Mockery Jay

Just in case I wasn’t actually the last person to read the books/watch the movies, this essay/review will be filled with key spoilers. SPOILERS. I promise lots of them. That means it’s for people who already know what happens and is open to talking about it.

Yeah, it ain’t Star Wars. There’ll be time for that later.

I’m going to focus solely on the books, as I’ve yet to see MJ part 2. The tl;dr version is this: I enjoyed The Hunger Games, really, really liked Catching Fire and… though Mockingjay was the worst example of an author destroying what they’ve built and breaking all their promises to their readers.

It was a disaster.

Interestingly enough, my wife finished the books before I did. At the time she told me she was pretty disappointed in Mockingjay. But our tastes often run very different tracks, especially when it comes to books having a happy ending. I’m all for a tragic ending where nobody really gets to live on happily. But it has to be germane. It has to fit the story and the concept. It has to fulfill the promises that this is somehow never going to end well.

The set up in the first two books is very well done. You have her love for her young, gentle-hearted sister as the impetus for the entire series. Primm’s life is Katniss’s life. Katniss has to survive to protect Primm and even her mother, despite their estrangement.

The love triangle between her, Peeta, and Gale, is also pretty well set up, and it’s clear Katniss is torn between the two at the end of Catching Fire.

Haymitch is a friend, as f’d up as he is. Plutarch is an unexpected ally with bigger fish to fry and a greater goal in mind – the overthrow of the Capitol.

By the end of Catching Fire Suzanne Collins has made us a number of what I like to call promises. These promises are tacit, to an extent, implied by the circumstances the author sets up and the emotional investment he or she asks you to make.

Some of the promises Collins made:

  • Primm’s safety was paramount
  • Katniss would make a love decision between Peeta and Gale
  • The Capitol was the enemy.
  • District 13 and the rebel factions were the enemy of the Capitol, and therefore friends.
  • The rebel factions had learned from the Capitol’s evils and were reliable allies.
  • Katniss and the other victors had suffered enough and deserved to find some peace.
  • The lives of those who showed loyalty and were executed would not be spent in vain.

In short, for two full books, she had put Katniss, Peeta, and the other victors, even Haymitch, through the ringer, and in Mockingjay, they were going to be repaid for their pain and sacrifice. Katniss was going to make it right somehow.

But if you made it to the end, you realize that she really didn’t. She was just a pawn. Even the idea that the rebels weren’t much different than the Capitol would have been workable if Collins had left her someone to protect, someone to save. But she didn’t leave us anyone.

Collins destroyed everyone, including Katniss and Peeta, leaving them as broken shells to whimper off into the sunset, trying to guess what was real.

And those promises?

  • After everything Katniss gave, Primm is killed by the rebels in a vile terror attack specifically designed to target civilians and caregivers – apparently to blame it on the Capitol, despite the fact that by that time everyone already knows the Capitol is a pile of shit and the entire population of Panem already knows it. So clearly the *only* reason for the attack was that she had decided Katniss was going to kill Coin, and she didn’t believe she had enough reason without killing Primm. Fuck that. Primm was the heart of Katniss’s survival – her drive to live, her reason to fight.
  • Collins apparently didn’t trust Katniss with the responsibility to decide between Gale and Peeta, so she turned Gale into a terrorist asshole who was basically responsible for killing Primm.
  • The Capitol was the enemy, right? “Remember who the real enemy is.” Then she kills Coin. And everyone is the enemy. Ugh.
  • The Rebels were friends and allies. Oh, except they killed indiscriminately and just used Katniss for propaganda, then tried to have her killed. You’re telling me there is NOBODY who has the betterment of mankind in mind? You’re telling me that they learned nothing from the evil acts and mistakes of the Capitol?
  • The Victors were, in a way, the secondary heroes. They had been victims who had been forced to survive under horrific circumstances. The promise was that if they won, their servitude and sacrifice wouldn’t have been in vain. But they were just mowed under and wasted by Collins. She gave us absolutely nobody to be happy for at all.
  • There was nothing but destruction and hollow victory for the rebels. All those senseless deaths, during the tour, the hospital in District 8, and so on – there was no real joy, happiness, victory, no reward for such a steep price.

I honestly don’t know how Collins lost the plot so terribly. Don’t ask me to invest so much time and emotion and then pay me with a pile of crap. Don’t promise me a hero, their family, and a victory, then pay me off by killing absolutely everyone I cared about for 1,000 fucking pages and leaving the only two left as vapid shells of themselves. You’re not George R. R. Martin, and this isn’t the Game of Thrones. This was a story with an unlikely hero and some gentle people to protect, and Collins just mowed them all under the weight of a story she doesn’t appear to have been equipped to finish.

