Donald Trump Accomplishes The Impossible

After the dust settled from the Presidential Primaries, it was a foregone conclusion that I would be voting for Hillary Clinton.  This wouldn’t be a “hold your nose” vote, nor would it be a “lesser of two evils” vote (which dumbs down the definition of evil to ubiquitousness).  She is accomplished and fire-tested over 30+ years.  She has a decently detailed plan for her vision for the U.S., even if that plan is a little wishy-washy around the edges.  In other words, she is the consummate politician.  That is not a compliment.  But nor is it a condemnation.  It is simply a recognition of a reality that should be obvious to all if it weren’t for the mythology that has been built around the Clintons throughout the preceding decades, only a fraction of it truthful.  Yes, there are some serious head scratchers in that fraction of truth, but not a single bit of it is outside the realm of what anyone with 30+ years of public service while in the limelight of the 24-hour news cycle would find attached to themselves.  Unlike everyone else running for President this year, it is nigh impossible to make the case that Hillary Clinton is unqualified to become President of the United States unless you throw a heaping spoonful of lies and deceit into your argument.

Like most Presidential elections, with the glaring exception of Obama’s first term, this would be a vote where I do my duty, choose the best person for the job, and vote.  That person this year would be Hillary Clinton.  Sure, there was a twinge of excitement that I would be voting for the first female President of the United States, but mostly this would be an unemotional vote for the correct choice.  Then came Donald Trump.  I have been asking for decades why anyone thought Trump was a good anything.  Even if his businesses were wildly successful (which they aren’t), he has always been a blowhard and a bully and yet people of all spectrums looked up to this man as a paragon of capitalism.  It baffles me that the sheen is still on that polished turd of a man for 40% of the population, but it feels good that he is finally being shown to millions as the horrible human being he always has been.  In fact, he is worse than even I could have imagined.  Republicans have been playing around the edges of the basest fears of the United States’ psyche for decades now, but Trump has cannonballed right in, gotten out of the pool, shook like a wet dog getting everyone soaked and then cannonballed right back again and repeated that cycle ad nauseum this election cycle.  It’s been like a horrible accident that you can’t look away from.

Given all of the above, I have gone from studiously making the right choice to absolutely gleeful that I will be voting for Hillary Clinton.  A feat, I would not have predicted going into this election.  Congratulations, Donald Trump, you have accomplished the impossible.  FIRST FEMALE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, BITCHES!  I actually donated some money, which again is the only time besides Obama’s first term that I have done so.  Hillary winning is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point unless she gets unmasked as an alien or something equally ridiculous, but I think it is important not that Hillary win in a landslide, but that Trump lose in a landslide.  I am happy that Trump has exposed this face of the United States.  I think it is a necessary part of healing wounds that have festered for decades, but it is equally important for the rest of us to stand up strongly and declare that Trump is not who we are.  Republicans especially need to make this clear.  You may disagree with Hillary on almost every issue, but it is better to have someone you disagree with in the Oval Office than it is to have someone who cares only for himself in that seat behind that desk.

As a final aside, I made a prediction at the beginning of this campaign that Clinton would defeat Trump by somewhere close to 20% of the popular vote and an electoral landslide.  It is shaping up to be an electoral landslide with Clinton decently ahead in almost every battleground state, but as to the popular vote, well, not so much.  Clinton is starting to push +10% ahead in some national polls, which is still amazing, but the third party candidates are staying stubbornly strong at 7% of the popular vote, which is also amazing.  Normally, support for third parties drops as the vote gets closer.  There has been some shrinking of third party support, but not nearly as much as previous elections.  Since this election has broken so many norms, it is hard to predict what the outcome would be if it were a two person race, but despite popular belief, third party votes tend to pull proportionally from both parties (no Nader was not a spoiler for Democrats, get over it) so if Clinton’s +10% margin continues you can assume that 55% of the third party votes would go to Clinton and 45% would go to Trump.  In other words, Clinton would get a bump of around 5.5% and Trump 4.5%, which doesn’t help my prediction much.  This means I grossly overestimated how many people would see through Trump’s facade.  There’s still time for a miracle on that front, though, and if anyone can pull it off, it’s Trump

Book Review: The Other Half Of The Sky edited by Athena Andreadis

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 5/5 stars

This may be the single best collection of multi-author science fiction short stories I have ever read.  I would recommend each and every story in this collection to anyone who enjoys sci-fi.  While some are obviously better than others, each and every story is unique, imaginative, and compelling.  Let’s get into why I like this book so much.

