Don’t Believe Everything You Read On The Internet

A friend of mine shared  this essay on her Facebook wall earlier this week. It’s titled, “Bernout: Why I’m Supporting Hillary Now,” and written by a well-respected academic from my alma mater, the University of Buffalo.

While I’m firmly in the Bernie camp (which I’m sure is shocking to everyone reading this blog, lol) I decided to have a look and see what had changed Professor Jackson’s mind. Sadly, what I found was  a disappointing essay full of vague statements and misinformation.

Point by point, here are just a few of my issues with the piece.

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1. Jackson talks about how Scalia’s death changes the playing field for him. Okay, but he never actually finishes the “sentence” of why he thinks Bernie wouldn’t be just as capable of picking a Supreme Court justice as HRC would be. He says, “Presidents matter” in the context of Bernie having to pick a justice – but throughout this primary season (and the run up to it) one of the major arguments of this election has been that the next President could pick as many as 3 or 4 justices. If that wasn’t a concern of Jackson’s early on during his support, why is Scalia’s sudden death such a game changer?

Jackson also cites Republican obstructionism of Obama’s efforts, but the idea that HRC would be better situated to get a nominee through than Sanders *because* of that obstructionism – especially given that almost the entirety of Congress is up for re-election this cycle -lacks any real discusssion. Where are the examples of Republican stonewalling of Sanders’ proposals? Where is Jackson’s evidence that Sanders is less able to negotiate with the opposition? Given that Sanders sponsored or cosponsored over 200 bills that eventually became law, while Clinton’s stats show just 77 of over 3,000 sponsored or cosponsored bills finding their way into law , my guess is that evidence was hard to come by.

2. Jackson is right about one thing: the Sanders campaign sends a lot of emails asking for money. Sometimes multiple emails in a day. You know what else is in those emails? An unsubscribe button. If you don’t like getting emails, just unsubscribe from the list. It’s cool. Nobody will be offended.

But then Jackson goes on to express an accusation that Bernie gets support from a SuperPAC, essentially saying that Bernie is a hypocrite. Jackson doesn’t give the name of a SuperPAC, so I can only assume this is a reference to Sanders’ support from the Nurses’ Union. Said union does indeed operate a SuperPAC – one that is funded by member dues, not massive donations from Sanders’ political cronies. Maybe it’s just me, but I think a union-supported PAC made up of small, working-class member dues, spending money on a candidate who was endorsed after winning a majority of members’ support, is a far cry from a millionaire, billionaire or industry-supported SuperPAC headed up by former members of major corporations and ones’ own staff, as is the case with many of the SuperPACs supporting his opponents.

3. Accusations of Bernie being vague on his proposals and a “one issue candidate”. Sanders hasn’t been vague. He’s released the details of where the money is going to come from. Again, a lack of specifics when it comes to these accusations hurts Jackson’s argument and overall credibility in the article, and comes across as parroting the current HRC-party line. I would expect someone like Jackson, particularly as a former supporter, to back the accusation up with facts…except that the accusation itself is false.

“They hate foreigners; he hates Wall Street. They have no foreign policy; Bernie has no foreign policy. They are pissed off; he is pissed off. They have no ideas about how to run a country; Bernie has no ideas about how to run a country.” – Bruce Jackson, The Public

Yes, Bernie has been an outspoken critic of what run-rampant capitalism has done to the country, as symbolized by “wall street” corporate greed and high-risk speculative trading, and how those things affect middle and working-class Americans. He has also made a point of talking about how the government can help small businesses. He believes small farms and businesses should reap the benefits of subsidies, not big agra and big business. As Senator from Vermont, he worked — and succeeded – at getting help for Vermont’s small businesses. His tax reform plans place a higher burden on big business than small (can’t think of many mom & pop stores that are going to move offshore to avoid paying millions in taxes), Medicare for All reduces the amount small businesses will have to pay towards employee premiums, and his agenda for Wall Street reform includes having the head of the Fed draw up a list of what financial institutions are “too big to fail” – so that they can be broken up, and the risk of America’s middle class having to bail out banks so our economy doesn’t tank (again) can be minimized.

“Bernie has no foreign policy” is absolutely ridiculous. From Sanders’ website, on foreign policy:

“Senator Sanders believes that the test of a great and powerful nation is not how many wars it can engage in, but how it can resolve international conflicts in a peaceful manner. From the Middle East, to Ukraine, to North Korea, to the South China Sea, to civil war in the world’s newest nation – South Sudan, we face a multitude of serious foreign policy challenges.” — BernieSanders.com

I’ve talked about Bernie’s foreign policy with people before. Sanders starts from a different perspective on foreign policy than most US officials have in the recent history. His foreign policy is, you build coalitions, you don’t go in unilaterally, you support your military both during AND after a fight (and factor those costs in from day one). His foreign policy is based on the idea that America lives in the world and is part of a wider global community, not a law unto itself. Jackson may or may not agree with this foreign policy, but to say it doesn’t exist is a false statement.

