a considerable surplus and turned it into a huge deficit, he launched two costly wars which we still can’t get out of, he spent all of America’s capital and good will the world had for us, he set global warming and sustainable energy back decades, he made a royal mess of Hurricane Katrina, and made many other serious blunders. W was not an intelligent man, and as such, he was handled and manipulated by war hawks and powerful men with militant agendas.

America cannot afford another dim-witted man in the White House. And that’s the fundamental difference between those who would vote for a vacuous mind, and those who put weight in the intellectual heft of a candidate. Ben Carson fans have absolutely no problem believing Joseph built the pyramids to store grain, because they either believe it to be true, or don’t care if it’s false. Either one is dangerous. Those of us who know better should do whatever it takes not to elect those who don’t.

The Case For the Patriots As Greatest NFL Dynasty Ever

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There are several NFL teams considered dynasties, but which deserves to be called the best?
Over fifty years ago, the New York Yankees, Montreal Canadiens and Boston Celtics all won five or more championships in a row. Those days are long behind us, and we never see major professional sports leagues dominate their sports like they used to, particularly the NFL, where Free Agency has made it difficult for teams to keep players and maintain consistency and cohesion, and where we’ve never had a Super Bowl three-peat, and have now gone over a decade without a successful title defense. And yet, pro football does have its dominant teams, and a few can be considered elite.

What makes a team a dynasty?

This excerpt, from the article, Where Patriots dynasty ranks among NFL’s most dominant franchises, says this:

“This is, to a degree, subjective. You and I might not see eye-to-eye on the importance of regular-season success vs. playoff success or Super Bowl victories vs. Super Bowl appearances. Longevity could also be considered a point of contention here, both in terms of franchises that didn’t sustain their success for very long (the 1990s Cowboys, for instance) or those that spread their success over longer stretches (the 1980s/1990s 49ers come to mind).

That last part factors in the whole quality vs. quantity conundrum, which only further complicates the whole dynasty debate.

Some tenets we might be able to agree on:

• A dynasty needs to win multiple championships within one era.

• Within said era, most of the key figures have to remain the same. The Seahawks made the Super Bowl in 2005 and then again in 2013, but those teams shared zero players and had entirely different coaching staffs. For the same reason, it wouldn’t be fair to include New England’s 1996 Super Bowl appearance in that team’s current dynasty profile.

• A dynasty can’t simply be a team that wins back-to-back championships. In other words, a third championship should be required at some point in the same era.”

Using that criteria, the teams most commonly referred to as dynasties are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the San Francisco 49ers, the Dallas Cowboys, and the New England Patriots. Other teams often included are the Green Bay Packers and the Oakland Raiders, but because their personnel changed and there were many years in between titles, they don’t meet the definition above, and I will be leaving them off this list.

The team that seems to get the votes for best dynasty most often is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are actually my second favorite team, and I can totally understand why people would consider them the best dynasty. There are three major reasons why the Steelers are often considered the best: 1) They are the only team to win four Super Bowls in only six years, 2) They have the most Lombardi Trophies (6), 3) They have sustained excellence for over the longest time — over 40 years, and 4.) The organization was founded by Art Rooney, and is still owned and run by the Rooney family.

These are all very legitimate arguments for Pittsburgh, and if you consider only championships, then sure, the Patriots fall two trophies short. However, I would argue that there are many other intangibles that make up a great football team, and many more factors that make for a football dynasty. And the best? That’s the argument I’d like to make now. Here are some reasons why I think the argument can be made for the New England Patriots being the best NFL dynasty ever:

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(Don’t bother making Deflategate jokes or calling the Pats cheaters, because it’s all been said before. You may hate New England, and detest them for cheating, but everyone knows they didn’t need to, and everything they earned, they earned with talent and having arguably the best coach-quarterback duo to ever play the game. If you honestly believe Tom Brady and the Patriots had 14 amazing winning record seasons, won multiple playoff games, appeared in six Super Bowls, and won four Lombardi Trophies by filming some low quality videos on opposing team’s sidelines and deflating a few footballs, then you are an idiot. If you can’t see how profoundly talented this team is, then you probably don’t know much about football, or are blinded by jealousy. You don’t have to like them, or what they might have done, but at least have the humility to accept that this hugely successful team deserves to at least be considered a dynasty.  I don’t like that they might have cheated either, and mostly because they never needed to. In this essay, I’m not looking to moralize and pick the team with the most pious character and spotless record. I’m looking to choose the team that won the most, dominated the most, had the most talented people, and did it all year in and year out. I ask that you have an open mind…)

