A New Habit

I like to write. I do, but at the same time, I am overwhelmed with this sense of demotivation. Why bother? No one will read most of my stuff. It isn’t ground-breaking or life changing, but it is mine.

In order to put out more content, I’m pushing myself to wake up a little earlier each day and dedicate an hour to reading and writing. The idea is if I can do this before the hustle of the day crushes me, then I am able to move the needle.

I have a lot of projects in mind, and while I am better about letting myself “miss” on goals, I still must try.
Let’s see what happens.

Productivity

April has begun, which means Camp NaNoWriMo is underway. In the past, I have tried and failed to do these tight deadlined contests. In short, the point of these sorts of things is to write more. Period.

Without fail, the months they fall (April and November) are my busiest. This time though, I want to focus on creating a writing habit. Often, I have an hour or two of just idling, and this month I am confident I can use that spare time to solidify the habit.

Already, I am noticing my focus is stronger. Today and yesterday, I spent about 30 minutes to an hour writing prompts on Reddit. The results were well received, and I can see where I am building my skills.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll use prompts to warm up, and the second half of my hour or so will be focused on working on projects I have left lingering. I have a few books I want to finish before I get to the new stuff.

Time to get to work.

Providence #1 Review

Plot Summary

In Providence #1 by Alan Moore, we meet Robert Black. Robert is a writer for the Herald in New York City. The world is on the edge of Prohibition, which will influence the criminal underworld’s rise to power. Robert wants to desperately write a novel, and when a coworker reminds him of Robert Chamber’s the King in Yellow as well as Sous le Monde, he begins his journey by meeting an ailing Dr. Alvarez.

Alvarez lives in an apartment that is below freezing. This is our first Lovecraftian allusion with “Cool Air.” I’ll not point out all of the allusions as it isn’t critical to the understanding of the story, and it’s unlikely those will be appreciated without reading Lovecraft. Alvarez is the motivator for Robert, who points at the Hidden America and about the Kitab al-Hikimah al-Najmiyya. This book represents Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, the Book of the Law of the Dead. The al-Khitab is the Book of the Wisdom of the Stars.

Darkness Within

Behind all this is Robert’s lover Jonathan Russell’s suicide. Robert pretends to be heterosexual, even in his commonplace book at that end, referring to Jonathan as Lily, which may or may not have been a real prostitute whom Robert used as a beard. I got a bit confused there. Robert shirks Jonathan because homosexuality isn’t accepted, and thus, he kills himself, leaving Robert blaming himself.

This is suicide sets the tone of the series, especially when Dr. Alvarez says:

We must never discard those we are loved by. Lacking them, we are cursed.

By rebuking his lover, Robert has ended the only relationship that provided him with love, and in the end, he is left cursed, despite being unaware.

Assessment

This intro to the series is pretty fantastic. The artwork is brilliant and reminds me of a movie. The storytelling is evocative, alluring, and surreal. Robert is an unreliable narrator from the get-go, which is common in Lovecraftian literature. He is a duplicitous fool, who really afraid of his own desires.

The series’ biggest weak point is its reliance on the commonplace book section at the end of most issues. These instances take up 6 to 10 pages of the ~35 page issue, and it is digitized pictures of text. All the text is designed to look like handwriting, making it quite hard to read. A lot of these entries are summaries of the story as Robert sees it in the privacy of his thoughts. A lot of details will be changed from how we see it, usually Robert talking himself out of the madness he perceives. After a few issues, I began to skim them or read synopses. Facts in the Case of Alan Moore’s Providence (https://factsprovidence.wordpress.com/moore-lovecraft-comics-annotation-index/providence-1/)

does annotations on each issue, and I thought they did a great job of explaining the relevance of the commonplace book and anything else we may not have paid much attention to on the first reading.

All in all, this is a great issue to read, and I highly recommend it.

Providence #1: 5 out 5

Revisiting Providence and Neonomicon: A review

As Alan Moore closes the comic chapter of his life, I am compelled to prepare for his final outing by assessing this entire world as one holistic image.

Over the next 15 days, I’ll reread both Providence and Neonomicon and post my thoughts, one teaser on Twitter and Instagram with a longer form on here.

This view will be my summarizing the issues and a quick hit list of pros and cons. Think of it as where the issues do well, where I was a bit removed, and what I’d like to see in the future.

I’ll finish it on April 5th with the review of the final issue of Providence. Let’s begin.

Movie Review: Dr. Strange

Dr. Strange

doctor-strange-1

A Dip into Psychedelia

Dr. Strange follows Dr. Stephen Strange, a neurosurgeon who is the best at what he does. Benedict Cumberbatch channels a lot of Tony Stark in his creation and portrayal of Dr. Strange, and a great portion of the movie is him coping with the lost of his hands following a car accident where he lost control of his vehicle.

Strange eventually ends up at a monastery where his belief system is challenged as he’s shown the way to heal using astral projection and other mental abilities.

Here’s where Dr. Strange diverts from all of Marvel. Until now, with the exception of Scarlett Witch, the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Thor, magic has never been a factor in these films. Dr. Strange holds the distinction of being the only film where magic is introduced and explained. What follows is a film that is much more philosophy than action. The film’s main antagonist is Kaecilius, played by Mads Mikkelsen, but his role is very limited to showing how powerful Dr. Strange actually is. As a neophyte at the start of the film, Strange quickly becomes so skilled that he is able to totally best this sorcerer who is a master of his craft.