Regarding what Jackson touches on with Hillary in this item: some people, myself included, don’t like her approach to policy and think Sanders has better ideas that will ultimately be better for the United States. By reducing objections to “people don’t like her on a personal level” (for a variety of reasons) he’s dismissing the very real position of Bernie supporters who feel that Hillary is not calling for policies that will help reverse the destructive effect of wealth inequality on our nation.

4. I don’t even know what this “Eternal life” argument is. Almost every seat in Congress is up for re-election in the current cycle, so again, “Congress is not going to change a year from now” is 100% false. Jackson’s also repeating the “it’s going to be hard so we shouldn’t try it” argument that HRC has brought up in connection with Medicare for All. His argument, essentially, is “Bernie’s an old dude.” Some very weird ageism going on here, as well – Jackson is 80, Hillary is 68 – Bernie is only 5-6 years older than she is, and 5-6 years younger than Jackson. Regardless, and I’m sorry to be reductive here, this section is a non-argument. Bernie is 74 years old. His medical records show that he’s in excellent health, and his vigor on the campaign trail and in his speeches make me wonder why “he’s an old dude, why can’t he lower his sites” is a valid argument.

5. “Homogenizing Wall Street,” which then grows within the section to be “homogenizing everything” – categorizations of police, of teachers, etc. Jackson then talks about how there is a need for further regulation – exactly what Bernie has called for. Jackson talks about how every American is involved, via their 401k, with Wall Street, but then ignores the fact that allowing risky behavior by financial firms deemed “too big to fail” actually puts all those Americans at risk. Bernie has never called for ending all Wall Street activity and has gone on record with a disambiguation of the meaning of democratic socialism and how it involves responsible capitalism rather than the run-rampant variety currently at play with the major players of the financial sector.

6. “Tarring Dr. Califf”[EDIT: I originally noted the title of this section as saying “Cardiff,” when I double checked this I realized that this was just one instance of misspelling in a quote, not a misspelling in the section title]  is Jackson’s next point, and here I disagree with how he has categorized Bernie’s attitude towards the man nominated to head the FDA. One of Sanders’ major talking points is that the price of prescription drugs in America is too high, and his position is that the FDA plays a roll in controlling drug costs in America.  When Sanders questioned Califf about why we pay the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs, Califf said “we need them available.” When Sanders asked Califf if Medicare should be able to negotiate the prices of drugs, Califf refused to give an opinion despite the fact that “the issue of affordability” certainly fell under the FDA’s purview. Sanders’ summation of the questioning ended thus: “I believe we need a commissioner who is going to stand up to the pharmaceutical industry, and I have to say to you, with regret, that I think you are not that person.” Since when did facts become attacks?

7. Jackson homogenizes Sanders supporters by talking about “their” objections to HRC — those objections not actually being what a decent-sized chunk of Sanders’ supporters feel towards the former Secretary of State. (Yes, there are misogynists and haters among Sanders’ supporters. Misogynists and haters exist, much to my disappointment, pretty much everywhere.)

Clinton has offered explanations for problematic behavior, which Jackson is satisfied with but many of us are not. In comparison, Sanders’ votes against the Brady Bill are trotted out yet again; Sanders has explained those votes and I as a supporter am satisfied with them. Jackson might not be, and that’s his call, but it’s disingenuous to pretend that every Bernie supporter hates on Clinton because of unproven/disproven allegations.

“Does that offset Bernie’s five votes against the Brady Bill? His refusal as Veterans Committee chair to heed the calls for a Senate look into problems at the VA when people died because they couldn’t get help? Or his almost total failure to engage gender issues, environmental issues, education issues, race issues?” — Bruce Jackson, The Public

Sanders voted down the Brady bill because, per his explanation, he was not willing to make gun manufacturers responsible for liability when people were killed with their products. Now, I know a lot of people have very strong feelings on gun control, but here’s the thing: it is legal to make and sell and own guns in America, so long as one follows the laws and regulations pertaining to these actions.

Suggesting that a manufacturer be held liable for a seller’s actions when their product is sold by someone else, and that person fails to comply with legal restrictions? I can’t even come up with a suitable analogy. That’s ridiculous. . Do we sue Jack Daniels when a bartender serves someone who’s over the limit, and they then go on to have a drunk driving accident? Of course we don’t. The bartender can be held liable, and a gunseller should absolutely be following the law.

