Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” Outstanding, Creative and Unnerving; “Mythbusters: The Search” An Unwatchable Rip-off

Every once in a while, I come across entertainment options – be they movies, television shows, miniseries, music or books – that are good (or bad) enough that they merit mention. For the most part, I try to concentrate on those things that are good because there’s enough crap that is out there (you hear me, Taylor Swift?) that people can normally pick out and ignore. The last time we looked at entertainment, we chose the NBC television series Timeless and, so far, that looks good. All the brass at NBC seem to be leaning towards giving the show a second season (but the jury is still out).

So what looks good right now? And what is total crap? Follow along and see if you agree, disagree or have some suggestion for something to check out. I’m always looking for something enjoyable (WRITER’S NOTE:  I am not saying I am “first” on these things; I’m merely saying they’re well worth (or, in those certain cases, not worth) your time to check out).

Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

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My first experience with Whitehead was with a book called The Noble Hustle. The book in principle was about the world of poker but, as I read it, I wasn’t entranced with what Whitehead was doing. He wrote the book as a semi-autobiography, a tome to excoriate the demons in his own soul, and as such never really reached me in trying to write a “poker book.” In fact, when you use such lines as “I have a good poker face because I am half dead inside” and pretend to be from a country called “The Republic of Anhedonia” (anhedonia – the inability to experience pleasure from activities usually found enjoyable, such as hobbies, music, social interactions), you get the idea.

Thus, the idea of reading another Whitehead book was roughly akin to having a manicure done with bamboo shoots.

Recently, my lovely wife and I wanted to experience some “adult time” by getting involved with a local book club. The book of their choice for the month was Whitehead’s latest effort, The Underground Railroad, which made many Book of the Year lists for 2016 and was on the New York Times bestseller list for several months. I reluctantly picked up the book and, after reading the premise, decided to give Whitehead another chance.

Whitehead’s book is, as you might figure, about the Underground Railroad of Civil War history. In Whitehead’s vision, however, the Underground Railroad isn’t a metaphor for the hundreds of miles that runaway slaves had to traverse; in his writings, the Underground Railroad is an actual railroad line, complete with trains, engineers, conductors, stops and rails to convey those runaway slaves to a supposed “better place.” With this creative starting point, Whitehead has gone on to write an outstanding book, albeit one that is also quite unnerving.

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The Underground Railroad is the story of a slave named Cora who, even for someone of her race in that era, had a very difficult life. Her mother was a successful runaway (or was she?) who left her an orphan when she was but 8, immediately banishing her to a life as a second tier being even in the slave community. The resulting banishment to a place for the “unwanted” called “The Hob” on her plantation – as well as other brutal moments – helps to formulate the person she becomes.

Cora meets a slave named Caesar who, in a spirited discussion, invites her – and I guess that would be the term – to run away with him. She initially spurns his offer but Cora, after a particularly vicious beating by the slave master while she protected one of the children from being assaulted over an accident, decides to follow in her mother’s footsteps and flee the plantation.

The twosome head off on the trek on the literal Underground Railroad and the book traces their travels on the rails as they attempt to journey to freedom – or what is supposed to be freedom. The book winds its way through the south (North Carolina is treated particularly harshly and, knowing Whitehead’s research abilities, deservedly so) to Indiana (also the recipient of harsh review), with Cora the central part of the action. There are several chapters that focus on other characters in the book (of particular interest is the slave hunter looking to bring Cora back to the plantation), but those are used by Whitehead in a Tarantino-esque manner, jumping about in time, to provide backstory to what Cora is going through.

Be forewarned…this is not a pleasant read (and part of the reason why my lovely wife decided she couldn’t work her way through it). There are brutal examples of the harsh life on the plantation, including the inhuman treatment of runaways when they were returned to their masters. It is a part of the story, however, and if Whitehead were to gloss over such issues or treat them with “kid gloves,” then he wouldn’t be doing his job as a writer or a storyteller.

Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is deserving of all the accolades that he and the book have received. It is critical to be able to see what our past was to ensure that in no way or manner should it happen to another segment of the population in the future. While it used a little trick to get me in the door – the Underground Railroad being an actual railroad – the overall story gave me a more extensive knowledge of 1860s America and gave me a better appreciation of Whitehead and his talents. The next book I see from him, I will not be as dismissive as I was in the past.

Mythbusters: The Search, Saturdays (check local listings)

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They’ve been saying that the reality television genre is dying, but for me at least it died when the Discovery Channel program Mythbusters went off the air in 2016 (repeats can still be seen on the Science Channel). The show, featuring special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, spent 15 seasons investigating through scientific methods urban myths, scenes from television and movies, and particularly interesting news stories they came across. Along with their “Build Team” – Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara (and, prior to that, Scottie Chapman and Jessie Combs), who were let go from the show in 2015 – the Mythbusters investigated 282 episodes of information, coming to the conclusions of “Confirmed,” “Busted” or “Plausible” for 2,950 experiments.