Women are criminally underrepresented in science fiction.  Both as authors and as protagonists.  The main theme of this book is women.  Almost all of the authors are women and every story has a woman as the protagonist.  For better or for worse, women see and interact with the world differently than men and that can be seen in their writing, which in this case is definitely for the better.  This book treats you to some completely different worlds that you won’t find in the minds of men and even those worlds that could come from the minds of men are seen in a polarized light that reveals a different side of familiar scenes.

I have a passion for language.  And by that, I mean that you don’t want to get me started on how stupid gendered nouns and pronouns are and how they reinforce gender stereotypes.  That’s why it was pleasant to see that some of the stories in this collection embrace gender fluidity as a norm.  It is a concept somewhat on the fringes of sci-fi and only normally used as an afterthought to shape a world instead of being front and center as it is in the stories in this book.  Given the gender fluidity of humans, of course aliens may be much more gender fluid, of course future humans may fully embrace their own gender fluid nature.  Reading these stories it’s kind of a “well, duh” moment that these ideas would be explored but it’s good to have them explored nonetheless.  And while it may be somewhat discomfiting to some, reading gender neutral pronouns like zie and zir and zem in a story, it is a great introduction to those who still think of gender as binary.

If you like science fiction, you should run out and get this book right now.  If you like the stories in this book, you should run out and get more books by the authors in question.  I haven’t had a feeling of such pure delight reading sci-fi in quite some time and this book completely put me in my sci-fi happy place.  That said, this is also what I would call softer science fiction so it is also very accessible to those not really into science fiction.  I don’t mean that to sound like an insult, as the worlds created in this book are rich and complex, but they are told more from a viewpoint of taking the advances in technology for granted, like we would if we were writing a story where someone calls someone on their cell phone, instead of getting bogged down in technical details of warp drives and tachyon fields and such.  That’s how I define soft vs. hard science fiction.  Regardless, everyone should buy this book and give the authors all their monies.

Movie Review: Birth Of A Nation

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A somewhat faithful retelling of Turner’s Rebellion with some campy Hollywood crap thrown in for kicks.  Pretty good acting, though.

Turner’s Rebellion is a very strange footnote in history to build a narrative reclaiming movie over.  “Narrative” isn’t the right word, but I can’t come up with a word that fits.  For those of you who don’t know, the original “The Birth of a Nation” movie was both groundbreaking movie making and pretty racist in its portrayal of Blacks as lesser human beings and the KKK as righteous protectors.  So when a Black filmmaker/writer/actor creates a movie called “Birth of a Nation”, as Nate Parker has done, there are strong overtones of reclamation of a racist past in the hopes that people will remember the latter instead of the former.  That’s why it’s strange to me to use a story of a religious zealot who led a failed slave revolt that indiscriminately killed slave-holding families and resulted in the brutal subjugation of both slave and freed Black as a vehicle to reclaim that narrative.

Then there’s Nate Parker’s unfortunate history of taking advantage of a drunk and passed out woman as a sophomore in college, of which he was acquitted of rape charges, of which he also shows no remorse even though he admits it was morally wrong, whatever that means.  Though horrible, this wouldn’t be germane to the movie at all if it wasn’t for Parker’s use of two ahistorical rape scenes (one absolutely brutal) to drive Nat Turner’s quest for vengeance.  Using the rape of a woman as a plot device for a man to take revenge is lazy film-making at its worst.  It’s inexcusable in modern film.  Especially for a film which has Oscar buzz.  Doubly especially for a film created by a man who you can’t help but wonder is saying, “What I did isn’t rape, THIS is rape”.

Despite all of its baggage it’s a decent enough movie, though I’m not sure why there were such rave reviews leading up to its release.  There are some brilliant moments, capped in my mind by the hauntingly sad rendition of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, and great acting all around.  These pluses kind of get overshadowed by pointless Hollywood moments like “the face-off” and “the betrayal”, of which the former is eye rolling and the latter is ham-handed.  All of this leads me to the conclusion that “Birth of a Nation” will only be remembered for Nate Parker’s unfortunate choices both in life and in story choices and not as a narrative redefining film.

America’s Penis Is About To Get Blown

Hurricane Matthew is currently bearing down on Florida’s east coast and it’s still a doozy.  140 MPH sustained winds and showing signs of possible strengthening.  Current forecast shows it moving straight up the east coast of Florida, tickling Georgia and South Carolina and then circling around for a possible second hit of Florida.  Ouch.  There’s also a possibility that it will then cross Florida and hit the Gulf of Mexico whose warm waters might turn it into a hurricane once again, but that’s too far in the future to predict with any accuracy.  You can check its progress here.

