Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What to Make of Things?

Disclaimer: Over time, this Blog has gone from a place to post essays and articles to a more of a journaling function. I still write essays, but keep the aforementioned in mind, in regards to consistency of style.

This morning, around 7:30am, I saw a "Facebook Memory" from four years ago, where I mention presently having dinner with Producer David Levy (Gosford Park, The Player). I remember that dinner. I was in attendance with several others. To name just a couple, there was my ex-fianceé and colleague Simone Barros, and my Faculty Coordinator Miriam Bennett. Several of my then-students were also present. We had just screened The Player at the college and I had made a stupid comment about the film reminding me of Woody Allen's Crimes & Misdemeanors. The comparison in itself wasn't stupid, I just stated it poorly. Having made it past that and having been invited to dinner, I felt in a pretty good place, in many respects.

Many things were going wrong in my life at that time. Some have been rectified. Some haven't. However, many things were going well too; not the least of which was having dinner with a Hollywood producer.

The FB Memory made me think though. At the time, in 2013, I could not envision so much of what has happened since. Simone is no longer in my life. She's with someone I would not have expected (or chosen, though he's kind and smart enough). I'm not teaching. I haven't made it to grad school. I don't know if I will. I live in New York City. Again. I work as a grip. Again. I began (and ended) a relationship with someone other than Simone. Then began another relationship - while still with the second person. I never imagined I would be inclined to cheat on a woman, but I did.

I also now identify as Polyamorous, which I think I always was but never admitted due to stigma.

I make more money than I've ever made, and more than many. I've reconnected with friends with whom I thought our relationship a lost cause.

I'm not sure what I'm getting at, but I do know one thing: in 2013, I had no vision of any of these things. I had an idea of what my future was, and it didn't include any of those things I mentioned. I thought I'd have a relatively new graduate degree in photography in hand, living out west, perhaps. I thought Simone would be doing much the same, the two of us working artists, paying our bills through teaching, continuing our mentorship of students and apprentices. I thought I'd have completed my script and would be actively working on my photoessay.

Today, Simone directs audiobooks for Simon & Schuster, and is working on a pair of documentary films, among other projects. She has that partner to support her. It's not me.

Today, I work on most of your favorite New York-produced TV and Netflix shows. I'm friends with and workshopping with a decorated TV writer, and looking at producing a documentary of my own as well as a narrative series, and planning / prepping for long-term international travels.

I can't say that I'm any happier. In fact, I'm not, really, but things are tangibly better. Intangibly, I'm not sure.

Anyway, #Life?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Two Rants...

1. On Liberals as “Pussies”…

You know, I’m always hearing (from “tough” conservatives) that liberals and progressives and the like, are “entitled”, “weak”, and “pussies”. Supposedly, we’re hateful of war, afraid of conflict or confrontation, soft on crime, enablers, pushovers, and totalitarian socialist communist militant fascists.

Now, I’ve never heard how weak pussy pushovers would form a totalitarian socialist communist militant fascist government, or how totalitarianism (rule by one), socialism (large government), communism (no government – a left form of anarchy), militancy (requires not hating militancy) and fascism would all work as one government. As well, fascism is hard to define, and is really now just a buzzword for any authority one dislikes, no matter what side they’re on, and so when anyone yells it, you can be 85% sure that they don’t know what they’re talking about. However, that is the crux of the matter, since what is clear these days is that conservatives are no longer known for things like “thinking” or “reading” or “educating” (themselves) on matters so “complicated”.

The main people I hear calling us liberals “pussies” though, are conservatives of certain “stations” as it were. The traditionally poor and or rural conservatives, who think the world is literally black and white – or more accurately for them – brown and white – and Jewish. These are the “Bible-thumping”, “gun-lovers” who bristle mightily at the use of those terms, then do nothing to dispel them. In fact, they’ll often tell you how wrong you are by quoting the Bible and threatening to shoot you if you don’t agree, using John Wayne-approved phrases like “you’d better watch what you say next, mister” and “we don’t take kindly to that type of language in these parts”, while fondling their holster lock and / or releasing their safety.

But you know what I’ve come to conclude about these people? They’re actually the pussies! Interesting, eh? They’re the ones afraid of conflict who are simultaneously militant.