I can’t remember ever loving the first two books of a story so much only to be cut off at the knees so brutally. In reality, I probably could have accepted almost all of it until she took Primm to finish it off. It felt like a big “fuck you” for the time and emotion I’d invested in her story.

I’ll probably go ahead and watch Mockingjay part II for completion’s sake, but unless they decided to throw away Collins’ horrid ending, I doubt it will be anything less frustrating than the reading.



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Are You the Gatekeeper?

I ran across this in my twitter feed yesterday:


For my love of writing, I tend to follow back authors who follow me. It’s just decent to do so. Many of them are self-published, especially on Amazon. I sympathize with their plight and their aim. Get their books published and be a writer only someday.

But this sentiment I cannot abide. I’m sorry.

I need gatekeepers. Many, many of us need gatekeepers. Here is why.

I will read between 30-40 books this year. I always strive for 50, but because of my schedule, I don’t think I’ve hit that many read since before the wife and I began procreating.

The most recent number I could find revealed that in 2012, there were 391,000 new self-published eBook titles released.

Nearly 400,000.

Self-publishing is still on the rise due to the relative technological ease of doing so. So even if it only increased 10% a year since then, that means that in the subsequent 2.5 years, there have been roughly a 1.2 million more titles released. That’s a total of 1.6 million titles since January 1, 2012. It’s probably more than that.

So if I were to take this meme literally, in order to find the 100 titles I would like to read, I would have to gamble my way through 1.6 million books to find those particular books.

My chances are right around 0.00625%.

Now it’s true that my choices of genre and subgenre will whittle that down significantly. My particular likes are fantasy, horror, history (non-fiction), science, philosophy, and so on. So maybe I could get that total pool down to 160,000 titles.


Yeah, that ain’t happening.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have the time or inclination to burrow my way through hundreds of thousands of nondescript titles with mostly home-rendered cover art in the scant hope of finding that one title of enough quality to make my search worthwhile.

I mean, if a close writer-friend of mine self-published a kewl eBook, I’m buying that shit right now. And I’m reading every word. And I’ll love it, even if it should suck (which fortunately, it doesn’t, especially if you like snark.) But I don’t know these other 100,000 people. And because I have specific reading I really want to do, and a little bit I need to do, I’m not going to give every self-published author that follows me on twitter a book’s worth of my time to give them a chance. I just don’t have that kind of time.

So you know what I do? I rely on gatekeepers. Those gatekeepers of publishing who’ve kept me reading relatively enjoyable and informative works for decades now. If a book has gotten through that gauntlet as well as garnered some reviews I can rely on to give me a good estimation of what to expect in both content and quality, then I’m going to buy it, and I’m going to happily pay extra for the privilege.

I don’t care if I’m paying $10.99 vs. $1.99. I value my time too much. That 350 page book might take me a good chunk of my spare time for 3-7 days. You bet your ass that kind of time is worth way more than the $9.00 differential you’re offering me to gamble that your book was one of the ones they were wrong about, that they just missed.

Every now and then one will rise to the top and a publisher will snap it up and republish it through separate channels. Take The Ark by Boyd Morrison. It was serviceable at best. Interesting plot (with one HUGE hole,) workaday writing, and cardboard characters. Okay for thriller pap, but I won’t buy his next.

And that’s the pinnacle. That’s the big example. If I have to troll through hundreds or even thousands of titles with that as the best on offer…?

And I have to admit that I find it cloying and disingenuous the way the self-published writer community has co-opted the term “Indie.” It’s a pretty transparent attempt to shift perception by intimating that their independent state was an artistic choice they made rather than their only option in the wake of consistent rejection from agents and publishing companies. Calling oneself a “self-published author” carried with it a well-earned stigma, coming to pretty much equate to “poor quality.” So they sought to escape that stigma by changing the terminology rather than changing the quality.

Indie filmmakers and Indie musicians primarily became so in order to escape the restrictions of the studio system, to push typical boundaries to create groundbreaking artwork that challenged conventional norms.

Unfortunately the only boundary that’s challenged by at least 90% of self-published writing is the quality boundary.

That’s alright. I can write my own dreck.

If you’re an “Indie Author” and you’re taking offense to this, I would like to apologize, but I can’t. I need my gatekeepers.

Yes, I know that even J.K. Rowling was rejected a number of times before becoming the global success that she is. If you’re the very, very rare “Indie Author” whose very good work has to this point been overlooked, I really am sorry that I don’t have the time to wade through the other hundred thousand authors who think the exact same thing of themselves, but aren’t actually right about it like you are. I truly am. And I truly hope that, like Boyd Morrison, you get discovered so that my gatekeepers hold you up as an example of one that almost got by them so I can enjoy your work.

