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Tuesday, September 06, 2016

The Golden Rule ... Again

I can't help but notice that many of the countries that have accepted Syrian refugees and then treated them like crap, passed laws banning their ways of worship and dress, and generally allowing hatred and anti-Muslim/anti-Refugee/anti-"other" rhetoric to proliferate are the same countries that have then had issues with ISIS, with home-grown terrorism, and with the refugees causing issues.

Now, I look at Canada. This country has taken in some of the highest numbers of refugees, has tried its best to be welcoming and comforting to them, and has gone out of its way to show them they are valued. Areas like the East Coast, where population decline, poverty, and unemployment have been rampant, have been especially accommodating. And Canada, to-date, has had none of the issues these other countries have had.

Coincidence? I think not. By vilifying those who live in your country, no matter whether they are newly arrived or have been there for a long time, you foment rebellion and hatred. By trying to be kind, welcoming, and understanding, you foment tolerance, hope, and inclusion. This goes for every race, creed, religion, and gender found in a country, and is regardless of how long the people have lived there.

I hope that Canada can continue to be one of the shining lights in this time of need.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Too Long

The election cycle for President has become way too long. It is untenable and other countries' processes show that it doesn't need to be this long. Here are my thoughts on how to bring this under control:

1. Money.

All money raised by all candidates goes into a pot and is then distributed equally to all candidates, or the top 5 at least. In this way, money cannot unduly influence the results by having someone with a multiple million dollar war chest simply swamping someone with a much smaller war chest.
I also think that war chests should be limited, to limit the influence of money on politics. Not sure how to do that, though, except by above.

2. Primaries/Caucuses

First, pick a system and stick with it. Since there are laws against making a person show or tell their vote, this means that caucuses should be done away with (as they are a very public way of voting, where everyone in the room can see for which candidate you are choosing to vote). Secondly, all primaries should happen at the same time, across the nation, rather than over months. This gives no undo sway to any particular state and means the candidates have to travel to most states and get their message across equally.
Registered independent voters should get special ballots that show all candidates on it for a primary. 

3. Results

No results from any primary or election may be reported on or disclosed in any way prior to the last polling place closing. In this way, the east polls cannot influence the west's voting. Everyone can simply wait until the next day to see who won/lost.

4. Time

The election is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November (note: the wording is complicated because the month can start on a Tuesday or later day). This means the election is held November 2 through 8th, depending on when that Tuesday falls. I don't see any reason, whatsoever, that an election cycle, from declaring, to primaries, to DNCC/RNCC, to election, needs to last longer than six months. So, candidates must declare no later than May 1st. The primaries should be held two months later, in July, and the winning candidates would have four months to debate, set their agendas and platforms, and campaign.

5. Voting

The act of voting needs to be made more simple, but also as error-, fraud-, and influence-free as possible. Voting via the internet is an absolute requirement. I mean, if you can do your taxes online, you should be able to vote online. No matter how they vote, all votes should get a physical copy of their results in case of suspected fraud, by which they can verify who they voted for. For example, if you vote online, you should receive an automated email response that shows "These are the candidates and ballot measures you voted FOR:" and a list. If fraud is suspected, the voting commission can ask the voters in that area for their confirmations, make a copy, and recount the votes or check the results. This should happen with electronic devices at polling stations, or manual processes, as well.

6. Gerrymandering

We need to change the laws to do away with gerrymandering. By changing the district shapes and locations, parties have made it almost impossible for an incumbent to not get re-elected. We need politicians to have to sway voters of all stripes, so their districts should have a good mix of all parties in it. This moves everyone back toward the middle, rather than polarizing, and means we have a Congress and other offices that can work together, rather than a divisive group of far right or far left people who refuse to work together. Compromise is possible. It also means you may have a Democrat win a district that is predominantly conservative, and his/her message and voting record will have to reflect the population and the will of the people he/she is representing, rather than her own politics.

I think these are a good first step toward making the election cycle shorter and more fair. It makes people running for office have to actually campaign and it levels the playing field between all the candidates. I think you would also see the general public invest more of their time, effort, and interest in the election process, and would see a commensurate gain in voters each cycle. There may be more ideas that can be added that would further tighten up the election process. I'll add more as I hear, or think of them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Has Hate Won?