They’re the ones stocking up on guns to defend themselves, and they’re the ones who are prepared to violently defend what they believe. And whom are they defending their beliefs against? Well, of course, that amorphous mix of unbelievers, criminals and the government. Amorphous, because none of the three are real threats; just threats imagined by the “victims” themselves, and paranoia’s preyed upon by those using them to seek office or sell more redneck treasures.

In reality, they’re the ones truly scared. That’s why they need so many guns, a big bad God to back them when they’re defenseless, and when all else fails, they can hide behind their one-track, over-simplified version of the constitution – the one that says the government isn’t allowed to intrude into U.S. citizens’ lives, unless it’s the lives of the brown citizens they dislike and feel unreasonably threatened by.

If these characterizations seem overly harsh and simplistic, they’re not. True, these are hardworking people who only want the best for their families. But let’s face it; they’re not too bright. I mean, who ISN'T a hardworking family person? But, the idea that a poor, rural miner would vote republican, when it’s republicans who want to deregulate mine safety and then deny free healthcare to the victims of said neglect, just so they (and their already rich friends) can make even more money, says they’re not thinking. And they’re not thinkers. They’re reactors. And the damage they are causing to this country is becoming nuclear.

Ultimately, they’re not the backbone of this country, they’re the front-bone of this country. Because honestly, they’re just a bunch of dicks.

2. “Give him a break…”

When are liberals, and other blacks, and other black liberals, and comedians, going to stop telling me to leave Obama alone? “Lay off the man”; "Give the man time"; “He just got into office”; “You expect him to change the world”; “He’s the first black president of a western power, how much more do you want?”

I’m sorry - I missed the memo that stated, “Once Obama becomes president, his success is complete. Also, stop telling me “he just got here”. Terms are only four years. This is year three idiots; How long should we wait? Year five? Oh, I mean year one of the next republican. Thanks a lot “wait and see liberals”.

How much more do I want? I want him to do his job as a president. His windfall-to-insurance-companies of a healthcare plan is not that great. There are great things in it – like the “no dropping of people with pre-existing conditions” idea, but this is in few ways a “good” deal. Private citizens are now required to buy health insurance starting in 2014. Well, what if you’re like me and haven’t worked in ages and are not working now? How will I afford that? And how will I afford the penalties incurred as a result of not affording it? Again, the poor get punished for being poor. 

I worked and paid taxes for years! How about using some of that and AT LEAST giving me a public option, if not outright universal government coverage. Oh, that’s right, you can’t, because you’re too busy caving in to republicans’ demand for more of our tax dollars to fund corporate incentives for companies that hold the nation back, like Big Oil and Gas, and the military industrial complex. Well, thanks to lax gun laws, there are plenty of guns on the streets of U.S. cities and in the hands of “rurals”. So how about we take care of our citizens’ healthcare and educations, and cut some of the military spending and take chances defending ourselves in case we’re invaded by Canada or Mexico. If we cut our military budget in half, we would still be spending the most in the world AND add 400 BILLION dollars to our economy. That’s not a made up number – look it up for yourself at the Congressional Budget Office (C.B.O.).

And stop saying China’s a threat. China’s not a threat, we’re their number one customer! Drug dealers don’t kill clients, they kill rival drug dealers. If China offs anyone, it’ll be Japan, South Korea or Thailand. And the way they make things there, maybe they’ll get reckless and inadvertently lead-poison Iran for us.

Pre-existing conditions reform. Student loan reform. Awesome. Oh, wait, is that it? Is that going to be the legacy? Are the days of Roosevelt really gone, or are we just too lazy? What about taking the Wall-Street crisis creators to task? What about Guantanamo? Those would have been huge. Instead, we get half-assed healthcare that the republicans are going to repeal anyway (and I can’t fully say I’m against that at this point – maybe the next democrat can go all in and get us Universal).

Talk about liberal pussies.

Hey, I like the guy, but I like my plumber too. But if he fails to do his job, should I wait and see or take him to task and get my money’s worth? Believe it or not, we’re paying money to be here – a lot of it – and I want my money’s worth. I’m tired of not working, and not getting ahead when I am working because of rich assholes and do nothing politicians – who themselves are often rich assholes.

The conservatives, again, have successfully changed the conversation. We’re talking about the national debt instead of Wall Street. The national debt is a major problem, but it was not the cause of this economy, nor is it the reason it continues. The reason is Wall Street and consumerism. But we’ve let them change the conversation again.