If you, like me, are an aspiring writer who to this point hasn’t gotten past the gatekeepers, I would urge you to keep trying. Improve your writing. Submit again and again. Don’t fall to the temptation of the wide and easy path. I would be willing to be that some of those who are now churning out material that won’t pass muster with publishers are talented enough to get good enough to eventually publish, but lack the patience and discipline to get there. I suspect they are more in love with seeing a book cover with their name on it, an Amazon listing with their book title on it, the kind of ad copy they wish a publisher was providing for them, than they are with finishing a quality novel. That’s a loss not only for them, but also for us who might have had something to truly enjoy had they allowed their work and their ability to be tempered by the fire of rejection.

Now if, like my friend mentioned above, you write subversive and interesting short stories and poetry that would struggle to find an audience no matter how good they are, then go Indie, please. Quality does not always equal commercially mass-marketable.

But, sad to say, you’re going to struggle to be seen amidst the other 400,000-ish books that are completely clogging the virtual bookshelves.

If only there was somebody to help all of us sort out the wheat from the chaff, as imperfect as their efforts might be.

Oh, right, there is. Some call them Gatekeepers.

They’re better known as the Publishing Industry.

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Spidey’s Demise

So there I am, brushing my teeth. My sink is right next to the oversized luxury tub that my wife uses like, what, maybe once a year?

So I glance into it and what do I see? A spider. Every now and then a spider finds his or her way into the tub. A nice blank area free of competitors, ripe for the taking. That’s how it looks. But what the spider soon learns is that, somehow, their little sticky feet don’t work on the ceramic surface of the tub. They can’t climb up, no matter what they do.

Why? I have no damn idea, but we’ve come home from vacation before to find the occasional spider carcass.

Because I’m not normal by any stretch, that got me to thinking:

What would Spiderman do if he got stuck in a giant bathtub?

It dawned on me that, on the evidence in my own bathroom, Spiderman would be pretty easy to kill. Well, relatively speaking. I mean, if you’re an evil mastermind with tons of money to build a fortress of evil in the middle of nowhere with giant laser guns and shit.

What I’d do is find a spot way out in the middle of the desert where nobody ever goes. Then I’d build a huge giant bathtub made out of ceramic just like in our nice little bathroom tub.

But really, really huge.

Like, 40 feet deep.

Then I’d capture him, because, you know, he always gets captured at some point, right?

Then I’d put him in the tub and just fuckin’ leave him there.

For two weeks.

He could never get out.

His sticky hands and feet won’t work on the ceramic sides. There would be nothing overhead to shoot his webbies and pull himself to safety.


The end of Spidey.


Now all I need is a white Persian cat.

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Just This One Chance

My job takes me all over central California as well as a bit of the south. Two places I pass by nearly every week are the Salinas Valley State Prison and the Coalinga State Hospital.

The prison in Soledad harbors some of California’s most violent and recidivist criminals, many of them members of prison gangs such as La Eme, Nuestra Familia, Aryan Brotherhood, and their street-level offshoots. Coalinga State Hospital inters some 800 plus of the state’s most violent sex offenders, held indefinitely under treatment under Jessica’s Law.

I’m always severely fascinated by those facilities as I drive by. It’s hard for me to keep my eyes on the road because I stare at the towers, the razor wire topped fences, the tiny window-slits, the isolated landscape.

I’m a big believer in the rank equality of the human animal. We are all born and we will all die. None of us are chosen. None of us are better than the other. None of us deserve better because of what we can do or where (or to whom) we were born. We have zero influence on the chance/luck at work in the DNA lottery our parents played, and most of us still play, in the throes of bodily passion, that spurting moment of physical intensity that determines which numbers come up on the bingo balls that hold our helices together.

While this concept opens up an entire nexus of conversations, there’s just one that stands out for me, that rings between my ears like the aftermath of an M-80 that went off a little too soon. Whenever I drive by and see those towers, those walls, those fences, I realize how fucking lucky I am. I’m not an extreme determinist, at least not to the point that I think we’re not responsible for our actions. And, being an atheist, I’m certainly not a Calvinist.

But I know I won the lottery. I fucking won – 5 numbers and the MegaPowerSuperBall. I’m smarter than the average guy – 99th percentile smart. I’m reasonably talented – I play half a dozen instruments, most of which I taught myself. I can sing, and sing very well. I’m a pretty decent thespian and not too bad at directing. I can lead: when I start something, when I reach out, people gather around, they get on board, they trust me. Without a college degree I managed to work my way into a career in which I do way better than average.

