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Truth trumps Trump

Watching the Machiavellian-esque tactics that led to the rise of Donald Trump as the front-runner for the GOP nomination for President of the United States, I ask myself: why did it take me so long to dust off the keyboard and write another blog that some 4 people are going to read?

All whinging aside, spewing my opinions into the blogosphere is the least I can do (literally). And while I do not support Trump in anyway whatsoever, this is not about bashing him. This is about looking at his understanding of the presidency, issues facing our country, and other substantive platforms of his campaign as he has presented them during the debates, interviews, and on his website.

Note: As readers of this blog well know, I normally source my quotes with direct links. However, I refuse to give Trump any more free air time, so you can check my sources with the Great Google, but rest assured, they are direct quotes with all relevant context.

First, he seems to have a flawed understanding of the presidency and how the Executive Branch works in conjunction with the other two branches.

If he becomes president, Trump vows to “open up our libel laws” so “we can sue them and win lots of money.” Putting aside the fact that one of his apparent goals as President of the United States is to “win money,” the president doesn’t actually get to write or amend laws. That’s the job of Congress (the Legislative Branch). As part of the Executive, his job is to ensure the land’s laws are enforced. That’s two different things.

Screen shot 2013-01-19 at 10.44.16 AM

Perhaps this kids’ activity could clear things up for him…

Trump also states that “On day one of the Trump administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” Perhaps he is unaware of the 60 times this has been tried by the GOP (tried and failed). Perhaps he is unaware of the non-binding nature of such a request (again, 2 separate branches). Most importantly, perhaps he–and many of his supporters–are unaware of the benefits they’ll be stripped of should the Affordable Healthcare Act actually be repealed (like actually having insurance to cover their expenses).

Second, he seems to misunderstand the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

One of only 6 issues stated for his platform, the 2nd Amendment comes in second-to-last on his list. Trump avows: “The Second Amendment to our Constitution is clear. The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed upon. Period.” But, of course, that’s not what it actually says. The Amendment begins with the clause “A well-regulated Militia,” and for more than 2 centuries, the Supreme Court made this important distinction for the regulation of arms by the Federal government. Not until 2008 did the (activist) Court reinterpret the Constitution as applying to the individual. But I guess one only complains about “activist” courts when they go against one’s own opinions.

He (among others) also likes to call out those who protest at his rallies as violating his own right to free speech, this also isn’t correct. The First Amendment protects against the government restricting a person’s speech (which it did not against Trump), and at the same time charges the government to protect other’s ability to speak out and simultaneously not be “vetoed” by protesters (which it protected on both accounts). If Trump decided to cancel because he could not handle the protesters, then that’s on him, not the government, and certainly not the protesters.

Third, while he “knows words” and has “the best words,” he still seems to have trouble with the meaning of his words.

Recently he referred to “Bernie, our communist friend.” Communism is a political philosophy, while Senator Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist. The former is a centralized government that has no private property, the latter is a push for social equality within a capitalist economic system (admittedly with Sanders’ self-clarification). None of Sanders’ issues, stances, or speeches indicate his preference for the tenets of Communism.

He also called the US media “the most dishonest people in the world.” While he may be accurate with some networks (Fox News is a notable example), his statement is clearly and wildly ridiculous at face value. Has he not listened to anything coming out of North Korea? Saudi Arabia’s “Anti-Witchcraft Unit”? (Yeah, that’s a real thing with a hang up about Harry Potter). Disney movies?

JUMP-TO-CONCLUSIONS-MAT

That’s right, if you use the “Jump to Conclusions” mat from Office Space, you’ll still know more about news events than Fox News viewers.

Further, Trump consistently calls our military “very weak,” and steadily “being decimated.” Even though top-ranking military personnel disagree with him (and tell Congress to stop buying equipment they don’t need), the numbers are telling: in 2015, the US spent more on the nation’s military than the next SEVEN nations combined. How can this possibly be called “weak” or “decimated?”

u.s._and_world_military_spending_chart.png

Finally, Trump calls himself a “unifier” of people. Yet he plans to build a wall to keep out Mexicans; ban Muslim immigrants (and put those in the country into a database); and calls women “dogs” and “ugly,” reduces their existence to a “young and beautiful piece of ass,” and justifies sexual assaults against them in the military. Having offended more than half the US population, who exactly is Trump unifying?

inigo-montoya_that-word

Fourth, and perhaps most disturbingly, Trump not only overestimates the threat of terrorist groups (like ISIS), but also advocates engaging in war crimes against the families of those groups’ members.