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1. The Patriots made it to all six Super Bowls and won four times with the same head coach and quarterback. Pittsburgh can’t say that. The Cowboys can, and won three in four years. So did the Patriots. And then made it to three more, and won the last. As the players around him changed, Brady has always had Belichick as his head coach, and has been blessed to have had only three Offensive Coordinators in fourteen years — Charlie Weis, Josh McDaniels and Bill O’Brien. Other coaches have been there for years as well. It’s easy to see what a revolving door of coaches and coordinators can do to a quarterback. The Raiders have fired seven head coaches since 2000, and had a losing record nearly every year since. The other teams that are infamous for firing multiple head coaches and coordinators are the Browns, Redskins, Vikings, Lions, Dolphins, Rams, Buccaneers and Jaguars. All have had multiple losing seasons. There have been a number of very capable quarterbacks who have suffered and faltered due to losing their coaches, and often having to learn new systems and playbooks. Many thrived under certain coaches, and shriveled under others. Look at Colin Kaepernick’s pitiful regression in San Francisco. Brady has thrived under all three offensive coordinators, but it’s obvious that much of his success comes from having a consistent coaching staff, and talented people to trust and rely on.
2. Brady has had to win games with a revolving roster of talent, and apart from Moss and Gronk, has never been surrounded by superstar, big name players. However, even despite this deficit, Brady has been able to turn those players into superstars, by making the cast around him look great, and elevating his fellow players to greatness. Brady is so good, that he has made mediocre, average, or good players look MUCH better than they are. When it comes to his receivers, Brady has made stars out of players who might not play as well otherwise. In fact, over time, we have seen several of Tom Brady’s targets go elsewhere, and have less than stellar success. Deion Branch was never as good as he was in New England, and Wes Welker was all but a bust in Denver. Who knows how good Julian Edelman would be without Tom Brady throwing to him? Obviously, Rob Gronkowski is a star, on track to have a Hall of Fame career. Randy Moss will certainly be in Canton sometime soon. But most of the average wide receivers Brady has had to make do with, have not been naturally gifted and fabulous players. If anything, he has made them so, and done it year after year. Joe Montana had Jerry Rice. Terry Bradshaw had Lynn Swann. Peyton Manning had Reggie Wayne, Eli Manning has Odell Beckham Jr, Phillip Rivers has Antonio Gates, Ben Roethlisberger has Antonio Brown…and the list goes on and on. Plenty of Super Bowl winning QBs have had star receivers, but most of the time, Tom Brady has made do with what he had. And did it better than anyone, ever. As the leader and heart of that team, Tom Brady has welcomed and rallied a rotating team of misfits and malcontents, and made them look better every step of the way. He inspired them with his competitiveness, skill, and enthusiasm, and compelled them to be better and reach higher.
3. Even the years the Pats didn’t make it to the Super Bowl, they still made it far into the playoffs, and always had winning record seasons. That means that they didn’t win the Super Bowl one year, and then tank the next. Teams like San Francisco, the Ravens, and Seattle were all in the Super Bowl within the last three years, and all have struggled to win. The Patriots never have an off year. Even the year Brady got injured and missed the season, the backup QB and team went on to an impressive 11-5 record, and just narrowly missed the playoffs. In 2005, the Steelers won the Super Bowl, and the very next season, went 8-8. In 2002, they made it to the Divisional Playoffs, but the very next season, went 6-10. Last season, the Detroit Lions went 11-5 and made it to the playoffs, and this year, they are 1-7! The Patriots have been good, and competed EVERY season, and that’s something NO other team can say. They may have the occasional bad game, but never has Tom Brady and the Pats had a losing season and not had a chance at winning it all. In 2014, the Pats had a terrible game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and were massacred 41-14. The press went crazy, and everyone swore it was the end of an era, and Tom Brady’s career was over. Well, the Pats went on to finish with a 12-4 record, breeze through the playoffs, and beat dominant Seattle in the Super Bowl. The reason I bring this up is that the reason people were so quick to call for the Patriots demise, is that we just aren’t used to seeing the Patriots lose, and never by that much. It was so extreme and out of the ordinary, people naturally just assumed it meant Tom Brady could no longer play. But he can, and he is, and as long as he’s under center, this team will keep winning, season after season. Their winning percentage, and consistency at winning should make them an easy contender for top dynasty.
4. Tom Brady has won more playoff games than any other QB, and the Pats have won more playoff games this century than any other team. When it comes to the postseason, Brady is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Nobody has been more clutch when it matters, and played so many big games, and been successful. The Patriots are a team built for the postseason, and snowy playoff games in New England have become a tradition.
5. The Patriots did it all in the era of Free Agency, which meant that they often couldn’t keep great players, and never could depend on the same reliable and cohesive team from year to year, like the Steelers and other teams could. The era of unrestricted free agency has all but dismantled dynasties in professional sports, and entered the NFL in 1992. That was right in the middle of the Buffalo Bills’ streak of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances, and four straight losses. It’s hard to imagine that any team could make it to the big game four times in a row today. There’s just too many moving parts. Last season, the Patriots had arguably the best cornerback in the league, in Darrell Revis. They won the Super Bowl, and then during free agency, he left and signed with the Jets. And he had already replaced arguably the second best corner in the league — Aqib Talib. In two years, we lost the two best CBs in the game, yet here we are, with a patchwork motley crew of players, and inexperienced corners, and we’re still 8-0. You think about a team that could have been a dynasty, like the Minnesota Vikings of the ’70s, who lost the Super Bowl four times in seven years, and they had one of the greatest defensive lines in the game — the Purple People Eaters. The Steelers had the Iron Curtain. These teams had the same dependable roster of players year in and year out, and could build a defense like the Steelers and Vikings had. Those guys knew each other intimately, and built solid cohesion and trust as a team. Montana and the Niners had the same consistency a decade later. Brady never has. There are zero players from the 2001 Patriots championship team but Tom Brady. He’s built all this with his hands tied behind his back, and no other quarterback or team on this list had to do quite so much, with quite so little.
6. Tom Brady may not have all the records Peyton Manning does, but he’s got as many rings as Bradshaw and Montana, and is arguably the best quarterback to play the game. Others will say Johnny Unitas, Otto Graham, or Montana, but Brady played in six Super Bowls, won more playoff games than any other, holds plenty of postseason records, and most importantly of all, knows how to win when it matters. Brady is more clutch than any QB to ever play the game. He not only wins, he wins big when it matters. He’ll never come close to reaching Payton Manning’s records, but Peyton has a nasty habit of losing in big games, while Brady has won more than lost. Sure, he lost two Super Bowls to the Giants, but they were close, and fluke circumstances ended up deciding both games. Other QBs may have stronger arms and throw tighter spirals, but Brady is one of the fastest releasers in the game and reads defenses masterfully. Some people argue Brady’s a system quarterback, but you needn’t look further than how lethally skillful he is at reading defense coverage, and making changes at the line of scrimmage. Only Peyton Manning is as good as Brady in this area. However, Brady is probably better at exploiting opposing team’s mistakes, and making them pay. His game has only gotten better with time, and has grown and evolved to adapt better to defenses and changes in the game. So sure, Peyton may have records, but he doesn’t have rings. Bradshaw may have rings, but he doesn’t have records. Brady has both, and may only be rivaled by Montana in this regard. But as I stated above, Tom Terrific did it in the era of free agency, and with fewer star targets at his disposal. Imagine what Brady could have done with a Jerry Rice, or even Randy Moss in his prime, and for a few more years. The thing is, unlike Montana and Bradshaw, Brady’s not even close to being done. It’s hard to see Peyton going beyond this year, but Tom could very well win for many years more. He says that he’d like to play until 48, and while that would be nearly impossible, the way he’s playing, there’s no reason he couldn’t play for another four years. He takes care of himself, and seems to be evolving and adapting his style so much, he only seems to be getting better with age. His release time is the best in the NFL, and as a result, he takes far fewer hits in the pocket. He also seems to be moving more, and willing to takes steps to clear defenders and getting better shots downfield. This athlete may be on the tail-end of his career, but he is by no means close to being done. As the face of the franchise, Brady has been the force of nature driving this team to greatness year after year, and why this Pats Dynasty is so consistently good, and arguably the best.
7. Bill Belichick is arguably the best head coach to ever lead an NFL team. Him and Brady are the winningest coach-qb combo in NFL history. He has an impressive 240-118 record, and has been to eight Super Bowls, winning four rings with New England and two with the Giants — more than any other coach. He has won Coach of the Year three times, and is often mentioned as one of the top three coaches, along with Don Shula and Bill Walsh. I think Belichick’s accomplishments in the era of Free Agency are stunning, considering he had a constantly shuffling cast of characters. What he did was nothing short of genius, constantly rearranging the pieces, and trying to make it all work. Belichick demonstrates great vision and has been so innovative as a coach, he has changed the game and inspired a lot of imitators. His dynamic approach includes using players in new and effective roles, not being sentimental and knowing when to cut aging and under-producing players (although often unpopular with fans!), designing complex offense with a large number of plays and clever tricks and maneuvers to fool defenses, and navigating and exploiting the draft to make smart trades and swap draft spots, and often drafting undervalued bargain players who often turn into great players. As the former Defensive Coordinator under Parcells at the Giants, Bill is a gifted defensive strategist, and has used the draft and solid training to always field a defense that competes and manages to get Brady back on the team. There are many more ways Belichick innovated the game, and continues to find new ways win, but perhaps it’s the special bond between him and Brady that makes the best case for why the Patriots could be the best dynasty ever.
8. The Patriots have been to seven Super Bowls, and all since owner Robert Craft bought the team. Just like the Steelers wouldn’t be the Steelers without the Rooney Family running the team, the Patriots would not be winners without Craft’s support. He has given Belichick more power than most coaches get, and hired good GMs and support staff to help Bill win championships. The Craft family are strong owners, and have fostered an atmosphere of winning.
9. New England actually ties Dallas and Pittsburgh for the most Super Bowl appearances with eight. Their record is 4-4. However, a team should rightfully be recognized for just getting to the Super Bowl, which is a victory in itself. These teams had great records, and played well all season and throughout the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings and Buffalo Bills both went to the Super Bowl four times each, and with terrific teams, but lost each time. But we don’t call them dynasties because they never won when it counted. The Patriots have won though, and even when they lost, it was often very close. Under Brady, the Pats lost to the Giants first by 3 points and then by 4. In the Brady-Belichick era dynasty, we’ve rarely lost, and then, only barely lost.
10. The Patriots nearly matched Don Shula’s 1972 Miami Dolphin’s perfect season record in 2007, falling one short, to go 18-1. The 1972 Dolphins went 14–0 in the regular season and won all three post-season games, including Super Bowl VII against the Washington Redskins, to finish 17–0. However, the Pats’ season was two games longer than Miami’s, so the Pats hold the record for being the only team to win 16 regular season games, and the only team since Miami to win every game in the season. This was an incredible season, and a truly remarkable accomplishment. Naturally, Patriots fans are bitter about missing out on a perfect season, and losing such a close game, and one that they had dominated throughout. We’ll never get over that loss. But here we are, once again, at 8-0, on potentially on to another perfect season. I don’t necessarily think we’ll get there, but this is only the second time we’ve made it to 8-0, and you know when the last time was. The fact that we have such a great record, and always have one of the best records in the league, is further proof that this team deserves to be considered for number one.
11. Tom Brady and his revolving cast of characters over the last 14 years have an incredible record, and no team in the NFL has a winning record against Tom Brady. There are multiple teams that have never even beaten Brady. At home, the Patriots’ total home record, in all regular season and playoff games started by Brady, is an astonishing 108-18! Brady and company have simply dominated the league for over a decade and a half, and have run roughshod over every team in the league. There are dozens of teams that have been victimized by the Patriots, and suffered stinging losses of 20, 30, or 40 points. During the 2007 season, the Patriots were accused of showing off, because they kept scoring on their hapless opponents. Apparently, some people forget a game is 60 minutes, and we play to the end. If they had the ball, and were in a position to score, they did. No one cried foul — least of all, us — when the Chiefs put 41 points on us, but have no problem calling the Patriots out when they do it. No one likes to consistently lose to the same team, and that’s what the Pats have done to this league. Between that and accusations of cheating, it’s no wonder so many people hate the Patriots. They hated the Cowboys too. And the Raiders. If it’s not your team, everyone hates a winner. Simply put, no team has so expertly executed the field and dominated and devastated so many teams over such a long period as the New England Patriots. The Pats have been winners, and their record unmistakably reflects that.
12. It’s not over yet. As long as Tom and Bill are in New England, you can never rule out the possibility that the Pats may win more Super Bowls. I think we can all confidently say, if the Patriots were to win won more Lombardi with this duo, there could be no doubt who the greatest dynasty was. Of course, as you can see, I already think they are!

The Goals vs. Gains of Political Correctness: Losing the War of Words & Making Enemies Where There Were None

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Today I came across a video of MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perryas she took offense to a guest’s use of the term ‘hard worker’ Saturday, arguing that it diminished the experiences of slaves.“If there’s somebody who is a hard worker when he goes to Washington, it’s Paul Ryan,” argued conservative guest Alfonso Aguilar. Harris-Perry didn’t disagree but wasn’t a fan of his word choice. She went on to say, “I just want to pause on one thing, because I don’t disagree with you that I actually think Mr Ryan is a great choice for this role,” she said. “But I want us to be super careful when we use the language ‘hard worker.’ Because I actually keep an image of folks working in cotton fields on my office wall, because it is a reminder about what hard work looks like.”

As soon as I finished the video, I immediately began writing this furious blog entry. I have no tolerance for that kind of bullshit and cultural reappropriation, especially to a well-meaning and harmless guest’s totally innocuous off-hand comment. She took it out of context, transported it to a new setting, and then manipulated it by endowing it with a racial and oppressive dimension it didn’t have before. The man’s words were condemned for an offense he could have never foreseen or prevented, and he was baffled and embarrassed needlessly. This is a glaring example of political correctness gone awry and the self-righteous overreach of those who rigidly enforce PC doctrine. I find few things as vile as vigilant censorship and an attack on free speech, especially when done in the name of lofty goals like equality, social justice, tolerance, and egalitarianism.

I have to say that I am socially very liberal, while being perhaps a little more fiscally moderate, but I consider myself a progressive, egalitarian, and open-minded person who is committed to equality and social justice and accepting everyone for who they are. I’m a registered liberal Democrat, but I also envy much of what socialism provides for its citizens.

Having said all that, there is one issue that I absolutely HATE to acknowledge I find myself agreeing with conservatives about, and that is political correctness. I am much more progressive, sensitive, and tolerant of Political Correctness than most Republicans I’ve met or seen online. In looking for a picture for this article, I poured over dozens of mean-spirited, racist, and hateful memes, all taking aim at the hated and maligned PC movement. Whereas, I recognize its objectives are good and noble, and that it started as a way to give voice to the voiceless and promote multiculturalism and cultural plurality. Disenfranchised groups could choose how they wished to be called, and the spirit of the movement was to provide safe environments where we could use uncoded and respectful language we could all agree on. People could pick how they chose to define and describe themselves. It was a way of taking ownership back, and probably even more obviously, a shift in power to the previously marginalized and disenfranchised.

Yet now, I feel like it’s gotten out of control, and actually curbs and muzzles free speech, sanitizes it of its character and strips away the vernacular, and removes anything remotely controversial or contentious. That might sound good to you, but the kernel of our healing and reconciling as a nation lies in that uncomfortable gray area where language breaks down, and we must find new ways to communicate. When everyone is so ultra-sensitive and easily offended, we don’t have a discussion anymore, just a unilateral wall thrown up in the face of the offender, and a public shaming of them, perhaps as cruel as the embarrassment once felt by the victim at the hands of a merciless majority. You see? It’s a vicious cycle, and it’s not just the advocates of political correctness being victimized and crying foul, but now the majority, who like to cast themselves as the oppressed minority, and stripped of their First Amendment rights.The Right call the Left sissies and whiners, but that’s no better than the pot calling the kettle black. Or should I say African American? 😉 Either way, the burden is on the P.C. movement, because more often than not, the conversation terminates with them. It’s a conversation ender, and someone feels vindicated, and someone feels silenced, but neither one learned a damn thing!