Is this bragging? It may sound like it. But I know better. I know I lucked into this. Sperm meets egg and somehow all the elements in there pop out a guy who, with all his flaws, is just gifted with all of these little elements that enable him to have a pretty damn good life. I wasn’t born in a refugee camp in Chad. I wasn’t born in Rwanda in the midst of ethnic cleansing. I wasn’t born a female in a conservative family in Saudi Arabia, destined to be married off at the age of ten to a man four times my age. I wasn’t born a Dalit in Delhi, India, an outcast from birth. I wasn’t born a starving Ethiopian child. I wasn’t born black in the American South. I wasn’t born blind, deaf, dumb, mute, or crippled in any way.

I was born white and middle-class in America. My disadvantages, and they are few, are very first-world; dysfunctional family right from the very center of the modern American experience.

It’s true that I could have gone another direction, like so many do. I could have made decisions that destroyed my future, my life, my relationships, my marriage, my whole family. But I had it within me, somewhere in my DNA, to make enough of the decisions that provided me with a relatively charmed life.

I won. I win every day I’m alive. And when I’m finally dead, I will have lived the life of a winner, not a winner who hit a home run, but a winner who was born somewhere on the chalk line between third and home with enough sense to run the short rest of the way home.

I drive by the prison, the hospital… I see those walls, those fences, that lethal razor wire and towers full of guards trained to kill the people inside if necessary, and I wonder…

How can I not write? How can I not take at least a few minutes and just fucking try to make it? One word, one page at a time? I’m not one of the ones who lost. I’m not one of the ones who went batshit crazy and raped, killed, maimed, robbed, or whatever. I don’t have to live with the demons that drive a person to act in such a way that they have to be hidden away from the rest of the world for everyone’s own good.

If I don’t try to fulfill my dreams, then I piss on the very luck that put me where I am. If I don’t try to be a little more decent, a little nicer, a little gentler, a little more peaceful, I spit on the one single chance I have to enjoy what I’m so lucky to have.

It would be like winning the lottery and holding the winning ticket in my hand and saying, “Well, fuck it, I don’t feel like turning this in today. I’ll just stuff it in a drawer somewhere because I’d rather watch The Bachelor on TV.”

We have just this one chance, this one life, this one existence, this fleeting dawn of consciousness where I’m lucky enough to know that, whatever else may be true, I am, and I am here, and I have just this one chance to live it with the volume all the way up.

Hugging my children and telling them I love them.

Kissing my wife and holding her close, cherishing every moment.

Feeling the warmth of the sun, the soft damp of the rain, the bracing cold of the snow, and biting snap of the wind.

And opening my heart to write with the courage that comes from knowing that this chance, however long it may be, is and always will be, my last.

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Artistic License

castorfThis article appeared in my feed today. It recounts the conflict between the estate of the inimitable Berthold Brecht (administered by his daughter, I believe) and a German theater director well-known for his extremely liberal interpretations of the plays he directs. Brecht’s estate is known to be rather particular about the integrity of his plays as written, and Frank Castorf is known to very particularly challenge both the author and audience with his “scandalous” interpretations.

This article isn’t really going to be about Castorf’s production or the man himself. For one, I’m not familiar with the man’s work. For two, I don’t see myself making it over to Germany anytime soon. For three, I don’t speak German. For four, I’ve only this article and a few other articles that can be found online to inform me, and these are necessarily going to be less than the whole story – far less.

Instead, it will be about the artistic questions the article raises for this particular writer and sometime director.

It is very interesting to me in a couple of ways. One, of course, is the challenge to copyright and the continual conversation about the sensibility and scope of copyright, which I’m also not getting into here.

The second is in my own philosophy about directing.

Not that I need to, but I should clarify – nobody on the Great White Way is banging on my door and begging me to direct the next big thing, and most of the plays I’ve directed have been of lighter fare (though even those I take seriously – more on that later.)

When I direct a show, I always feel my responsibility is to get as close as I can to the version of the truth the author was trying to convey. And I’m not sure I feel this only as a responsibility, but also as a personal urge. I want to know what the playwright knew when or she wrote. I can’t find that out by myself. I need to collaborate with actors, a stage manager, technicians, crew, everyone, to create the environment where the characters come to life through honest digging and soul-searching.

My other priority is to draw out the actor and encourage them to find the most realistically human version of their character as possible. What truth does this or that character know? What truth are they trying to find?

And what is truth anyway?