Since 2001, some 3,066 (or 3,380) Americans have been killed by terrorist attacks (the vast majority of which–2,902–occurred during the attacks on 9/11 itself).  By contrast, during the same period, more than 400,000 Americans have been killed in the US by firearms. Every year, between 32,000 and 42,000 people die in automobile accidents. On average, for the past 15 years, more people in the US have died from bee stings per year than terrorist attacks. Yet there has been no campaign against driving or to eradicate bees. There has been a campaign to loosen the laws surrounding the very instrument of US deaths that outpaces terrorist attacks by a factor of 100. Of course, there is no convenient “other” to blame or direct our anger against in most of these cases (though I’m sure we’ll soon hear about building a giant net to protect us against the notorious African Killer Bees). Fear is a big motivator, but inevitably leads to poor decisions and policies (and the radicalization of even more terrorists).

death-and-dollars

Part of Trump’s campaign against ISIS is that “you have to take out their families.” The targeting of civilians is against the Geneva Conventions (of which the US is a signer), and charges for such crimes have been brought against such illustrious groups as the Taliban, North Korea, and the Nazis. Officers in the military have already voiced their opposition to such orders, and declared that their soldiers would refuse to follow such illegal orders. Trump rebutted by saying “they’re not going to refuse me. Believe me.” Let that sink in: Trump, as president, would plan on attempting to strong-arm the military into illegally targeting and killing civilian women and children.

And just try and ignore the irony of Trump advocating the exact same thing that an extremist cleric preaches (though the latter actually has the caveat that “killing women and children is usually not permissible”). Yes, Trump and terrorists want to use the same tactics against each other.

yoda fear

I could go on, but I’m weary–and you probably are, too. (Although comparing the clinical symptoms of Narcissism and Trump quotes would make for an illuminating drinking game, it would inevitably end in a blackout due to the copious amounts of alcohol one would have to imbibe).

This tirade isn’t about how others would be a better president (that’s a different post to look through THAT thorny problem), but rather about how Trump would make a very poor, dangerous, and seemingly amoral president. The election of the President of the United States is not a reality show, and we need to stop treating it as such.

I realize that Trump resonates for a lot of people out there, be it with their anger, misconceptions, or just plain prejudiced views. That anger, pain, and confusion are very real, and it will remain a wound in our nation’s psyche if we can’t begin to address and heal our citizens’ anxiety, whatever form it takes.

 

Here’s my list of movie reviews in the chronological order in which I viewed them over the holiday break. I picked these movies because they’re considered “classics” and “masterpieces,” and in any case are touchstones of U.S. popular culture. I did not read about the movies before viewing them, and only did so minimally afterwards (but nothing in those reading influenced my reviews).

I welcome comments that disagree with my assessments as I’m always on the lookout for something I “missed” when watching a movie!

SPOILERS: I talk about the movies in full, so make of that what you will.

Taxi Driver (1976)

(5/10)

I was really underwhelmed by this film; although watching the descent of the cabbie into a psychotic break was interesting, there was no real context for his pre-breakdown life. All we know is that he went to Vietnam and had a scar. But why should we care? What actually happened to him that he couldn’t ever sleep or keep his (limited) mind from racing? Without such a context, his “loneliness” and “desperation” are not nearly as compelling. There’s little identification we can feel as the man cannot even coherently talk about his problems (whether it’s to the Wiz or even to his own disjointed journal).

And why does the short-lived focus of his ire become the candidate? Does he want to free his love interest from her work burden and believe that she will then give him a second chance? (Which he ultimately rebuffs?) And, when thwarted, he quickly turns to vent his ire on the pimps of one particular prostitute because….? Even his latent prejudice against minorities comes to the fore throughout his mental deterioration, showing a certain lack of honesty with himself.