As with most things when special effects, robotics and artistic people take hold of it, there were some things that stood out on the show. In the final episode when asked what they would be remembered for, Hyneman said bluntly, “Blowing shit up,” and that they did. But they presented a show that used excellent scientific methods, creativity, was fun and educational and kept your interest. With the Mythbusters crew gone – hell, even “folklorist” Heather Joseph-Witham, with her historical background information on the myths being tested, is remembered fondly for her one season on the program – there was a gap to fill and, problematically, they decided to tarnish the name of this program to fill it.

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Airing on the Science Channel on Saturdays, Mythbusters: The Search is an attempt to make the original program a reality/competition show much like Survivor or The Amazing Race. Ten competitors gleaned from a batch of video applications compete in front of host Kyle Hill (the editor of Nerdist and a Mythbusters fan), RETESTING old myths that the Mythbusters tackled (giving them the excuse to run video of Savage, Hyneman and the old crew). At the end of each episode, one person is eliminated with no apparent scoring or reason for their departure other than a talk between Hill and one of the peripheral participants in the original Mythbusters (a Mythbusters favorite, the Alameda County Sheriff’s officer Sgt. J. D. Nelson of the Alameda County Bomb Range, was the latest to serve in that position).

Catching lightning is tough enough – as Discovery did with the original show and Mythbusters – and it is virtually impossible to do it twice. Mythbusters: The Search is a pale imitation of the original in that literally NONE of the people competing for the prize (and what is the prize? Are a few people being chosen? Is there going to be a woman (tough now that they’ve already sent one home and have two left) on the team? Is there going to be a show in the future? WHAT ARE THE RULES?) have even a sliver of the “it” factor that the original cast had. There isn’t that “TEAM” concept that made the original group so special and, thus, this product suffers.

The fact that there aren’t new “myths” being investigated is also relying on the past team to try to carry this worthless heap. After two episodes, the four myths tested were all previously done by the original Mythbusters (including “Painting with Explosives”) and there was no new information gleaned from redoing the experiments with the 10 pretenders. All that was done was…well, nothing was done, save for the elimination of two contestants that were about as important as the wallpaper.

While it is commonplace in Hollywood (and other entertainment locales) to recycle anything to make another buck, you’ve got to make it good if you want people to watch. There is nothing remotely redeeming about Mythbusters: The Search that makes it worth watching now or in the future. If you yearn for the days of the original gang, check out Byron, Bellaci and Imahara’s work on the Netflix series White Rabbit Project. If you go to the Science Channel for your Mythbusters dose, make sure it is a repeat of the original and not the dreck of Mythbusters: The Search.

Ending the Madness: Early Voting for the 2016 Presidential Election in Florida

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For the past few Presidential elections, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to vote early. In 2008 and 2012, I voted in Illinois, which wasn’t exactly a battleground state in either election and in 2004 I was in North Carolina, long before it became a “purple state.” Thus, with the 2016 Presidential election, I looked to take advantage of early voting once again, but this time it would mean something. My wife and I’s recent move to the state of Florida put us both in a “battleground” state for probably the first time in our lives, something that at least I relish…and perhaps shouldn’t have.

In Florida, there’s a long history of problems with the voting process. Everyone knows about the issues back in the 2000 General Election, where the term “hanging chad” became more than just the name of a Chippendale’s dancer, and lengthy lines at polling places on Election Day have become commonplace. But there is the brutal honesty when it comes to elections overall; a Loyola Law School professor found in a study that, between 2000 and 2014 and in hundreds if not thousands of elections across the United States, there have been 31 TOTAL CASES of voter fraud out of more than one BILLION votes cast. Thus, the bullshit emanating from the mouth of the Republican candidate (and others in places of responsibility) that voter fraud is “rampant” is something I ignored. In fact, it ramped up the reason for both my lovely wife and I to vote early in this election.

There are three ways you can vote in the state of Florida. One is wait until Election Day, which was immediately out for my wife and I. With a young child and work schedules, the potential of standing for hours (remember the lines in the 2008 and 2012 elections in areas) on Election Day was about as welcome as a proctology exam. When it came to voting early, there were two choices available:  going to an early voting precinct or a mail-in vote. I was interested in voting by mail – as it was something that I had never done – so both my wife and I ordered mail-in ballots for the 2016 election.

A funny thing happened on the way to filling out that ballot, however. The state of Florida, Republican Governor Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner were chastised by U. S. District Court Judge Mark Walker for THROWING OUT MAIL-IN BALLOTS because signatures that were on file did not match that which were on the ballots. In Florida, if a mail-in ballot isn’t signed, people are given the chance to correct said ballot. By law, the different county election boards have to contact the voter and attempt to get the ballot signed. In the event that signatures didn’t match, however, the ballots were completely tossed out with the voter not informed of the action. Walker’s ruling forced the state to contact people to inform them their ballot wasn’t counted because of the difference. It was just the latest instance of voter disenfranchisement by the GOP in the state (Scott also initially refused to allow for a voter registration extension after Hurricane Matthew hit the state; a federal judge ordered a week’s extension).

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Want more? In Miami two women – at least one with Republican ties – were arrested for violations of voter laws. In one case, a 74-year old woman was arrested for allegedly blatantly marking ballots (if they were left blank) in favor of Republican mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado. In a separate case, a woman hired to register new voters was found to have allegedly fabricated several voter registration forms, including some applications that were submitted for people who were deceased.