In my little mind, and to my emotional center, I feel I can’t achieve these aims by fucking with the writer’s words. I’m known for being a stickler for the words that were written. I won’t allow an actor to change words – not even swear words. If the character says “fuck,” it’s because that character said “fuck” at that time in the author’s version of reality. If the actor can’t bring themselves to say “fuck,” then clearly I’ve made a mistake and need to find another actor.

If an actor finds a line or a phrase hard to say honestly, I think it usually has more to do with the actor not finding the character’s real emotional state, not finding the honest heart from which the words were spoken/written. I usually challenge my actors to search and search. Every now and then it might drive them nuts, but all the actors I’ve worked with, even in light comedies or murder mysteries, are extremely thoughtful, sensitive people, who already know they haven’t found that honest spot, who already know how wooden that line sounds, and without any input from me they are looking for it. Then my job becomes to help them to search, to hold the flashlight while they dig. Sometimes that means asking them questions about the character’s heart and motivation. Sometimes that means just shutting up and letting them work through it for awhile. As a last resort, I might go ahead and suggest what I think they’re missing about the character, but only with that actor’s permission. I think a director can really derail an honest actor by putting too much of our own thoughts into the actor’s archaeology, especially early on.

Of course, the writer bears an enormous responsibility to be honest and accurate in the first place, to know his or her characters, to transcribe as much of the truth as they can possibly excavate. When I’m writing, my first instinct is to shy away from the harsh light of day with my characters. I protect them out of the same urge by which I protect myself and shore up the version of myself I let other people see. Letting that veneer drop would be like getting caught masturbating.

Sure, we know everybody is human – everybody rubs one out now and then – but somehow we don’t want to be seen doing it.

The problem is that, as a writer, if we don’t let ourselves get caught, then character becomes caricature, and there’s nothing there for the actor to dig up and discover. The vulnerable heart of the man or woman being portrayed is not lost. It was never buried there in the first place.

Getting those things right in a play, from beginning to end, is daunting work. So when I receive the offering of human truth from a playwright, I can’t find a way that changing it around is going to help it at all. My job as a director isn’t to write this truth. It’s to shine a light on that truth. It’s inevitable that the light is going to shine at an angle that I think tells that truth in the way that I best understand, but if I do my job well, it won’t just be my understanding, but a social one, dug up and lit in such a way that many who come can find a lot of honest truth to appreciate and fulfill their inner person.

And I’ll say that even the lightest fare requires a deep honesty. Take a clever and rather lighthearted comedy, such as Ken Ludwig’s “Moon Over Buffalo.” I’ll cave in to conceit and relate a personal experience. I directed a small town production of that several years back. This show could have been easy to just toss together and let his writing be funny, the situations silly, all have a laugh, and go on our way. But the root of comedy is honest pain and social identification. Things are funny because, on some level, we can identify with the situation or idea that makes us laugh. I challenged my willing amateurs to make sure that their characters were as honest as if we were putting on something with the gravity of “Wit” or “The Rabbit Hole,” or even “The Laramie Project.” I challenged them to make sure the words said or the actions taken were the only thing that character could come up with, even if nobody was ever there to laugh.

Why would I torture them so? Because the writing might be funny on its own. But if the actor believes they’re transmitting the character’s heart, their inner person, then the line isn’t just funny, it’s true, and truth is an amplifier for funny, I believe.

At the end of Moon Over Buffalo, there’s a point where the main couple look like they’re going to split up. Charlotte has packed a suitcase and is on her way out the door. George pleads with her to stay, and it seems that pleading should fall on deaf ears, considering what cad he had been.

Yet she stays.

How easy would it have been for us to just chalk it up to comedy with a happy ending and leave it at that, everyone clapping and heading home after an evening of laughs?

I’m honestly rather proud we didn’t give into that temptation. No, instead the actress playing Charlotte and I both recognized how dishonest it seemed just walking through it. We struggled to figure out why the hell she would stay with this washed-up cheating tool. This was, after all, the final turning point of the play. Everyone had made an effort to play all the characters with emotions all over their sleeves. We couldn’t stop now. We wrangled and tried the scene different ways, and finally, after a lot of work, we found what I think was the truth, one that she and I both found and believed.

And I have to say, that final moment went from one last silly twist to a very honest and touching denouement. She didn’t change one word, not one. But we had found the emotional truth around why she stayed, and my actress believed that truth, and so when she stayed, we saw her do it with utmost honesty, and so the funny happy ending was amplified and became so satisfying.