I’m 35, I want kids, but I have no job, no prospects, and I AM college-educated, with a load of debt to show for it. Yet I have to watch Christmas commercials where people are giving each other cars? What the hell is this? After 9/11 the answer was “keep shopping”. Are you kidding me?

Stop shopping.

Wake the fuck up!

And don’t tell me to leave Obama alone. I’M already being left alone – in the cold.

Friday, July 8, 2011

United States of Dumberica....

Obama spoke today about the rise in unemployment and the slow in hiring for June, and I can't help but wonder about his clarity. Is he really this dense? Or, is it just the hard fight the republicans are giving him? Is it a combination?

I realize "there are no easy answers" and "those who think there are easy answers don't fully understand the situation", etc., etc., blah, blah, blah...

That said, here's the two step solution / easy answer to fixing the economy:

There. Done.

Pressure companies to hire people by using penalty taxes or reduced business incentives, as well as higher tariffs on products produced by American companies that import their goods due to overseas production. That is, treat American companies that outsource our jobs overseas, like foreign importers.

When companies hire more Americans AND pay them more (reducing profits from the high billions to the low-to-mid billions - therefore STILL generating huge profits), Americans will have more disposable income to then turn around and spend on all the useless junk and bullshit you want them to buy. This, in turn, will allow companies to continue to turn profits, which will, in turn, allow companies to continue to pay people a TRUE living wage, which they, in turn, can spend on more useless junk and bullshit, etc., see how this works?

Turns out, hiring people and paying them is actually pro-business and pro-American - imagine that?
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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Jimmy Carter: Crisis of Confidence

I've often said to my love, that Carter was a great man, but a presidential failure. But he didn't fail, the people failed. Mightily.

Watch and listen.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Truth About Socialism (and by Extension, Communism)...

Not terribly long ago, I read a comment posted online by a man who claimed that, as a student, his university professor, in an effort to explain why socialism was so bad and capitalism so good, offered to give everyone in his class an "A" regardless of effort or ability. This would make everyone equal and this, he said, was socialism. When he asked the students if this is what they wanted, many, of course, declined. Those who were doing well, didn't want other, less-hardworking or less intelligent students, to have the automatic privilege of what they felt they had worked so hard for. Conversely, (and predictably) the not-so-hardworking students said they didn't mind the new system if they were guaranteed an A. Finally, the students who were hardworking but who weren't doing so well said they didn't want it because they wanted to earn their grade on merit. The person who told this story on the forum, stated that from that point onward it was clear to him that capitalism was the best system and that he wanted no part of socialism.

If this story is true, then I shudder to think that there are such simple-minded professors in our academic institutions and that these men and women are molding our future minds, but I will give the professor the benefit of the doubt, and assume he or she only did it this way to stimulate discussion - to get the students to think. Unfortunately, with at least this one student, he failed.

Firstly, let us be clear about some terms. Capitalism is NOT synonymous with democracy. Socialism and communism are NOT synonymous with authoritarianism. Both are political AND economic systems (whether you want to believe that or not, we see this in practice everyday).

First, let's define socialism and communism, because there is a difference, and few people seem to really know what either one is to begin with.

Basically, and straightforwardly,
1. SOCIALISM is "from each according to their ability, to each according to their DEEDS".
2. COMMUNISM is "from each according to their ability to each according to their NEEDS".

Of course, the value of labor cannot truly be measured, however, socialism is NOT a welfare state; it is clear from human history that those who do the least will not be gleefully supported by the remainder, and that's just a fact of human nature.

1. Socialism is a redistribution of wealth to those who do little or nothing.
This is one of the most heinous statements about socialism I hear - routinely. The part of the statement concerning redistribution of wealth is true, but it is framed in a misleading way. Redistribution is not what FOX News and conservatives would have you believe. Redistribution is an equalizer, akin to affirmative action (which they also hate), where nothing is handed out to anyone. Instead, incomes are raised and costs are cut in order to allow people who have less to be able to do little things in their lives - like eat food and see a doctor. Now, yes, taxes in general, and particularly on the wealthy, are higher in a socialist economy, but by no means are these crippling or anti-business. Many of the world's billionaires were and are made in socialist economies that you may have heard of - like England and France. And, likewise, many of the businesses in those countries are small businesses. You have many wealthy or well-living people, but fewer large corporations and more individually-owned businesses. France practically invented the "boutique". Regulation obviously plays a part in that as well. The problem the wealthy have is not that they will no longer turn a profit, but they won't turn as large of a profit. Instead of corporations making forty billion in a year, they will make thirty-two billion in a year. Boo hoo. However, that eight billion would be redistributed by law in higher wages, health care for all, free college education, social security, child care, subsidies for lower food prices, etc., etc., etc., so that the people who make the least money (because socialism still creates class division) are still able to pay their bills, have a car, take a vacation every so often, and live the life that western conquest should now have provided for all of its citizens.