Add in the instance of the Republican voter in Iowa who was arrested for voting twice (in an ironic twist, for the GOP nominee) in the Iowa elections (and take a look at her Facebook page…it’s a bit disconcerting) and there was a sudden need to get this shit over with quickly. As such, both my wife and I decided to go to the early voting booths to register our vote for 2016 and its races.

It was a beautiful, sunny Florida day when my wife and I forced our way through the hordes of Trump and Clinton supporters who were physically battling it out on the sidewalk of the library where we were to vote. Upon reaching the doors (and making sure we didn’t get pulled into the carnage behind us), my wife and I reached the entrance. “Trump or Clinton?” the man at the door asked.

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My wife paused in thought for a moment and was whisked away, despite my pleadings and the two guys holding me back from chasing her abductors down. Looking at me, the man asked again, “Trump or Clinton?” I responded with the Democratic nominee and was led into a plush room where I voted quickly…hey, there was a full bar after you fed your ballot into the machine and I was given a draft Yuengling! About 10 minutes later my wife, with a vacant look in her eyes, came out and said “Clinton will win,” despite the fact I knew that wasn’t who she had planned to vote for (hey, it’s a Carville/Matalin thing, don’t judge us!). She had a Hi-C juice box in her hand and said nothing more about what had happened and, with that, we were done with voting for 2016.

Now, if you believed that, you shouldn’t be allowed to vote because of basic stupidity.

The only part that was true was it was a beautiful day in Florida. There was some traffic at the library, but everyone was in a great mood as we entered the polling location. There were no protestors, no “voter watchdogs,” no politicking at all. After coming to the poll worker, my wife and I were questioned about the fact we had requested a mail-in ballot (with my poll worker drilling me a bit harder than my wife’s) and we ensured them that those ballots would be destroyed (and they were – you don’t have a great shredder for nothing).

This is the point where things got a bit strange, however. After I was given the ballot, the poll worker said to me, “Go to the cubicle and fill it out.” Fill it out? I wondered, until I got to the cubicle and saw a black ink pen waiting on the dais. Yes, that’s right…in the 21st century, with the advancements in electronic voting, I was going to fill out a ballot by COLORING IN A CIRCLE like I was taking the SAT!

This is completely unacceptable. Sure, maybe it was a factor that the Hillsborough County Superintendent of Elections, Craig Latimer, didn’t want to roll out the automated machines for the early voting process. Perhaps there were some costs involved in having those machines prepped for the early voting process and it was a money-saving maneuver. Perhaps he believes that the ink and paper written ballots are more than enough for those who are voting early. It sure as hell doesn’t lend credence to voter satisfaction or knowledge that their vote is being accepted, logged and counted as it should be…but I digress.

After completing my end-of-semester final…I mean, my BALLOT FOR THE 2016 ELECTIONS…I then went over to a nice older lady who instructed me to feed it into a machine. That machine didn’t exactly strike confidence either as basically all it did was say that it had passed through the machine. There was no “VOTE COUNTED” display nor was there anything to alert the poll worker that there might have been a problem with registering the vote. The best I could do was accept that the poll worker said the vote was entered and, accepting my little voter sticker, accept her wishes for a “good day” and exit the polling area.

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And that is the way it will go for virtually 150 million U. S. citizens who vote this year. No shenanigans, no “voter fraud,” no “voter watchdogs” sticking their noses into the process.

Yes, this year has provided us a tremendously stressful election. Normally sane people – people that would normally take up for their fellow man, believe in the dream for ALL people in the United States that they can improve their station in life and believe that we are the world’s beacon of light – have suddenly become xenophobic assholes who want to deny everything to everyone. Normally sane people – ones that wouldn’t take any disparaging remarks about women or minorities, going to the edges to fight against such idiotic people and their language – suddenly are misogynous reptiles that toss such beliefs under the bus in the name of “nationalism.” Normally sane people – those that have railed against dictators, strongmen and other such threats to a democratic process – suddenly support a fascist bastard because “he tells it like it is.”

Unfortunately, that is the way this nation has become, fractured and with the break separating even further day by day. We must reverse this process at the end of this election. We should at least TRY to work together, talk sanely about issues and try to find a way to move the country forward. But, as we have already seen, the GOP isn’t exactly looking to do that. Thus, either we must force them to action or vote them out…there’s no other option.

For myself and my lovely wife, the 2016 General Election is over. We’ve placed our votes. Our duty is done and I myself am at peace. I can watch the returns come November 8 and be satisfied that I exercised a special right that U. S. citizens have that other countries do no provide their countrymen and women. I can also be worried of what the future may hold with an electorate that is so separated…it, and I, will be.

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Let’s Bring It Down a Notch…Actions and Rhetoric Getting Out of Control

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One thing that has been a constant in the United States is that we have a healthy appetite for conflict, differences of opinion and combative discourse. It’s been ingrained in the nation since its inception, since we first landed on Plymouth Rock, that there have been two (or more) sides to every story and that story has to be defended. Since the midpoint of the 20th century – hell, perhaps a bit earlier? – those actions have been spinning out of control and its time to bring it down a notch.