I guess all of this sounds like I’m taking the piss out of Castorf. I’m not, truly. From what little I have learned, I would venture a guess that his methodology is to find truth that nobody else has discovered by tearing apart a play and reassembling it in a way that shows off a new truth, or perhaps his own truth. Perhaps he believes that the truth in a play that everyone else takes for granted is a lie, and he’s going to get underneath it. Perhaps he believes that we only see part of the truth and that he peels off more layers to get at the raw center of it. More likely he does it for reasons far deeper than these and to which I’d have a hard time ever relating.

Whatever the case, those are, to me, very valid artistic aims, at least as valid as mine, probably more so, because I do believe people are calling him up to direct plays and the like.

As theater people – playwrights, directors, actors, crew, we are seeking truth: truth about ourselves, truth about other people, truth about the world and the universe in which we live, truth about everything.

How would I like to see this turn out for Castorf? In all honesty, I hope the estate lets him do what he will. Who doesn’t recognize Brecht when they see it anymore? His work stands alone and speaks for itself. There is no danger that anybody will mistake Castorf’s version of Brecht for Brecht in totality.

I would hope the estate would give all of us theater people credit for being at least that clever.

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Sh*t White People Say

My white kids are home from school today with their white parents to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. day.


The word celebrate has been used a lot today, mostly on the news. But is that the right word to use? I don’t think so. Perhaps commemorate would be a better word.

I see precious little to celebrate, myself.

What? What does a middle-aged white guy have to say about MLK and race relations? Why am I sticking my hand up? Well, I’ll tell you.

Because I’m middle-aged and white, other white people say shit to me or around me that they wouldn’t say around black people. I’m not talking about offensive humor. Whether in person or on social media, white people are a little defensive about the very valid complaints of black people.

I suppose I get that, in a way. Nobody wants to take a hard look at themselves, adjust their attitudes, or give up their hard-won *koff* white privilege. Too damn bad. Quit your whining fellow white people.

I’m going to go ahead and out my fellow white people, and tell on myself a little too. Because we’re a long, long way from where MLK hoped we would get. In fact, I’ll bet he would say that the bus left the station and stalled halfway across the bridge, and somehow, most of the black people are still being made to ride in the back.

So, without further ado (because that was plenty of ado already) here is stupid shit white people say about black people and race relations.

– The U.S. is a post-racial society:

I kid you not. Some white people believe that. They believe that MLK and co. marched, a few laws were passed by LBJ, we suffered through some Affirmative Action that was really unnecessary, and we’ve gotten through that. They believe that the ongoing racial conflict is a media portrayal that is stoked by public advocates for black interests such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

The fact of the matter is that we are only post-totally-f***ing-blatant-signs-over-the-water-fountain-racial. Pretty much all we’ve done is successfully eradicated institutionalized racism. And it’s true we’ve managed to raise younger generations that are increasingly less tolerant of racism and other forms of inequality.

But don’t be fooled. This country is rife with the kind of racism that’s harder to root out. The subtle kind that’s hard to see among individuals, but is writ large on a national scale when one examines racial disparity in income/poverty, education, crime and incarceration, drug use/abuse, teen pregnancy, and so many other indicators of economic hardship.

This leads us to another sh*tty thing white people say:

Their inner-city culture/mentality keeps them from succeeding:

This is white victim blaming at it’s best. It’s their culture that keeps them down, that puts them in prison, that gets them into gangs.

They’re just asking to be raped by wearing that slinky dress.

They’re just asking to go to jail by being black. (More on this below, of course)

The beautiful thing is they will often post this sh*t on Facebook or Twitter with what they think is intent to promote genuine discussion seeking a solution. What they’re really seeking is absolution. They want people to agree with their defensive reaction that black peoples’ problems are their problems and not everyone’s problems. They go on to about fairness in the college admissions arena, the job market, the trade contracting market, etc., afraid they won’t get their fair shake.

We white people should not be going on about what’s fair. And if we want to complain about what’s fair, we shouldn’t be complaining about black people getting unfair consideration. No, we should be complaining about our white ancestors leaving this cesspool for today’s blacks to live in and for all of us, white/black/brown/etc. to clean up. Yeah, most of them are dead and can’t answer to it, but it is we who are today’s white people who are living off the wealth and privilege they built for us. And it’s today’s white people to whom it falls to do some real work rectifying the massive divide that still exists.

If they would just do what the cops say, they wouldn’t get shot/Just follow instructions:

I’m opposed to the use of violence at all, but I find myself sorely tempted to take a badminton racket to the next white person that says this to or around me.

In light of the events of the past year, I think a number of black people would have been happy to have the option of jail. If anyone truly thinks that all blacks have to do is obey authority, some attention really needs to be paid.