Instead, Dr. Strange focuses on the concepts of willpower, manifesting intentions, and doing so with a lot of psychedelic imagery. At one point, Stan Lee makes a cameo while reading Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception. The movie holds nothing back in how its philosophy and imagery are heavily influenced by Aleister Crowley, Thelma, and DMT trips. That also seems to be the vehicle to get their messages across: if you assume you know everything on a topic, then the door is already closed; why bother trying to learn. As Dr. Strange, in his quest for healing, opens up, he is recruited into a war that he wasn’t prepared for.

The movie does one fascinating and excellent thing that should have happened way earlier, possibly after The Avengers. In it, Dr. Strange is told while the Avengers protect the world from physical attacks, the Order at Kamar-Taj is the defense for Earth against the metaphysical. This creates an explanation of why attacks on Earth are growing increasingly destructive; entities need new approaches to break through.

With a focus on philosophy, and pushing to create a character that is substantially different from the rest of the MCU, Dr. Strange stands out as a movie on its own. However, thanks to the marketing machine at Disney, it is part of a bigger machine.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe

By 2016, we have had a lot of superhero movies. This is thanks to the fact that Disney, owner of Marvel Comics, decided to invest in a movie franchise that would create movies BASED on other movies without necessarily being direct sequels. The best example of this Avengers: Age of Ultron, which references the Winter Soldier, a character introduced in Captain America’s sequel movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

This sort of storytelling device is a neat one because rather than having several long Avenger films to build each character, they can have movies that focus on just the group dynamic, with the solo films building everything else up. This creates a massive dependency on the viewers to watch everything in order to understand some off-hand reference. I believe with Dr. Strange is the 14th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which means in order to understand the fullness of this film, viewers have to commit at least 26 hours (13 movies at ~2 hours a piece) just for one universe. These films are all building towards the grand conclusion – Avengers Infinity Wars, which may expand across two movies.

This is all well and good, however, as more characters need to be added to the Infinity Wars film, there will be many more origins to add. Eventually, viewers will want a break.

Yet Another Superhero Origin Story

Origin movies are usually the best a series has to offer because it takes no assumptions with individual characters and walks the viewer through the process. Since 2014, the following origin movies have come out.

  1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (reboot)
  2. Kingsman: The Secret Service
  3. X-Men: Days of Future Past*
  4. Ant-Man (MCU film)
  5. Deadpool
  6. Dr. Strange

These are just origins movies, or points in a series where (like with X-Men) the series changes. With X-Men: First Class, it was a reboot of a new series, going back to the when Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr form the X-Men. However, other than a Hugh Jackman cameo, it wasn’t considered to be directly related to the original 2000s trilogy. Days of Future Past changed that by making it all the same universe.

Another Player Has Arrived

DC has really only succeeded in delivering one trilogy of good comic adaptions with Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies. Though the final film was a bit up for debate in how good it was, The Dark Knight is objectively a great film. Man of Steel attempted to deliver in a similar way, a darker film with more grounded implications. It did all right by most accounts, and the sequel was retooled. Instead of a stand alone film, the direct sequel was Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The movie also marked the pivot in Warner Brothers to build to the Justice League, DC’s Avengers, though the Justice League existed for three years longer.

The problem is Christian Bale isn’t Batman in this universe, and there is no connection to the Nolan movies at all. Also, every hero needs to be introduced. Marvel took five movies over four years to build to the Avengers. When that movie finally arrived, they had introduced Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Captain America in their own films. Hawkeye and Loki are also introduced in Thor. By the time Avengers actually comes out, we know all these characters and actors (save for the recasting of Hulk with the vastly superior Mark Ruffalo). This means the team up movie is all ready to get into the core of the meshing of attitudes and personalities.

Not so with DCU. In Batman vs. Superman, we had a new Bruce Wayne and a new Alfred. Wonder Woman was introduced, Lex Luthor was introduced, and we see cameos of Aquaman, Cyborg, and The Flash. Setting up all this story for future movies, made the very long movie miss a lot of plot development, and we had no real emotional connection to Superman when he dies in the finale. Suicide Squad, a terrible, terrible film, takes place after Batman vs. Superman with Superman still dead, and adding in The Flash as one of the heroes to stop members of the Suicide Squad. As seen in the trailer, Wonder Woman and Batman will recruit everyone, none of whom get a solo movie other than Wonder Woman, and do whatever it is they have to do as a team. It feels like the same set up that crippled Suicide Squad.

Studio Greed

2016 saw 4 movies of a similar background, which is the protagonists fighting among themselves. Batman vs. Superman beat Captain America: Civil War by two months in March. The movie was critically panned and made people really uneasy for the other two films that would follow. Captain America: Civil War hit in early May with glowing reviews. It’s box office topped BVS, despite having the same budget. May ended with the panned X-Men: Apocalypse which didn’t even beat the box office of BVS. Some believed that Batman vs. Superman, coming out so close to two other movies with the same general concept, caused a lower box office for Civil War, and mad people far more critical of Apocalypse.

To make matters worse, the most panned film of the four was Suicide Squad, coming out in August with nothing really to show for it at all. However, by releasing these two movies in the same year, WB is able to show a profit between the two films somewhere north of a billion, which will guarantee they can keep the series going. X-Men seems less certain, despite Deadpool being a runaway hit and Logan looking to be exactly what that character needed. Bryan Singer has left the series, Hugh Jackman is retiring as Wolverine, and Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, and James McAvoy all seem to be looking to leave. This changeover creates the climate for rebooting the series. And that’s where the studios have brought these beloved franchises: either boring audiences with mediocre or shitty attempts, overwhelming them with just sheer volume, or forcing them to suffer through reboots.