You know what’s not ridiculous? Sanders was, at the time he made this vote, representing Vermont in Congress. It’s the responsibility of a member of the House of Representatives to represent the people of their state. Vermont is a small state, mostly rural, with gun control laws that seem astonishingly lax to a New Yorker like yours truly. When he cast his Brady Bill vote, Sanders represented the feelings of the people of his state. He has supported instant background checks and other types of controls since his early days in office, and since the San Bernardino shooting has come out in favor of the White House’s position on gun control. (And before anybody calls that out as a flip-flop…that’s one of the only positions where Sanders has changed his stance in four decades in politics. Sanders legitimately shifts his stance once he gets into a Democratic primary, based in particular on current events and White House policy, and that’s too much? Please.)

Sanders refused to investigate issues at the VA? From Sanders’ page:

“Amid reports of unacceptable wait times at many VA medical facilities last year, Sen. Sanders spearheaded a bipartisan effort to pass the most comprehensive veterans’ legislation in decades. The landmark Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act increases accountability within the VA and ensures that all veterans have access to timely health care.” — BernieSanders.com

Bernie was instrumental in one of the most expansive Veteran’s care bills that has ever passed in this country. If Jackson had cited a source on this claim, I could more abley offer specific evidence, but since there’s no source cited (much like the Nurses’ Union support earlier in his essay), the factual errors and intentionally misleading characterizations earlier in the essay dull the teeth of this accusation.

The next line is where Jackson goes off the deep end, calling out Sanders’ supposed “almost total failure to engage gender issues, environmental issues, education issues, race issues.

What. Has Jackson. Been smoking. (And apologies, I know that’s not the most professional way to question someone’s writing, but like the “eternal youth” “argument”, this one whacks reality out of the park.)

Those are Bernie’s policy points. Those are things Bernie has fought for, consistently, for over forty yearsSanders was f*cking arrested for civil disobedience. He  had an extended series of conversations with rapper Killer Mike (because he kills it at  the mic) wherein he talks at length about all of these things. (For real, whether or not you’re a Sanders supporter, it’s worth taking an hour out of your day to watch this series of six videos. It really, really is.)  I have personally been following Sanders since his 2010 8-and-a-half-hour fillibuster, a tour de force of off-the-cuff speaking on the subject of just how much the American people were going to get screwed with that year’s proposed budgetEight and a half fucking hours. (An aside: I couldn’t stand for eight and a half hours, speaking off the top of my head the entire time. Maybe I, too, am too old to be interested in changing our country’s political paradigm.)

8. This point is reduced back to “we don’t live in a perfect world so Sanders is an unrealistic pick.” Not buying it (and it makes me wonder how much of the “Sanders is too old” point might be simple projection), but thanks for playing.

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The friend who posted Jackson’s article on my wall later messaged me privately, saying that she didn’t have the time to research the claims she read about Sanders, which makes Jackson’s failure to give well-argued, clear, factually accurate reasons even more galling.

A lazy and harried electorate is hardly Jackson’s fault or responsibility, but hack journalism has an effect. “Contributing” to the debate with a vague and ill-argued hit piece was irresponsible, and one hopes that next time around Jackson brings something more substantial to the table.

Thanks for sticking with me, folks. This turned out to be a long one – far longer than Jackson’s original piece – and I hope it helped clarify some of the misinformation in that essay. I appreciate your patience. I didn’t expect to write a 2500 word blog on this, but there you have it.

Now, regardless of who you support (and please forgive the obviously biased URL, the info there is valid no matter who you support) go make sure you’re registered to vote!

 

Marching for Bernie

Last Saturday afternoon, while NYC was getting buried in snow, the sun was shining in Buffalo – and a bunch of Bernie Sanders supporters (myself included!) marched down Elmwood Avenue with signs, slogans, music – and even some dancing. Here are some of my best photos from the afternoon:

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It was a great reminder that getting involved doesn’t have to be stressful or strenuous – everybody was laughing and joking and talking to one another, and the spontaneous chants and slogans were really inspiring. It was also exciting that the march was connected with the CWA union, which has already endorsed Bernie and his campaign. Buffalo for Bernie Sanders set up the march; check them out!

Theatre Review: Speak No Evil at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo, NY

Speak No Evil-100dpiTry not to make someone else’s world crappy, goes the main theme of Sonya Sobieski’s Speak No Evil.