I don’t advocate racist, sexist, homophobic, or any other language that doesn’t belong in a civil conversation. Everyone deserves to be respected, and should have the right to be addressed with dignity. I’m talking about the overreactions and demonization of certain phrases or words, or even symbols that some overly sensitive people find objectionable. Listen up: the moral of this story is this: IT ALL COMES DOWN TO CONTEXT AND INTENT. There, I made it easy for you, and now you know what to look for.

Let’s say a white linguistics teacher is teaching the powerful book, N–gger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word by Randall Kennedy, (You see? Even I’m afraid to write the full word in the title of the book, for fear I may invite anger or censure!) and the very purpose is to dissect and understand the history of the word, and why it is still a powder-keg loaded word today. Some in the PC Police might condemn this teacher’s actions, and claim he has no right to use that word and is unfit to teach black students. This even happens in high schools, when well-meaning teachers teach lesson units on works like Huckleberry Finn or To Kill a Mockingbird, both which contain frequent uses of the n-word. I’m not saying this should be casually thrown around either. But rather, it should be used as a teachable moment, where the word is a jumping off place for more serious and rigorous discussion. It’s all about context and a well-meaning teacher’s intent to educate his students about all the realities of the world, even the dark and shameful parts. That’s how kids learn.

I remember when I was in high school, I read Elie Wiesel’s biographical book, Night, about his experience with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–45, at the height of the Holocaust toward the end of the Second World War. It was graphic and disturbing, and often hard to read, but it captured my attention, and taught me an invaluable lesson about man’s inhumanity to man and the strength of an indomitable spirit to overcome even the most hopeless and desperate situations. Years later, in Boston, I saw Wiesel speak, and got to meet him after the presentation. What I remember most is how firmly he locked eyes with me, and as he looked me straight in the eye, he gave me a surprisingly firm handshake for a man his age. He was so strong, even after seeing all that and losing that much. I instantly knew how a man like that could have survived. And after reading his thrilling book, I had to reflect on those few students in my class whose parents forbid them from reading the book, perhaps because it was too realistic and had things like nudity or sexuality, or some other inconvenient fact of life. If you’re sheltered from even finding life in a book, I’d hate to see how real life’s gonna treat you.

And that’s ultimately why I draw this line between political correctness, and editing, redacting, abridging, rewriting, forbidding, or banning a certain book for containing something controversial, indecent, profane, political, or rebellious. It’s when we coddle children from toddlers up through their teenage years and into young adulthood, and we send them off to college enabled, entitled, weak, dependent, helpless, and overly sensitive. And I speak as someone who was ostensibly no better, and just as connected to a psychic umbilical cord. I’m not going to start parroting some conservative meme I saw today, depicting tough cowboys fighting for their freedom of speech with weak, dainty, effeminate, delicate, and breakable ‘pansies’ or ‘whinny babies’ as they said. I’m no tough guy, and I could never tell another human to ‘man up.’ At least, not in so many words. I will say that children learn best from exploring, discovering stuff on their own, building things with their own two hands, playing with all kinds of different kids, being exposed to as many different ways of life as they can, and perhaps more important than anything else…failing. And failing often. Kids need to learn how to fail, and face challenging adversity. They need to break their arm, get lost and spend a night in the woods, build a campfire in the wind, fail an exam, not get cast in the school play or make it on to the baseball team. Kids need to have microcosms of our own adult lives, and gradually be given more and more responsibility, so that by the time they do go off to college, they’ll have failed so often, they’ll have taught themselves how to succeed.

The problem in some of the more extreme and militant corners of the politically correct movement, is many of these young college students have been raised much like the kids I described above, but the stakes are raised by the fact that they come from a diverse range of minorities: Hispanic, Arab, Jewish, Black, Trans, Lesbian, Gay, Overweight, Female, etc. They carry with them all the traits of the group above, but have an added dimension of their race, gender, orientation, religion, or cultural identity. Many of them will have been taught how to identify and represent themselves, and also learned the respect and courtesy they should expect of others. This is where the breakdown happens. Kids are still kids, and universities are more widely diverse than at any time in human history. That’s a lot of jostling cultures and conflicting belief systems to come up against each other, and try and get along. Just the sheer fact that they’re all mixing and mingling at all is a small miracle, and shows how far we’ve come as a nation. But that’s where our high expectations have to end, and we have to be realistic about the kind of results we’re going to see.

Those minority students are guaranteed by law the right to the same education as their white and homogenous counterparts. They have a right to be treated with respect and insist on a professor treating them fairly and protecting their best interests. The problem is, there are necessarily going to be times when things are said and feelings are hurt. Perhaps the professor didn’t word something right, or a fellow student said something offensive. Perhaps even racist. Unfortunately, these things happen, and we still live in a society not that far removed from slavery, indian genocide, sexist and subjugation of women, and just months out from gays earning the right to marry. This country’s just a handful more police shootings of unarmed black men and no justice served from turning into widespread race riots. They’re fed up in the streets, and white America only watch helplessly, knowing that someone should do something, but not quite realizing it’s us. These are fresh wounds, and classrooms now turn into battlefields, as Antietam, Gettysburg, and Fredericksburg are fought with words, as students try and understand what they’re learning, while trying to express themselves and not look stupid. But people always do. Because some people just weren’t raised the way you were. And the things you value might not mean anything to someone else. Should it? Sure, in an idea world, we would all demonstrate and exercise empathy, understanding, acceptance, respect, and value other people’s feelings. In that world, those minority students wouldn’t have to worry about being unfairly judged for not fault of their own, and just for being born. To those in the majority, they undoubtedly value stuff the others don’t, like the right own guns or their freedom of speech. If they’re from the south, these are cultural characteristics of many people from Dixie. There’s a rugged and rebellious streak that runs through many of those who identify from this region, and their individualism, intense love of freedom, patriotism, liberty, right to bear arms, and right to say what they please, are the values worth fighting and dying for.

Where does an honest dialogue and difference of opinion cross  over and become a racist incident or hate crime? What if an offended student had accepted an apology, and opened the door for another heated conversation? It may sound funny, but there’s no telling where that relationship could have gone. But we’ll never know. Doesn’t it take two parties to fight and offend the other? If so, why does one get to shut down a dialogue and stop the free — and potentially healthy — exchange of ideas, while the other is cast as the aggressor, regardless of who said what? Modeling courtesy, treating people with the dignity they deserve, and respecting the wishes and boundaries of others you may not share views with is the cornerstone of mature discourse and healthy work and school environments. When taken to the extreme, political correctness is much more dangerous to our society, than free speech, and harms much more than it helps! We shouldn’t end up violating one group’s rights and freedom of speech, in order to take pains to protect the right of another group — NOT to not be offended or challenged. Obviously, if there’s legitimate harassment, intimidation, hate crimes, or other serious violations, than a minority, individual, or group must be protected and their dignity and rights championed. But a difference of opinion, however distasteful that opinion might be, is the foundation of interpersonal communication, and learning how to communicate with those you may not like.

To completely change gears, how about all the noise a few months back, when states were finally taking down Confederate flags from state capitol buildings. Personally, I believe no symbol of hate like that flag belongs on state or federal land, and especially a building that legislates laws for EVERY citizen, not just white racists or Civil War enthusiasts. It may be a part of the south’s heritage, but so was slavery and cross burning, but we don’t allow that anymore either. I wouldn’t allow a flag with a cross on it either, or a Star of David, or a Wiccan symbol. It’s a neutral place for everyone, so it’s only fair we clear it of stones bearing the Ten Commandments or flags that mean family to some, but hatred, racism, and forced servitude to others. Like it or not, the Confederate flag was born out of a legacy of slavery and rebellion against a nation trying to abolish the hateful practice. The first place I believe the Confederate flag belongs is in a museum (remember, it’s all about context, and a museum is a place to learn history and where such a controversial object fits into history). The second place, is wherever private citizens want to display it on their property. People have the right to free speech, and I’d never deny anyone that.

However, having said all that, political correctness played an ugly and sometimes necessary role in that whole national conversation. The country was certainly divided and mostly fell along party and regional lines. As you can see, I mostly supported removing the flag from public and advocating for the feelings and needs of those who were victimized under the Confederate flag. However, there was instance where the PC Police went too far, and totally missed the point. It wasn’t before long that people seized on the show Dukes of Hazard, and soon, certain parties were calling for the show to be pulled from the air, banned, digitally edited to erase the Confederate flag on the roof of the General Lee, and eventually, toy companies were scrambling to pull toys, edit websites, and all the rest of the mess. Here is another example of an overreaction and people blowing something way out of proportion, without taking context or intent into consideration. The Duke Boys weren’t racist, even if they did have a car named after the General of the Confederate forces and a Confederate flag painted on the roof. They were proud southern boys, ‘never meanin’ no harm’ — as the song says — and like many in the region, they showed off their legacy. Not once was there anything to even suggest that Luke and Bo were racist or had any ill will towards any group…other than Boss Hogg, the law, and authority figures, perhaps. The task of going through and digitally removing the flag from the General Lee in every episode is time intensive, and completely unwarranted. The car isn’t being used as a symbol of hate, and it’s not even prominently featured enough to draw attention to itself. Rather than attacking the show and car reflexively, perhaps they would have realized it was a sanitized set dressing, and completely neutralized within the context of the show. Furthermore, if parents were that concerned, it seems like the perfect teachable moment to discuss how the flag can have two meanings, and in this instance, it’s a source of regional and cultural pride, but take the time to tell them its more malevolent history, and why it’s still being debated today. Kids can handle it. Black Americans can handle it.

We can’t possibly scour history for every vestige of slavery or some other shameful period in our nation’s history, nor can we sanitize words or artifacts from a time we’d rather forget. We must engage with history, and put it in its proper cultural context, and see what we can learn about our ancestors, and ultimately ourselves. The Politically Correct movement has its heart in the right place, and its aims are lofty and noble. It truly is about inclusion, and giving voice to everyone, while advocating for respect and sensitivity. I just think it’s gone off the rails. It has been taken too far, and we need to use common sense, and most importantly, pay careful attention to context and intent. Each case has its own set of challenges and circumstances. I would simply urge caution, patience, and a little thicker skin. None of us use language as precisely as we’d like to.