Dr. Strange Final Score: 4/5

Ultimately, this is less about the culture of comic book movies, and more about how did Dr. Strange do as a film. On its own, Dr. Strange was fantastic. The visuals will likely win an award or two, and Benedict Cumberbatch was a great addiction to the MCU. However, this movie doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There is plenty of content around it to full grasp everything here. Because of that, it has a lot of work to make itself fit in with a larger universe.

Survivors

maxresdefault

 

I sat on the couch in abject horror as the news. My apartment was dark and stuffy. A pneumatic pumping sound kept the air at a comfortable temperature.

“War has broken out in our tiny country. Authorities are quickly responding to the calamity, but we are assured nothing is wrong. Not anymore.”

The words didn’t make sense, and I smelled lilac. My head was growing fuzzy. Had to be the stress.

“In fact, the war is over. There is no war. We are safe,” the newscaster spoke with sincerity. His smile threatened to eat his eyes, or at least, that’s how they looked to me. I started to giggle uncontrollably. The stress was immense, but was I really descending to hysterics? That thought seemed funnier to me, and I kept teetering towards insanity.

Wait, I thought. I was cold and moved to close my air regulator. The smell of flowers was pungent by the flowing breeze. I felt nausea hitting me with the laughter. The smell slowly abated, and I felt my head clear. It reminded me of that sensation after the dentist would kill the gas. Could I be poisoned?

Laughter–hysterical, terrifying laughter–broke my thoughts. My neighbors on all sides were shrieking in hilarity. The newscaster was too. He began pounding the table. Tears broke from his eyes as he stared into the camera. In a single instance I saw it. In his eyes, he was terrified. He was trapped inside the shell of mirth he did not feel. I heard a boom, and I looked out my window, careful to avoid the pneumatic air pump.

I saw tanks beyond the walls. They were new–the walls that is–, and I suddenly remembered they weren’t well-received. We were a welcoming city. Not anymore.

Tanks fired on people coming from the sea. Our neighboring island skulked in the background of the horizon. I knew they were our enemy, I didn’t know why.

A story began to emerge, but I couldn’t grasp it. It was like trying to remember a dream. It gave me a profound headache, and I felt nauseated. I closed my eyes, but only for a few seconds as music from my TV and the others burst forth. Music also came out of my radio which I hadn’t turned on. This confused me until I heard what sounded like the Sun exploding. When I looked back out the window, I realized I wasn’t far off.

A fleet of planes was banking back towards us, and behind them, a mushroom cloud blotted out our neighbors. I didn’t understand what I saw, but innately, I knew it was bad. Many were dead. When the cloud dissipated, the island was on fire. The horizon brightened ten… no, twenty degrees brighter than possible. It hurt my head even more. I realized, we were truly at war.

Without much hesitation, I opened the pneumatic pump, and the floral scent abused me. I closed my curtains, and then moved to the couch. I held in a deep breath and exhaled.

In. Pause. Out.

Innnnnn. Pause. Out.

iiIIiiiiiIIiiiinnnnNnNnnnnnnnnNNN.

The thoughts were gone. There was  no war. We were fine. We were safe as the world burned.

We are survivors, we happy few.

Inspired by: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Happy_Few_(video_game)

President Trump – A Change to American Politics

Where We Are Now

In what can only be described as the end of American politics, Donald Trump won the presidency of the United States. As a vocal and ardent opponent to the Alt-Right and everything else Trump represents, this is a moment of loss and grief.

Naturally, social media exploded telling every liberal to deal with it and how they were wrong, while all liberals were trying to pacify themselves with these platitudes of comfort. They also had a lot of people trying to bridge the divide that this election has caused, which was nice but so tone deaf.

So, what happened?

The Blind Echo Chamber

Every major poll declared Hillary as the winner back in July.

Some sites even mocked other pollsters for not giving Hillary a 99% chance of winning (1). As a supporter of Hillary, even if not totally, and a person terribly afraid of what a Trump administration would entail, then this sounds delightful. Memes flew every wherever as we all waited for the annoying election from Hell to end.

Then, it went very poorly for the liberal side.Trump won the presidency while losing the popular vote. Here we are.

Memes as a Distraction

Terence McKenna said that memes are “the smallest unit of an idea that still has coherency” (2). What people miss is memes are not conversations or discourse; they are bite-sized snippets to consume and move on. They assume context exists and work as a way of passing on information. In the Internet era, they became a source of jokes where any side can find them amusing.

Take these memes from about Harambe:

harambe1

harambe2

While immensely humorous, Harambe garnered write-in votes in this mega election, though the number is highly exaggerated (3). Because of this rolling joke that pops up every day it seems, a bunch of adults waited in line to vote for a dead gorilla.

This is where memes distract from true discourse. These jokes don’t really address the real issues: humans capturing animals and putting them down when humans fail, and the role of parents being massively depressed. Harambe was shot when a small child entered his enclosure, and like most major primates, he attacked the child. By all accounts, a gorilla really has no right to be in a cage that close to humans. And, this child had to scale a small fence to get into the enclosure. My parents were of the generation that kept hands off kids to allow exploration, but there was never a circumstance, despite every shady zoo I visited, where I was alone long enough to dive into a death pit.