Explored through the lens of Tricia (Emily Yancey) and Steve’s (J oey Bucheker) relationship – which has just ended – the piece is a through-the-looking-glass/absurdist farce about an institute which aims to eliminate the possibility of hurting the feelings of others. From microchip implants to its very own martyr (David C. Mitchell as Silent Guy, who so wants to stop causing offense that he’s stopped talking entirely), the Institute of Right Things to Say feels like it exists like a surreal setting from mid-century science fiction, complete with call-outs to Ray Bradbury.

While Tricia and Steve provide a pat through-line, the evening’s most engaging moments often take place between other members of the ensemble, most of whom play at least three characters. From Bethany Sparacio’s dead-on, hilarious caricature of a secretary or her portrayal of a hooker-slash-reiki-healer, to Joyce Stilson’s visitor to the institute and her aggressive nastiness towards both another visitor to the Institute and Silent Guy himself, to James Cichocki’s turn as the kind of co-worker everybody has and everybody wants to slap, the supporting cast bring necessary depth and color to the stage. The pacing, which director Neal Radice mentioned was altered somewhat by omitting the lowering and raising of lights between each scene, is snappy and quick – all the more impressive considering that one member of the original cast had to drop out just days before the show opened. On the whole, the ensemble helps elevate the piece beyond the text.

According to Sobieski, inspiration for the play came during a silent writer’s retreat/residency and its message is primarily aimed at personal interactions, with any political readings being unintentional (though she acknowledged the idea of the personal as political). Given this, it’s astounding how clearly the text seems to want to comment on society’s current obsession with political correctness, and to some degree this made it seem confused at times; every time one tried to determine whether the message was that society is or isn’t overdoing it on the whole “political correctness thing” the water got muddy and it felt as though something was missing. It’s not that a playwright necessarily needs to lay out clear, black-and-white points of view (I’d argue that it’s generally more effective if they don’t), but there are junctures in the story where you want it to go down this road: for example, during Tricia’s discussion with her boss (Melissa Leventhal), she comments on what she perceives as the ideals of the program. Leventhal seems to (nonverbally) communicate that the boss may know something Tricia doesn’t. Given how straightforward and direct much of the rest of the play is (even as it talks about avoiding saying hurtful things), the lack of a more elucidating response is somewhat frustrating.

Speak No Evil deals with both very concrete and very conceptual opposites, and at times I felt as if we were only wandering in the lighter end of the play’s potential emotional range. If you’re going to have an underground speakeasy in protest of the Institute of Right Things to Say, and it’s selling itself on the basis of being a place where anything – no matter how raunchy, no matter how cruel – can be said, then limiting the extreme language to a few “fucks” and other run-of-the-mill insults falls short of expectations. I expected darkness on the order of a Michael Richards outburst from the raunchy ventriloquist’s dummy, but the insults never reached a point where I believed they’d have the effect they’re shown to have here. In a politicized reading of the piece, you could argue that an anti-P.C. viewpoint might be well-served by a club where the most offensive thing anyone says is “fuck”, but the play didn’t seem to be attempting to make that argument. Truly shocking the audience in the lead-up to a tragic on-stage event might have made for both a higher surge of energy in the lead-up and a bigger reaction for the event itself. That said, some of the dialogue simply sparkled – a line about a worm on a sidewalk after rainfall (“It didn’t want to drown, but the only place it had to go was just as bad” or a discussion of prehistoric humans who lacked language (“Don’t eavesdrop with your eyes”).

With its introspective vantage point and prioritization of words from one person causing ill feeling in another, however, the scope of the narrative feels artificially limited. By opening it up a bit more, and either making it more specific to the portrayed relationship or universal enough to take a wider political agenda into account, Speak No Evil could pack a hell of a punch as both comedy and a commentary on today’s society.

As Radice said during the post-show talkback, it’s getting harder and harder to find scripts that are truly theatrical, and not just episodes of television that unfold on a stage.  Sobieski’s alternate reality is dreamily disconnected from our own, and this blended with the play’s apparent metaphysics and the set lends a dream-like quality to much of the piece. Radice’s sparse set (full disclosure: my first play, 1999’s POST, featured a set by Radice) is made up of a handful of chairs and desks, with few props. Most of the play’s visual personality comes from the costumes, designed by Stilson (more disclosure: she was the director for my first Edinburgh fringe festival play, PLAYING IT COOL, and also involved in POST’s production). They’re bright, colorful and vary dramatically from one character to the next.

In the end, Speak No Evil seems to succeed in what it set out to do, but one wishes it had set out to do a bit more. For a play with a poster that recalls both the Rolling Stones and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it is – overall – surprisingly straightlaced.