This is shaping up to be a very serious threat to Florida.  Not only will southern Florida have to deal with the hurricane surge itself, but it may come just as it is also experiencing high tide in the middle of the night.  You’ll recall what happened to New York when a similar scenario happened with hurricane Sandy which only had 70 MPH sustained winds at the time.  If you know anyone in eastern Florida, be sure to let them know that this isn’t a hurricane to mess around with.  Get away from the sea and stay indoors.

If Matthew does strengthen and continue along its projected path, we could be getting an early glimpse of what the state of Florida will look like in 50-100 years with the predicted sea level rise due to general warming and the ice caps shrinking.  Of which, the Arctic just experienced its second lowest ice extent minimum by the way.  So yeah, things are really shaping up for planet Earth.

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A movie with some charm but pales in comparison to the 1960 version.  A little long but still better than “Seven Samurai” in that it didn’t waste an hour showing a peasant crying in a barn.  “But look at Kurosawa’s masterful use of lighting and shadow”, blah blah blah.

I can really sum up this review by just saying go see the 1960 version of the movie and be done with it.  But that might just be nostalgia talking so a reviewing I shall go.

When looking for when the original movie was released, I discovered that there was also a TV series with the same premise back in 1998-2000.  So yeah, this ground has been covered quite extensively.  And there’s good reason for that.  It’s a compelling story filled with a motley bunch of do-gooders and over the top bad guys and underdogs who persevere despite adversity.  Really, though, it’s the motley bunch of do-gooders that we’re here to see.  2016 doesn’t disappoint in that respect.  The cast of misfits, led by Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt, are entertaining if a little flat around the edges.  The villain, played by Peter Sarsgaard, is sufficiently over the top without being cartoonish.

The biggest issue with this movie, and maybe the original suffered from it as well but I do not recall, is one of motivation.  Why are these seven people helping these poor villagers in what is almost certainly a suicide mission?  The only two that really make solid sense are Chisolm’s (Denzel Washington), pride and revenge, and Jack Horn’s (Vincent D’Onofrio), piety and righteousness.  Jack Horn is probably the best character in the film and despite little face time, he manages to tell a complete story.  The rest vary from “to get my horse back” to “I am a Comanche” to “I’m with him”.  More depth here would have been much appreciated and it is the one thing I appreciated about Kurosawa’s original.

My one other major complaint is how lazy the action was.  The final fight was kind of an underpants gnome version of a plan.  We’ll put almost everyone out in front of the town and somehow this will lead the bandits into the middle of town where we can pick them off.  This abhorrent plan could be forgivable if it led to some cool, if useless, action sequences, but there was not much to really see.

Like I said at the beginning, just go see the 1960 version if you’ve never seen it.  Barring that, just wait for this movie to appear on your favorite streaming service.  It’s not a bad movie, but it’s been done before and better and you have better things to do with your life.

Oh, and funny story.  For the longest time I thought Jack Horne was played by the guy that played Hodor on “Game of Thrones”.

Movie Review: Sully

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Bottom Line: A story that everyone should hear.  Suffers slightly from poor direction.

Everyone likely remembers the events of January 15th, 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 emergency landed onto the Hudson River with 155 souls on board and all lived to tell the tale.  It was an amazing feat in so many different ways.  You have Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and First Officer Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart) deftly water landing a plane with no working engines.  You have the ferry pilots who raced to the scene to rescue the survivors.  You have the scuba teams.  You have the fire fighters.  You have the police.  You have the Red Cross.  All these disparate groups came together and worked tirelessly to save the stranded passengers and crew.  Very few cities in the world can pull off what New York did that day.  The people on that flight owe their lives to a combination of excellent infrastructure and even better first responders.

The world needs a hero, though, and that hero is Sully.  His name and likeness were plastered on every news show and late show for weeks.  His life is not at all atypical of most airline pilots.  Flew when he was young.  Flew during the war.  Made a career as an airline pilot.  His is a simple story of lifetime commitment and practice and nerves of steel under extraordinary circumstances.  Heroes don’t fall apart until after the crisis has passed.