And thus where memes failed this conversation. People who either don’t understand what actually happened to a fucking gorilla re-appropriate the jokes as their own thing, and that’s why a dead gorilla received votes in 2016.

Maybe these voters would have gone Clinton too. Maybe they assumed she was winning, and their votes weren’t needed. They could easily make that mistake if they were avid readers of certain websites.

Politics and the Online Echo Chamber

Polls weren’t the only place where we were misled, but they were majorly wrong. Real Clear Politics had Trump losing for a while (4). FiveThirtyEight had a 70% to 90% chance of Hillary winning presidency (5). It was hard to find anyone with real credibility who put Trump winning.

Then, the son of a bitch did.

Reddit’s /r/politics would have told you this was impossible. Any leads Trump got were just anomalies. They cited references, explained his victories as mistakes or exaggerations, and then, they pushed Hillary Clinton.

What these sources missed were the rural voters (6).

The Rural Vote

In many areas of the country, everything is pretty nice. The economy is a lot better than when Obama took office. Jobs are up. Insurance coverage is great.

However, in rural areas, the opposite is true. Manufacturing and energy jobs are gone. This creates ghost towns with people to have nothing to do. Worse still, oil is depressed, and the oil industry is renowned for overpaying under-skilled workers, leaving them stuck in a permanent loop of relying on the oil industry to employ them, lay them off, and rehire for less money, based on inflation (7).

These people didn’t care. They just wanted change. Hillary was the continuation of Obama’s rule, but Trump was different. Who cares that he literally cannot force dead industries back to areas, or force capitalist companies to not outsource labor and manufacturing. Trump supporters don’t really care about facts and logistics; Trump’s entire campaign was devoid of the minutiae of how to implement anything he declared he’d do (8). They just wanted the rhetoric.

Liberals wanted status quo, and we bet hard on that. We assumed everyone was like us, but when reality hit, we were gutted.

The Way Forward

All of this misunderstanding and misinterpretation, ultimately, do not matter. Trump has won, and the GOP controls all of Congress. Trump represents a complete mystery, and this may have been because he was totally unaware of what the President actually did (9). On both sides of the aisle and those totally unrepresented, Trump is a complete mystery, and he is already starting to pander to both sides.

The Pivots

Since winning a week ago, Trump has begun explaining his policies more. They vary widely. Some include:

 

 

Already debates have begun with the GOP majority, like Mitch McConnell, who has no interest in term limits (13) nor building a wall on the southern border of the US (14). These pivots or softening of previously hard sells shows a president who will quickly alienate the base that elected him. Ann Coulter fell victim to this when right before releasing a book about Trump, wherein she said the only way she could turn on him was if he changed his stances on abortion or illegals, and he did just that (15).

What Trump’s fluid policies say about him is that he’ll waver on issues with any major opposition, or that he was so woefully unaware of what Obama actually did that he said things so far out of school that he is now forced to backtrack. These pivots give a little insight into how Trump will deal with policies, debates, and compromising.

While Trump’s policies seem to be much more varied that Republican party lines, his cabinet will be the most indicative of how he will move forward as President. And, if that’s the case, the answer is utterly chilling.

The Cabinet of Deplorables

For reasons no one will ever understand, Trump surrounded himself with complete lunatics in Alex Jones, Roger Stone, Roger Ailes, Steve Bannon, Rudy Guiliani, and Mike Pence.

Each of these adult humans has made comments or actions that would individually discredit them. Alex Jones, for example, believes Sandy Hook didn’t happen (16). Rudy Guilliani fought the fire fighters before 9/11 on budgets (17), which costs lives, and has basically made the event his personal cape (18). And, Mike Pence, Donald Trump’s personal life insurance policy, caused an HIV epidemic because he believes science isn’t as accurate as the god damn bible (19).

What these sociopaths represent is a status quo of establishment rule. Reince Priebus, former chairman of the RNC, has become Trump’s Chief of Staff. It seems odd that the man who represented the party that Trump was raging against when he stumbled would not be part of his #DrainTheSwamp rhetoric. Steve Bannon takes the role of Senior Advisor to the President, a role held previously by Karl Rove. Other appointments are forthcoming, but the rumors show a Trump cabinet that is more of the same with people who are already in high positions taking a slightly higher one.

The issue is Trump’s appointments are individuals who are objectively unqualified. And none are more unqualified than Steve Bannon.

Bannon, the most powerful White Supremacist in America

Steve Bannon is best known for chairing the Alt-Right website Breitbart. Breitbart has posted some of the more questionably racist and sexiest articles today. They somehow have a high degree of credibility, even when they post shit like how women just suck at interviews (20). Granted, this article is posted by the gay troll of Milo Yiannopoulos, who has stated that homosexuality was abhorrent (21) and that fat people should starve themselves until they can be less disgusting to go to the gym (22).

Bannon has made comments that show his truer beliefs to be a lot less vague.

On homosexuals and women’s equality (23):

That’s one of the unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement––that, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be feminine, they would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the 7 Sisters schools.”

Accusations of antisemetism (though not his own words) (24):

…the biggest problem he had with Archer [School for Girls] is the number of Jews that attend. He said that he doesn’t like Jews and that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiney brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews.”