Speak No Evil runs from now through February 13, 2016 at the Alleyway Theatre in Buffalo.

The Revenant Recap/Review: Someone Give Leo His Oscar Already

revenant

“GIVE ME MY OSCAR ALREADY!” — the dialogue that goes along with this image, in my head

Just got back from seeing The Revenant, and the last thing I’ve seen that was that brutal might have been…well, I don’t even know. Mild spoilers below. You’ve been warned.

I spent most of the movie thinking it took place in Alaska, either because I didn’t read anything about it beforehand or because I associate Alaska with the man-versus-nature conflict. (Thanks, Jack London.) But it doesn’t – it takes place in South Dakota and Montana. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in films before but holy crap talk about natural beauty. No doubt assisted by Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography (though I did see some lens flare there for a second, let’s not go all JJ, now), the setting is most definitely a character in this one. A brutal, unforgiving character. 

Most of the characters in The Revenant are brutal (not the last time you’ll see this word in here, sorrynotsorry) and unforgiving, though, and those who aren’t don’t come out of things too well…or sometimes at all.

As the film opens, we get some smoky memories/images of Leo — sorry, Glass — and his Native American wife, and their young son, and the camp/community they’re living in. Then we see a lot of burning structures and hear a whispering voice recite the theme of the film – while you still have breath, keep fighting to survive. (Not a direct quote.) Next, we flash ahead to Glass and a group of fur trappers. He, his son (Hawk, played by Forrest Goodluck) and another member of the group (possibly Will Poulter’s Bridger, though honestly I have a hard time remembering faces the first time I see them so it might have been another member of the expedition) are hunting, trudging through ankle-deep watery swampland. They kill an animal and we head back to the fur trapper’s camp. We quickly meet our supporting cast: the captain, a bit naive and idealistic, with a father who apparently bought him his commission; Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who is a bastard (we know this because he cares more about money than people, makes a bunch of racist comments about Hawk’s parentage, and eventually leaves Glass in the middle of the woods to die.

They’re attacked by a band of Pawnee, and the entire sequence was chilling and ghastly and bloody. We don’t know it as the attack unfolds, but the leader of the group is seeking his missing daughter, Powaqa (later played by Melaw Nakehk’o), and has decided that she must be with the Americans – only ten of whom (out of forty) manage to escape with their lives. Glass, Hawk, Captain Henry (Domhnall Gleeson) and Fitzgerald are among them, as is Bridger, as well as a half dozen other men of varying importance. Henry and Glass quickly decide that they have to abandon the few furs they’ve salvaged, leaving them behind for later retrieval, and that they need to ditch their boat as well. (They escaped on the boat, but staying on the river will leave them open to the Pawnee group.) Fitzgerald and a few others are upset by the thought of leaving a fortune in furs behind, and when a few of the men are assigned to set the boat adrift, they instead stay on it and float off down the river. Not sure we ever found out what happened to them. Given the rest of the film, I somehow doubt it was anything positive, unless by “positive” you mean “a quick and relatively painless death.”

The men who stay behind – Hawk, Bridger, Glass, Henry and a few others – stash most of their furs and set out back to their fort*. As their scout, Glass goes ahead to make sure their path is clear. Just as we, the audience, are getting past the opening slaughter…Glass gets between a mother bear and her cubs.

In a three-stage attack that left me covering my eyes with one hand and my mouth with the other, Mama Bear rips up Glass’ back, then rips up his front, then nips him in the neck, then for a minute it looked like maybe she was going to use her teeth to sever his spine, she dislocates his ankle…it’s ten or fifteen solid minutes of watching one of nature’s most frightening predators do her thing. Every time she starts to move off, Glass tries to breathe through the pain and finish her off, but this just provokes her to come back and keep tearing chunks off him. Finally, he stabs her repeatedly with a knife, then they both end up sliding down a hill into a valley, where the fight finally ends.

When the other men find Glass, they tend to his wounds and try to make him more comfortable, but ultimately the prospect of carrying him all the way home on a stretcher proves impractical. A few of the men say they ought to put Glass out of his misery, but the captain prevails and offers a reward to anyone willing to stay with him. Presumably, it will only take a day or two for him to die, then they can bury him and be on their way to the fort as well. Finally, Hawk and Bridger both offer to give up their shares of the reward money if Fitzgerald will stay behind. I was a confused as to why the captain would put the guy who just wanted to shoot Glass like a wounded horse in charge of the rescue mission, or why he’d trust the man’s word, but I’m hoping there was some other reason for that and maybe I just didn’t catch it. Clearly the captain shouldn’t have trusted Fitzgerald, because by the time another twenty minutes go by, Hawk is dead, Bridger is cowed, and Glass is resting half-covered and not actually dead in a shallow grave.