Given how underdeveloped (both in meta-character and mentally) the taxi driver is, there’s no real tragedy or empathy that the audience can feel as he spirals out of control. And then for him to become an ex post facto hero based on his outburst of violence seems a cheap trick of undeserved redemption.

That being said, if the movie is an accurate portrayal of NY in the 1970s, then it’s incredibly gritty and well done (and I’m glad I never lived there). De Niro is also better than I expected in some ways, certainly over many of his pigeon-holed roles that define his later career. However, this is not enough to make up for the shortcomings of such a character-driven film, and I certainly would not call it a “masterpiece.”

Deer Hunter (1978)

6/10

First, this movie was too long by about an hour. Indeed, the first hour consisted of a little background for the characters, a lot of dancing at a wedding, and a fair amount of singing…in Russian. Without subtitles. To me, it tried to do what Taxi Driver lacked (give context and background to the characters so the audience could identify with them), but did it poorly by spending too much time on non-essential scenes. This part of the movie could easily have been cut to 30 minutes.

Once the story moved to Vietnam (and back), the movie was infinitely more interesting. (The initial juxtaposition and transition from their hometown bar to SE Asia was jarring and well done). Seeing how the 3 friends handled the stressful hell of war differently was also well portrayed by the actors (for the most part).

De Niro, while ostensibly the “hero” of the film, fell flat in almost all of the scenes. The only time he seemed to come alive was in Vietnam or when he was berating someone back home. He also had the annoying proclivity to say “what” and “huh” when talking with someone, especially over the phone. Walken played his character rather subdued, so I did not get a great sense of loss that the final wake scene tried to evoke. Indeed, Savage’s performance (and character) elicited a greater sense of sorrow and empathy given his particular injuries sustained from the war.

Too much time was spend watching the actors walk or drive around (cutting these scenes would’ve dropped another 15-20 minutes). Inserting real news footage during the fall of Saigon was jarring since it didn’t mesh well, though the concept was well-intentioned enough.

I did enjoy when De Niro went back to Vietnam to look for Walken; it reminded me of a mini “Heart of Darkness”/“Apocalypse Now” story when the veteran comes back from war to “civilization” and then goes back to a war zone that’s deteriorating further as the man goes deeper toward his goal. (Interestingly, I just noted that the Deer Hunter came out 1 year before Apocalypse Now…)

Jack the Giant Slayer (2013)

6/10

An interesting take on the traditional story, the movie suffered from cheesy lines and shallow, cartoonish villains. Ultimately, the story makes you root for the humans (of course), and hopes you don’t notice that “we” have to use an artifact steeped in black magic to enslave a whole race of beings who we disturbed in our hubris in the first place.

But, being a Warhammer Fantasy geek, I did get a kick out of an army of giants laying siege to a castle. I ain’t seen that before!

Life of Pi (2013)

8/10

Although the movie didn’t live up to the hype I had heard about it, it was the best I’ve seen in my holiday line up (so far). First, the CGI was impressive, as the animals looked truly real (for the most part), and some of the other effects were quite interesting (bio luminescence, the island morphing as a body, etc.). Secondly, I really liked the first part of the movie (before he got on the boat), when the young Pi was exploring the various religions without preconceptions about any of them. Lastly, it really did give one food for thought about what the story was trying to portray through the animal avatars.

For example, is the movie about facing your inner demons? That part of yourself you want to change but may be necessary to define who you are at the end of that journey? And when you finally let go of that part of yourself, do feel emptier or a sense of peace? Or is all that a delusionary mask to cover up the choices you were force to make in order to survive?

Or is it a battle between the Id and Super-ego, and what that conflict may look like as an analogy? Where one is necessary to survive outside civilization, the other is necessary to integrate back into a human community, but they must ultimately co-exist within each of us.

Or is it about a search for understanding “God” or “gods,” however one may conceptualize them? However, for a story that would supposedly lead one “to believe in God,” the final line (“which story do you prefer”) seemed pretty shallow and weak. After all, the “real” story happened, and the other was made up for anyone of the above reasons (one’s inner struggle or the search for God), using analogies. If one is the “truth,” then we can’t believe the analogy…unless it helps us understand the “historic” events that actually occurred—in that case, then that analogy is actually useful. Sneaky, eh? I think I will try reading the book and see if it delves deeper into such interesting issues.

