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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“Timeless” A New Television Show That Will Work Your Mind

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If it’s fall, then it is time for the new programs to hit the television screen from not only the traditional networks but also cable and streaming services. Most of the time the programs presented – especially by the traditional network outlets – are simply retreads of past programs that do little to engage the audience or test their thinking capabilities. But there are some programs that have come out that might be worth checking out. We’ll take a look at a few of them over the next couple of weeks, but let’s start with the best of the lot.

NBC has been the purveyor of some excellent programs over the past few years. It’s been three years since The Blacklist premiered on the Peacock Channel and, just last year, NBC put on another fine action-drama with Blindspot. They may have topped themselves, however, with their most recent entry, Timeless.

Timeless is the story of Lucy Preston (actor Abigail Spencer), a college professor with an ailing, bedridden mother and her stay at home sister, Amy, who takes care of her while Lucy attempts to gain tenure and follow in her mother’s footsteps. Things take a turn, however, when the college she teaches at (and where her mother was quite famous) refuses to grant her tenure, leaving her in a difficult spot. That changes when Homeland Security calls Lucy in for a project.

Coming into a warehouse, Lucy is dumbfounded to meet Connor Mason (Paterson Joseph), a brilliant scientist who has been working on undisclosed “experiments” for the government. According to Homeland Security agent Denise Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey), one of Mason’s projects was a time machine that, after a raid by terrorists led by Garcia Flynn (Goran Visnjic, who has been making an excellent living playing bad guys of late…or is he…well, not yet), has been stolen. Flynn and his cohorts have taken the time machine back to May 6, 1937.

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As a historian, Lucy knows the significance of the date. It is the day the Hindenburg exploded upon landing in Lakehurst, NJ, but she still doesn’t understand why she’s there to help Mason and the government. Mason explains that, with her knowledge and background in history, she is the best person to send to make sure that history doesn’t change, lest something happens and the “future” from 1937 is altered. Mason explains that there is a creaky prototype of the “Mothership” (the time capsule stolen by Flynn), but it only holds three riders; going along with Lucy on the trip are Wyatt Logan (Matt Lanter), a military man (probably Navy Seal from his apparent expertise) who has recently lost his wife and will provide the muscle for the team, and Rufus Carlin (Malcolm Barrett), a computer wizard and engineer on the creation of the “Mothership” who can handle the prototype and get it to and from whatever period of time they have to enter and return.

Upon reaching the flight line where the Hindenburg is landing, the threesome notice that the ground crew (the men catching the lines dropped by the dirigible to anchor the ship) are keeping the ropes off the ground, long thought to have been a theory as the cause for the grounding of the ship and the subsequent spark that set off the hydrogen gas in the blimp. The trio also see Flynn among the ground crew (having told them to keep the lines off the ground) and make chase, but are unable to catch him. Thus they have failed in their mission – keeping history the way it is known – and now must figure out why Flynn wanted to change it.

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Doing some research, Lucy learns that many noteworthy people – bankers, politicians, royalty and the elite – will be on the return flight of the Hindenburg to attend the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in England (which actually was supposed to happen in “our” history) and that Flynn is potentially looking to destroy the ship at that time to have the maximum impact on the future. Meanwhile, Wyatt hooks up with a reporter who reminds him of his deceased wife (and who was supposed to be one of the people killed on the ground in the original history of the crash), who doesn’t quite believe their story but does help them on their trek.

Our set of adventurers eventually end up in jail after killing one of Flynn’s associates (and finding a detonator in his pocket) and, in an attempt to escape to stop Flynn from destroying the Hindenburg, Rufus – who had previously stated to Mason that he didn’t want to go on the mission because as a black man “there isn’t a time in history that was good for me” – causes enough of a ruckus that the police come in, billy clubs brandished, ready to beat him senseless. This gives Wyatt enough time to pick the lock and, with Rufus’ help, immobilize the guards to stop Flynn.

The threesome board the Hindenburg and find the bomb, but are unable to stop it from exploding. They do, however, save everyone on board after forcibly taking over the ship and making it land, thus giving the passengers the quickest way off. During the resulting hubbub, Lucy comes face-to-face with Flynn and, to be honest, this is where it gets a bit interesting.

Flynn tells Lucy that he is looking to preserve history for the better, not destroy it, and tells her to ask Christopher about a certain group known only as “Rittenhouse.” He also shows her a diary that, to Lucy’s horror, is in her handwriting and apparently talks about the trips that are in the future. Wyatt comes upon them and tries to shoot Flynn, but he returns fire and misses Wyatt but hits the female reporter behind Wyatt after he jumps out of the way and kills her. With the Hindenburg now destroyed, the adventurers return to present time not knowing what they’ll find when they get there.