Ben Carson’s Absurd Comments Are More Dangerous Than You Think

ben-carson

As a candidate, Donald Trump may be brash, bigoted, sexist, narcissistic, unorthodox, and offensive, but his shockingly high poll numbers suggest the wilder his antics, the more his fans love him, even though his candidacy seems to defy all logic, common sense, and good taste. Despite all this, I contend it’s not The Donald we should fear, but the Doctor, who’s a much deeper and insidious threat to America. When Donald speaks, we know where he stands, and there’s no elegance, poetry, or rhetoric in his words. He speaks in blunt and overly simplistic hyperbolic phrases. Trump is unapologetic in his selfish and transparent grab for the crown. He may sound like a demagogue or passionate champion of Conservative xenophobia and jingoistic saber rattling, but make no mistake: Trump is not there to change lives or improve America. He is there for the same thing that has likely motivated him all his life. Hint: It’s not money. Or at least, not that alone. Money is only as good as the power it buys. The President of the United States is the most powerful position in the world. There’s no telling what Donald Trump would do with such power.

No, the one you want to watch is Ben Carson. Just yesterday, he soared past Trump in the Iowa polls, and New Hampshire is within reach. He has a large percent of the Tea Party and Evangelical vote wrapped up, and he’s become the darling of the middle, who might find Donald Trump’s opinions and courage to be refreshing, but know he’d never make it out of the Primaries, and stand a chance in the General election. His views and demeanor are too caustic, and he’s as far from Presidential a man can get.

On the other hand, Dr. Ben Carson seems like he strategically hid in Trump’s shadow all this time, yet benefited from Donald’s cult of personality and siphoned supporters who grew to find the soft spoken Dr. to be more approachable, nuanced, and most of all, Presidential. After all, Dr, Ben Carson is a celebrated brain surgeon, and a titan in his field, He is a gentle, soft-spoken, tender–yet strong, thoughtful, contemplative, and logical mind, as well as a deeply devout and committed Conservative. Perhaps most important of all, he’s a Washington outsider, and has never held any public office. He is a self made man, and for all intents and purposes, he is a rags to riches story, and proof the American Dream comes to those who work hard, not those who depend on the government to subsidize their life of crime and indolence. And did I mention he’s black? Carson is almost the anti-Obama, and makes the Republicans look hip and progressive, and goes far to capturing a much larger share of the black and Latino vote. He’s gentle and bookish demeanor, yet strong and decisive opinions have made him very popular amongst women. With each passing day, it’s becoming more clear that Ben Carson might be exactly the dynamic outsider candidate and charismatic leader the Republicans need to retake the White House. Lord knows, the establishment candidates with familiar names like Bush and Paul are failing to connect with voters, and in national polls, are shamefully stuck in the single digits, well behind Trump’s 32% and Carson’s 22%. With each new passing day, it seems more feasible that Carson could emerge a dark horse candidate, and overtake a Trump who’s looked surprisingly vulnerable lately, and betrayed his own liabilities. With Trump against the ropes, only a man who’s fought mostly in the billionaire’s shadow could know and exploit all the boxer’s moves.

And none of that would be as frightening as it truly is, if Dr. Ben Carson was actually a brilliant, curious, inquisitive, cerebral, contemplative, rational, open-minded, scientifically rigorous, well researched, and knowledgeable mind like he purports to be and is considered by his adoring fans. You’d think at the very least, the qualification they’d definitely ask of a brain surgeon is that he at least have his own brain. Dr. Carson proves that with hard work, sometimes a full heart is more important than an empty head. If you doubt how fundamentally stupid and misguided this odd man is, read this article and all of the laughingly fallacious arguments he makes. Prison makes you gay…’I Would Not Just Stand There and Let Him Shoot Me’….Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery…Jews couuld have prevented the Holocaust if they had had guns….Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to be President….and so much more!

I can’t help but laugh at how outrageous and ludicrous Ben Carson’s inflammatory comments are, but then I must take pause. There are thousands of his supporters who completely agree with his sentiments, and eat up his words enthusiastically. To them, he’s a kinder and gentler Trump, who still tells it like it is, and speaks truth boldly and unapologetically. He is the outsider, and not a career politician. In this election, it seems that at least on the Right, they want straight-shooters and not slick and polished politicians. Ben Carson’s voice rarely waivers or changes pitch and volume, and his delivery is rather slow, deliberate, staccato, modulated, articulate, authoritative, deceptively sound and credible, and above all else, calm, cool, and collected. If Ben Carson is the anti-Obama, he’s also the anti-Trump. Where the tycoon is loud, Carson is quiet, where Trump is cocky and defiant, Carson is humble and self-effacing, where Donald is caustic and confrontational, the good doctor is conciliatory and collaborative. Where the billionaire is hyperbolic and strident, Dr. Carson is gentle and nuanced. Dr. Ben Carson doesn’t tell any less truth (as he and his followers see it) than Donald Trump does, he just tells it in sweet and dulcet tones that’s easily more agreeable and less divisive to hear, and delivered in a manner only befitting a President.

Ben Carson is funny to listen to, but that doesn’t make him any less dangerous or lethal to our democracy. Despite his cultivated laid back scholarly and academic demeanor, this man is reckless with facts and figures, is not a rigorous scholar and student of the scientific method, and is arguably more of a demagogue than Trump, because Carson actually believes his fatuous lies and Conservative fallacies. Whereas Trump claims to be Presbyterian, it’s hard to imagine faith has guided any decision in his life, and the threat of a theocracy or zealous religious administration would be minimal. On the other hand, a Carson administration would be dictated by his deep and devout strict faith, inevitably guiding his hand in affairs like legislating Planned Parenthood and federal funding for abortions and women’s reproductive health, Supreme Court Justices he appoints — particularly in regard to Roe v. Wade, which he has declared he’s committed to overturning, Congressional bills he vetoes or signs into law, the scope and impact of any executive orders he issues, whether he commutes sentences and pardons reformed and deserving prisoners, the way he may disenfranchises or dismantles entitlement programs, and many more areas of governance. And this only covers his decisions regarding to domestic policy. His handling of foreign policy could mean the difference between extracting ourselves from Afghanistan and Iraq, not inserting ourselves into other conflicts and starting new wars, gently helping the UN and NATO police the world’s conflicts, but only intervening when absolutely necessary and using only minimal force, trying to disentangle our economic and commercial interests from war zones and areas that are historically hostile to the United States and its allies, using aid packages and money to help the poorest and most devastated nations, such as countries in Africa afflicted with famine, AIDS, civil war, etc. And there are countless other moral and far-sighted choices our next President will face outside our country. Finally, we deserve a President who fundamentally believes in science, which you’d think an accomplished brain surgeon would, but you’d be wrong. Again, his faith prevents him from investing in the proven truths and undeniable discoveries science has made in the last 2,000 years. As you might expect, Carson does not fully embrace climate change or the aims of environmental regulations. Dr. Ben Carson’s background as a neurosurgeon doesn’t necessarily translate to a decent understanding of climate science. Carson told an audience at the University of New Hampshire on Wednesday that “climate change” is what happens any time temperatures fluctuate.

“Of course there’s climate change,” Carson said. “Any point in time, temperatures are going up or temperatures are going down. Of course that’s happening. When that stops happening, that’s when we’re in big trouble.”

Carson has previously said that he has not seen any “overwhelming science” demonstrating climate change, which prompted California Gov. Jerry Brown to send him a flash drive containing the report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Carson recently told Time magazine that he never received the flash drive. Carson told Time he is “very familiar with the various arguments” about climate change. But “it doesn’t matter about global warming or global cooling,” he said, because “at any point in time the earth is getting warmer or colder. That’s not the big factor.”
What matters, he said, is the “responsibility to take care of” the earth.

In recent remarks, Carson emphasized that humanity must take care of the planet for future generations. “What is important is that we recognize that we have an obligation to take care of our environment,” Carson said. “I don’t care whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, a liberal or a conservative, if you have any thread of decency in you, you want to take care of the environment because you know you have to pass it on to the next generation. There is no reason to make it into a political issue.”

So Carson suggests he has seen no proof climate change even exists, yet believes it’s our moral responsibility to take care of the earth we live on, so we can pass a healthy planet on to our children. Okay. So how does that happen? Apparently, not politically. Elves? Prayer? I’m sure the fluctuating temperatures will work themselves out. Glad to see the good doctor is well informed and ready to lead the second largest polluting nation in the world!

This man is the worst. What makes him so dangerous is that people take him for granted, underestimate him, and until only recently, didn’t see him as a threat to their campaign. Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and all the rest completely ignored Carson, and almost certainly wrote him off as not standing a chance. Jeb Bush has been the most unfortunate beneficiary of Ben Carson’s soaring popularity, being cast aside and left for dead in the unseemly single digits. His father and his brother were both Presidents!!! He was the heir apparent, and now he’s airing his dirty laundry and venting his anger at being attacked and humiliated by the upstart savage billionaire sitting comfortably at the top of the polls. Once upon a time, I actually resigned myself to the fact that if I had to live with a Republican elected to President, I would either want it to be Governor Kasich from Ohio or Jeb Bush. A BUSH! That’s inconceivable to me, but it’s true. Of all the candidates, Jeb’s actually one of the most moderate and sensible ones. As much as it pains me to say, I could live with another Bush White House. Having said that, it’s pretty bad when Jeb Bush is the most centrist and moderate candidate in a race of 17 candidates. This crop of Republicans makes Westboro Baptist Church look reasonable and open minded. They are ultra conservative, mostly deeply devout Evangelicals, committed to bringing down Hillary Clinton anyway that can, hoping to defraud Bernie Sanders as a socialist commie and enemy of capitalism, itching to defund Planned Parenthood, desperate to take down Donald Trump but completely helpless and ineffectual, proud of their NRA ratings and doing whatever it takes to prevent ANY gun control measures, promising to dismantle Obamacare, all vehemently against the Iran deal, and generally ready to attack Obama for two terms of gridlock, obstruction, and overreach. The Republicans seem to be on a mission from God to erase and reverse every one of Obama’s accomplishments and the eight years he ran this country into the ground.

Ben Carson is no different. In some ways, it seems like Ben Carson is harder on Obama than everyone else. It’s hard not to think it has something to do with him being a black man in another party. It’s perfectly understandable Carson wants to set himself apart, and firmly establish the narrative that even if he were to become only the second black man elected to President of the United States, he is nothing like the man that came before. In a country that still tends to see in binary, we forget that just because two people may share the same skin color, similar cultural legacies, and both rose quickly through the political ranks in pursuit of the highest job in the world, the similarities end there. We still assume all blacks are Democrats, and all doctors are white. We still live in that world. I despise his politics, lazy mind, and fallacies dressed as facts, but I do still admire Ben Carson for his contribution to medicine and his courage to stand with a party that doesn’t have a great track record with race, and embrace a party that wouldn’t all embrace him, and for fighting against the stereotype of the black liberal and being whoever he wanted to be. To do all that, and skyrocket through the hierarchy of rank and file Republicans, defy all low expectations of you, take the GOP by storm, leaving men with dynastic names like Bush in the dust, and to end up here, in nearly a statistical dead heat with the lead candidate! That’s impressive, and truly a fairy tale story.