I wasn’t terribly surprised by the second story told (and the truthful one), ever since I read and discussed The Island of Dr. Moreau. My simple axiom: never trust a lone survivor of a shipwreck at face value!

Raging Bull (1980)

4/10

A horrible movie. The main character is a whiny, foul-mouthed, homophobic, paranoid wife-beater. Even when he “breaks down” twice during the film, there was no sympathy elicited from me since there was no identifying with him nor any empathy generated throughout the movie. The dialogue was annoyingly repetitive (especially when LaMotta badgers people about who his wife was sleeping around with), and I found myself actually fast-forwarding through several parts of the movie.

He takes no responsibility for his choices (making terrible ones at that), and yet is petulant about why the world is treating him so bad. Oh, but he “never went down for anyone.” Big whoop.

I give De Niro kudos for being in shape and then putting on weight for the film (no CGI or make up to that effect), but that’s about it. How anyone can call this a masterpiece is beyond me. As yet, Scorsese has failed to impress me in the slightest.

WARNING: Massive spoilers ahead.

So Dexter was a very strong show; good writing, good acting, good at getting you to root for a serial killer because he’s not “quite as bad” as those he kills.

The last season was pretty strong overall, so I had high hopes for the series finale. I was glad the show hadn’t jumped the shark or wasn’t petering out like so many other shows that I initially liked but went on too long (Smallville, Supernatural, Burn Notice, etc.).

And the season finale was strong…except for the last 5 minutes.

[If you haven’t seen it and don’t want it spoiled or to have any preconceived notions going into it, stop reading here.]

You've been warned.

You’ve been warned.

If you’re still reading, you’ll remember that Dexter kills Deb (ostensibly to save her from living life as a vegetable), decides he can only bring pain to those he loves, and so pilots his boat into hurricane Laura (the name of his biological mother) after dumping Deb’s body over the side like his other victims.

Oh, and then he resurfaces as a grizzly lumberjack somewhere far north of Miami.

Bawhaa?!?!

Bawhaa?!?!

So what’s wrong with this ending? Let us begin:

  1. Dexter has evolved in the show; he’s developed empathy and emotion, something sociopaths aren’t supposed to be capable of. Then, with the tragic death of his sister, he realized he doesn’t want to “feel” anymore because the pain is too great. So he rides into the storm, presumably to commit suicide. Kind of a bummer, but I could deal with it. Except, of course, he SURVIVES. Let’s amend that, he survives a hurricane, in the middle of the Gulf while his boat is ripped to pieces! Dexter may be a semi-tragic hero, but Wolverine he is not.

    Dexerine? I think not.

    Dexerine? I think not.

  2. Dexter also voiced the concern that he can only bring pain and death to those he loves (Rita, Deb). Yet he has Hannah, Harrison, his step kids, and the rest of the police force who will now live in pain precisely because they think he’s dead (oh yeah, and he totally avenged and saved Lumen, too). In other words, there are a lot more people he hasn’t brought pain to than those he has. Granted, his wife, sister, (and an argument can be made for his adoptive dad and Dr. Vogel), are pretty big, but so is his son and Hannah (who he loves more than his first wife, see #3). So, for a traditionally cold-blooded, rational person (albeit thrown into tumult by emotions he’s unsure of how to handle), he makes a very irrational decision.
  3. Dexter’s reason for killing is gone. He no longer looks forward to it or needs it; he needs Hannah. His life in Argentina would be very different than the one he led in Miami. He would not attract the same attention or “bad forces” that his dark passenger attracted because, we’re led to believe, that would no longer be an issue or past time he engages in. Dexter’s reasoning for leaving Hannah and trying (?) to kill himself are unfounded based on the projection of his new life.
  4. Did I mention he survived a hurricane in the middle of the ocean?

Now, the hurricane itself is sort of interesting in a Freudian way. Was he trying to get back to his mother’s womb? (Ick). Did she reject him or give birth to him again? Meh.

eggchamber04

I may be mixing my metaphors here…

At least I have the series finale of Breaking Bad to look forward to next week.