Each of these events, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others, are double crimes. First, these unarmed men, even if they were engaged in criminal conduct, should not have lost their lives because a white cop was afraid of a black man. Period. EOFS.

These incidents understandably evoke fear and deep distrust of law enforcement among blacks. As a white person, I have virtually zero fear that the next cop who pulls me over or talks to me is going to overreact to something I do or say, or the way I do or say, and pop a cap into my ass. Black citizens who have to interact with a white cop have a very different viewpoint. The fact that these crimes are doubled by the officers involved not facing indictment simply cheapens the lives of our black citizens.

Hell, it doesn’t even have to be a cop. It can be a piece-of-sh*t vigilante like Zimmerman. As long as the victim is black, nobody has to pay.

We haven’t even mentioned profiling, have we?

The real proof of the massive disconnect and patent unfairness in these issues can be found in to different incidents that happened recently – one before and one after the tragic killings of Brown and Garner.

Post Brown/Garner, Julia Shields, a 45 year-old woman in Chattanooga, TN, dresses up in body armor, drives around town shooting from her car, stops, points her gun at police, and is still apprehended without injury.

How does this happen? How does Michael Brown get shot, hands up; how does Eric Garner get choked to death, while this crazy woman in body armor, who had already shot at several other people, points her gun at police without one officer being “afraid for his life?” (Afraid for my life is shit white cops say to get away with killing unarmed black people, in case you were wondering.) Instead, “Shields was taken into custody without incident or injury and charged with three counts of attempted first-degree murder, seven counts of aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, felony evading arrest, and felony reckless endangerment.”

I believe Garner would have been charged with selling illegal or stolen cigarettes.

The second item happened before, at the Nevada Ranch of Teabilly hero Clive Bundy, himself a pretty much open racist. These nutjobs blocked roadways and pointed their assault weapons at law enforcement officers a number of times during the extended standoff while ol’ Clive fought for his right to steal from the Federal Government, ipso facto, from you and I, the American taxpayer.

As far as I know, not only are all of those lawbreakers not the victims of law-enforcement bullets, not one of them has even gone to jail.

Why is that?

Unarmed black people – dead. Armed white people (and not armed with a pellet gun – armed with assault weapons) still alive and most of them still walking free. Sorry, it’s not a matter of obeying authority. Give black people authority they know they can trust, then maybe they’ll be in a mood to cooperate.

Speaking of which…

They shouldn’t be protesting and blocking traffic, they’re only pissing people off:

No, really – please, black people, stop inconveniencing us with your problems and demands for equality and shit. If us blaming you, killing you, and impoverishing you wasn’t enough, then maybe you can just sit over there and wait for us to get around to giving up some of our privilege so you can experience some equality. I mean, we’ve got shit to do, like get rich and send our kids to schools yours can’t get into and you can’t afford.

Seriously, what makes us white people think that somehow, unlike all of the other movements where oppressed people grasped for their rights, that this time, if they just stay home, white dominated society will just sort it out for those silly black people who shouldn’t be tiring themselves out walking?

Sorry.  It’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t work that way. Women’s suffrage, the first Civil Rights movement, Gay Rights, Marriage Equality – it does not get done without people hitting the streets.

Do you need more on this particular sh*t white people say? Rather than my own stumbling words, I refer you back to the Doctor whose birthday we’re commemorating today:

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will.

Let’s have us white people stop telling the oppressed to wait on the largesse of the elite, when the elite have clearly been less than forthcoming. Dr. King got things moving, but things are slowly sliding backwards. Maybe we can forgive them for hitting the streets to get them going in the right direction again.

I’m not racist – I’m colorblind:

No, you’re not. Neither am I.

On the other hand, colorblindness is a liability, not a boon.

White people who claim colorblindness are really just trying to rehash the “unfairness” argument above. They don’t want to acknowledge the deeply material differences in the American experience for black people.

They don’t want to give up their white privilege, so they ignore it on the grounds of being colorblind.

Furthermore, I don’t think I want to ever be colorblind. I like having some idea of who I am, where I came from, and who I came from. I’d like to think that black people feel the same way. I don’t know for sure, because I can never fully understand, but I would think they want to be black and have that be a thing to appreciate and celebrate with everyone in their lives of every color – not just pretend we’re all cut from the same cloth.

And speaking of understanding, here’s another shitty thing we white people say…

Help me understand what it’s like to be Black:

No.  Just no.

Fellow white people, we can’t understand. We are so far removed from what it is to be black in America that we have zero perspective. We cannot begin to comprehend.

And why the f*** do you think we need to really understand where they’re coming from? Do we really need that to get off our asses and become part of the solution.