What this shows is a man who broaches the line of good taste and common respect, with occasional trips over it in a public sense, who is being put into a position where he can influence a great deal of the culture and policies of America. No one really knows how much influence Bannon has had and will have on the Trump administration, but it concerns a lot of people.

Fortunately, a lot of people are waking up to the idea that the system is poisoned.

Stay Woke

It would be unfair to blast memes in the Internet era as totally useless. In a time of light speed communication, they have value.

In the 2000s, the Stay Woke meme started out of various ideas, possibly Erykah Badu’s “Master Teacher” (25). It mostly alluded to staying awake to the world around you.

It became an identifier to the people who stopped pretending there weren’t systematic injustices based on race, especially around the fact George Zimmerman got off after murdering a child. But, we have to look past the racial symptoms and find the actual root cause of all these issues. Race is the most visible target, but we are all disenfranchised from these injustices.

Now, it has slipped into an ironic word, but the concept should still be important. Whether or not your side won the election, it highlights a lot of injustices across the board. James Comey, director of the FBI, released a letter mere days before the election to announce they were reopening the case against Hillary. Nothing came out of it other than polling numbers dropped a lot for Hillary. Both Trump and the Senate GOP won the election without a popular vote. This means that because of archiac concepts of representation, in an era where all our commerce is done digitally, the people who won do not represent the majority. Then, as leaked emails show, the side that was voted by the majority is rife with corruption as the DNC colluded to stonewall Bernie Sanders and prep Hillary Clinton to rush past him.

These events cannot go unaddressed. Americans, especially in the age of instant communication and global discourse, have no ability or defense for not paying attention. We have to accept our world as it is, eyes wide open, or we will continue to spin our wheels and meet the same fate. Trump’s win represents the worst case scenario of defeat. If we don’t change, he’ll be the start of a trend rather than anomaly.

A Brand New Day

Whatever happens next, we will be fine. Humans like to focus on current moments to become the only plausible reality. Trump is scary because of actual things he has said, but that doesn’t mean he will be able to do everything he’s threatened. Congress is made up of career politicans who will always consider their re-election over hard party concepts. The important thing is to stay awake to the political rhetoric.

This election represents a stark change in how politics will be viewed. Those fearing Trump will never scoff a candidate no matter how ridiculous. Those who voted for him will learn how closely a candidate can actually stay to their platform. We no longer can stay passive in political discourse; we have to start questioning everything, what each nuance means, and how it affects us and others.

As such, this election has woken up a great part of America. The protests will eventually ebb, but what will be left is a deeply connected dissatisfaction in our archiac system. That system can only change with people educating themselves and improving it.

I’m hopeful we will achieve that change.

Sources

  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/polls-hillary-clinton-win_us_5821074ce4b0e80b02cc2a94
  2. http://www.vice.com/read/terence-mckennas-memes-234
  3. http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/10/us/harambe-votes-trnd/
  4. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/latest_polls/president/
  5. http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/election-update-how-big-is-hillary-clintons-lead/
  6. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/11/hillary-clinton-rural-voters-trump-231266
  7. http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/After-350000-Layoffs-Oil-Companies-Now-Face-Worker-Shortages.html
  8. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-facts-dont-matter-to-trumps-supporters/2016/08/04/924ece4a-5a78-11e6-831d-0324760ca856_story.html
  9. http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-obama-meeting-2016-11
  10. https://www.rt.com/usa/366649-trump-interview-obamacare-clinton/
  11. http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/trump-says-he-s-fine-gay-marriage-60-minutes-interview-n683606
  12. http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/11/13/501921177/donald-trump-says-hell-deport-2-3-million-people-once-in-office
  13. http://www.gopusa.com/mitch-mcconnell-no-interest-in-term-limits-for-congress/
  14. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mitch-mcconnell-trump-immigration_us_58238244e4b0aac62488e681
  15. http://money.cnn.com/2016/08/26/media/ann-coulter-book-in-trump-we-trust-immigration
  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c4gMb2UmhA
  17. http://www.nytimes.com/cq/2007/07/12/cq_3065.html
  18. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2007/11/01/giuliani-faces-investigat_n_70709.html
  19. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/mike-pence-indiana-hiv_us_57f53b9be4b002a7312022ef
  20. http://www.breitbart.com/milo/2016/07/01/not-sexism-women-just-suck-interviews/
  21. https://youtu.be/dGL5eRw7rXU?t=2h5m
  22. https://youtu.be/LnH67G7vAu4?t=1h38m
  23. https://www.buzzfeed.com/andrewkaczynski/trump-campaign-ceo-once-blasted-bunch-of-dykes-from-the-seve?utm_term=.gymy0w4nxK#.knJB153yrZ
  24. http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/trump-campaign-ceo-steve-bannon-accused-anti-semitic-remarks-ex-n638731
  25. http://fusion.net/story/252567/stay-woke/

Bad Candy

Candy Shop by Nikolai Lockertsen

Candy Shop by Nikolai Lockertsen

I must have been around twelve or so. It gets murky for me because the years tend to bleed together. One moment I am sure I was just turning ten, but then, I remember a detail, and suddenly, I am twelve.

Twelve fits the best. I was twelve. You would think I wouldn’t forget that time, but honestly, I think because of everything I have a permanent block over those years.

But, I am getting ahead of myself.

When I was a child, my parents never let me have candy or anything too sweet.

“You know, my mother is very sick from too much sugar, Mikey,” Mom would say. “I don’t want you getting sick too!”