(Writer’s note:  If you say that “well, your rhetoric is causing it, too” I will probably respond by saying yes. At the same time, I’ve always had a philosophy…if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck and shits like a duck…it’s probably a duck and I will call it as such. Hence, when I soon hereafter will refer to Trump as a Nazi officer, he has earned the title through his actions, his philosophies and his own rhetoric.)

The 2016 Presidential battle between former Secretary of State and Senator Hillary Clinton and wanton stain on the human condition Donald Trump is the latest example of how things have gotten a bit out of control. Back during the Republican National Convention, there were cries of “Kill her!” and “Lock her up!” implying that the rules of common decency, law and “innocent until proven guilty” didn’t apply to the Secretary. It’s only gotten worse since then, especially since it appears that Oberführer Trump will crash and burn spectacularly in about three weeks.

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First there have been the constant rantings from the candidate himself, basically saying that if he wins, all is good. If he loses, however, then there’s a massive conspiracy that is working against him that is trying to steal the election (and, quite honestly, trying to watch the simpletons who support Trump wrap their minds around this concept is utterly stunning). The very action of accusing the election of being unduly tilted is, at the minimum, an insult to the men and women acroEss the nation whose sole purpose is to ensure that the election is properly run. At the maximum, it is “banana republic” territory when you see something along the lines of what used to happen (and still does) in Cuba, with Fidel Castro winning a “vote” of the people by a 90% margin.

For well over 200 years, this country has been founded on the fact that, come a national election, the people make their choice and the Electoral College decides the outcome (that’s an argument for another time). NEVER in the history of the country has one candidate decried the system in saying that it is conspiring against them or that “unseen actors” are trying to sway the results. Even in the hotly contested 2000 election, then-Vice President Al Gore conceded the election to George Bush (for better or worse) rather than drag out the process and put a bigger strain on the democracy than the back-and-forth debate was doing at that point.

But no, now we have a narcissistic bastard who can’t believe that everyone doesn’t love him. And its having an effect on the general populace.

Having his own “John McCain moment” last week, Republican Vice Presidential nominee (and frequent Trump apologist) Mike Pence stood in front of a woman and ACTUALLY HAD TO SAY “Don’t say that,” when she went off on a rant about how the campaign was being stolen from Trump and that she, “personally, if Hillary Clinton gets in, I’m ready for a revolution.” Adding to this, longtime Trump surrogate and Milwaukee Sheriff David A. Clarke Tweeted a photo of a mob holding torches and actually had the audacity to say, “(It’s) Pitchforks and torches time.”

Thus, we can’t be surprised when it actually spills over into, you know, actual firebombing. A North Carolina office of the Orange County Republican Party was firebombed over the weekend, while a swastika was spray painted next door along with the quote “Nazi Republicans leave town or else.” At this moment, there are no suspects in custody but, in a remarkable piece of laying personal politics aside, the DEMOCRATS in the state led by two academics raised over $13,000 to help the Republican Party rebuild or find other office space to conduct their business (yes, there was some backlash against the idea, but if you think the GOP would have done the same thing if it were reversed, you have more faith in Republicans than I do).

Finally, the mere act of endorsing a candidate has brought up one of the ugliest occurrences in the history of journalism. The Arizona Republic, which in its history has never endorsed a Democratic candidate for President (and we’re talking 125 years here), did just that last week in endorsing Clinton (and this isn’t the first conservative newspaper to endorse Clinton by any stretch). Their readership responded in a controlled, reasoned matter…and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Reporters received threats along the lines of “You’re dead, watch your back,” “You should be put in front of a firing squad,” or “We will burn you down” as a reply from their readers. The threats even reached as far as going to the delivery people whose only connection to the paper is DROPPING IT ON A FUCKING DOORSTEP. As a finale, there were many who discussed Don Bolles, a former journalist with the Republic who, 40 years ago, was murdered through the usage of a car bomb in a case he was investigating (Bolles would die 11 days after suffering many painful injuries). Such a fate for the editorial board was repeatedly wished.

When did this bullshit reach this point?

Difference of opinion in politics is supposed to be resolved through logic, evidence and discussion. Unfortunately, when one side started either making up evidence or denying the existence of logic, the discussion went out the window quickly. Instead, now all we have are different factions who lock into a viewpoint, immovable in their ideas lest it shatter their little world. In fact, it has gotten so bad that CONSPIRACY THEORIES are now a part of political campaigns, as frequently used by Trump over the course of the 2016 elections (and not just against Clinton – he literally carpet-bombed the GOP with a plethora of conspiracy lulus).

Over the remaining three weeks of the election (and it will be three weeks as Clinton will decimate Trump in the general election), it is pertinent on the people of the United States to try to clean up this mess that has been created. That squalor has been around since – well, if we had to place a blame, it is when the public square became the internet and ideas could be shared in seconds rather than in the time it took to make a phone call or send a telegram or a letter. While public discourse is a good thing (in most cases), there’s sometimes it does step too far.