This one deserves a post all on its own. Sung while playing with homemade play doh :

 

I’m so glad to see you little eyeball,

Oh please don’t put me in your pie.

Please don’t squish me.

Squish, squish.

Please don’t cook me!

Roll, roll, you’re a big enormous monster looking at you.

Image is for conceptual use only. Actual contents may vary.

Image is for conceptual use only. Actual contents may vary.

Sprinkle, sprinkle.

I’m making my pie.

I’m making my pie on the recipe.

I smooshed the monsters;

Smoosh, smoosh.

I’m making my mom a special pie (yum!)

There we go;

Now my recipe is finally done.

Yippee!

V’s Fireside Chats 9

V’s been on a roll lately. Here’s a few highlights:

 

The Ultimate Strip Mall:

V: I wanna go on a plane ride

Me: They’re expensive; they cost lots of money

V: Let’s get some more money!

Me: from where?

V: From the money store!

Me: Where’s that?

V: Next to the plane shop!

 

 

The Not-So-Subliminal Hint :

“Daddy, I heard a dog barking at me and he said, Val needs a dog!”

 

A New Branch on our Family Tree:

V: Oh-wei. [Pardon my phonetics]

Me: Who’s that?

V: My friend from Africa.

Me: When did you meet him?

V: When I was a baby. He’s my cousin.

The Right to Bear Opinions

Back by non-popular demand, I thought I would weigh in on the “gun debate” issue that has taken just-right of center stage (slightly nudged by Kate Middleton’s impending pregnancy).

I didn’t think I’d be writing on another political “debate,” but once again, I just can’t let certain arguments slide by without comment. Without further ado…

“It’s my Constitutional right! The Second Amendment gives me the right to bear arms!”

This is an odd argument, especially since it’s aimed at opponents that don’t exist. No one is saying that Americans shouldn’t own guns. There is, however, a large consensus that more regulation of those arms is needed (particularly regarding background checks), though support for this is falling since we Americans have such a short attention span.

It's for hunting! I mean self-defense! I swear!

It’s for hunting! I mean self-defense! I swear!

Regulation of our rights is nothing new, and often it’s a good idea. For example, we have the Right to Free Speech, but certain utterances are still illegal, and with good reason. We can’t go around threatening specific people with violence, or slander or neighbors with impunity. More on point, private citizens can’t (easily) own certain military-grade weapons (like machine guns or rocket-propelled grenades), and nearly all sane citizens are okay with that.

Now some folks want regulations on automatic weapons (ranging from background checks to caps on the maximum size of ammunition clips). The desire is that such regulations will help reduce the number of mass shootings like that which occurred at Sandy Hook. Again, there is no unlimited right to anything in the first 10 Amendments—all of them have regulations of some sort, and the gun regulations fall well within that scope. [Whether or not these efforts will succeed in their goals is a different matter; I’m only looking at the validity of the arguments against such regulations].

Finally, the Second Amendment does give us the right to bear arms—specifically within the context of a “well-regulated militia.” Some people like to gloss over this clause, others try to argue it away. Experts have looked into when this specific language was used during the time period and found how it relates to military matters (i.e. militias), and not private/individual liberties per se.

Regardless of the actual language of the Constitution, in DC vs. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that gun ownership is not limited to militia—it applies to the individual. I find it hypocritical that many of the same folks who don’t want the Court “legislating from the bench” about whether or not citizens should have access to health care (you know, so they can live), did not lodge the same complaints when the Court made this ruling, which directly references language in the Constitution.

“We need our guns to fight potential government tyranny!”

I hate to break it to these doomsayers, but if there was a violent revolution, the decreased capacity between a 10 round and 15 round magazine isn’t going to make much of a difference to those facing off against the most powerful military industrial complex in the world (which would be brought to bear). There would be plenty of other considerations and scenarios that would necessarily have to play out for such revolutionaries to be successful (I won’t go into them). And by that time, I don’t think anyone would be paying too much attention to background checks or following the letter of the law.

“If they take away my AR-15s, what’s next? They’re going to take all our guns away!”