I could go through a play by play – the deceitful French trappers/rapists, Glass’ arduous experience in the wilderness, a number of encounters with other Pawnee, how everything pans out – but what’s more interesting to me is the way this film portrays an ordeal of superhuman determination and vengeance. We’ve been seeing a lot of “lighter Leo” the last few years – The Wolf of Wall Street, The Great Gatsby – and the heaviness of this story stands in strong contrast to those roles. There’s very little (if any) humor to be found here (not that the script calls for it), but between the story and the characters and the acting, the film is still riveting.

From avalanches to mountains to frozen wastelands and eerie forests, every single setting is shot with an exquisite eye. From one moment to the next, you’re either rapt in wonder at its beauty or else you’re overcome by the idea that this man is trying to survive in this wilderness, sustained only by his desire for revenge. More than once, I thought, Damn. I don’t think I could do this. I’d lie down in the snow and be done by now. And yet Glass kept going. And kept going. And kept going.

One of the turning points in the film comes after we and Glass watch a pack of wolves bring down one Buffalo out of thousands. As Glass stares at the scene unfolding before him we can almost see him salivating. At the same time, with no real weapons, he has to hold himself back from surging forward – and the tension is palpable as this takes place. He sleeps, and when he meets a Pawnee whose village has been massacred by Sioux; the man takes pity on Glass and carries him, treating him when his infection rises and building him a shelter and fire where he can heal. Almost as mysteriously as he appears, the man is gone, leaving only a few words of wisdom behind: “Revenge is in the Creator’s hands” (in the hands of the creator? Not sure.). It’s a message Glass takes to heart, as we learn later. Abandoned by his savior, Glass wanders smack into the village of French trappers. He goes to steal a horse, but stops when he sees that the Frenchmen have a Pawnee woman captive and have been repeatedly raping her since her capture. He goes into action, first taking the Frenchman by surprise then allying with the woman – who we assume, then later confirm, is Powaqa. They both escape, though separately.

As he’s riding away from the French, the Pawnee warriors attack again, and this time Glass and his horse try to outrun them and end up running off a cliff. You know how it felt when Buffy killed off Ms. Calendar? Like nobody was safe anymore? Well, when your hero is mauled by a bear in the first act, you can be pretty sure that’s not the worst thing that’s going to happen to him. Time and again, Glass overcomes the odds. He keeps fighting to survive.

After the massacre of the French camp, as Glass lies inside his horse like Luke in a Tauntaun (sidenote: Google Docs appears to recognize Tauntaun as a word, whoa), one of the Frenchmen turns up at the fort – which we now learn is only about 13 miles from Glass…and said Frenchman is carrying a water flask that Bridger had left on Glass’ chest with a weak apology, earlier in the film. Assuming that the flask was dropped by Hawk, the Captain offers ten dollars to any man willing to head out with him on a search. They find Glass. Fitzgerald catches wind of it, and knowing his lies are falling apart, he takes off. The captain and Glass head out to find him, there are confrontations, and then another brutal battle where both Fitzgerald and Glass leave blood-covered chunks of the other in the snow. With Fitzgerald almost dead and taunting him about how he hopes revenge is enough, as it won’t bring Glass’ son back, Glass looks up and sees the Pawnees on the other side of the river. Remembering the words of the man who saved him, he pushes Fitzgerald into the river, where the current carries him to the Pawnee leader. Who kills him. As the band of Pawnee walk by on their horses, we see Powaqa, which is presumably the reason Glass is allowed to live.

Glass, left bleeding and weak by the side of the river, turns to look directly into the camera. Without a word, the screen fades to black.

There are a few things I want to look into: first, the film fails the Bechdel test with spectacular aplomb, so I’m curious as to whether there were women who worked as fur trappers (kind of like I’d never heard of lady pirates until a former roommate revealed her slight obsession with them). I want to know what Native American groups think of the portrayals of both the Pawnee and the Sioux. I want to read a bit more about the time period when the story takes place in general, to have a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding the entire unfortunate event. I appreciated that the film makes mention of things like “company store” contracts, and that it relies so heavily on imagery over dialogue (a good portion of which is subtitled). I’m curious as to other work by the director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (who wrote the piece with Mark L. Smith). And I might even want to read the book, if I get through my current “to read” pile any time soon.