With the internet, we’ve become more fractured, more frayed. We find things that support our own theories rather than actually taking the time to examine things from another side. This has only made us more unhesitatingly ugly towards each other, with that ugliness now beginning to slide over into the potential for real violence (remember how one candidate said the other could be taken care of “by the Second Amendment people” or that said candidate would “jail” a political opponent…but I digress).

It’s time we reverse this trend and I’ll make an effort along these lines. I will try not to be combative with people I discuss issues with – no matter how moronic they become – and will try to maintain a semblance of logic, evidentiary process and clear discussion. Now I will couch this in the fact that, if someone steps outside those boundaries, then all bets are off and hellfire is coming. By doing this, perhaps it is a step in the right direction.

We still have time to change the discourse in the United States. Perhaps we can even affect the discourse in Washington, D. C., and other legislatures around the country. The alternative isn’t a pretty one as, for the past eight years at least, we’ve seen a precursor that could explode into all measures of incivility.

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Protests Only Work When It Hurts…

It’s funny the things that will come up when you’re in the process of moving. During me and my wife’s latest move from the foothills of North Carolina to the Gulf Coast of Florida, I happened across probably one of the more disappointing moments from this year (at least until possibly the election in November)…

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Now, the seats weren’t fantastic – in fact, they were at the other end of the arena from where the stage was situated. But they were square on with the stage and would have offered a great opportunity to see much of the crowd enjoying the show from Bruce, one of the legendary performers in rock history (I could tell stories about seeing him in 1980 for a six-plus hour show, but we’ll save that for another time). My wife and I were eagerly anticipating the show as it had been many years since either of us had been able to see “The Boss” in action.

Then the North Carolina General Assembly and asswipe Governor Pat McCrory got their panties in a bunch.

In February, the Charlotte City Council passed an ordinance extending protections to the lesbian/bisexual/gay/transgender (LGBT) community. A part of this ordinance – and the issue that sparked the most controversy – was the provision for allowing people to use the restroom of their gender identity, rather than that of whichever sex they were born. In essence, the ordinance allowed those who were in the process of shifting from one sex to another to use the restroom of that other sex (male transgendered individuals could use female restrooms and vice versa).

The response by McCrory and the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature (which has been gerrymandered to make it virtually impossible for a balanced legislature to occur – witness the THREE TIMES that the federal government has called the state’s legislative districts unconstitutional) was immediate. Convening a special session of the General Assembly (one outside the normal working times of the legislative body), McCrory and his henchmen pushed through HB2, a bill that was so overreaching in its aim it was destined for the “unconstitutional” bin almost from the start.

Not only did that bill immediately set that “all people” had to use the restroom of the birth sex, but it also removed the right for minorities and the LGBT community to sue through the state court system for discrimination. It included a provision that prevented individual cities from enacting their own laws that differentiated from state statutes. With many Democratic representatives protesting by leaving the voting floor, the statute passed through the General Assembly with only about 12 HOURS of overall discussion.

This was the end of March and, within days, the impact was felt. Several local productions in theaters around the Tar Heel State reported that the rights holders to significant stage productions (plays) were pulling their approval for performance over the bill. The streaming provider Hulu pulled the production of a program they had set for airing out of North Carolina over the bill and PayPal suspended expansion of its operations center in the state. This was but the tip of the iceberg, however.

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Many entertainment artists have also pulled out of shows that they were scheduled to perform, including “The Boss,” Pearl Jam, Boston, Bryan Adams, Ani DiFranco, Ringo Starr, Nick Jonas and Demi Lovato and Cirque du Soleil. The real thunder came down, however, over the past couple of months, first with the National Basketball Association’s removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game from Charlotte. Then, just yesterday, the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) removed SEVEN championship games or playoff sites from the state, citing the law as the reason. All totaled, the loss of business regarding all of these repercussions could total to as much as half a billion dollars by the year anniversary of HB2’s passage, with the NBA All-Star Game accounting for about $100 million of that total, and could even impact future business in the state.

The reason this came back to me was not only a result of the move. Finding that ticket stub for an unused concert was simply the catalyst for a reply to model Kate Upton’s Twitter hissy fit over athletes not standing for the National Anthem. Of course, over the weekend was the opening weekend of the National Football League season (and the 15th anniversary of 9/11, just coincidentally) and, following in the footsteps of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s continuing protest against inequality in the United States, some players either did not stand for, knelt in protest or displayed the “Black Power” salute as the National Anthem played. This bunched Upton’s panties, who stated, “This is unacceptable. You should be proud to be an American. Especially on 9/11 when we should support each other.”

The continued attention being drawn to what has now become a movement (hey, if a subject catches the nation’s attention for more than two years – yes, it’s been that long since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, widely considered the spur – it is a movement) is only done when a protest has an impact. Kaepernick has been vocal in the past regarding the issues of black people in the United States and their treatment at the hands of law enforcement, but no one was paying any attention to what he was saying. It wasn’t until his act of defiance of not standing for the National Anthem – and attention was drawn to the fact that he was doing it – that there became a national conversation (admittedly sometimes not about what Kaepernick wanted to talk about, as with Upton’s attempt at using her First Amendment rights by silencing Kaepernick’s, but still there was discussion).