This is called an Abuse of a Slippery Slope argument, and it’s inherently invalid. Even more than being a fallacy at face value, this one actually has a counter-example as evidence against it. Back in 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was passed, which did many of the same things they’re currently considering these days. Certain specific weapons were banned, as were other weapons with a number of specific features common to such weapons; large-capacity magazines were also prohibited. Shockingly, we lived with this ban for 10 years and no other weapons were “taken away”!

“We’d all be safer if there was less regulation on guns (i.e. more people had them). Perpetrators of mass shootings would be stopped because intended “victims” could fight back and shoot them.”

This came up again just after the Aurora theatre shooting, and it would be laughable if the circumstances weren’t so tragic. In this situation, a man dressed in tactical gear (gas mask, ballistic helmet, and other bullet-resistant clothing) entered the theatre, threw 2 canisters of gas (smoke and/or tear), and began shooting with a variety of weapons. Even if some of those in the theatre had weapons, shooting at this man in a darkened room full of panicked patrons, with gas and chemicals further obstructing peoples’ vision via smoke and watering eyes, would not have resulted in stopping him. Most likely, it would have resulted in more civilian casualties. But why think critically through scenarios when we can just make unsubstantiated statements?

Nor would more people carrying guns in general create a safer environment. Just owning a gun makes it almost 3 times as likely that one of those family members will be killed by another family member or intimate acquaintance. Domestic violence in households where a gun is owned increases the chances that a woman will be killed by more than three times as non-gun owning households. And there are some 10 times more deaths caused by handguns than by long guns (rifles and shotguns)—and the former aren’t even being regulated for the most part.

So no, more guns doesn’t equate with a safer population.

In summary, I don’t think the right to bear arms is an inviolable right. I think it can and should be regulated with thoughtful and efficient laws (that alone is a near-insurmountable task when dealing with Congress). I think there should be background checks, if only to rule out those most likely to use guns in criminal acts. But I also think it’s going to take a lot more than a few laws to change our violent culture which is only exacerbated by the plentiful supply and easy access to firearms.

Thankful Thursdays 12/6/12

This week I’m thankful for:

1. My small but loyal readers who may be saddened to know that I’m thinking of shutting this blog down for a variety of reasons.

2. Good books I’ve been able to read, though the pile of ILLs is growing at a faster rate than I’m consuming them…

3. An inspiration and hopefully decent execution of a xmas gift for V.

How about you?

Although I was on hiatus last week (being the day we just have to eat turkey…apparently), I didn’t forget.  In fact, this week I look back over the year in homage to that day before many of us go in the shopping frenzy.

This year I’m thankful for:

1. My wonderful wife who is an excellent mother raising our…

2. Amazing daughter who is so smart, kind, beautiful, curious, and willful.

3. All my family and friends who have visited (or not), but more importantly remain in our lives.

4. The fortune of chance that I was born here in the U.S. which, despite its foibles, is still the place I call home and believe in.

5. Meeting new friends and staying in touch with old ones via social networking sites.

6. My job that allows me to provide food and shelter for my family.

I hope all is well with you and yours, and feel free to drop the big thankful in the comments section if you wish.

Best,

M

 

Thankful Thursdays 11/15/12

The back on time edition!

This week I’m thankful for:

1. Not living among total bat-crap crazy folk who want to secede, have state police arrest Federal officers, live nostalgically in the 1950’s, or ponder the existence and/or “sudden” emergence of non-white voters.

2. Chilling with friends and having good conversations.

3.  Finding a trove of V: Dark Ages source books.

4. A daughter who likes playing board and card games at the venerable age of 3!

5. A daughter who has amazing art skills!

Thankful Thursdays 11/9/12

Er, apparently I’m having trouble navigating the space-time continuum as this is another belated TT post.  I blame Adam  (see below).

This week I’m thankful that:

1. President Obama was re-elected and, more importantly, that the campaign season is over and he can get focus on the job we elected him (and others) to do.

2. V was very excited about daddy-daughter date night and we had some great food and fun!

3. Great conversations with my friend Adam about the universe, dreamscapes, Goodreads, and snarky mesostomatics.

4. I don’t have to pay $50 for grapes.

How about you?

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