I think, sometimes, that hate has won, that America will eat itself from the inside and splinter into  many smaller nations. American could become the new Middle East, with many nations constantly at war with one another over ideological differences. I think this way because of how people are talking, and not talking, to each other.

The recent shooting in Orlando is a tragedy. But, to me, the bigger tragedy is reading the posts filled with hate about the shooting. If you evince any sympathy for those who were killed, or if you think that America needs to look at its gun laws and make revisions, you are instantly vilified as "left," "Liberal," "Democrat," "stupid," and a bunch of curse words that amount to being a woman or being gay. On the other side of things, people are "stupid," "Conservative," "right," and "Republican." I definitely agree with the "stupid" axiom, as that is true of either side and how they are reacting. You also see a lot of Bible quotations espousing the killing of gays (but, as always, taken out of context), calls that we don't need more gun laws (or that we need to take away all the guns), that there will be more mass killings if someone tries to take away the guns, comments about the mental health, race, and religion of those who believe one way or the other. The hate, and how it is expressed, seems endless. And the goalposts of hate constantly shift and move whenever any rationality and love seeps through.

Which is why, as long as people are going to become rabid on topics, rather than talking them through and seeking compromise, hate wins. As long as people buy into this "us vs. them" rhetoric, hate wins. As long as people continue to teach that some groups are somehow "less" than others, be they a different gender, a different sexual preference, a differing religion, a different race, a differing political ideology, or whatever, hate wins.

I'm willing to bet that the gun enthusiasts and gun-banning advocates can reach common ground, somewhere in the middle, where closing the loopholes in gun shows, making background checks mandatory, and requiring some sort of gun safety course and/or licensing is required to get firearms. I think the two sides can even reach agreement that some weapons do not need to be sold to civilians, and should stay in the purview of the military and police. But it takes cool heads and a willingness to listen and put away the hatred to do it.

I think we can even agree that the person is at fault, and not the firearm, if we talk it through. I think we can figure out that not all people of one religion, nor all people of a particular race or creed, are filled with hatred. We can probably come to common ground and agree that this person did what he did and that he is to blame for it, not the victims or their lifestyle nor the person's religion or race.

But, right now, seeing all the hate being hurled at one another across such a silly divide, for all political divides are ultimately silly, makes me think that hate has won. That the population has fallen for it, and is spending too much time hating and vilifying each other rather than looking for solutions and growing our strengths.

I wonder what kind of community we could have if we stopped hating and starting simply disagreeing?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Do The Right Thing

I guess this is the thing that bothers me the most about the recent spate of racism and sexism: most of the hatred is coming from people who self-profess to be Christian. Yet, if you look at the lessons of the Bible, it specifically states things like turning the other cheek, loving your fellow man, and leaving judgment up to God, among others. There is a list of commandments that are pretty explicit, yet many of today's Christians are advocating or actually breaking many of the commandments on the list.

The parable of the Good Samaritan tells us that, when our neighbor is attacked, we should have mercy on him and help him as best we can. Yet, these Christians are the ones doing the attacking.

In the parable of the speck and the plank, the Bible teaches that people should not judge lest they be judged. It says that which you give, you will be given in exact measure in return. These Christians seem to be forgetting this, and the retribution for their hatred and acts of violence will be harsh.

The entire point of the "blessed and the meek" inheriting the Earth is that those who have God's power under their control will only use it for God's will. Both Moses and Jesus are described in the Bible as "meek," as they have their power under their control and only use it to exercise God's will. It means that you should not use that power for your own needs, but to follow and enforce God's laws. Yet, the Christians today are using it only for their own desires, ignoring God's law and His word, as expressed in the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Bible.