Mostly, though, I want Leo to finally get his Oscar. He does a riveting job of bringing Glass to life, of showing the man’s depth of feeling and the range of emotions that shut down, one after another, as his desire for revenge overtakes everything else – and how letting that happen to him allows Glass to survive long enough to avenge his son’s death.

I’m not usually one for Westerns, so I’m not well-versed in the contrivances of the genre, but one thing that stands out to me as particularly smart was how Inarritu and Smith turned the convention of the kidnapped woman on its head. In something like The Searchers, and throughout Western (genre) literature, the idea of “the Indians” capturing the innocent white girl is pervasive; here, and perhaps in a more historically appropriate setup/synechdoce, it’s the white man who have kidnapped and brutalized a Native American woman. I don’t adore that the one named female character was basically there as motivation for the opening brutality, nor that she’s being repeatedly raped – that one hits a little close to truth, given national statistics about sexual violence against Native American women – but in terms of genre convention it was certainly a twist. 

Much like how I’m not a fan of car chases yet thought Mad Max: Fury Road was freakin’ amazing (another Tom Hardy flick, funnily enough), I highly recommend seeing The Revenant on the big screen in order to appreciate just how stunning the scenery really is – and to give you the best view of Leo’s raw emotive power during this two-and-a-half hour experience.

The Revenant is currently in theaters.

Political Drama

If there’s one thing this election cycle seems to be teaching us, it’s that these days, the line between the campaign trail and The Bachelorette can feel pretty darn thin.

Last night, I found out about the DNC cutting off the Sanders’ campaign’s access to voter data – snopes.com already has a fact check/truth assesment about it – at roughly the same time as I was heading out to see Third Eye Blind (because the 90s are in!), Sublime (with Rome, since their original bandmate died of a heroin overdose) and mainstream-alternative-indie rockers Matt and Kim play a local radio station Christmas concert. (Sidenote: how is “mainstream-alternative-indie” somehow a thing? Like having your steak cooked medium-well-rare.)

While checking my phone for updates over the next five hours, occasionally something major would happen – the Sanders campaign filing their lawsuit, r/SandersForPresident exploding with informational updates, Democracy for America’s fearless defense of their newly-endorsed candidate, the nurses’ union that was one of his first supporters announcing that they would kick Saturday off by protesting out of DNC national headquarters, a combination of petitions reported to have nearly half a million signatories…I could go on. Anyways, every time the story made a significant leap forward or break, I found myself turning to my friend – who does not care about politics the way I don’t care about racecars – and giving an exclamation. She was awesome – I’d explained the situation in broad strokes and said “Just treat it like it’s about (thing where she often feigns interest) and smile and nod” – and was like, OMG, really? Yes! Yes! Is that good news? and so on. Which was pretty great of her, as if I hadn’t had someone to verbalize this to as it was happening I might have keeled over right on the spot.

On the face of it, the primary season so far has everything you might expect from a reality TV show – or even full-blown fiction. There’s Bernie, there’s Hillary, there’s Trump, there’s Carson – and for those who’ve followed each story since the candidates declared, the stories of these “characters” are unfolding in a way just as gripping as when (insert Bachelorette’s name) found out that Bachelor #1 had a scandalous past that threatened to separate them forever. And yet, such a small percentage of people participate in the process.

The public response to the DNC’s action was overwhelming, and incredible, because it was a clear demonstration of how when enough people work together towards a common goal, they can create enough pressure that the political elite have to play by the rules. Sanders’ campaign advocates acted without intentional coordination, simply because they knew that what the DNC had done was wrong. Notable points included:

  • Maryland’s state DNC rep offering to resign her position if access to the data was not restored
  • The Vice-Chairwoman of the DNC, Tulsi Gabbard, telling Wolf Blitzer that the Sanders campaign should get access to its data immediately, in an interview that took place Friday night
  • A nurses’ union immediately announcing they would protest outside the DNC national headquarters
  • Former Secretery of Labor Robert Reich’s email accusing DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of favoritism
  • Democracy for America’s immediate email blast pledging their support to the campaign and encouraging donations
  • Redditors communicating in near real-time about ongoing developments and the donations/emails they were sending in response

It was political theatricality at its finest – and in service of a positive, morally defensible goal: to not allow a few powerful people to subvert the intentions of their individual party members.

Almost more importantly, it reminded supporters of just how many of us there are. In recent weeks, corporate media has carried stories about the Sanders campaign’s dwindling appeal, and human psychology is such that we want to be on the side of “winners” rather than “loosahs.” (See what I did there?) 😉 But last night, things sprang to life again. Tracking software showed that the number of redditors who donated leapt by 10%, with dollars donated going up 1%. In a pattern that we’re seeing over and over, a move by the establishment to weaken the Sanders campaign only served to cement existing support and inspire new people to learn about Senator Sanders and his campaign platform.