I remembered my grandmother, vaguely–my mom’s mother. She died when I was young of diabetes. My dad told me he never really remembered her healthy, and he backed my mom’s choice never to give me sweets.

But, I was a child. When we moved to Macon, I explored the town, and my eyes were drawn to “Dr Zestro’s Candy Emporium.”

“Is he a doctor or a dur?” My dad would joke, jabbing me in the ribs. I’d giggle, and I even make the joke now to my kids. It’s lame, but it’s something I am very fond of remembering.

“It looks abandoned. Let’s go to the farmer’s market!” Mom had said. That was the last I really thought of Dr Zestro’s until a few weeks later in my new school.

“No one goes to that place,” Tommy said. He was my first best friend.

“Why?”

“I don’t know. We just don’t.”

“But, it’s a candy emporium! That means a lot! And probably special candy too,” I said with a flourish. I tried to convince him. I could tell it worked a bit. He seemed slightly moved.

“I don’t know… I could ask my brother. He gets an allowance,” Tommy smirked. He was on my side. “Maybe you can come over this weekend, and we can all go.” His eyes started to wander. He was thinking of the spoils to be had.

“I can’t this weekend. I have to visit my grandma.”

“Bummer. I’ll save some for you then,” he said with a laugh. It wasn’t fair, I thought. He didn’t even like the place until he met me, and he was going without me. I sulked most of the weekend.

By Monday, Tommy and his brother were reported missing.

That was the first real hard thing in my life, and it was a massive one. Police searched the area. His parents were on the news crying. They posted pictures all over town of Tommy, and his brother, both with identical blond hair and the most piercing blue eyes. Despite a three or four year gap, they looked like twins.

Parents told stories of the kids for months. At seven, Tommy was too young to be remembered as anything but a sweet child, but Ryan was well known in his school. He was smart, talented, and friendly. I met him a few times, and he always made sure Tommy was nice to me. He would show me new toys that were way too old for me, and he would share. For no good reason.

Who would want to hurt that?

The anniversary of their disappearance was rough. Then, another year passed. And another. Soon, I was older than Ryan when he went missing. People still talked about the missing kids, but that story was soon erased for an even more noteworthy story.

I was nearly twelve–see, it gets blurry until I start walking through it–when my dad had to go to Atlanta to make a speech for his company. Evidently, they were looking at being acquired, and his pull and knowledge were a massive selling point.

Before they headed back home, I remember a phone call. My grandma–my father’s mother–spoke with him for a while before he asked for me.

“How’d ya do?”

“I killed it, champ.” He sounded proud. “They are going forward.”

“All because of you.” I was excited. This was an important speech for him, and I knew it was bothering him.

“Yup! I’ll be moving on up soon. We may even move here.”

“With grandma?”

“I’d never leave my mom, kiddo. Things will be changing. I can feel it!”

I never saw or heard from them again.

Around 4AM, the phone rang. It sounds weird, but the ring set my grandma and me on edge. It sounded wrong. She answered, holding her chest a bit. She motioned for me to go back to bed.

I could hear her crying and screaming, feeble as it sounded in her advanced age. I started to cry. I didn’t know exactly what she heard, but I knew it was bad.

My parents died in a car accident late that night. They decided to drive back early and surprise us, my dad too excited from everything happening. I blamed myself for a long time. I was barely old enough to understand my budding attraction to girls, and here I was experiencing survivor’s guilt.

My grandma took care of me, officially. What’s worse, despite the massive loss, was I received a great windfall.

My parents weren’t killed by negligence on their part; they were killed by a semi truck, whose driver passed out after overdosing on caffeine pills. What’s worse is the company, a major retail chain, documented his hours as way less than he was actually working. I had a line of lawyers ready to take the case.

At the trial, the judge asked if I wanted to say anything, and my lawyer pushed me into doing it. The defense attorney for the company tried to grill me, gently, to show I was well off.

“What exactly you want out of this, Michael? My client, Mr. Roosevelt over there, is completely destroyed. He has to live with the guilt of what he did for life. He is unable to work. What will make you happy?” The lawyer’s eyes were pleading and kind. I felt vulnerable.

“I want my mom and dad back,” I said with a sob. I tried not to speak because it would become an ugly cry. The jury pool began to breakdown. Even the judge did.

They awarded me, and my grandma, several millions of dollars, more than I’d ever need. My lawyer stopped me after writing the check.

“You know, that speech really did the ticket. We won before that, but I think that little plea act got us over the top.” He was smiling. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d trade all the money to have my mom and dad back.

Life with grandma wasn’t bad. She was older. I figure in her late 70s or 80s. Her green eyes, like my dad’s, were always rheumy, and she moved slowly. She smiled a lot, like my dad, and she pretty much let me do whatever I wanted. I mentally compared her to my mom’s mother, but she died so much younger and so long ago that it seemed unfair to compare the two.

I admit, I took advantage of her advanced age.

I would only have access to my money if she permitted. I talked her into a sizable allowance, though I had no need for it, in hindsight.  I saved it most of the time anyway. I would sign up for every sport or after school program with her consenting to it all. Tae Kwon Do was the only one I really stuck with for long. Since I was taller for my edge, like my dad, I was able to excel in those classes.

The worst thing I did was convince her to let me go to the candy store. It was my first act of rebellion, I realize now, and since my parents were gone, it was all I could muster.