Having said all that, just because I admire how far he’s come in such a short time, it doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do just about anything in my power to ensure he’s not elected (within reason and the boundaries of law). It’s that important that we protect America from a man like this. He has crazy and outlandish ideas, and dangerous solutions for making America great again. He may seem calm and collected, but Dr. Ben Carson is a loose canon, and we must not let him loose on America. Nobody in their right mind wants a bigoted blowhard like Donald Trump, but I guarantee, you wouldn’t want Ben Carson either. Both men would be terrible for this country, and could seriously damage America’s standing and safety in the world. Maybe instead of opening this country up with a scalpel and cutting away what he sees as disease (Planned Parenthood, Gay Marriage, ObamaCare, Gun Control), perhaps he should go back to operating on brains. If he’s lucky, he may even get to perform the first successful brain transplant…on himself!!!

Shakespeare vs. Mozart: Who Impacted Society More?

Jon Ferreira’s Answer to the Quroa Question: “I believe that Mozart gave humanity infinitely more than Shakespeare. Is Shakespeare’s fame an accurate reflection of his merits? He has many more Google results.”

Shakespeare & Language
I think that most of the other people who responded to this question did a good job demonstrating just how much Shakespeare has contributed to our society — primarily in the way of vocabulary and language. Shakespeare’s timing contributed a great deal to his legend, due to the fact that he was writing at a liminal period in the history of the English language, specifically in the malleable and fluid early years of Modern English. His invention of words, coining of phrases we still use today, clever use of dialogue and soliloquoy, extensive literary and Biblical allusions, masterful use of meter and verse, and brilliant employment of figurative language and metaphor, are just a few of the many ways Shakespeare innovated the English language, and passed down a legacy we have inherited and continue to use today. There can be no doubt that no other writer has shaped language as impactfully as William Shakespeare. His works have also inspired countless writers since. We still use his language and expressions today.

The Threads of Genius: Mozart vs. Shakespeare
As great as Mozart was, his genius is understandably more limited and less ubiquitous than Shakespeare. You could say that Mozart changed music, and influenced every composer after him, but finding the traces of Mozart in all the various genres of music today is more challenging, and certainly his influence on classical, baroque, etc. is easier to chart a trajectory. Finding remnants of Mozart in rap, for instance, might be a little harder to do. Mozart was a necessary stepping stone, which fundamentally changed music and furthered the art form, but it has splintered and evolved and changed so dramatically in the years since. He was unquestionably a musical genius, and unparalleled in the field, but his influence is necessarily less impactful and felt in our everyday lives, as Shakespeare’s demonstrably is. For example, Shakespeare phrases and words are still uttered by humans every day all across the world. The impact he had on language is unmistakable, and far easier to see the legacy. If anything, Shakespeare doesn’t get enough credit for all that he did. He truly does deserve the high praise and adoration he gets. Mozart may be unparalleled in music, but even though music is important to a lot of people today, we don’t need it to live and communicate. Mozart touched the arts, but Shakespeare has cast his shadow everywhere — through our language, science, art, psychology, and much more. His fingerprints are EVERYWHERE!

Literature Before Shakespeare
The Renaissance was a time when human enlightenment reached new heights not seen since the classical Greeks and Romans. In literature, England had seen Geoffrey Chaucer — often considered the father of English literature, and he had gone far to give voice to his characters and create colorful archetypal roles. The major works of the time are Edmund Spenser’s ‘Faerie Queene’ and Philip Sidney’s ‘Astrophil’. The real Renaissance was born in Italy though, and grew out of the productive and verdant period of the late Middle Ages. Before Shakespeare, Italy had its own literary genius in Dante Alighieri, author of the masterpiece, The Divine Comedy (1308-1320). In the late Middle Ages, the overwhelming majority of poetry was written in Latin, and therefore accessible only to affluent and educated audiences. However, Dante defended using the vernacular, and he himself would even write in the Tuscan dialect for works such as The New Life (1295) and the aforementioned Divine Comedy; this choice, although highly unorthodox, set a hugely important precedent that later Italian writers such as Petrarch and Boccaccio would follow. As a result, Dante played an instrumental role in establishing the national language of Italy. Dante’s significance also extends past his home country; his depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven have provided inspiration for a large body of Western art, and are cited as an influence on the works of John Milton, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, and Lord Alfred Tennyson, among many others. In addition, the first use of the interlocking three-line rhyme scheme, or the terza rima, is attributed to him. So Shakespeare was not the first person to revolutionize his country’s language and innovate freely, but he was unique in how he portrayed his characters. His characters were unusually human and frail, and preternaturally self-introspective. We take it for granted today, but many scholars argue that Shakespeare didn’t just capture the human condition better than any other writer, but that he actually shaped and crafted it. What we take for granted today, might actually have been the Bard’s invention.

Style & Substance: Writing a Character From the Inside Out
Although many people new or unfamiliar with Shakespeare might think his language fancy and unapproachable today, for its time, it was actually quite accessible. It was still elegant, lyrical, and ornate, but it was also muscular and digestible. Before Shakespeare, literature was very florid and characters were written from the outside. Often the poetry or the use of the third person made characters distant and stylized. They spoke very self-consciously, and it often came across as impersonal and obtuse. In the ancient Greek and Roman plays, the characters were much more expressive and emotive, but they were often tied to their own hubris and the will of the gods, that their introspection was minimal as well. Chaucer’s characters were colorful and well sketched, but they were never like real people that you could touch or feel. Their thoughts were prosaic, and did not reach to great depths.

Shakespeare changed all that.

How Shakespeare Shaped Our Psyche & Conscience
Shakespeare changed and shaped the modern psyche more than any other writer in history. His characters spoke eloquently, but also naturally. They asked questions all of us human beings ask, and contemplate mysteries and life’s riddles much in the same way we do. Shakespeare created introspective characters that contemplated their place in the universe, and struggled with their very existence. They were still animals, as we still are today, and caught up in carnal and primitive games of ambition, jealousy, anger, lust, love, etc. but also governed by insightful and rational brains, capable of great honor or deplorable acts of carnage and sin. The Renaissance was an age still ruled by the all powerful Church, superstitions about nature and necromancy, vested in the concept of fate and fortune, and wedded to unenlightened views of medicine, particularly the concept of the Humorism, a system of medicine detailing the makeup and workings of the human body, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person—known as humors or humours—directly influences their temperament and health. The four humors of Hippocratic medicine are black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood, and each corresponds to one of the traditional four temperaments. Conversely, as these rather primitive superstition, witchcraft and devout Christian belief intermingled, there was also the emergence of a new and rational thought. It was not quite the Age of Enlightenment yet, but humanity was beginning to reason more, and science was beginning to shape human behavior. Shakespeare captured all of this.

Shakespeare characters were not only one dimensional characters on a page or pretty poetry to read, but were three dimensional, and asked hard questions of themselves and each other. They contemplated their place in the universe, and were wracked with guilt and shame, as they were forced to see themselves as they truly were, and forced to face the consequences of their actions. The characters were all deeply virtuous and noble in their own small ways (even the “bad guys”) and they were all deeply flawed and petty in other ways (even the “good guys”). Perhaps for the first time in history, Shakespeare had created flawed and inconsistent characters who were capable of good and bad deeds, and who resembled us like never before.

Shakespeare’s characters were all capable of great insights and triumphs, no matter what their station in life. Often the lower class servants were the most wise and empathetic. Kings were allowed to fall, and peasants to rise. Shakespeare was concerned with the human condition, and was truly egalitarian in how he handed out brains, compassion, mercy, empathy, nobility, etc. The good and the bad, the smart and the dumb, the lazy and the ambitious, the comic and the tragic, could all be found spread out throughout his casts, in the high court and low valleys. Shakespeare also employed high brow humor and low brow humor to diversify his cast, and to appeal to a wide audience. That is why Shakespeare was unquestionably the most popular playwright not only today, but in his day….he was accessible to everyone. Shakespeare’s demographic was the breadth of humanity.

There’s a reason why Freud was inspired by Shakespeare to use themes and tropes as the basis for some of his psychoanalytical research. Shakespeare’s plays explore the full range of human emotion and practically every philosophical and Epistemological argument and question a human could ask in a lifetime. Nobody does it better than Shakespeare, and many scholars believe that he asked questions and raised points in ways never explored before. He gave his characters a voice, and subsequently, gave us a voice too. Hamlet became not only every troubled youth and goth/ intellectual kid out there, but a young man grieving a father, a confused boyfriend manipulating his girlfriend, a son angry and hurt by a thoughtless mother, a loyal friend to one and a deadly viper to others. Hamlet was us, and despite all his flaws, we cannot help but love him, and claim him as our own. Even his “evil” characters like Macbeth, Richard III, and Iago are infinitely charming and funny, and can’t help but ensnare us in their traps. Shakespeare wrote human beings, with all their flaws and foibles, strengths and triumphs, highs and lows, humor and stoicism, and every other trait that makes a man.

Shakespeare is more than deserving of his reputation. Not only did he practically invent and innovate a good portion of our language, he defined what it was to be human, and gave voice to our questions, thoughts, and emotions in a way that had never been done before. He helped shape our modern psyche.

Doctor Who Starts Strong!

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I must say that although we are only three episodes in, I really like what I’ve seen of Doctor Who this season so far. The season began with a dynamic bang with that great moment when the Doctor is saving a little boy’s life and realizes halfway through that it is his future arch-nemesis, Davros, and his decision would impact the lives of billions of innocent beings and the futures of countless worlds. Nothing like starting with a good old fashioned moral dilemma to really get the intellectual juices flowing, and set the tone of the show and season. This paradox of essentially saving a young Hitler’s life is a compelling one, and I think it really set up a nice dialectic throughout the first two episodes. This theme of “mercy” which features so prominently in the second episode is one that most of my own work concerns itself with. The themes that I like to explore in my work is that of mercy, redemption, empathy, and forgiveness. These ideas were brilliantly explored and tested in a really well crafted and superbly written two person scene with Davros and the Doctor, where they go back and forth and round and round in a roller coaster ride of deep emotion and old wounds inflicted upon each other over many millennia. I think this episode really revealed the essence of the Doctor more than any other in Capaldi’s tenure…that of compassion. It is his virtue and his achilles heel, and that’s what we love about the Doctor. Despite his grump curmudgeonly disposition, the Doctor is really a big softy. He’s got too much heart. Two, in fact. I thought this scene was the finest work I’ve seen Capaldi do in the series so far.
 