Here’s the secret. We aren’t asking this because we want to understand. We aren’t.

We’re asking so that black people think we’re on their side. We want to be able to say we’re already part of the solution so that we don’t have to ask too much of ourselves when black people are marching down our streets.

Help us understand = Please validate me and tell me I’m not racist so that I don’t have to face the fact that I still harbor prejudice in my own heart.

Dear fellow white people: Let’s stop saying stupid shit.

Let’s start being part of the solution.

Let’s start insisting that our law enforcement officers earn the trust of the black community rather than pretending that if black people trust, somehow cops will start behaving better. And let’s insist that being afraid of unarmed black people isn’t an excuse to kill them.

Let’s insist on real initiatives that provide the same educational and employment opportunities that we white people have. Let’s insist that things aren’t right until the same percentage of black populations are graduating college. Let’s insist that things aren’t right until black workers are making the same wages as white workers.

Let’s insist that things aren’t right until the protests stop not because we can’t be bothered, but because they are no longer needed.

And let’s insist that things aren’t right until we white people stop saying so much stupid shit.

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The Young Sacrificed for the Wants of the Old

Happy Veteran’s Day.

Happy Remembrance Day.

Red Poppies, flags waving, pomp and ceremony to revere the sacrifices of men and women who fought and died, and those who fought and carried home visible and invisible scars wrought by man’s inhumanity to man.

I suppose today I go against the grain in some respects.  I recognize that I could lose friends over this.  So be it.

I recently read an article by an elderly, thoughtful Englishman who had much to say on the topic, especially regarding the purpose of those who lead the ceremonies and celebrations of the soldiers of nations, whether American or British, so often now found fighting side by side wherever the quest for empire takes us.

First off, don’t get me wrong.  I have deep respect for those who have served and given part of their lives, or their whole lives, to the military life.  It is not an easy life, and when you’re deployed, you go with the full knowledge that your superiors are sending you to a place where other people specifically will try to kill you if given half the chance.

I believe that most of those who serve do so in service to the idea of a free America.  I do.

I also believe that these young people are exploited by our government and the corporate interests that for decades have driven our foreign and domestic policy and have driven our population into a veritable master/slave economy where the concept of Liberty and Justice for All has been relegated to propaganda to feed to the proles (that’s you and me) to prevent us for looking up and noticing just how deeply our personal freedoms have been violated.

I would assert that every drop of American blood that has been shed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere for the past 65 years (all post-WWII conflicts, basically) has been shed in the name of Western Economic Imperialism.

When I honor and mourn the fallen, it’s not because they have fought for our continued freedom.  I’m sorry, it’s not.  It’s because they have been exploited through their love for their nation and their belief in its stated ideals.  Their lives have been wasted to promote our corporate greed and American egoism.  Old, wealthy men sit in richly furnished rooms and send young men to their deaths to protect the interests of our largest corporations, especially the petroleum companies.  They don’t only benefit from the loss of these young lives, but they siphon off billions in taxes that should go to help these veterans in the name of corporate welfare and the bleak illusion of “trickle-down” economics, which most of us know is a sham that should be obliterated from the face of economic policy forever.

Our soldiers aren’t preserving the land of the free anymore.  They are preserving the plutocracy that spends their lives while oppressing the poor here at home.  They are protecting the interests of the wealthy who manipulate the government to enrich themselves at the cost of the middle class.

None of this detracts from the commitment and dedication of those who serve, but is meant as an indictment on those who exploit these servicemen to their own greedy ends.

I’m tired of seeing young men sent to die in old mens’ wars.  I’m sick of pictures of flag-draped caskets mourned over by young wives with toddlers in tow.

Not to mention that for every flag-draped casket we bring home, the caskets of 50-100 innocents are carried through the streets and buried back overseas, victims of our war on terror.

I’m sick of our nation’s fetish for military might and marshal superiority.  I’m sick of the glorification of violence as a means to another self-centered end.  I’m sick of the rank conceit that what America thinks is best is therefore simply best.

If we are the greatest country in the world, we should start acting like it.  Enough with killing people to fix things.

My perfect Veterans Day would be a cease and desist to all foreign military conflict.  It’s not a realistic view, of course, because so much of the world is committed to killing as the primary means of preserving a nation’s interests, and we’re so much better at it than most.  But an end to imperial excuses for military action would be a bit of a start.

You can’t kill people and claim to be pursuing peace.

Therefore honor our veterans, both living and scarred and fallen and lost, but honor not the system that sent them to suffer and to die.

Honor them in the hope that somehow, they will be the last.

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