Watching the DNC pull rug out from under an insurgent candidate was one thing. When the outrage started, I don’t know if many vocal supporters believed their protests and appeals would make a difference. But when Jeff Weaver came out and made his statement at yesterday’s press conference, guns blazing and ready to take the DNC to court, it was a strong statement that gave supporters the confidence to “go nuclear,” as some of yesterdays’ headlines said. If the campaign was going to stand up to the DNC, then this was a ditch many of us were willing to die in. Metaphorically speaking.

And poking the Sanders-supporters bear may be the DNC’s biggest mistake so far. Their reaction to a problem they already knew was there was so egregious that it simply could not be defended. The fact that their action elicited the level of response it did is, when quick googling shows that only 17.5% of eligible primary voters even went to the primary polls in 2012, is incredible. The best figures I’ve seen, combining the signatures on petitions, say that over half a million people rushed to sign in only a few hours. That’s not even counting the membership of the unions and organizations that have thrown their support behind this candidate.

What the DNC action did was show Bernie’s supporters that what Senator Sanders says is true: when the people stand together, there is nothing – nothing – NOTHING they cannot accomplish.

Hot Mess: Journey’s End

Putting together Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change was a challenge. I wrote two stories I’m extraordinarily proud of. I worked with four other writers, an illustrator and a graphic designer to publish the piece as both an e-book and a physical one.  The experience of releasing the anthology was emotionally and artistically rewarding.

That said, after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that Hot Mess has reached the end of its journey.

It’s not that I think the threats posed by climate change are over – far from it, even if there was a historic climate agreement reached in Paris over the weekend. There’s still just as far to go, and it’s just as important now as it was four years ago when the anthology was published. Senator Bernie Sanders, my favorite prospective presidential nominee, has said repeatedly: climate change, more than even terrorism, is the single greatest threat to national security that the US faces.

This weekend’s agreement, which relies on governments around the world cutting their dependence on and use of fossil fuels significantly, is the first baby step towards that. With targets that are to be discussed and met every five years throughout this century, it’s a long-term plan for a long-term problem. Climate change didn’t just happen overnight, after all. Closer to home: Buffalo just smashed through a 116-year-old record because there hasn’t been snow yet. That’s right – earlier today, in Buffalo, New York, in the middle of December, I was walking around in a light jacket.

(And by the way, I’m sorry if I’m rambling a little – there were a lot of different and tangentily-related lines of thought that went into this decision, and putting together a coherent blog about it is harder than I thought it would be.)

When I first thought about taking Hot Mess down, something surprised me. I would have expected to feel a sense of sadness or dread, but instead I just felt…lighter.

Tangent: approximately one million years ago, when I was trying to decide where in England I was going to study for my junior year abroad, I had two choices: Kent, which was the program my university sponsored, and Middlesex University, in London – a program I’d applied to through another SUNY school. Each option has its appeal, and I couldn’t decide which to do. My mom gave me some advice that served me well then and has ever since: When you’re trying to make a decision and you have two choices, imagine you’ve chosen one or the other. Live with that for a few days. See how you feel. If it feels right, then do that. If not…move on to the next possibility. I wound up studying in London, and it was one of the best years of my life.

When I thought about taking down Hot Mess…it just felt right.

So…yeah. I’m not sure that it’s even that important that my thought process on this be clear to anyone else – I’m pretty sure that it’s not, so far, and I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg on the vast cloud of ideas that have led me here. But I do know that I at least wanted to give people a heads up, that Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will be taken offline at the end of this year. I’ll migrate the reviews its received from Amazon and other sales venues to a page here on my site (just to make sure they’re not lost), and that will be that.

In other words, you’ve got about two weeks to decide how many copies you want to buy before this one goes away. Avoid disappointment. Order now. Information below. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

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Hot Mess: speculative fiction about climate change will go out of print in the new year; order your digital and print copies before December 31st, 2015.

Malawi Update: Pill Container Program Concluded

I got a letter in the mail the other day and meant to post about it, and then I noticed an upsurge in the number of people finding my blog by searching for information on this project, so figured I’d better get the info up here.

The letter was from the Malawi Project and explains that they’ve received 1 million pill containers and had decided to conclude that program and shift to other focuses. (These other focuses sound fantastic, and you can find out more about them on The Malawi Project’s webpage.)

Anyways, if you came here looking for information on that, there you go. If you know about other places people can send their used medicine bottles, please leave the info in the comments – I can’t be the only one who had been ready to prepare a second batch.