Sometimes Doctor Who can rely heavily on special effects and bizarre CGI aliens, and often at the expense of thoughtful story. I like my Doctor Who closer to Star Trek than to Star Wars. These episodes set the bar high, and asked more of us in one episode than last season did in twelve. In a refreshing sign, episode three returned to the more sensational and spooky, but was a nice homage to the Alien/ Alien movies. The setting and plot were very familiar tropes — alien/ monster/ghost loose on a remote and claustrophobic ship with a trapped and terrorized crew, and a smart hero must save the day. The tropes were familiar, but still new and original takes on the themes. I think Ridley Scott would be proud. It was engaging and compelling, and I look forward to the sequel airing today.
 
Finally, it has become quite obvious that Clara Oswald is officially more important than the Doctor. She has long outgrown her supporting role status as a companion, and the Doctor has made her the center of his universe. He is literally willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to save her. She features prominently in every episode, and often sets the pace and the tone of the show. She often initiates the action, and the Doctor seems to hopelessly follow along. Clara Oswald has long outstayed her welcome, and no matter how improved the writing seems to be this season, it is still handicapped by having a character that is a soul sucking entity that devours everything in her path. She sucks the air out of the show, and sadly, everything must pass through the prism of Clara. I am far more interested in the complex and engaging Doctor, especially as played by the brilliant Peter Capaldi. She needs to go. The sadist in me wants to see her killed off, but being Doctor Who, I know the show is sentimental and precious with its companions, and very rarely kill off one. Very few beings die in Doctor Who in general, and the show shares this trait in common with Star Trek. Fundamentally family friendly and optimistic. But I still want to see Clara die. At the very least, she’s got to go. It’s time for a new companion. Maybe two. I also feel that we’ve been overloaded with female companions, and I understand the practicality and fairness of that, I would like to see a male companion again. One that perhaps challenges the Doctor, and offers traits that don’t come naturally to the Doctor. Perhaps a rugged and more violent companion. A fighter. That might be a nice Ying to the Doctor’s intellectual Yang. Either way, it’s time for a new companion.
So far, I am very impressed with what I have seen this season. The writing is strong, and the directing and acting are of a high caliber. I hope the season continues to be thoughtful and not just Sci-Fi CGI-sensational. I prefer to be wowed visually and intellectually. That’s what first drew me to Doctor Who, after all.

Pointing Guns & Fingers: Who’s To Blame For America’s Epidemic of Gun Violence?

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Who’s to blame for this unyielding barrage of mass shootings that has gripped this country for the past two decades, if not longer? All I know is that my liberal friends and my conservative friends are sticking to the same predictable script, and it’s all just a lot of noise for a few days or a week, and then we’ll all quietly forget that we live in a country plagued by an epidemic of gun violence. Mass shootings are becoming almost a daily occurence. So far in 2015, we’ve had 355 shootings in 336 days and today’s shooting was the second today alone! Just days ago, President Obama pleaded for this to stop and for us to take action, and saying “we can’t let this become normal.” Today he said, “We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world…This is not normal.” I’m afraid it has become normal. We’re ten mass shootings away from an average mass shooting every day of the year in 2015. This is the new normal.

Personally, I don’t care for guns, but I respect that possession of them is enshrined in our 2nd Ammendment, and that it is the law of the land. Just as I would hope conservatives could respect Roe v. Wade and marriage equality is the law, and must be enforced and upheld as such. I support sensible gun ownership, and although I don’t hunt, I respect those that do.

I’m not proposing we take anyone’s guns away, but perhaps take reasonable steps to control the flow of guns in this country, and the types of artillery we’re putting on the street. The average American isn’t allowed to possess a weapon of mass destruction like a dirty bomb or a ballistic warhead, yet some of the hardware out there could be considered weapons of mass destruction, and have no place in a civil society.

Cars kill people, yes, and no, we shouldn’t ban cars. Obesity kills people too, and no, we shouldn’t ban McDonalds. Americans should have autonomy, and be able to enjoy their rights and take responsibility for their poor decisions. But cars weren’t designed to be lethal, even if they are used that way sometimes. Airplanes weren’t meant to be used as missiles, but 9/11 taught us this was no longer true. Anything can be a weapon, in the right hands. But some objects were designed to be weapons. Guns were made for one purpose…to kill. To say that it’s unfair to blame an inanimate object is a disingenuous argument. No sensible person would propose we ban baseball bats because some angry fool used it to beat another man to death. It’s not the bat’s fault. But guns aren’t just any object, sold in a store, and passed around the dinner table. They aren’t used at your kids Little League Game or kept in the refrigerator at work. They are, ostensibly, weapons of mass destruction. Their purpose is to kill or maim. We don’t allow people to store ricin in their cabinet, enrich weapons grade plutonium in their kitchen, or store dirty bombs in their basements. A gun may not have the potential to cause that level of widespread carnage, but it still has the potential to kill a lot of people.
In this country, we issue licenses for fishing, selling homes, bonding plumbers, driving cars, practicing law, and operating on patients. We register our cars, pay taxes, get boating and pilot licenses, take background checks at work, submit to credit checks to hook up cable, and disclose our illnesses and medical conditions on physicals for life insurance. Yes, we live in a free society, and the Constitution ensures our civil liberties, but we are still held accountable to the society around us. Sadly, we seem to have more oversight and control over these other areas of our lives, than with gun ownership — a potentially very lethal hobby. Just because a right is protected and guaranteed in the Constitution doesn’t mean it is the wild west, and all rules are off. Voting is also ensured, but we have rules and regulations regarding our right to vote. Freedom of Speech is also guaranteed, but it is not a blank check, and with each of these freedoms, comes great responsibility.

I’m sure there are reactionary liberals out there who would like to ban guns outright, but I’m not suggesting anything like that. I respect that gun ownership in this country goes back to the early colonial days, and we have a proud tradition of gun possession, weaving its way through our history, from the Revolutionary War to the Civil War to the Wild West, and up through the 20th and 21st Century. With less than 5% of the world’s population, the United States is home to roughly 35–50 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison. The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world – an average of 88 per 100 people. That puts it first in the world for gun ownership – and even the number two country, Yemen, has significantly fewer – 54.8 per 100 people.

Americans love their guns! I get that. And I have many friends who are proud and responsible gun owners. I don’t propose taking away their rights or confiscating their guns. I think many gun owners and NRA members are whipped into a defensive frenzy at the very suggestion of gun control, spreading the fear that it naturally must equate to the abolition and seizure of legally owned weapons and a tyrannical violation of their 2nd Amendment rights. Every time we have this discussion, both sides predictably divide, and become polarized in their language. Extremists on both side confuse and complicate the matter, and there can be no reasonable discourse.

What liberals refuse to understand or accept is that America has a long and proud tradition of gun ownership, and it was at least important enough to our Founding Fathers to enshrine the possession of guns in the Bill of Rights. Many on the Left argue this is a misreading of the document, and guns were only meant for a well regulated militia, in order to protect the fledgling nation from the tyranny of King George. But honestly, how are we to know? These were hunters and sportsman, and the average family owned at least one gun. It’s not unreasonable to assume that the Founding Fathers included it in the Constitution to ensure we had the means to feed ourselves, protect ourselves, and forcibly resist the bonds of tyranny. It was obviously important enough to be the SECOND of ten amendments! I grew up in Maine, and I was surrounded by hunters and outdoorsman, and gun ownership is very high in this state. Although I would never hunt, myself, I respect those who do. I would never suggest we take away guns from those who are legally entitled to own them.
Having said all that, a gun is not an innocent victim, and something that simply falls into the hands of either the sane and responsible or deranged and dangerous. We do have the ability to place some regulations and restrictions on who should own it, how and when one acquires one, and what kind of excessively lethal weaponry we’re sending out onto the street. Fully automatic weapons with high capacity cartridges/ magazines simply have no place in our society. No one is hunting deer or rationally playing target practice with a high velocity machine gun, designed to simply obliterate a target. These are military weapons, and belong only on a battlefield. They serve no useful function on our streets. We don’t allow civilians to ride tanks through the streets or place land mines in their front yard. Hand grenades are regulated under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), a federal law first passed in 1934 and amended by the Crime Control Act of 1968. The 1968 amendments made it illegal to possess “destructive devices,” which includes grenades. (26 U.S.C. § 5801.) There’s no doubt that a live hand grenade designed for military combat fits within the law’s provisions—non-military people may not possess them. Bombs, grenades, rockets, missiles, and mines (and similar devices). How a defendant intends to use the device is irrelevant—mere possession is enough for a conviction. High power guns meant for battlefields should fall under the same provisions, and should be highly restrictive.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing to those of us who propose sensible gun control laws is the bitter resistance to background checks. It’s especially hypocritical, considering as a society, we all undergo background checks every day, from mortgages, credit checks, criminal background checks for employment, life insurance research into our medical histories, driver’s license checks, passport to fly, and much more. You may call yourself a Libertarian, and bristle at such intrusions on your civil liberties, but like it or not, we live in a Republic…or Representative Democracy, as the case may be, and we live in a society of laws and civic duty. There is no reasonable argument that can be made why someone purchasing a lethal weapon — capable of inflicting mass carnage and much loss of life — should NOT have to register their weapon and undergo a criminal and mental health background check. Why should we require such commonsense measures be taken to drive a car, teach children, practice medicine, or any other number of things, and not do the same when it comes to guns? GUNS. To objects designed to kill and maim, and even when handled safely and responsibly, are lethal dangerous weapons, always capable of taking a life.
Gun nuts would have us believe the government would keep a registry of guns and gun owners, for the sole purpose of invading them in the middle of the night, and seizing all their weapons. That would be the tyrannical government, bent on enslaving the populace and taking away all their rights. Firstly, that’s just crazy conspiracy theory crap that has sadly trickled down into the populace and urban-rural lore. Secondly, if the U.S. Government wanted your guns and was coming after you in the middle of the night, I’m sorry, I don’t care how many high profile military grade weapons you have, you and your separatist survivalist nutjobs don’t stand a chance. Have you seen what the U.S. Military is packing these days? One drone strike, and it doesn’t matter how many guns you have in your arsenal to fight the ‘Good Fight,” cause your dead. On the other hand, you could come out of your compound and actually participate in government, rather than fear and despise it, and play an active role in shaping how it works. That seems like a more reasonable and realistic way to hold onto your guns.

