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Thursday, June 28, 2018

The Moral High Ground

   Politics in America have become more divisive and polarized than I have ever witnessed in my lifetime. Granted I’m not an old man, but Trump is the eighth President that I can actually remember, so I’ve seen my fair share of politics. We have all heard disparaging jokes about politicians, they rank right next to the jokes about lawyers. It’s probably more than coincidence that a lot of people in politics are also lawyers. These days though, the jokes have given way to visceral scorn as it seems the nation is struggling with what the moral high ground is…and where it can be found.  

   Political association has become tribal and very primitive. It seems as though higher reasoning is something to aspire to have, instead of a given as the norm. As I sit here squarely in the middle, I chuckle at how each side thinks they are right simply because they occupy their side. I stop chuckling when I see the depths of depravity each side stoops to in their quest to claim a higher morality over the other.

   If it hasn't been explained yet…you can’t claim the high ground while digging a trench.

   It’s discouraging to see my country spiral into the abyss simply because people are choosing to abandon their personal moral compass in favor of upholding their tribe. Politics has become the arena of cowards, where courage is plentiful when the enemy is the other tribe, but nowhere to be found when your own tribe diverges from decency and truth.

   Take for example this latest situation with Congresswoman Maxine Waters calling on the public harassment of White House officials in their private life. Every Democrat that is asked about this should immediately say it is not right. To watch Democrats filibuster about the frustration and causes of her outburst without ever quantifying that exciting mob harassment is wrong, is sickening.

   In case you haven’t gotten it yet…don’t defend your party at the expense of upholding decency and your own personal morality.

   Leadership starts at the top. Without question, the President sets the tone of the country and certainly his own party. The hypocrisy of Trump ever trying to check someone else on civility, decency, and truth is epic. He can cry “fake news” until he’s blue in the face, but it won’t erase the facts. What has been erased though is the moral compass of every Republican that will readily call out a Democrat for being Trumpian…but won’t stand their ground, the moral high ground, against Trump.

   In case you don’t understand…accomplishments are not free passes for bad behavior. Defending incivility and indecency at the expense of your personal integrity for the purpose of keeping your party in power is probably the most un-American thing you can do.

   Neither party can claim the moral high ground because neither party even understands what it is. All they seem to understand are their own tribal talking points and avenues of attack for their opponents. All they understand is political warfare, and take no responsibility that the American people are the collateral damage. A society as divided as ours is becoming, is a society in peril and on the brink of ruin.

   If you haven’t figured it out yet…the moral high ground is staying loyal to truth, not rhetoric…staying true to decency, not poll numbers…and staying civil while calling out incivility wherever you find it. The only place you can find the moral high ground is within your own heart. People should be choosing their hearts over their political affiliations, no matter the cost.


   Now that you know what the moral high ground is and where to find it, you need to choose if you really want to claim it. If you're not willing to climb, you're never going to rise.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Guns or The People

   It’s a sad day when this debate has to actually happen, but in the wake of all the recent school shootings, this is a discussion that absolutely has to happen…and something needs to be done sooner rather than later. Some people see the problem as having a very simple solution, but anyone honestly looking from all angles can see that it is a bit more complicated than any simple solution offered.

   Children are being killed and it has to stop. I don’t care what side of the argument you fall on, this has to be the starting point for any real discussion. The problem is how you stop these tragedies from happening. On one side there are those that say restricting the ability for anyone to own the type of gun being used most (the infamous AR-15) will save lives (and could have already saved lives had it already been banned). Looking at this logically, imagine the AR-15 was already banned…then every child that has recently been killed by one would NOT have been killed, by an AR-15. Looks like a real simple solution.

   It’s tough to argue in opposition to this specific line of reasoning since removing the exact weapon used from the equation actually changes the equation. But…what does it change the equation into? Do these children still die from another type of gun (as has happened in other school shootings)? Do they die by other means since any person determined to kill will find a way? Do they not die at all? These are all interesting questions that don’t change the real probability that without the availability of the AR-15, our children would be (or would have been) safer.

   On the other side, infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens for the actions of those that break the law doesn’t seen at all fair, or logical. People use cars to intentionally run other people over all the time, yet nobody calls for all cars or the specific types of cars used in these crimes, to be banned. You can take any object and insert it into this equation and it will never make sense to deprive everyone of the object.

   So perhaps the question should be how we keep our children safe without infringing on the rights of our citizens? Can we even do it? If all guns were banned and out of the hands of the populace, would that make our children complete safe? Probably not. Would that make them a bit safer than they are now? Absolutely. So why aren’t we doing that?