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For a protest to have an impact, there are a couple of things that it should have. It has to have some financial teeth, some fiscal bite, that pushes some to reconsider their positions (it also has to have a side that understands those fiscal implications – apparently North Carolina Republicans are morons if they issue this response). Along with that, it should have some emotional impact on people. There were plenty that were upset over Springsteen’s decision to not perform in North Carolina, just as there are more than likely many upset that Demi Lovato didn’t come to North Carolina or that LeBron James won’t be making an appearance during the NBA All-Star Game in the state. A protest only works when it hurts, either physically or emotionally. That is what makes a protest enact the change that comes about (eventually) with issues.

I’m putting those unused Bruce Springsteen tickets back in the desk as a reminder to myself for a couple of reasons. One, something has to be lost (in some cases) for a protest to have its desired effect, and Two, there is the ability to protest at all levels, from the richest of us all to the poorest. It will be some time before the protests of the actions in North Carolina and the national discussion of inequality are adequately addressed, but hopefully it is sooner than later.

Rail Against a Theocratic Government? Start with The GOP’s Vision for the United States…

It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when the Republican Party was one that stood up for business interests, be they the street corner “mom and pop” shops or the monolithic companies such as General Motors or General Electric that employed thousands of workers. They stood for a strong defense, a military that was prepared to do battle anywhere but wasn’t wasted on piddling matters that weren’t of our nation’s interests. They also could, at one point in their history, be the spark of what were some of the great movements in the United States, changing what would be the course of our nation.

So what happened to the “Grand Old Party,” the GOP, the Republicans? Religion, and in particular the zealous “Religious Right” is what happened to them. (And this guy? Your guess is as good as mine…)

Over the past few weeks, a couple of states in this country – both with Republican leadership in their legislatures and Republican governors – have passed some of the most heinous laws this country has seen since the Jim Crow days following the close of the Civil War.

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In North Carolina, Governor Pat McCrory (who has that same sheepish “look what I got away with” bullshit smirk that President George Bush [Bush II] had) signed into law HB 2, officially titled the “Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act.” Much like other Republican bullshit laws like the “Patriot Act” or the “Troubled Asset Relief Program,” HB 2 was a move by the GOP-led General Assembly to thwart an ordnance that was passed by the city of Charlotte – and only applicable in that city, it must be stated – that allowed for transgender persons to use the bathroom facilities of the sex that they identified with (as such, a man in the process of switching to being a female would use the ladies’ room and vice versa). Calling a special session of the General Assembly to Raleigh (at a minimum cost of $42,000 per day for a state currently running a budget deficit), the GOP felt this HAD to be addressed.

The law specifically outlawed transgendered people from using the restroom of their changed sex, saying that they had to use the facilities of the sex they were identified with on their birth certificate (which of these GOP assholes is going to be the guardian at the gate?). Not only was this an abomination, the General Assembly went further in stripping the rights from lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people (LGBT) from state anti-discrimination protections (although they were never mentioned in any discrimination laws previously), including job protection and housing requirements. Finally – and as a last “fuck you” to the people of North Carolina – the General Assembly made it law that no city can raise their minimum wage over what the state deems correct (this is irritating enough on its own).

North Carolina doesn’t take the prize for being the biggest bigots on the block, however. Mississippi voted through the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act (see what I mean about bullshit titling?),” through a bicameral system dominated by Republicans. In that act, the bill allows for the out-and-out discrimination against LGBT people by businesses based on religious reasons. The bill was signed into law by another Republican, Governor Phil Bryant, and is now in effect in the state.

TheProblem

Other states with Republicans running things have gotten wise and decided it wasn’t worth screwing up business dealings with other states for the potential to have such “religious freedom” laws on the books. Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Maine and Ohio have decided that the ability to have businesses welcomed in the state, movies and television shows filmed inside their borders or athletic events contested in their arenas is better than being a social outcast. This is something that North Carolina is learning and Mississippi will probably be learning soon.

In North Carolina, the National Basketball Association is considering the removal of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game and the All-Star Game Weekend festivities from the city, with Basketball Hall of Fame member Charles Barkley seconding those statements. The NCAA is looking at its 2017 and 2018 college sports tournaments, which could host at least 20 games at venues in the state, and whether it will hold those games at those arenas. PayPal has decided against opening a global operations center in Charlotte over the passage of the law (which was to have provided 500 jobs) as Apple, IBM and Google have also lined up in opposition to the law. The streaming television provider Hulu pulled production of its pilot for a new show, Crushed, from the state and, on Friday, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert in Greensboro, citing the oppressive new law as the reason. All of these individual items could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues and it is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

The Republican Party enjoys talking about how they dislike the theocratic government of Iran or the hideous atrocities that groups like ISIS inflict on their people in the name of religion, but let’s start with them as a zealous religious group that would look to install a theocratic reign of terror should they be allowed everything they would like to see installed (nullification of Roe v. Wade would just be the beginning). The different “religious freedom” laws are about as ludicrous as it gets as NO ONE is infringing on the freedom of ANY religion in this country. Last I checked, you could freely walk around the streets of Anywhere, USA, with a Bible, Book of Mormon, Qur’an or Torah without anyone accosting you. You can gather anywhere – a park, a home, a school or even an actual house of worship that isn’t taxed by said government – without the danger of having the government shut it down. You can even – shock of shocks – WEAR A PENDANT DECLARING YOUR FAITH openly in public. So quit with this bullshit of “religious freedom” and call it what it is – the new way of saying “racial or personal bigotry.”