Waiting 24 hours, 48 hours, or even three days seems like a minor inconvenience, at best. I’m not sure I can believe anyone needs a gun so badly they can’t wait a day for it. Perhaps you should plan ahead better. People often have to wait for new cars, new merchandise, and the chance to move into a new house. After you file your taxes, you have to wait for the return to come several weeks later. When waiting at the deli counter, we take a number, and wait our turn. When we see a red light, we stop, and obey basic traffic laws. That’s what it means to be an adult. Patience. And the ability to delay instant gratification. That’s what it means to live in a civil society, where we aren’t only responsible for ourselves, but have a duty to others.

If waiting 48 hours to get your hands on a brand new gun even helps to save ONE innocent life, than it is absolutely worth any minor inconvenience your delay cost you. This is such an inconsequential and easy compromise to make, and shouldn’t the saving of lives be more important than your 2nd Amendment anyway? Again, we’re not proposing taking guns away here, just finding better ways to regulate them. We do it with every other industry and potentially dangerous thing — yes, even cars. And the FDA with food and medication. And the FAA with air travel. And on, and on… Why should guns be any more privileged and sacred than these other important areas of our lives?

Okay, now on to mental illness. As someone who suffers from mental health issues, and is a strong advocate for those afflicted, I completely recognize that something is seriously broken in this country when so many deranged and disturbed individuals are taking guns and shooting up innocent people. Many of these people suffer from diagnosed or undiagnosed conditions such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Borderline Personality Disorder, Schizo-Affective Disorder, and others. There is no doubt that this country needs to do a better job at early intervention, and not letting loner individuals slip through the cracks and become psychotic and homicidal.

We need an educational system which truly invests not only in the academic needs of its students, but its psychological as well. We need to practice holistic learning, where we treat the whole child, and find ways to reach them early and often. If we can diagnose children when they’re young, or when they begin to exhibit symptoms, we will be able to find effective medications, enroll them in therapy that is helpful, supportive, and not stigmatized in the way it is today. If we all were to understand that therapy and counseling is healthy for anyone, and that we could all stand to gain from talking to someone regularly, perhaps these loners wouldn’t feel the need to escape into the Internet, with its White Supremacist groups, Neo-Nazi organizations, anarchist groups, and sick and twisted grip it can have on fragile minds.

Psychotic mass shooters are often lonely and frightened, and many want to die, but don’t have the courage to take their own lives. Perhaps they’ve tried. Yet, they somehow are thrilled and stimulated by the idea of taking other people’s lives. There’s power in that. Some of these small people seek recognition, some seek fame, some seek infamy, others want to punish those they perceive wronged them, while others want to inflict carnage on the innocent. As we saw last week, many are driven by ideology like an extremist need to punish abortion providers and fight a righteous war for human life. I am not defending these monsters at all, and yet, I think it’s important we recognize that these are human beings, and they are profoundly disturbed and mentally unbalanced. They are sick. It’s easy as a society for us to simply label them sick and perverse monsters and cold blooded killers, but they each had families…they were once children…at one time, they had hopes and dreams of fitting in and belonging to something. Somehow, somewhere along the line, WE failed them. I’m not saying they aren’t responsible for their actions, but they’re sick all the same. We wouldn’t expect a patient with two broken legs to run a marathon, and in some ways, we can’t reasonably expect these profoundly sick individuals to maintain their sanity and fight the homicidal tendencies brewing inside them. It is a sickness. Some may be hearing voices telling them to commit the crime, while others may legitimately feel they will finally be recognized and liked once they commit such a heinous act. These people belong in hospitals and halfway houses, NOT in prisons, and not locked up in their rooms, on the Internet, stockpiling weapons, and planning a mass shooting. They need to be diagnosed early, because statistically, with proper medication and treatment, many of these individuals could have lived normal, non-violent, and nonviolent lives.

The problem is, we live in a complex society, where it’s not possible to point fingers at one thing in particular. I can’t, in good conscience, blame guns for all the mass shootings this country has seen over the last 10-20 years. They are inanimate objects, and it’s not wholly fair to scapegoat a legal weapon. However, those who would claim guns play no role in our disproportionately high gun mortality rates are fooling themselves. I just returned from Portugal, where last year they had less than 50 gun deaths in the whole country. They also have many regulations on gun ownership. Of all the developed superpowers, only America has staggeringly high gun homicide and suicide rates. No other civilized country within our standing has gun mortality rates anywhere close to ours. There aren’t regular mass shootings at schools and businesses in England, Ireland, France, Germany, Australia, Spain, Holland, Norway, China, Russia, etc. Sure, there have been the exceptions. Obviously, as we saw earlier this month, Paris fell victim to a terrorist attack. No one is truly safe these days.

And in regards to domestic terrorism, who could forget Anders Behring Breivik, the far Right terrorist and mass murderer in Norway? In 2011, he killed eight people by setting off a van bomb amid the Government quarter in Oslo, then shot dead 69 participants of a Workers’ Youth League (AUF) summer camp on the island of Utoya. Clearly, killing 77 people in one spree is prolific and rare, but it’s also memorable because these things simply don’t happen in much of the rest of the world — particularly Europe.

Not too long ago, Australia had very permissive gun laws, and then they had a mass tragedy. In 1995, a man named Martin John Bryant began a shooting rampage at a popular tourist resort in Tasmania, and killed 35 people in the process. Almost immediately, Australia was so shocked by the carnage, they decided to take drastic measures. As a response to the spree killing, Australian State and Territory governments placed certain restrictions on semi-automatic centre-fire rifles, repeating shotguns (holding more than 5 shots) and high-capacity rifle magazines. In addition to this, limitations were also put into place on low-capacity repeating shotguns and rim-fire semi-automatic rifles. The Tasmanian state government attempted to ignore this directive but was threatened with a number of penalties from the federal government. Though this resulted in stirring controversy, opposition to the new laws was overcome by media reporting of the massacre and mounting public opinion in the wake of the shootings. America has had had its fair share of shootings like this….the Virginia Tech shooting claimed 32 lives…in Sandy Hook, a disturbed young man killed 20 children and six adults in an elementary school. And yet, we haven’t had our watershed moment, where we decide as a nation that enough is enough. We haven’t reached the breaking point, where we decide that giving up a few minor conviences is nothing compared to the number of lives it could save. Even though This IS normal. This IS a daily occurrence.

Clearly these other civilized countries have their fair share of mentally disabled and disturbed individuals. Clearly, they have people who have the potential to be homicidal. The difference is, most of these countries have socialized healthcare, and care for their citizens from the craddle to the grave. Secondly, they have varying rates of gun restrictions and control. Some of these countries have almost as much access to guns as we do, but there still isn’t that relationship that we have. They don’t sleep with their guns the way us Americans do. If you’re curious as to what other countries have the highest rates of gun homicides, don’t look to our neighbors to the East or members of the G8. The countries with the highest gun mortality rates include El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil, and other poor countries. These are countries with high crime rates and often a low standard of living. And us. It’s like the Axis of Evil, and yet, we’re on the list.

And yet, you might say, Canada has almost as many gun rights as we do, and they have hardly had a single mass murder attack on their soil over all these years. This is a very strong argument for not blaming guns, and it almost works. However, again, Canada has national healthcare, and is much more comprehensive in treating its citizens. Secondly, and probably most importantly, Canadians have very different dispositions than we Americans. Wherever I travel in the world, I meet a lot of people whose opinions of Americans comes out of the lurid headlines, where all they hear about is school shootings and gang violence in Chicago. Interestingly, many of these people are afraid or uninterested in ever visiting America. Many think that it must still be like a Wild West show, and everyone is packing heat, and shooting each other dead in cold blood. They honestly think that about this country. And why shouldn’t they? Canada may be able to be permissive with their guns, because their population is more well adjusted and responsible with their weapons. They are not us, and we can’t hold them up as an example why we should have limited to no gun laws and restrictions. America has a troubling history of gun violence, and it seems to be embedded in our very DNA. What I do know is that most of our trade partners and allies do not suffer from the same kind of gun violence we do, and they have more restrictive laws than we do. And I’m not even suggesting we curtail Americans’ rights that much. I’m simply suggesting some reasonable gun legislation.

At the end of the day, I don’t know that this argument will ever be settled. Gun enthusiasts see guns as their God given right, and one protected by the Constitution. It is our cultural inheritance, and built into the fabric of this country. On the other hand, those on the Left believe that national security is at stake, and there are lives on the line. It only seems reasonable to allow some minor restrictions and regulations, if it saves lives. In every other aspect of our lives, we impose regulations, especially if it concerns public safety. But the two sides couldn’t be more apart. As a liberal myself, I recognize the sanctity of the 2nd Amendment, and respect law-abiding gun owners. At the same time, I think that the real compromise has to come from their side. Their stubbornness is unjustified, and can only harm lives and public safety. A minor inconvenience certainly seems worth it if it even could save one life.

Perhaps there is no one area we can point a finger at. Our society is complex, and there are a lot of culprits in making these cold blooded killers. There are many areas that likely failed these young men, such as a poor education, inadequate healthcare, mental health stigma, easy access to guns, access to high capacity rounds and lethal weapons, the Internet and social media, video games, poor home life, poverty, etc. Again, this crisis is not going to be solved by banning all guns….nor will it be cured by completely fixing the mental health care system. It’s not fair to completely let guns off the hook, and blame all this violence on mental illness. Ultimately, it will likely be a combination of all these things. No matter what, it’s not enough to point at mental health as a way to deflect from the responsibility of guns.

It’s not fair to only single out guns. The irony is that many of the gun supporters pointing at mental health are the very people that routinely underfund or defund mental health clinics and services in their states and cities. Furthermore, it is their actions and words which tend to fuel the stigmatization of mental health, and perpetuate the ignorance that leads to things like psychosis and alienation. Precisely the kind of things that incubate cruel thoughts and facilitate violent tendencies. We wonder where these monsters come from? We created them. We ostracized and ignored them. One very important step to removing the stigma on mental health is to fund it, and hold it in the same esteem as the regular medical field.