If there is a bad guy in this film, it’s the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), US Airways, and Airbus who try to pin the water landing on human error.  US Airways and Airbus make sense.  They have a lot riding on proving that there’s nothing wrong with their craft.  The NTSB, however, doesn’t make much sense.  It makes me wonder if there were liberties taken in the portrayal of this governmental entity or if they really do take that much guidance from the airlines and manufacturers.

The only real issue with the film is one of flow.  Sully’s younger years are thrown in as kind of an afterthought and they don’t really add to the movie except to show that he’s been flying planes for a really long time.  They show the landing multiple times to little effect.  Then there’s the weird plan crash dream that gets repeated too.  They’re all odd choices.

Despite the flow issues, this is still a movie that is well worth watching if you don’t know the whole story of the Miracle on the Hudson and its aftermath.  It’s got Tom Hanks in it so you at least know you’re going to be treated to good acting.  As a plus, Aaron Eckhart kind of steals the show in the scenes he’s in and he seems to work well with Tom Hanks.  I’d like to see the two of them do another movie together.

Movie Review: Hell Or High Water

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: Two buddy movies in one.  Great dialogue.  Banks suck.

“Hell or High Water” is a buddy movie.  In fact, it’s two buddy movies.  You have the two brothers who are bank robbers and you have the two Texas Rangers hot on the robbers’ trail.  All of this is set in the backdrop of rural Texas where foreclosures are rampant and banks prey upon the elderly in schemes to get their land.  Really, this film could have been shot in any rural community in any state, but Texas has one thing going for it that make it the correct choice; it contains Texans.

The bank robber brothers are Tanner (Ben Foster) and Toby (Chris Pine) Howard.  Tanner is a career criminal and Toby is of the quietly desperate persuasion who turns to crime to pay for his recently dead mother’s land before the bank forecloses on it and the oil it hides, but also so he can provide a sense of safety and security for his two estranged children by giving them the deed to said oil.  Yes, they rob banks, but much of the film actually takes place in cars or in diners or on their mother’s land as the two brothers talk through life.

The Texas Rangers are Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges) and Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).  Hamilton is near retirement and Parker is his long suffering partner.  They pursue the Howards with a sort of quiet determination.  This is what real police work looks like.  They go from bank to bank looking for clues and patterns and then just sit in restaurants and hotel rooms waiting for the robbers’ next move, eventually trying to be a step ahead before that move occurs.

This movie is what I call a talkie.  Yes, banks get robbed, cars are chased, and violence ensues, but those are just tiny pieces in a story that is only marginally about crime and law and order.  Instead it’s about relationships and trust and loyalty.  Both the cops and the robbers in this film exhibit all of those characteristics and the line between them is only what life has dropped on each.  All of this plays out with some terrific dialogue.  A talkie.  One well worth your attention.

Listen Up, Libertarians and Greens

You cannot win this Presidential election.  To believe that you can requires a level of self-delusion that puts you up there with believing the moon landing was faked or that the government is spraying chemicals on us with airplanes.  Not only that, you don’t deserve to win.  You simply have not put forth the effort to make your parties a reliable political entity.  You’re like a Starbucks barista with five years of experience believing that they should be CEO.  Neither of your parties have won elected office much past Dog Catcher.   Libertarians only have 143 elected representatives in office nationwide right now.  Only 43 of them were labelled as Libertarian on the ballot.  Greens are even worse.  They only have 137 in 16 states, half of which are in California.  There are over 500,000 elected offices nationwide.

Even in this election where we are supposed to take you seriously, you just haven’t put forth the ground game to be worthy of the Presidency.  Jill Stein isn’t going to be on the ballot in all 50 states.  You’re missing South Dakota, Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia and you likely won’t be in Oklahoma and Nevada either.  That’s 45 electoral votes definitely down the tubes and another 13 likely down the tubes.  You need 270 votes to win.  Those 45 electoral votes is 17% of that number.  Add the other 13 votes and you’re at 22%.  Not to mention, you’re still waiting to see if you’ll be on the ballot in four other states.  Libertarians, you’re a little better.  Johnson will likely be on the ballot in all 50 states (though you’re still missing Kentucky, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire as of this writing), which will represent the first time you’ve achieved that goal.  This has more to do with an upswelling of support from insider Republicans against Trump than it does the power of your party so take it with a grain of salt.  Maybe there’s a future there, maybe not.