She was totally unaware of why this was any sort of a big deal, so she didn’t care. I felt like a bad ass. I was playing hooky from school, sometime in the late fall when it was cold enough to feign the start of a cold, so I had the streets, and I assumed the store to myself.

Dr Zestro’s was somehow still opened, some five years after I saw it first. No one ever said anything, but I always wondered if something happened there with Tommy. It didn’t really dawn on me when the police were searching; I was too sad to care much to offer help.

I approached the store, and it was a lot more intimidating than when I was younger. I think I got distracted by the word “candy” to notice the decor. The entire store was stylized as a 50s style sideshow. Dr Zestro brought candy from all over the world, including the “darkest parts,” according to a slogan painted on the dark window. I walked inside, giddy with excitement.

I was immediately let down when it wasn’t as big as I imagined. To my left, I jumped a bit at a large monkey’s head atop a rack of baskets containing various candies. Next to the monkey rack was a large pig with a top hat and clothes that reminded me of how I imagined Hansel and Gretel. It was holding a tray of these small balls that looked like eyes. The sign next to them said “Seeing Gum Chewing Gum.” I couldn’t tell if it was trying for a joke or anything.

“Welcome to Dr Zestro’s. Let me know if you need anything.” I was startled by the raspy voice of a balding man behind the counter. I barely even noticed him when I walked into the store. He had thick glasses that made his eyes bulge. He was rotund, to be nice, and morbidly obese to be honest. All visible hair–and there was a lot except on top of his head–was as white as a fresh snow. He looked sweaty.

“How much are these?” I pointed to the Seeing Gum.

“Try one. Some people aren’t into it,” he said with a grin. He was painting a small bottle in his hands. I popped a gum ball that had a blue eye painted on it. I shook myself as the image reminded me of Tommy. It tasted like the way varnish smells. I smiled as I chewed, trying to be nice. There was a liquid inside that was tasteless, and it broke down fast.

“It isn’t very chewy.”

“Ahh, another kid ruined by modern corruption!” the man squawked. “Old chewing gum was just a bit of rubber. Was it chewy?”

“A little.”

“Then, it’s chewing gum.” He beamed. “How about this: Try one of everything you want. If you like it, you buy, if not, no loss.” I wondered how he would stay in business with that practice, but I didn’t dare ask. He went back to work on his project as I tried things.

Nothing in the store looked familiar. No Mounds, Snickers, or Kit Kats. No Big League Chew, or even Big Red. It was all nameless candies with custom packaging. Worst of all, I never even saw anything like anything I knew of. Everything resembled inedible things, like buttons, pens, and zippers. There was even a candy floss bag that looked more like hair than anything else.

Still, I felt compelled to buy things since I tried so much. As I approached the register, I noticed a green light, dull as can still be considered on, shining from a doorway. The man noticed me looking and chuckled.

“That’s the lab. That’s where I try out things that isn’t ready for people.” He looked at the vial in his hands. “Want to try one that isn’t even on the shelves?”

“Okay!” I was a bit excited. Maybe this was actually good. “What is it?”

“I call it ‘Chocolate Fog.’ You put one eyedropper on your tongue, and it will add a chocolate taste to everything! Stick your tongue out. First one is on me.”

I did, and it tasted… surprisingly good. It had a bit of a bitter kick at first, but the rest was honest-to-goodness chocolate! I was tempted to ask for another one, when he bottled it and set it down. He looked down at his watch for a bit, and then, he rounded the counter and made his way to the door. I remember it being around 11 when I went to the shop. I figured he was getting ready for lunch after I was done.

I heard the door lock, but I felt a sense of lethargy to say anything. I felt suddenly emboldened, like he’d be gone too long, and I stumbled towards the green light. If the chocolate was this good what else was there.

I heard him chuckling as I walked forever to the door. I looked back, and he was smiling in the same way he was when he gave me the eye dropper. I took it as permission to go forward.

I opened the door, and my vision was blurry. I could make out these green and blue jars of bubbling liquid. I noticed there were black blobs inside.

“New candy?”

“The newest,” he said in return. He was a lot closer. I was feeling sicker and sicker.

“I think I had too much.”

“You are a tall one, aren’t you. Do your parents know you are here?” His voice took on a disgustingly seductive tone, like an old prostitute who has nothing better to live for but still needed money. When I felt his hand grab my shoulders, I was shook off the fog. In his other hand, he had a syringe with a black liquid in it. I realized what was happening before he could move.

I realized how much shorter he was than average, and I was taller than average, so it made us almost equals despite our age difference. As he came in with the needle, I punted him low. The pain registered instantly, and he dropped to the ground as he made a shrieking sound. When he was on his knees, I drove my shin into his head. The fog–I started to understand was a poison–made me stumble, but he was in a lot of pain and unable to stand.

I shuffled for the door, but the floor felt like it was made of glass, and I was wearing greased slippers. I couldn’t move fast enough no matter how hard I tried. Once I got to the door, which itself felt like years, I struggled to get my hands to work to turn the lock. I looked back and saw him rising. His face was a mask of rage and malice.

I got out of there and ran into the street. I remember, vaguely, passing out in front of a post office to screams.

I was in and out of consciousness over the next few days. The doctors found a high level of Ricin and Rohypnol. Yeah, ricin. I wish that show would have had a trigger warning because it brought back a lot of complicated emotions for me.