The second misleading and inaccurate part, is the idea that this redistribution will go to people who do "little or nothing". The only people who do little or nothing as a general rule and get rewarded financially for it in any system, are the wealthy. Many working class people see little reward day in and out for all the hours they toil away in service of another. Many of the wealthy enjoy "legacy wealth" - earning income from the work of their forebears and not their own hands and/or minds. Legacy wealth also includes getting into a university because your dad contributes money or getting a bank executive job because you know the CEO. Not because you're smart enough to get into the school or because you have earned the job on merit. The same people who decry socialism and welfare make continuous use of these methods to not only get ahead, and stay ahead, but to keep people like you (reading this) from getting where they are. I can't imagine a bigger system of welfare. These are the people who are getting privileges redistributed for doing "little or nothing".

Most people on state-provided welfare are using it to try to get on their feet - not attend a social function at a ritzy new hotel. Welfare reform in this country needs to be drastically reformed - drastically - but that includes corporate welfare. Likewise, the attitudes toward welfare recipients needs to change. The way we look at "legacy wealth" welfare should be the same way we look at state-provided welfare. The legacy wealthy have the right to receive their family's money because they are members of that family. State-provided welfare recipients have the right to their welfare as well, because they are members of society, and if a member of society needs something, it is society's job to help them obtain it.

One of the ways we can reform state-provided welfare is by making college tuition free for all (with the "redistributed wealth" from taxes, reduced profits, etc.) as well as child care, and mandate that anyone receiving state-provided welfare MUST either have a full-time job OR have a part -time job and be in school OR be in school full-time. Of course there will be individual circumstances and those will have to be considered on a case by case basis. I have written a more detailed outline of my ideas for welfare reform here.

2. Socialism is Stalinism (or "authoritarian" in a broader sense)
Socialism does not require authoritarianism. Authoritarianism has come to be synonymous with socialism and communism, but the problem in those situations was not the system - the problem was the few people in power who were greedy. Much like in Capitalism. The system is not corrupt - the people are. The difference is, those authoritarian regimes eventually fell. Capitalist regimes don't fall. However, this is not because capitalism is inherently better or noble. It is because capitalism rewards greed and corruption and dishonesty. Socialism does not. So eventually, when socialism is used to further personal gains, it fails - even if over a long period of time. However, in capitalism, those attributes are rewarded and sought after - and so it gains strength over time. In failed socialist states, the term socialism is used by the totalitarian government as a way to seize property and assets and use them for the benefit of the few. It's not true socialism - it's actually authoritarian capitalism. However, executed properly, socialism can work equally as well as capitalism (see: England, France and Canada), and I would argue it works far better, because it works to the benefit of the citizenry, not just a concentrated few, as capitalism does. Now granted, those nations - particularly England and France, are hybrid economies, but they lean much more to the left than our system, and do so enough that they can be considered socialist.

Furthermore, proof that capitalism is not based on hard work can be heard in the very language that capitalists use to talk about capitalism. "We need businesses that take risk" or "business owners make more money because they shoulder the risk of the business" and "the market crashed because of too much risk or bad risks". So there it is. Capitalism is not predicated on hard work and "pulling oneself up by their bootstraps". Socialists do those things as well, except everyone involved sees the reward of their effort. In capitalism, only the "risk-taker" sees reward. In a socialist model, everyone is invested in their company's success. In capitalism, only the risk-taker is. Therefore, capitalism is predicated not on hard work, but rather on risk. Casinos are a great place to take risks, and one of the many reasons people cite for not wanting a casino in their town is the seedy underbelly that comes with it - much more so than other industries. The market is (and has been treated as) a casino environment. Why would we expect any difference there? With greater risk comes more unsavory characters who are looking to get rich quick at the expense of others.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not saying all capitalists are unsavory and dishonest, but what I am saying is that there are more of those types per capita than among socialists - just by the nature of how it operates. Answer this - would you want a casino erected adjacent to your home? Now, would you want me to invest your future there? The people who take zero risk at a casino don't lose anything. The ones who do may win everything, but they may also lose what they already have. Should we operate our economy and mortgage our futures in this manner? We roll the dice with our finances in capitalism and give it a fancy name "investing", but the odds and outcomes are no different.
Very few reading this would take their entire life savings to the casino and pin all of their hopes for their future on getting lucky and winning big. Yet we do it everyday as capitalists. We call it an IRA or a 401k, but you may as well call it "Blackjack" or "Roulette", as the most recent crisis has reminded us. Be aware of that - "most recent" because it has happened before, and if capitalism continues to be the dominant system, it will happen again. And again. And again.