Then there’s the fact that half of your base in both parties is kind of crazy.  The Libertarian party is by far the worst offender.  Your conventions are equal parts Burning Man and entitled selfish pricks.  The Greens suffer from this as well, though.  Your party is infused with woo.  You have a large anti-vax population, you’re strangely anti-GMO despite no scientific proof it’s dangerous, and your chosen candidate actively panders to that segment of your population which proves it’s not insignificant.  The Green Party is at least getting better in this regard.  You used to be really anti-science and are now just mildly so.

To all those new to the Green or Libertarian party, yes the two party system is fucked.  Thank you for finally starting to pay attention.  Enlightenment is good.  Your parties are still laughably unready for the Presidency, though.  The Presidency is about building coalitions to pass meaningful legislation and you have zero support at the national level.  How do you think that’s going to work?  The only “message” your vote will send is that you’re not worthy of being courted at the national level.  Maybe I’m wrong and this will finally be the turning point that will dissolve our two party system, but I’ve got over two hundred years of history that says I’m right.  If you want real change, you should assume I’m right and get an entry level job as a barista.  Then you can get out there and manage a Starbucks store or three.  Then go on to become regional manager.  Earn that CEO position.

Book Review: The Eisenberg Constant By Eugen Egner

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars

This is more of a short story or maybe novelette than a book so I’m not entirely sure why it came as a stand alone story, but that’s what you get sometimes when you buy e-books in bundles, I guess.

The premise of this story is pretty cool.  A technology exists which can create a time loop which allows super rich lonely people to relive the same week over and over again.  You have full autonomy and can basically do whatever you want but your actions have no consequence and at the end of the week, everything kind of gets reset.  Since reliving the same thing over and over a la “Groundhog Day” would get pretty tiresome pretty quickly, the technology has some randomness added to it using a device called the Eisenberg Constant.  People aren’t necessarily going to be in the same place at the same time, individuals won’t react the same way in the same situation, etc.  Things are going swimmingly for Henry Selinger until things seem to start going awry with the Eisenberg Constant.  A locomotive-like vehicle has crashed into a nearby field.  Strange voices can be heard in his bathroom.  The news on the radio is getting weirder and weirder.  An exceedingly frightening creature is haunting his dreams.  And the Eisenberg Constant repairman won’t be here until Monday!  What’s a man to do?

I should probably give this story 4 stars because it really is a fun and interesting read, but man is the ending unfulfilling.  The curse of the short story.  Egner has a very interesting writing style and he clearly describes some pretty absurdist stuff in this story.  It would be interesting to read some of his other works.  Unfortunately, it looks like this is his only story that has been translated from his native German into English.  Oh well.

Movie Review: War Dogs

Jean-Paul’s Rating: 4/5 stars

Bottom Line: A true story about two schmucks who look at a website to make money from the government.  It’s a lot better than that sounds.  Boy, the Department of Defense is messed up.

Imagine if there were a website where anybody could bid on landing government contracts where you could supply weapons to our armed forces.  Well, there is!  And that’s the basic premise for “War Dogs”.  Efraim Diveroli (Jonah Hill) has a small time company that takes small bids from said website which the big companies won’t bother with and fulfills the arms orders.  As he grows and makes a name for himself, he convinces his friend, David Packouz (Miles Teller) to join him.  Things do not progress smoothly.

The timing of the release of “War Dogs” couldn’t have been better what with the announcement that the U.S. Army can’t account for $6.5 trillion dollars.  The procurement process for the Department of Defense is broken beyond repair.  While the problems between the audit and the events in “War Dogs” are unrelated, together they show the amount of dysfunction in the department that spends over half of our government’s discretionary spending.  And before you get worried, no there is not $6.5 trillion dollars missing.  That would mean every dollar since 1993 the Department of Defense spend is missing.  This is more of an issue with bad paperwork and multiple accounting systems across disciplines causing items to be accounted for multiple times.  Still, it’s no way to run a department.  But I digress.

“War Dogs” is a well put together movie.  It takes an incredibly complicated real-life story and streamlines it so that it is easy to follow while still telling a solid story.  It also helps that Jonah Hill plays a really convincing asshole.  The second act of the movie slows down some near the end which kind of messes with the wonderfully established flow of the movie, but it picks up again in the final act.

As with all “based on a true story” movies, it would be nice to know what was real and what was manufactured and there are a few moments in this movie where things set up a little too perfectly and you wonder if it was done that perfectly for the film’s sake or if, of all the crazy things these two knuckleheads did, these select scenes happened that perfectly in real life.  Regardless, what we have here is a movie that is well worth your time and money, if only to get a glimpse into the shadier side of what is done in our name during war time.