At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be much wrong other than some altering affected by the crew’s forcible crash landing of the blimp. The team has learned that Flynn is there to alter U. S. history but, even though the history of the Hindenburg has been slightly altered and the passengers who were killed in the original history survived (while none perished in the new historical trek), there doesn’t appear to be much out of line. Christopher sends the team home, at which point the show takes another stunning turn for one of the characters.

Lucy returns home and calls out for her sister but, to her utter amazement, her mother calls for her and comes out of the kitchen. A flabbergasted Lucy breaks down in tears at the sight of her mother in vigorous health (remember, she departed with her mother bedridden), but she still wants to know where Amy is. Her mother doesn’t know what or who she’s talking about and, to Lucy’s horror, she picks up a photo that used to feature the three Preston women that now just features Lucy and her mother. As the pilot ends, Lucy is called back by Christopher as Flynn has taken off to another point in history in the “Mothership.”

The second episode – which dealt with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln – is pretty much along the same lines, but a couple more twists are tossed in. Rufus and Mason now seem to be in cahoots as Mason has Rufus recording all the interactions between him, Wyatt and Lucy while they are on their missions, with those recordings going to the shadowy group that Flynn talked about with Lucy after the Hindenburg crash. Second, upon returning from the Lincoln mission, Lucy learns that her father in her original history met and married one of the survivors of the Hindenburg disaster and that is the reason why Amy doesn’t exist. This also leads Lucy to wonder about her OWN background (logically) and, lacking an answer on that front and returning home, finds another change in her history as her mother is throwing a party for her wedding engagement (imagine if you walked in and your mother was doing THAT for you!).

Personally, I’ve always held a fascination with alternative history (if you’ll remember, I was also big on The Man in the High Castle last year) and this show definitely taps into that vein. It goes back to the conundrum about a variation of the Grandfather Paradox known as the Hitler Paradox – if you could go back in history and kill Hitler before he begins World War II, would you do it? The problem with these types of questions – and something that is done well in Timeless (albeit only to Lucy right now – it is supposed to also affect Wyatt and Rufus at some point) – is that changing any point in past history would have an effect on what occurs in the future.

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Without Hitler and let’s just add in World War II also, would the United States have achieved all it did as a world superpower? Would there have been the Korean War, the attempts to stop the Russians and the Domino Theory? Maybe someone who died in WWII would go on to commit worse atrocities than Hitler? Would nuclear weapons have been developed? There’s plenty to think about there (and it does apply to everyone’s life – change one thing in your past and it would alter who you are today).

Timeless taps into this uncertainty and, while Lucy, Wyatt and Rufus are attempting to keep history as they know it correct, there are just enough things that they don’t or can’t prevent that it still has an impact on the present day world (Lucy’s sister disappearing, her mother healthy, etc.). What happens, for example, if they come back from a mission and Wyatt’s wife is suddenly alive? Does he quit? And what about Rufus? What is his purpose and why is he recording the crew?

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The possibilities are endless with this show. Future episodes are looking (and this is from my own knowledge of history and the titles of each episode) at the Manhattan Project, the siege of the Alamo and the Watergate burglary, but there is a wealth of situations that could be investigated. The characters are what keep you interested, critical for any drama, as you try to figure out if Lucy goes mad at some point from all the changes in her personal history, which in some way causes Flynn to start his criminal (hey, we’ve yet to figure out if it is criminal or not, remember) actions, can Wyatt overcome the loss of his wife and the mystery of Rufus (not to mention Morgan, Christopher and this mysterious organization).

Airing at 10PM on Mondays after The Voice, Timeless is a way to test your mind and expand your thinking while being entertained at the same time, making it a fresh show amidst the mindless banter out there (really, do we have to see Kevin James doing a new version of King of Queens? He really isn’t that funny to begin with!).

As Syria Burns, the World Simply Watches

The Middle East is a powder keg of differing religions, different religious factions and different viewpoints on pretty much everything, including whether the sky is blue or not. Many in the United States and Europe, far removed from the turbulent area, think that it is the issues between the Muslims and the nation of Israel that are the major problems. Far from it…the major problems are between the Muslims themselves.

Much like Christianity in Europe and the U. S., there are different factions when you discuss the Muslim faith. In Christianity, you can be Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist or Protestant…the list is quite lengthy. Each of the sects has their own particular take on the subject of God, Jesus, the Bible and how to worship as a whole. The same can be said for Muslims as well; there are the Sunnis, the Shias, the Kharijte and the Kurds, and each of those sects have their own subdivisions to make it even more confusing. And, much like Christianity in the Middle Ages (and some would argue even today), the Muslim sects fight with each other, albeit between the Muslims it is a legitimate life or death fight, not one of simply words.