The parable of the Lost Son (or Prodigal Son) is a great allusion for today. It tells the story of one who takes his money and leads a hedonistic life, becomes indentured, and finally has a real revelation of his failures. He returns to his father and truly repents what he has done, so the father rejoices. Meanwhile, the other son thinks he is doing the "right things" and is self-righteous, but thinks that his father hasn't given him equal love. The father explains that he always has given the second son equal love, he just had to ask and all would be given to him. It ends open-ended, as we do not know if the self-righteous son accepts the father's invitation to come inside and join the party for the first son. This parable shows that many think they are doing the right thing, but become jealous when another gets what appears to be better or different treatment -- when, in fact, both people had access to the same things. One just chose to be offended and never ask, the other had to see how bad it could be before he learned to ask. Christians today seem to be the second son, standing at the threshold and not understanding why the fatted calf was killed and cooked for the first son, while they think they have done all that was asked of them. They cannot understand that they could have had the fatted calf at any time, had they asked for it.

The Ten Commandments are pretty clear on some subjects. Yet, today's Christians seem to be ignoring many of them.

  • How often do we see self-professed Christians lying? The candidates for Presidential office do it so often they can't seem to tell what is truth and what is fiction any more. How often do we see Christians bearing false witness against their neighbors? Lying about what "others" do, and trying to incense people to violence against them. Which leads to...
  • The incited violence often reaches murder, and is often done in the name of the Lord -- even though the Ten Commandments are VERY clear on that subject -- "Thou shall not kill." Period. So if you are walking into a Baptist church with a gun in your pants and the desire to kill the Black parishioners there, you are wrong and need to stop. Basically, any time you think your religious beliefs or leaders are espousing death, you have to take a serious step back and get out, because there cannot be any clearer commandment than "Thou shall not kill."
  • Adultery, Stealing and Coveting? Way too many examples to cite. But, again, the Commandments are pretty clear -- if you are yearning to possess something that is not yours, or actually take it (whether sexually or otherwise), you are committing a sin and need to stop, take it back, and/or repent for your actions. It can't be any clearer.
  • Honoring your father and mother? Most Biblical scholars think this is another way of saying honor everyone, praise everyone for their worth and value, and by doing so you praise God. Basically, the respect you show to your fellow man is the respect you show to God. When was the last time you saw one of today's Christians respecting their fellow man?
It seems pretty clear to me that so many of today's Christians are failing at following their own religion. And yet, at the same time, they are professing that these failures are espoused, or sanctioned by that same religion. If it is, they should be questioning their leadership and looking for a new church.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Is It Enough?

With the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice just around the corner, I have seen the endless debate about Superman as Clark Kent "getting away" with simply putting glasses on. Most fall on the side of "I would spot him in an instant" or "that's totally lame, he still looks the same!" Well, no, actually. What people don't understand is how much how you know someone is entirely based on context.

For example, have you ever been out shopping and had your mail-person stop you in the store and say hi? Until he/she says who he/she is, you probably draw a complete blank. Same with your hairdresser, next door neighbor, priest, and even some coworkers. This is because each of them wears a specific 'costume' when you see them, or you know them contextually based on location: the mail carrier uniform, an apron, a frock, and a suit and tie.

The human brain is a wonderful tool, but it can be easily confused. This is how magic works; tricks rely on the brain's inability to do some things for some tricks, or its desire to compensate and "fill in the gaps" for other tricks. That's how misdirection and palmistry work. And the same is true for people and faces. It's why we see the face of Jesus in toast burns and window reflections.

A great case in point is the large number of popular artists who are able to walk around freely in cities the size of New York and Los Angeles (and others) without being spotted. Some are always spotted, because they tend to dress and act similarly to some of the roles they play (Robert Downey, Jr as Tony Stark, for example), yet others, when simply dressed in jeans and a shirt, are completely hidden from view to the average person.

Take, for example, Henry Cavill. As a test, he recently walked around in NYC wearing a Superman shirt and hanging around Batman v Superman posters and yet no one recognized him (link). Without the proper context of the costume, or the red carpet and a tuxedo, people just don't recognize Cavill. But dressed as just Average Joe wearing a Superman shirt? Nope. I'm betting at least one person saw him and said, 'He looks sort of like Superman, but Superman is taller, I think.' Now they see that article and they kick themselves.