One of the more amazing things to me is that the United States is a de facto protestant Christian nation, yet few of the protestant Christians here adhere to the supposed teachings of Christ. Yes, we know about the people who party hard on Saturday and fall out praising God on Sunday, but that's not what I'm talking about. That's just humans being human and the hypocrisy that comes with that - for all of us. No one is perfect, and so that behavior is acceptable as long as those same people don't start trying to tell me how immoral I am. What I'm talking about is American Christianity linking with capitalism as a group. Capitalism is held up by most American adherents of Christianity, yet, as evidenced by the teachings of Christ they promulgate, as supposedly related to us by the Bible, Christ was himself a socialist. In fact, he was likely a communist. One of the major requirements of following him was that one give up all of their worldly possessions. American Christians fight to get more possessions.

Christ supposedly frowned upon taking advantage of others, money (remember the temple?), not helping those in need (Good Samaritan parable, anyone?), and generally all the things we aspire to do in modern day capitalist society. Jesus supposedly stated that a camel can pass through a needle's eye more easily than a rich man can get into heaven. So, then why all of the "prosperity ministries" of Creflo Dollar, Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, and many, many more? Mohandas Gandhi noticed this almost a century ago. I have my own issues with Gandhi, but I agree with him here:

"I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ. The materialism of affluent Christian countries appears to contradict the claims of Jesus Christ that says it's not possible to worship both Mammon and God at the same time." - Mohandas Gandhi

One doesn't expect the individual to be perfect - even if Christian - but capitalism should not be treated as inherent in the teachings of Christ.

Next, and quite importantly, capitalism is not democratic. It amazes me that this one isn't clear to all who can think, but capitalism has been incorrectly and inappropriately aligned with democracy. Socialism seeks to create equal opportunity for all involved, in every aspect of their lives. Capitalism seeks to concentrate power and resources in the hands of a few. How does that match up with democracy? In a democratic system, everyone has equal input. One man, one vote. That sounds socialist to me - the idea that you put everyone on an even playing field. One of the things that we pride ourselves on in the United States (perhaps quite falsely) is that "all men are created equal". The idea is that every man woman and child has the same rights and opportunities as the next man, woman, or child. We realize this doesn't always bear out, and indeed the nation was founded (in practice) on the antithesis of that idea. Thomas Day, an abolitionist at the time the Declaration of Independence was signed pointed out the hypocrisy of the nation at that time:

"If there be an object truly ridiculous in nature, it is an American patriot, signing resolutions of independency with the one hand, and with the other brandishing a whip over his affrighted slaves."
- Thomas Day

So, from the very outset, the nation was founded on the idea of saying one thing and doing another. But if we really want to live in a true democracy, then that means we have to allow everyone to have equal opportunities to liberty, health and happiness - not just in word, but in deed. Equal access to jobs, education, health care, and whatever else individuals need in order to allow themselves to contribute to society.

Any person you pull aside in the United States will likely tell you that "every man deserves a fair chance or an equal opportunity". Then if you ask if they would support socialism, they'll tell you "no". Ask them how that makes sense. Actually, first ask them to define socialism. We enact socialist principles every day of our lives with no problem. Ask salaried employees if they would give it up to work on commission. Don't be fooled - salary is socialist. The company would love to pay you on commission but we as a society have realized that employees should, at the very least, be guaranteed enough money to make ends meet - even though many of us still can't. Yes, commission jobs exist, but you don't have to take them. Imagine if only commission jobs existed.

Here's the real idea - when a loved one dies, and everyone at work takes up a collection or creates a fund that everyone contributes to, to help you through the rough time - that's socialism. Helping each other when times are hard and building together when times are easy is socialism. The very root of the word is the word "social". We live in a "society". Cooperation encouraged.