Since the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the GOP has slowly been eaten away by the “religious right,” and it has been a slow process. It started against those who were “different” – minorities, gays (this was also the time of the Stonewall Riots in 1969), “foreigners” (screw the fact that many in this country were maybe one or two generations removed from being a foreigner themselves) or “hippies” who were against the Vietnam War. As the 70s came along, that “Religious Right” became capitalized as the GOP discovered that it was a sizeable force that presented several things that a political party likes – a solid voting bloc that won’t sway and, in most cases, quite affluent to be able to support the party financially.

That “Religious Right” became the “Moral Majority” that spewed its vile verbosity across the country in the 1980s, perpetuated by President Ronald Reagan and George Bush (Bush I). With such hucksters as Jim Bakker, Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts (who once famously said that “God would call him home if he didn’t raise $6 million” in a certain time frame – when it didn’t happen, no one called him on his bullshit), Benny Hinn and others piping their drivel across cable networks, their power continued to grow (never mind that they couldn’t keep their privates in their pants if their lives depended on it). While it might seem it calmed in the 1990s, it only changed its face into the Neo-Conservatives.

ReligiousRight

Those “conservatives” (and I will use that term because there are SOME conservatives out there who are aghast that their GOP has been overrun by religious zealots) have destroyed what was once a party that did things, that tried to run a country. These “conservatives” now want to deny everyone anything (including gay marriage and any other rights), put Christianity as the only religion of the land and, in essence, become the same theocracy they say they preach against (they have their “perfect leader” in Rafael Eduardo Cruz). This isn’t a political party, this is a religious movement that is impersonating a political organization, not the Republican Party or GOP that was around after World War II.

Fortunately, the world is changing. There are fewer and fewer of these brain-dead religious zealots pandering to a close-minded bigoted electorate who still want to look in the bathrooms and bedrooms and keep an eye on what people do, but it isn’t dwindling quickly enough. It’s time to let the GOP know that their archaic social stances will keep them from ever being considered seriously as a political entity. Within a generation, either the GOP will have grudgingly entered the 21st century or they will have died a painful death (they may very well be in those death throes now). If it brings an end to this bigotry masquerading as “religious freedom,” then I’m all for it.

Is The “American” Too Stupid To Handle The Responsibility of Guns?

HeyCongress

The United States, in its creation and its development, is one of the most brilliant experiments that has occurred in human history. Instead of a homogenous society such as many Asian nations or one of tribal dominance such as those that are found in Africa, the United States of America was a true attempt at something that many would feel is impossible:  incorporating different people, different ideologies and different cultures into a “melting pot” where the end goal is an amalgam of the world’s best into a new creature…an “American” (I must say at this point I’ve never liked the term “American” – when that term is used, I immediately wonder “North, South or Central?” How about “citizen of the United States?”). While the list of success stories from the 200-plus years of the existence of the United States of America – and another 150 years or so of settlement into this earthen laboratory – are some of the greatest in mankind’s history, there are some areas where the nation has fallen short.

One of those areas has become painfully evident as details have come out over the past few days. Last Thursday a white male walked into a community college in Oregon and, with no provocation or apparent motive, gunned down nine classmates and instructors and wounded another seven people. In the more than 72 hours since the last echo of gunshots filtered across the Oregon landscape, we’ve dredged up the old tapes of the previous arguments over past mass shooting situations rather than advancing any significant solutions for changing the climate.

The “Usual Suspects” have divided along their prescribed lines, with one side stating that further laws on guns are a necessity to prevent this from happening again. The other side states that it is their “God given right” to have weapons, as many as they want, and any move to take them away is roughly akin to an attack against the very fabric of life itself. The potential reality, however, is that this new creature we’ve created – the “American” – is too fucking stupid to handle the responsibility of guns.

In looking at it from the “law of the land” – the U. S. Constitution – there would appear to be nothing that could be done, but that would be inaccurate. The Second Amendment – “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” – was put into the Bill of Rights for the essential purpose of having each state providing its own Army – its “Militia” – for the defense of the individual State and for the purpose of providing a standing Army for the federal government. The people who would make up that “Militia” would be the citizens of the state, who would need weaponry to be able to fight in battle (not to mention that they already had these weapons for providing food for their families).

Fast forward to the 21st century and the theory of the state-run “Militia” has run its course. The federal government has the responsibility for the national defense, accepting volunteers from its citizenry, thus the theory that a person may have to join a “Militia” to defend their state or country is an antiquated one (no more so than blacks and women don’t have the right to vote, for example…that was also in the Constitution at one time). Since hunting has now also become a leisure activity for virtually everybody rather than a survival one, sane people would naturally examine the point of weapons in today’s society.