The best way to prevent such widespread gun violence is to regulate guns in a reasonable way, taking pains not to violate gun owners’ Constitutional rights, yet also striving to protect the safety of the public. There is no reason to have weapons of mass destruction out on the street. There is no need to have guns with high velocity bullets capable of piercing armor and bullet proof jackets, and with magazines of 20 – 60 bullets. Hunters don’t need those types of weapons, homeowners don’t need them, and they are simply weapons meant for a battlefield. Or for police officers. Civilians do not need those types of weapons. Combined with background checks, mandatory waiting periods, and other reasonable measures, we could reasonably expect a decline in gun violence. Even if such measures saved one life, it would be worth it. But we all know it would save significantly more lives than that. The very future of this country depends on such compromise.

Seeing Bad Theatre, Reading Good Reviews, & An Audience In the Dark

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One thing I find frustrating about being a director with an MFA and two other theatre degrees, and over 30 years of experience in the field, is accepting the assumption that the audience is always right. I know that may sound bad, but it’s really not as harsh as it sounds. You see, I accept that an audience can enjoy whatever they want, and that is their right. I simply question whether an audience always knows exactly what they’re seeing, and what the alternative might be. You see, in some areas, more often than not, an audience enjoys what we put in front of them, and they generally come away satisfied. That’s great! Every theatre company from big to small can feel good about themselves, and have their work praised and validated, and an audience leaves happy! And on its face, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with a theatre group feeling rewarded for their hard work. Because, let’s face it, every production takes tremendous time and effort, and everybody works hard. I don’t deny any theatre company that, no matter how poor I think a production is. But is hard work enough? The truth is, you can work extra hard, and still produce a failure of a show. If a show is terrible, but the audience enjoys it, is it possible the audience is wrong? Is quality determined by popularity? Surely there’s plenty of Oscar winning films out there that flopped, and movies like The Fast and the Furious franchise that have raked in over a billion dollars. Few people could argue the latter is worth calling high art, but it is very popular. Is it patronizing to think that an audience doesn’t know any better? If they like a show, isn’t that enough to call it a success? It’s not that I don’t think it’s valid an audience enjoy a play I think most would consider poor, only that I think if they knew how better choices could make it great, they would be blown away and enjoy it a hundred times more. I think we owe it to an audience to show them the difference between good theatre and poor, and demonstrate that both can happen at any level, whether amateur or professional. Great shows can come from anywhere…and so can bad.

Regardless of what level a play or film is at, we must hold it to high standards, and take responsibility for educating our audiences and holding critics accountable. We can’t rest on our laurels and accolades. True artists are never satisfied with their work, and continually challenge themselves to get better and refine their process. Many amateurs don’t possess that level of self-evaluation and labor intensive self-improvement. For some, the craft is a fun hobby, and nothing more. But no matter what level you are at, we can all benefit from evaluating our process and final product.

The thing is, an audience’s default is pleasure and satisfaction, but that’s often because they don’t always know the alternative. Most viewers aren’t savvy in filmmaking or play production, and don’t understand how movies and plays are crafted. They may be impressed with bad choices, because they don’t know what good ones look like. More informed choices often come with seeing a lot of different types of theatre, and being exposed to high quality work on Broadway and various regional theatres. It means being exposed to a lot of good and bad productions, and learning to tell the difference. Many have only seen bad shows though, and they literally may not know what they’re missing.
Imagine an art lover who had only seen the amateur oil paintings of George W. Bush and stick figure sketches. To him, Bush must seem like a Picasso, but compared to Rembrandt or Vermeer, Bush might as well be painting fences. I would argue that many audiences eat up inferior shows because they don’t know what a good production of those plays would look like. It’s easier to accept what is in front of you, than compare it to a theoretical production in your mind, or even a wonderful production of a different play you saw in New York last year. People in an audience see what’s in front of them, and take it at face value, failing to compare it to other shows they’ve seen, even far superior professional ones. People generally want to be kind, and look for the best in what they see. Since they don’t know how to evaluate or articulate the bad, it’s easiest to latch onto the good. People are very forgiving, and easily dismiss things that might have been confusing or bothersome. The fact is only compounded by the fact that many amateur or small town professional theatre audiences are made up of family and friends. As one might expect, these people are built in fans, and they’re most likely going to enjoy whatever they’re watching. Yet, audiences that have seen high quality plays AND poor plays should not hesitate to compare the two. Although they’re at totally different levels, audiences should be weighing the pros and cons of both productions. What worked about the professional show that isn’t working in the amateur one? What makes the one more effective than the other? How is this amateur show better than the last professional show you saw? It works both ways.
If I find the sometimes hollow enthusiasm of audiences to be frustrating, I find local theatre critics to be even more infuriating. Often, they surrender all credibility when they enthusiastically recommend every show, and haven’t a bad or critical note to give. Every review is glowing and serves the theatre company and ticket sales, but does a disservice to the viewer and the artists. Audiences go in having read wonderful reviews, and their expectations are fulfilled. They are primed and prepared to enjoy the show, and they are exempted from having to think about it critically. The overly generous reviewer doesn’t want to offend anyone, and chooses to applaud every choice he or she may see. In small towns or big cities with tight theatre communities, everyone is friends, and they all travel in the same circles. They may think it’s best not to rock the boat, but it’s unfair and dishonest, and it does more harm than good. An actor needs to hear what didn’t work in their performance. A set designer needs to hear why the set wasn’t functional. A director needs to read why certain choices they made come off silly and ineffective. Critics are the people that keep us theatre people honest. I’m not going to lie and tell you it was always easy to read bad reviews, but they were almost always helpful in some ways. It holds artists accountable for their work, and allows them to change their mistakes, and make better choices next time. Art doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and theatre critics are part of the final phase in creating a work of art. They are the evaluative phase, and are often overlooked, at the artists own peril. We need critics and reviewers who have the courage to stand up and give honest evaluations. Not cruel or unhelpful ones, but honest constructive criticism and valuable feedback. This false praise is everywhere, and I’ve found it in small towns and big cities all across this country. It does a disservice to the work, the artists, and the audience.
I rarely go to see shows or films I’m uncertain of these days, for the very fact that I’m often disappointed. Sadly, having enthusiasm, passion, and dedication aren’t enough to make good plays. You also have to have talent, technique, training, skill, and ability. It actually takes a lot to produce a good play, or to direct a high quality film. It means making risky and artistic decisions, and not just settling for childish and amateur choices. Great art pushes the boundaries and asks questions of its audience, and doesn’t seek easy answers. It attempts to look at the world in new and unusual ways, and always aspires to be new and original, while also paying homage to everything that came before. Amateur shows can often be about saying lines, getting the blocking right, and having fun. And there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s what most school and community theatre is all about. But filmmakers claiming they’re creating high art, while making cheap and disingenuous hack jobs, and theatre troupes lavished with praise for mediocrity, do a disservice to those of doing quality work, and with years of training and experience. Why? Because many people will accept that a mediocre play is as high quality as a good one, and not be able to recognize the difference. Naturally, if the two were compared side by side, anyone could tell the difference. As it is, amateurs are sometimes lumped in with professionals, and the high quality work is seen as no better than the inferior work. This is insulting to those of us with degrees and decades of experience in the field. There is a difference in the work. There’s nothing wrong with a community theatre doing amateur work, and being proud of that. It’s when they think that it’s more than that, or critics and audiences praise them as being at a level perhaps higher than they’re at. If they’re doing high quality work as good as a professional company, then they should absolutely be praised for it. They should also consider going professional, if they’re that good. But it’s important to keep things in perspective. We can watch our kid’s Little League game and think he did a great job, but nobody thinks his team could play the Red Sox at Fenway next week. It’s important to praise all the good we see, but always put it in context of all that we’ve seen before. The important thing to remember, is that the professional theatres aren’t always doing the best plays and the amateur companies aren’t always doing the worst. Sometimes they will surprise you. Some of the best plays I’ve seen in the past five years have been community theatre shows. Great art comes from great artists, wherever they may be.
In some ways, the audience isn’t always right, and it’s not their fault. If all that they’d ever eaten was chuck steak, they wouldn’t have any idea how much better filet mignon is. I don’t necessarily blame an audience for that. If more people want to see some mindless action movie over a more artistic and well written drama, I understand. My argument is that that action film doesn’t have to be mindless. It could be like the Bond film Skyfall or the thriller, The Usual Suspects. Both films are action packed and thrilling, but also artsy, intelligent, and moving. We can show the audience that there is a better way. Unless an audience has the experience and savvy to be able to tell good theatre from bad, we must hold even the most intermediate artists up to higher standards. That doesn’t mean hold a community theatre play to the same high standard as a Broadway show, but recognize that the amateur show is just that, and try and evaluate it more appropriately. That also means that reviewers need to actually do their job, and honestly evaluate the effective and poor choices the company made. That’s the only way they’ll grow and learn. When we permit bad theatre to remain unchallenged and celebrate its mediocrity and amateur choices, we are doing it a disservice, and not raising the stakes for them to improve and get any better. With the exception of maybe a grade school play, no show should be exempt from constructive criticism and honest feedback. Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but that’s how artists grow and evolve.
Just as actors and theatre people need to learn how to make better choices and more artistically viable decisions, an audience needs to learn how to be a discriminating audience. Sure, the number one goal of any show should be to entertain. By that measure, most any play performed succeeds in that. But a piece of art should be so much more. They may find a play amusing, but are they seeing a play at the funniest it could be? The scariest? The most thought provoking? We’ll never know, because art is subjective, and it’s not always easy to choose what makes one show the “best” if that’s even possible. However, it is pretty easy to put two shows next to each other, and choose which one is better, because one makes better and more effective choices. You can compare the show Breaking Bad with the some other poor quality show about drug abuse, and instantaneously see that BB is artistic and clever, whereas the other is contrived, cliched, and tired. You can see all the design choices in BB are inventive and improve the overall quality of the show. Every choice seems to be cohesive and serve the overall vision of the show. A good play does that too. Having a serious play interrupted by a silly or ridiculous costume or prop completely erases all the good will you had built with the audience, and wipes away any prior good choices. Inexperienced or inferior companies will make random and arbitrary choices, which often conflict and don’t serve the cohesion of the play. This is often because they don’t know any better. Audiences need to be educated in what makes a good play or movie, and it’s helpful for us professional theatre artists to help them by leading talk backs, publishing articles, giving backstage tours, promoting critical reviews, leading panel discussions, providing lecture series, offering classes, and generally producing high quality shows so that there is a proper measuring stick.
No matter what level of theatre you are at, we can all benefit from better theatre and more accountability. No one deserves a free pass, and we can only make theatre more enjoyable and credible, when every production is held to high standards.