   We aren’t doing that because it would violate the 2nd Amendment of the Constitution. That amendment provides for citizens to protect themselves from other citizens as well as a government gone awry. So what’s really happening here is we are weighing those rights against the lives of our children. We are setting up a discussion where we have to choose the guns or the people…but is it really that simple? 

   Britain has successfully deprived the general populace of guns, and have a stabbing problem you wouldn't believe. Take away the guns, and the people use knives. Take away the knives…and what will they use next? Could it be the issue isn’t with the weapon of choice, but the mind using the weapon? How do we legislate behavior beyond having laws that clearly define what is acceptable behavior and what is not? Despite these interesting questions, I think it’s safe to say that a lot more people would be killed and injured had those knives been guns instead.

   People kill other people by any means necessary and although we all say it has to stop, we should all be intelligent enough to realize it will never completely stop. However, that doesn’t mean we should not take all the steps we can to minimize it as much as possible. You have to ask yourself…would you want to live in a society with no freedom, if it meant that no child were ever killed by a deranged mind? What parent would not to give up everything for the safety of their children?

   We have a system in place to protect us, but when that system in not diligently adhered to…children can (and have) pay the price. Even when that system works, it’s not a 100% guarantee of safety. So where does that leave us?


   It leaves us with a lot of questions we need to answer for the safety of our children and the foundation of our nation. It leaves us having to balance freedom and safety…in a world becoming less of both. God help us all. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Best Movie Ever !!

   It was not my intention to write a film review this month (even though this is not one in the traditional sense of how I do them here). In fact, I had a completely different subject I wanted to delve into that really needs more discussion by everyone. That said, I have seen “Avengers: Infinity War” twice already with more viewings looming in my future, so I’ll save the serious discussion for next month and jump into defending my assertion the title of this post claims.

   Let me state clearly that being immersed in pop culture as an avid comic book collector, I’m biased. If you’re the type that thinks “Driving Miss Daisy” is one of the greatest films ever…don’t even set foot into the theater to watch Infinity War. I respect that people have different tastes in films. I understand some folks prefer a specific type of film (comedy, romance, historical, etc.). I get all that…and so what. My thing (and you don’t have to agree) is anything that entertains me. To me a great film is any film that moves me in a significant way from where I was when I started watching it. The greatest of these films encompasses something for nearly everyone and has a balance (as all things should) of action, drama, and comedy.

   Infinity War is just such a film…perfectly balanced (as all things should be) in delivering tons of action, barrels full of laughs, and enough drama to satisfy any queen.

   Even if you are not onboard my biased train and think this is not the best film ever…many have already consented that it is the best super hero film ever. I suppose we’ll have to wait and see if the financial numbers hold up with “Black Panther” (I doubt it) but money has never been a measure for me of a great film since there have been a lot of financially successful films I regard as trash.

   Regardless of where you are with all of this, there is no question that Marvel Studios has done it again. Not only have they put together another masterpiece, but they have set the bar on how to do a great film with a HUGE cast of beloved characters, and done so without taking anything away from those characters. This is an example that needs to be understood by Warner Brothers, but will likely continue to be ignored as they remain dead set on not cashing in on the success of Marvel.

   Marvel was always on the right track by introducing their characters to us via their own films. They let the audience grow and evolve with the characters so that by the time we get to this third Avengers film, we have already had three Iron Man films, three Thor films, three Captain America films, two Guardians of the Galaxy films, and one film each of Hulk, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man and Black Panther. This all without counting the two Avengers films…because in this third film we get everyone together (with a few exceptions) including supporting cast!

   Unlike the Justice League film…we know the characters in Infinity War and care about what happens to them since we have grown with them since 2008. In contrast, the journey from “Man of Steel” to “Justice League,” though entertaining…just isn’t on the same level as the MCU.

   If you haven’t seen “Avengers: Infinity War” yet and care about the content as it relates to your own entertainment…stop now (but you’ll miss the final element to what makes this the best film ever)

   ***SPOILERS***


   There are very few films that dare to challenge the audience by smashing the age old belief that the good guys always win. “Skyline” did it and I thought it was an excellent twist. “Star Wars:The Empire Strikes Back” did it and was one of the greatest science fiction films ever. Add to this list “Avengers: Infinity War”…and understand why when the film ends the audience is left in “dead” silence, and completely stunned.