I was able to point police to Dr Zestro’s, but the man running the store was gone. What they did find would have made national news had another tragedy in Oklahoma not usurped the news at the time. I learned from overhearing the police talking that the jars of liquid were filled with decomposing bodies. They also found a skeleton in the office of who matched the dental records of the original Dr Zestro. He went missing around the time Tommy and his brother did.

Since then, my life was mostly normal. Now and again, I’ll search for places like Dr Zestro. I’ll occasionally find urban legends of stores that pop-up, some weird stuff happens, then they go abandoned. While I am sure that old man is dead by now, I still can’t help but get chills when I enter a store in my small town that is brand new. It will always remind me of that fear of vulnerability I felt. It’s also why I will never allow my kids to go into a candy store again.

The resounding memory I had out of that whole ordeal was just how familiar that seeing gum looked. And every time I probed that memory, I immediately retreated into nausea and fear.

Pop Secret Reading Challenge 2016: ZOO

ZOO by Otsuichi

41zutkzapl

Deception

ZOO by Otsuichi is like a cute doll that seems ridiculously silly. Only that doll is a small bomb that targets your brain and sticks with you. While reading the book, I stopped several times and just felt shaken on a granular level. The masterful writing of Otsuichi is like a beautifully choreographed performance piece that ends in a horrific tableau of blood and misery.

Kind of like real life, I guess.

A Bad Summary

Throughout ZOO, readers are slammed with these stories that set your expectations of how something should go only for a blindsiding twist to completely set you off-kilter. Every story’s climax would come far later than expected, sometimes all the way in the last paragraph of the story as it closes out.
The results were jarring.
Without spoiling any of the stories, since they deserve to be explored and revealed on their own, several stories left my jaw literally hanging. One story left me feeling like an electrical wire was pressed to my skin, reacting to everything around me.

A Life Truth

That’s the power of words. Otsuichi, through Terry Gallagher’s translations, finely tunes the dials of emotion and manages to deliver powerful jolts that completely alter your experience.
ZOO was a book where I went in expecting to be scared and horrified, but I wasn’t. Most of the stories aren’t terribly horrifying in the sense of ghosts, monsters, and pop-up scares. It’s scary in the sense that the person you see on the side walk, passed out in their rags, actually had a really rough life. They were beaten as a child. Ignored. Hated. And they could never adapt.
That’s what ZOO is: a view into worlds you cannot comprehend and that is scarier than any horror movie.
ZOO was a humbling experience. I thought I was ready to handle any type of story that was thrown my way, but that’s where egotism comes in. Reading as much as I do, I can sort of figure out endings before they are fully formed. What that does is usually leave me satisfied but bored. With ZOO, I rarely figured out the endings, or if I did, it was right before the reveal came, and I am gut punched as I quickly read through everything.
What I loved about this is that there were common ideas throughout: love, loss, death, and life, and every single one of them was twisted into a new way of exposing this idea. I cannot say enough positive things about this god damn book. I loved it so much.

Final Score: 5 out of 5

ZOO is a powerful book that looks at death, life, love, mental illness, self-esteem, and where people fit in. This is the power of ZOO; a menagerie of humanity boiled into under 300 pages.
Read this book, but be prepared. It’ll change you.
zoo

Pop Sugar Reading Challenge 2016: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

hunter-s-thompson-fear-and-loathing

A Journey into Madness

When considering Hunter S. Thompson, one always considers Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The novel is a powerhouse of hilarity, absurdity, and political observations. Thompson holds no punches, deftly sewing in a story of rape, smuggling a ridiculous amount of drugs across state lines, and crafting a story that is both captivating and humorous.

A Trip in Itself

Thompson’s prose is mind-bogglingly hard to follow. This style does well to match Raoul Duke’s drugged-up state. Duke, Thompson’s character in the book, is rarely sober, and the implication is that the world around him is too awful to enjoy sober. To this end, he consumes ridiculous amounts of mescaline, marijuana, amyl nitrates, and acid without going totally insane. While describing his drug use, Thompson makes some hilarious observations, such as:

I tend to sweat heavily in warm climates. My blood is too thick. My clothes are soaking wet from dawn to dusk. This worried me at first, but when I went to a doctor and described my normal daily intake of booze, drugs and poison he told me to come back when the sweating stopped.

He also uses moments of clarity to tell the reason he is allegedly in Las Vegas: to find the American Dream.
What Thompson sets up is that if the American Dream can only be found in Las Vegas, at the bottom of a well of more drugs than any human can consume, is that the American Dream has become so vague and blurry it is now unattainable.

A Summary of Insanity

Duke and his attorney then go on another trip to Vegas where police, prosecutors, and other legal folks are meeting to discuss the drug scene. In this moment, Duke gives a candid review of anti-drug propaganda, hilariously poorly done and ill-informed. Duke shows that the people in charge of maintaining the laws have no understanding of the real world culture, and thus, they cannot completely be able to police the drug culture.

A Method to Madness

Fear and Loathing, released decades ago in another world, is a timeless piece that is humorous, raw, shocking, and gritty. Thompson, as a great writer, has created a story that applies to generations regardless of when they pick up the book. The story is one that gives a glimpse, albeit exaggerated, into the periphery of human society. It is easy to get immersed into the story and feel like you are in the back seat of the Great Red Shark or White Whale, praying for safety.

Final Score: 5 out of 5

After finishing Fear and Loathing, I can finally feel a sense of relief. The ride has ended.
FearandLoathing