Just changing your hair color can cause people to be confused and walk right by you on the street, so why wouldn't completely changing your clothes, putting on glasses, and acting in a different manner work, too? Of course it would. Why do you think that the police, FBI, etc., release Most Wanted photos with examples of different hairstyles and hair colors? It's because they know how easy it is for a person to not see who they are looking for if the fugitive changes the style or color of their hair. So they put the person into more contexts for the viewer to make it easier for them to help find the fugitive.

Long story short: yes, glasses and a change in posture, vocal inflection, and/or simply context is enough for people not to see that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Learning the Wrong Message

Deadpool recently debuted and became a smash hit. Hollywood was completely surprised by how successful, and many studio executives are left scratching their heads. So far, however, it appears they are all coming to the wrong conclusion: that Deadpool is a hit because it is R-rated. Warner Bros has announced that they will release an R-rated cut of Batman v. Superman and the studio behind the upcoming third Wolverine movie have announced they will plan on it being R-rated.

The R-rating is not why Deadpool was successful. It was successful for a couple of reasons:
  • The marriage of actor with source material. Deadpool was created as a wise-cracking, 4th-wall breaking, madman. He is the only comic book character who KNOWS he is a comic book character. He's called the Merc with a Mouth for a reason. Ryan Reynolds' career is based on being a wise-cracking, smart-assed, but ultimately good-hearted guy. All he ever really needed was the costume, and he would be Deadpool.
We saw the same thing happen when Robert Downy, Jr. was cast as Tony Stark in the first Iron Man movie. He became a franchise, and created the "Marvel" way of making movies and minting money. Getting a guy or gal that everyone agrees is exactly right for the role can push your movie over the top.
  • Staying true to the source material. So often the studio says "we must have X, Y, or Z" in this movie. They dictate that a "big name" must be cast to draw in audiences. And they insist on making changes to the source material to make the material "more" something and "less" something else. In essence, they say, 'We want to use the name of the source material, but let's change it so that it is completely something else because we don't think the source material will sell.' And then they wonder why it flops. Deadpool kept close to the source material, treated it with respect, and simply updated it for a different genre (movies vs. comic books).
There have been quite a few comic book movies that kept close to the source material (while updating it for the movie genre) that have done quite well: The Dark Knight; Avengers; Spider-Man 2 (2004); Captain America and CA: Winter Soldier; Hellboy; Iron Man; Guardian of the Galaxy; etc.
There is an equal (maybe longer) list of comic book movies that the studios destroyed with their "vision," and that drove the target audience away, let alone casual viewers: Catwoman; Batman Forever and Batman and Robin; Daredevil; Fantastic 4 (pretty much every version); Ghost Rider (both movies); Punisher War Zone; Spider-Man 3; Green Lantern; Elektra; etc.
  • Story. I can't say this enough, the story rules over everything. If you have a good story, people of all races and genders will go watch it. If you have a bad story, the best you can hope for is a big opening before it goes belly-up. Frankly, all of the comic book genre movies (and most movies in general) can be fairly easily processed into those with a good story told well and those with a crappy story, and the results will fall neatly into line with either the box office results, or the box office expectations of the studios.
Others have done the research and shown that most of the successful movies throughout history have been R-rated. Hell, you can go to and see how many on the list were R-rated vs. PG-13. The PG-13 designation was not meant to be what it has become for the last twenty years (see here for a great explanation). But the R-rating by itself isn't the determining factor here; it is the quality of the story, the quality of the source material, and the marriage of the actor with the role.

In other words, Deadpool wasn't successful because it was R-rated. It was successful because it defied expectations, had a great leading man, told a good story, and stayed close to the source material. Now, if we can just convince the studios of this fact.

Do Your Damn Job

If you or I did not do our job regularly and with unconcealed malice our bosses would fire us. Well, guess what? The Republicans in Congress have been avoiding their jobs for almost 8 years now. When "forced" to do their jobs, they have, instead, done their best to filibuster anything that isn't theirs, or push only their agenda. Congress has the worst record of any Congress ever during Obama's presidency.