Secondly, let’s look at the situation from the evolution of weapons. In the 18th century, the weapon of choice for many in the Colonies was a musket, which took anywhere from two to five minutes to load up with a single shot. The weapon’s effective range was about 50 meters (roughly 164 feet), meaning you had to virtually be right beside your target before you squeezed the trigger (in those days, ammunition was expensive and not to be wasted). It was also fairly easy to see when you had your musket with you; at 60 inches (five feet), there wasn’t anywhere on your body to conceal the weapon.

Once again, let’s rocket through history to today. Weapons such as the AR-15 – which was the predecessor to the military usage M-16 – have become popular for ownership by civilians for their ease of use as well as their power. That weapon can be converted to be able to fire fully automatic, meaning it can spew rounds out at the rate of hundreds per minute (remember the musket was a shot every two to five minutes) and has an effective target range of 500 meters or more (in the hands of a military person or someone well trained on the weapon). Even a .45 automatic handgun can pop out rounds at around one per second (60) and has an effective range of about 100 meters, if the shooter is quick with the trigger and reloading the weapon. And this isn’t even introducing a weapon such as the M-60, a weapon with the range of 1200 meters and up to 2000 meters in a trained sniper’s hands. When comparing the two situations, any logically minded person might entertain the option, at the minimum, that the Second Amendment WASN’T written with today’s sophisticated weaponry in mind.

US Stupidity

Finally, let’s take a look at the general stupidity of those that own weapons today. In September the state of Georgia, who for some unexplainable reason allow for weapons to be carried in bars, was greeted with a shootout in a bar when several people whipped out their weapons just before 3AM in the morning. Three people were found shot there and seven others, looking to avoid police, took themselves to the hospital. Only the stupidity of not being able to aim a weapon properly prevented a significant loss of life in this instance.

Typing the search phrase “child finds gun and shoots” into Google returns over five MILLION results on the subject. Looking up “person cleaning gun shoots” returns over EIGHT MILLION hits, including a North Carolina father who shot his 10-year old son to death while wiping down his shotgun in 2013. Last year a Las Vegas gun instructor handed an Uzi to a nine-year old girl on a gun range. The girl, unable to properly control the weapon, killed the instructor immediately as she struggled with its power. These and other stories continually demonstrate the stupidity of the “American” to simply maintain their weapons safely, keep them out of the hands of those who might not know what to do with them or even momentarily pause to think if something this dangerous should be done at all.

The gun fanatics can be shot down quickly. “The only counter for a bad guy…” yeah…yeah…yeah. How many times has that “good guy” taken down the baddie? On the grounds of that community college in Oregon were several people with concealed/carry permits and at least one person who was actively carrying. What did they do to stop the situation? In such a situation, the objective is to head for cover, not open up like it’s the fucking Wild West and escalate a situation beyond what it is. The Virginia Tech shooting was done on campus in the midst of plenty of University police and security…the shooter stopped his rampage when he committed suicide. I don’t see these “good guys” civilians jumping up and, even if they could, their own personal logic and training would probably prevent them from taking action and making a situation worse.

“It’s a right…”yeah…yeah…yeah. It was previously a “right” for women not to vote, that slaves were 3/5 of a person (so much for that “all created equal” stuff), that you couldn’t drink, etc. Rights are critical to keeping society free, sure. Rights aren’t set in stone, however; recognize the end of slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights and the end of Prohibition. Besides, if Donald Trump can debate the legality of the 14th Amendment, maybe it’s time we started to take a look at all of them in our current society.

“I’m protecting against the tyrant Obama and the New World Order…” yeah…yeah…yeah. You’re part of the problem, bub, and shouldn’t be holding a weapon if you believe in a conspiracy theory like that (the “New World Order” or Illuminati is pretty lame if it has been in existence for well over 600-700 years and hasn’t TAKEN OVER ANYTHING). Put down the weapon, step away from it slowly and pick up your tinfoil hat and binky to suck to help keep you calm. (Funny how we never heard about these armed “Militias” wanting to take down President Bush, isn’t it? Perhaps that’s a question for another time…)

The stupidity of “Americans” regarding weapons will continue until there is some change to the mentality. There are fewer restrictions on guns than there are on an automobiles; while admittedly not a right, driving an auto requires an age requirement, insurance, licensing, training on the vehicle (we just don’t allow anyone to jump into a gasoline tanker truck without the proper training) and, if they don’t abide by the rules, then people are punished both financially and with their very freedom. Why can’t the same thing be done regarding our love affair with guns? If your too stupid to be able to handle them responsibly, then you don’t need to have them at all.

I won’t go through the litany of civilized nations that have come up with the answer to the questions we United States citizens face regarding the gun issue. If we continue to let the stupid rule the issue, however, we are doomed to continual tragedy. If we cannot get this system under control, then we will continue to see (to paraphrase a Jimmy Buffett song about ignoring problems around you) “a river of blood pouring out from a wound that will not heal.”