   I have never seen so many people traumatized by a film…and I have never enjoyed such a reaction so much. I’ll admit the first time I saw the film I was the only person laughing at the end, but I was also probably the only person rooting for Thanos from the beginning. I would say he is the best villain of all time (somebody give Josh Brolin an award), except I take issue with applying the term “villain” to Thanos…but that is a discussion for another post.

   I can only hope that in Thanos succeeding in eradicating half of the universe (or should I say balancing to bring paradise)...Iron Fist was fortunate enough to be whisked away into nothingness. Now that would truly make this the best movie ever!









https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3322310/

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Snapshot in Time

   We never know when we are on the cusp of events that will shape the future, or be that point in time where we can point to as that moment that “changed everything.” Every now and then we need to take a snapshot in time so that we can reflect to quantify if these were indeed the moments, we had no idea were unfolding.

The President:

   Now some may say that the very election of Donald Trump as President was a watershed moment, and it would be hard to argue…but there is much more happening after the fact that might later be looked on as having historical significance. The current scandals plaguing the President are the subject of today, but how will they be looked on tomorrow?

   With a rash of women coming out making claims of sexual relationships and misconduct, the headlines are dominated by our human curiosity of our human nature. Now…I’m not too certain these claims will amount to any more than to cement the fact Trump puts his pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us, but I do know there is a fundamental difference between his scandals and that of Bill Clinton, namely that all of Trumps accusations are said to take place before he was in office, not in the oval office.

   Perhaps this will all “blow” over and be forgotten, or perhaps he will make the same mistake Clinton did and lie about the situation. After all, people forget Clinton was impeached because he lied, not because he had an extra-marital affair. Given that Trump has a continuous war with the truth, the odds are not in his favor…but time will tell.

The Police:

   Anyone that is a regular reader of this blog knows the police have been the subject of a few posts. Apparently the right people have not been reading them since we seem to have more of the same when it comes to police conduct, or lack thereof. The officers responsible for the death of Alton Sterling have been found innocent of any wrongdoing, despite the President himself remarking during his candidacy, that the cops obviously needed more training and the situation reflected very badly on them.

   Watching the discussions on this and seeing people remark how Sterling was on drugs, would not comply, and had a gun in is pocket just doesn’t seem to cover the entire issue because they completely ignore the climate that has been created by the constant exoneration of cops, regardless if they are right or wrong. How many videos of people complying with police and still being brutalized do we need to see before its understood that for Black people, an interaction with police is a life or death situation…no matter what you do?

   Stephon Clark is the latest victim of the police, specifically Sacramento PD. People can say that running from the cops was the problem, but who does not run from that which you think is trying to kill you? That segment of America that only see police as protectors simply refuse to understand how another segment of America see them as hunters, sanctioned by those in power to execute whomever they want to.

   If you are not seeing the disparity in police behavior when a white person can shoot up a church or a school having confirmed kills, yet every effort is taken to capture them alive, but a black person that hasn’t killed anyone is quickly shot and killed…then you are being willfully ignorant, and are part of the problem.

Guns:

   The hottest topic of the day, by far, is gun control. With the rash or recent school shootings, young people all across the country are leading the way to gun control reform by having their voices heard, and promising to have their votes count when they come of age.

   Politicians want to be re-elected, regardless if they are doing a good job or not, and you can bet that if their jobs are threatened, they are going to listen. My question is what is the message and is the answer as cut and dry as banning some guns?

   There is no question that improper enforcement of the current gun laws had a hand in facilitating the recent tragedies. So shouldn’t the first step be to enforce the laws already on the books? Shouldn’t the next step be to make the children safe in school? Nobody wants to go to school with metal detectors at the doors, but if those detectors and school police keep the guns out, shouldn’t they be installed? Obviously we probably need more stringent laws and the enforcement of such, to keep guns out of the hands of unstable people, but it seems to me that we skip a few logical steps on our way to infringing on the rights of others that actually obey the law.


   I’ve heard the argument that the AR-15 is not used for hunting, but is only used to shoot other people…and that there is never a need for that. Well, if the 2nd Amendment was made to arm the people against the tyranny of their own government, then I sincerely hope there will never be a need for citizens to own such a weapon. That said, to assume such a time will never arrive is to ignore the lessons history has already taught us.

   The debate on guns is a complicated one, but being fired up on one side or the other and not trying to understand each other will make progress slow, if it happens at all.





Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Way of Wakanda

THE FILM:

   There has been a lot of hype about the release of Marvel Studio’s Black Panther film. Much of it has been positive, but some has been in the form of controversy…which is nothing new when discussing T’Challa and the ways of Wakanda. Black Panther was the first black super hero to appear in comics, and although he debuted onscreen in 2016 in “Captain America 3: Civil War”, his solo film is the first major superhero film to boast a mostly all black cast (I say “major” because in comparison, “Meteor Man” was minor, albeit enjoyable).

   Some see this as significant given the level of success the film has had thus far as it breaks and sets box office records. Others see it as highlighting real issues with Black America…that they will come out in droves to see a film, but not to vote (although I would love to see some concrete numbers on this instead of percentages). Then there are those screaming foul on the film because it has a mostly black cast, citing “reverse” racism.

   If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, you might want to stop reading now before some spoilers drop.

   There are also those crying foul because the film was not the first Marvel Studios film to showcase LGBT characters in a major way (this has yet to be done onscreen by Marvel, but was expected by some since the current iteration of the comic portrays the Dora Milaje as lesbian).

   If you’re into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’re going to like this film. Heck, it’s entertaining as a film regardless of its affiliation to the MCU. That said, if you take a closer look, you will find much more to the film than special effects and CGI.

  For example… the struggle between T’Challa and Killmonger can be seen as not just a microcosm of black-on-black violence, but the continual breakdown of the black family since these characters are blood relatives. A point further driven home when we learn that T’Challa’s father killed his own brother, making Killmonger an orphan early on. T’Chaka leaves his nephew in America (the abandonment of the black man on his children), a victim of whatever the system will produce (in this case another angry black radical…or liberator of his people, depending on the lens you choose to look through). Not to mention reinforcing the fallacious generalization, but sometimes true point, that black Americans cannot be in harmony with Africans.

   Of course much of that is overlooked when the film continuously tries to reinforce the empowering of black people (Wakandans), even as the story is about stopping Killmonger from trying to do the very same on a global scale, albeit not the Wakandan way (but the American way).

   As we keep tunneling down this rabbit hole we eventually come to Everett Ross, one of only two non-black major characters…and a CIA operative (and all that such a job implies), that is given the awesome responsibility of helping to save Wakanda (insert America to the rescue in the form of a great white hope) from an angry radical black man that would likely kneel for the anthem (I couldn’t help myself).

   All power to the people, er…all power to Killmonger.

   Killmonger is right. His methodology is questionable (and some will say flat out wrong, while saying the same methodology used by America is right), but his position that Wakanda should have been doing more to help other black people around the world is right. The film itself makes this point and shows T’Challa buy up the area in Oakland where Killmonger grew up with plans to open a Wakandan outreach program to help uplift the community (a nod to the real-life Black Panther organization).

   Of course Killmonger has let his own personal pain and agenda trump the cause, as evident by his burning the heart-shaped herb, proof he doesn’t have any vision or care beyond his own reign as king (or perhaps he simply is not vested in the welfare of Wakanda specifically, beyond their use to achieve his goals). Either way, power to the people has given way to absolute power to Killmonger. While it can be argued that Killmonger is a lost soul, it can also be argued that the Wakandans are a lost people…and the actions of Killmonger have found them, to the benefit of not just black Americans, but the entire world.

   Go see the movie…and even though it is much more profound than I have presented here (and thankfully it takes from all the Panther lore, not just the current iteration), it is an enjoyable experience regardless of how deeply you choose (or not) to look at it.


THE BOOK:

  Now let’s tackle the book…from which everything stems, and understand the Wakandan way. My first experience with this material came in the 70’s from Don McGregor (Jungle Action). My childhood was enriched by these stories and they were the foundation for my love of the character of T’Challa. Along the way of reading over the years, the lore has been further enriched by Reginald Hudin and Jason Aaron.

  Of course we can not have a valid discussion of the subject without talking about the absolute best run of Black Panther as written by Christopher Priest. If anyone is interested in truly understanding the character and what the Wakandan way is all about, read everything by Priest…and be welcomed into a truly wonderful place (his imagination as it expanded upon the established lore).

   Unfortunately, the conversation does not end with discussing the best writer (and I would love to stop here). We have to discuss the worst as well, as written by Ta-nehisi Coates. Coates never understood the material, so it doesn’t matter what accolades he has as a writer, when you don’t “get it”…it shows.