Not only that, but John Boehner actually said he was going to urge obstructionism when Obama was elected. Meaning, before Obama had even suggested a single piece of legislature, they said they were not going to do their job. They said they were going to obstruct what did get written and put up for a vote. It's the same as you being hired and vocally proclaiming you aren't going to work, and then setting about doing anything but working right in front of your boss. I'm not sure your boss would like that, and I doubt you would hang around very long.

However, the Republicans have gerrymandered districts such that it is nearly impossible for them not to get re-elected. Congress currently has a slightly above 90% incumbency winning record, meaning once someone gets into Congress, it is a virtual lock they will get re-elected year in and year out. This leads to the contentious nature of Congress's dealings these days, as there isn't the proper amount of turnover and new faces and fresh ideas.

Obama just announced his Supreme Court nominee. Since he's still President for 10 months, the Congress has a legal obligation to hear the appointee and make a decision. The Republicans continue to believe Obama shouldn't (although there are plenty of precedents that this has happened before and Congress acted accordingly), and claim that they will delay the nomination until he's out of office so the next President can nominate someone... because they assume the next President will be a Republican.

If they do this, I feel President Obama should go on a very public TV campaign and tell the American people directly that Congress, and in particular the Republicans, are not doing their job. He should tell the American public to fire their representatives and hire new ones who will do their job. People who bring those fresh faces and fresh ideas to Congress as a whole.

The American public seems to have forgotten that Congress serves at the public's behest. The public can vote them out and change the entire course of the country by doing so. Right now, Congress (on both sides of the aisle, frankly) think they are safe and secure. That they have the public under their thumb and neutered. All it takes is voting to change this. All it takes is picking any new name, anyone who hasn't been to Congress before, and voting them into office. That's it. It's entirely in our hands.

The other thing we can do is force Congress to create and pass term limits on Senators and Representatives. I strongly suggest no more than 2 full terms plus the conclusion of another person's term (in the case of someone being forced out or dying while in office). This would get the turnover going that we need in Congress. This would make those in Congress to have to work with new people, to vote based on conscience and the people's will, rather than on party politics.

It's in our hands. Let's do something about it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Careful What You Wish For

I am almost hoping that Trump does get the GOP nomination and, eventually, the White House. In a case of "be careful what you wish for," I think the world, and the Americans that voted for him, will see what happens when someone without a plan, without political know-how, and without the acumen to be a President is elected.

It surprises me that he has made it this far. Most of the time, people who lie even once during a campaign are done. Trump has managed to fill nearly every single speech, answer, and comment with multiple falsehoods, but somehow he's just "saying it like it is." Really?

Seriously, how can anyone be elected when, objectively, no woman, no Latinos, few other minorities, and no one who is not Christian will vote for you? Hell, women make up not quite 52% of the American population... that alone should stop Trump in his tracks. Latinos make up 17% of the population... how can a presidential hopeful hope to overcome not getting any of those votes? Non-Christians make up around 15% of the population... that should be enough to stop someone from being elected.

Yet the Trump train keeps steaming along its tracks. I know that people are fed up with Congress, and politics in general, but isn't a better way to show this disdain voting against all the incumbents? Get anyone out of office who has been in for longer than 10 years. Period. Then you'll see change in politics. You'll hear new voices, and you'll see new ideas. You'll see more compromise and acceptance, because everyone will be new and everyone will be forming new relationships.

Trump is, categorically, racist, sexist, homophobic, and a general hate-monger. He lies with impunity. Hell, he even lies when he doesn't have to, which makes it seem pathological. Why would anyone want a person like that to represent the country?

After eight years of Obama slowly but surely repairing the United States' reputation around the world (yes, he has... read articles from the BBC, CBC, and other news organizations outside of the US, and you'll see it... the US news doesn't appear to have a clue any more), I can only imagine the muck and mire the country will be in with Trump representing it, thinking he can treat a fellow dignitary as he does a rival businessman.

I simply cannot fathom how this man has made it this far. I can't grasp that people are so angry they would want someone like this to lead them. I can't understand ... I just don't understand it, at all. Have we truly become so cynical, so filled with fear, that this is who we want to lead us?