The civil war in Syria is a synopsis of the problems in the Middle East. Three different sects, the Sunnis (the Islamic State – call them ISIL, ISIS or IS), the Kurds and the Shias (some from Iran), battling for control of one of the richest supplies of oil in the world, destroying their own lands and people over the past 4½ years to the point that refugees are fleeing from the country while Syrian President Bashar al-Assad plays the role of Nero. The warfare in Syria is of the utmost cruelty:  gas bombs, poison and nerve gases, phosphorous weaponry and a variety of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). These weapons are used most frequently, but the armies of all the combatants can simply walk into a village and execute its male population. As Syria continues to burn, the world has simply watched and, with the refugee situation, it cannot watch much longer.

Since the beginning of 2015, the United Nations estimates that 366,000 refugees have left Syria and Iraq, heading for Europe for a new beginning. There are plenty of problems with this situation. The situation is in the Middle East, but few nations in that area are stepping up to take on some responsibility to help a neighboring country. Nations like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey or even Iran have not even stepped forward to welcome refugees into their countries, content to sit back and watch even further while al-Assad continues to murder his own people and IS continues to destroy the remainder of the country. This refusal to assist in lessening the tragedy leads to desperate people making desperate moves.

Without the ability to remain even close to their own region, many refugees are heading for Europe by any means necessary. Europe – and in particular Germany – have welcoming regulations when it comes to those who are politically oppressed or are leaving war-torn areas, but the issue is getting to Germany or one of these other nations. Over the weekend, the nation of Hungary, which has accepted roughly 130,000 asylum requests (of which roughly 38,000 were Syrian, according to the Wall Street Journal) was the roadblock, holding up thousands of refugees to the point where many Syrians started walking rather than waiting for transportation. The reason for Hungary’s decision to block the refugees? Fears of the refugees being sent back to Hungary once they reach another European Union country and they are not allowed entry (under the rules of the European Union, a member nation can send a refugee back to the last EU nation they went through if they are not allowed asylum).

The problem that Europe is facing regarding the influx of Syrians is twofold. First, the sheer number of incoming refugees means that several nations are going to have to step up and take on an appropriate number of the refugees. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Germany can handle a certain number of refugees but that, in the future, other countries would have to be willing to allow the refugees into their countries without issue. France is refusing to allow refugees inside its borders, fortifying their defenses with more troops and catching refuges as they try to cross and sending them back to Italy, while Greece (having its own issues since its near default on its financial debt earlier this year with the European Union) hasn’t stepped forward either.

The second issue is a matter of security in the countries where Syrians are headed. Analysts with the Central Intelligence Agency have stated that the potential for terrorists to embed themselves with the true Syrian refugees is quite realistic, even to the point that it is “conceivable” that a terrorist attack could occur in Europe within the next few months from someone that is a part of the Syrian refugee situation. While we would like to think that this isn’t possible, it is a potential reason why the United States hasn’t stepped up further itself other than humanitarian aid in the region and one that has to be in the minds of security officials in the European Union also.

The main thing that many are overlooking is that more could have been done from the start of the conflict. Instead of looking for resolutions, many saw an opportunity to remove a powerful dictator from power (al-Assad is the only leader who survived the “Arab Spring” protests of 2011, watching as Libya, Egypt and other countries saw their leaders toppled). When that dictator stepped over the line in using poison gas on his own people, world governments failed to keep the dictator in check and do anything about it (potentially President Barack Obama’s biggest mistake in his term in the White House) or allowed it to continue through denying it even existed (Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China catch the blame here). Now we have a situation in Syria that is volatile at the least and a threat to the world’s security at its extreme.

The images on our television screens may seem far away as those Syrians who are looking for a new home, a new opportunity or even a new life traipse across a continent far from their homes, but something should be felt and done for the people who haven’t asked for anything like this to happen to them. The deaths of men, women and children while trying to flee the ravages of war shouldn’t be happening, nor should the villainous charlatans who fleece these people and then leave them to sickness or death in a truck or a cargo hold of a ship (those bastards just need to be executed). We also need to see what we can do as people, even for those who may not think like us religiously or philosophically…the first step to bringing the world together would be to get beyond simple divisions such as skin color or religion and look at each other as we truly are, flesh and blood humans looking for the best for our family’s futures or for the best out of life.