   Coates was so blunt to the material that he thought the Dora Milaje were simply accessories to T’Challa who were just an extension of his arsenal (he could he not understand the position to be one of the most honored in their society, akin to how a patriotic soldier might see the assignment of being the President’s personal Secret Service attachment and therefore didn’t understand how stupid it was for the Dora Milage to turn on their king). He didn’t understand why Wakanda was a monarchy (and subsequently made it into a democracy). He didn’t understand that T’Challa was a king first and foremost (and tried to make T’Challa into Spider-Man). All of these lapses of understanding (and more) contributed to the increasingly declining sales of the current book…and subsequent cancelations of the two spin-off books.

   Long time Panther fans walked away from Coates, with good reason. Even Ben Shapiro didn’t like Coates’ iteration…which simply means Coates has run the table on his damaging the character, from long time hardcore fans all the way to filthy casuals.

   A great letter to Coates was published at the end of the 14th issue of his run that explained all this to him. In a nutshell, Coates was writing the book from a western philosophical mind set (or conditioning) and needed to write the book from a Wakandan mindset instead. His response citing “anti-colonial struggles in Africa” and not being able to write about democracy while excluding Nelson Mandela just highlights his disconnection to the material (and lack of understanding of the letter) since Wakanda was never a victim of colonialism, and thus doesn’t fit his references or reasonings for them having such a struggle for freedom and democracy.

   Coates is a perfect example of the saying “I can explain it to you but I can’t understand it for you.” Hopefully Marvel wises up and understands that Coates might be better off elsewhere (and I don’t just mean adding Captain America to his plate) and instead gets someone who actually understands the character to bring the book back to greatness, back to the way of Wakanda.






Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Fall in Love Again

   I don’t often write about love or matters of the heart, but I have been known to dabble in the subject from time to time. I think one of life’s most complicated subjects, but also one of its most necessary, is the subject of love…with emphasis on how we find and maintain it.

   Now I’m no expert (and really, don’t trust anyone that says they are since life and love is unique to those living while loving), but I have lived long enough to observe and experience love from a variety of perspectives. Most people believe that there is someone for everyone, and that everyone is deserving of love at some point in their lives. Notwithstanding some very disturbing elements of our society, every single one of them was a child at some time and who really thinks the innocence of a child is underserving of a nurturing love?.

   Today you can often find a discussion of who loves whom, whether it be in a tabloid, on the news, on your favorite entertainment show, reality show, or even just in fictional television and film. It seems we have an undying fascination with the business of other people when it comes to love. I think many go wrong when they try to apply these observations to their personal experiences, but I digress.

   Instead, let’s continue to explore love from the perspective of being and staying in it. I mean, that is ultimately where all these observations and fascinations boil down to anyway right? Isn’t it all really about our desire to find someone with whom we can feel connected to? Isn’t it about finding that special someone, our “Soul Mate?” Or are we thinking deeper than that and figuring out that finding is just half of the equation, with staying together being the other half?

   Recently I heard a fantastic song that succinctly embodied the real life dynamic to this whole love issue. The name of the song is “Fall in Love Again” and it speaks about the rough patches real relationships go through, but then it always brings it back to what is needed to keep that relationship going and growing…and that is getting back to the basics, back to that “fall in love” place where it all begins.

It gets better though.  
                                    
   Turns out the artist of the song, Briana Jean, lives in the same city as me and was open to a quick interview about the song and herself, making this the first ever interview on this blog!

KD: How did you get into music?
BJ: I’ve always had some sort of attachment to music. I feel like as I got older, my connection grew stronger. It all began when I started hitting piano keys on this app called”music studio” which is basically a watered down version of garage band. After that, I realized how much I love music and I’ve been making music ever since.

KD: What was your inspiration for the song?
BJ: At the time, my parents were arguing a lot. I thought, you know, maybe this is it. Maybe they’re falling out of love. I wanted to write a love songbook I just didn’t know how or what to say. Then I thought to myself, “How would Ed Sheeran write this? What would he say?”…and just went from there.

KD: Who are some artists that influence your musical style?
BJ: Ed Sheeran is my biggest influence. I’ve always admired his style and his songwriting skills. Shawn Mendes also inspires me because he and I are the same age and I feel like if he can do it, so can I.

KD: What are your plans for the future?
BJ: I plan on going to Berklee College of Music to enhance my skills so that I can produce, and possibly own my own music business some day.


Briana Jean’s song can be found on iTunes, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Google Play, Tidal, and probably anywhere really. I look forward to hearing more her in the future.