Monday, March 31, 2014

Week of 03/31/2014

The Myth Of Self-Determination
– by David Matthews 2

There once was a young boy who firmly believed that he could fly like Superman.  He used to watch the old Superman TV programs and saw George Reeves take a running start and then fly away into the clouds with a loud “Woosh”.  If George Reeves could do that, then anyone can.

So this young boy would try everything possible to be able to fly.  He would sprint, leap, jump off ledges, do everything in his mind to “will” himself to fly.  He even got a Superman costume with cape and thought that it would allow him to fly.  After all, that’s what the Warner Brother cartoon characters did!  They got an “Acme Flying Guy” costume and suddenly they could fly!

And no matter how many times he would fail, he firmly believed that he could somehow fly.  He just didn’t run fast enough or leap high enough.  He just didn’t want it bad enough or “will” himself hard enough to make it happen.

Eventually this young boy realized that it wasn’t a matter of how bad he wanted it; he just wasn’t going to fly.  Period.  He found out that Superman could fly because he was an alien from a planet with a different sun and a heavier gravity.  George Reeves never could fly; he was just held up on his stomach in front of a movie screen with a wind tunnel sound being played making it sound like he was flying through the air.  And the Warner Brothers cartoon characters could fly wearing “Acme Flying Guy” costumes because… well, because they’re cartoon characters.

But imagine what it would be like if that young boy didn’t come to that realization.  Imagine what that young boy would be trying to do if he didn’t find out that he could not fly like Superman, no matter how hard he “wanted” to.

Actually, we don’t have to wonder, do we?

No, because we see plenty of it from adults as well.

There isn’t a year that does not go by without at least one story of a young child dying because his or her parents decided that prayer was all that their sick or injured child needed in order to survive.  Not medicine, not bandages, just prayer.  And if the child dies?  Well then the parents just didn’t pray hard enough, did they?  After all, God supposedly answers all prayers; all you have to do is pray hard enough and long enough and your prayers will be answered.

A good majority of the people will tell you that this kind of thinking is asinine.  And yet, like I said, there isn’t a year that goes by that we don’t hear of at least one story about parents that let their child die because of it.

But this isn’t just some “fringe” dysfunction.  In fact, we’re hearing it more and more frequently now from the conservative and neo-conservative groups.

For instance… were you one of the millions that lost their job since 2008?  Finding it hard to get work?

Well then that is all your fault, according to the conservative and neo-conservative script!

You see, according to the script, work is simply a matter of your will and determination to get a job.  There are supposedly “plenty” of jobs out there for you to work.  The cons and neo-cons will point you to the Want Ads to say there is “plenty” of work.  All you have to do is “apply” yourself to finding a job and you’ll supposedly “get” one. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re not qualified for that work.  It doesn’t matter if some payroll and employment service has declared that anyone who doesn’t find work after a certain number of months is “unemployable”.  It doesn’t matter if you’re over a certain age.  It doesn’t matter if the company is posting the ad doesn’t really have work available.

No, according to the script championed by conservatives and neo-conservatives and newspaper editors and cable news channels, it is all just a matter of your “will” and “self-determination”.  You just have to “want” it bad enough and it will somehow be there for you.

And if you can’t find work?  Well then it’s “your” fault because you didn’t “want” it bad enough or try “hard enough”.  You must be “lazy” or “using drugs”.  You’re just a “taker” or a “moocher”.  A “deadbeat”.  A “loser”.

You think I’m kidding?  Just listen to the rhetoric from the cons and neo-cons.  Open up the editorials in your local newspaper.  Turn on Fox News or Bloomberg or CNBC.  You’ll hear that script be recited over and over and over again like Big Brother’s Ministry of Truth. 

Listen to the politicians, the elected grifters and shysters that preen themselves up like peacocks when the discussion comes to extending unemployment benefits to the people still looking for work.  They won’t necessarily have an “R” next to their name, but they will certainly channel their best Ayn Rand impersonation as they condemn those still out of work as being “quitters” and “weak”.  You’re just not “trying hard enough” in their eyes.  You supposedly need incentive.  You need to be drug-tested.  You need to suffer and be degraded and condemned because you just aren’t “trying hard enough”.

Like the parent that thinks all they need is to “pray harder” for their sick child instead of taking them to the hospital.

And this is not some new trend.  This is an extension of a rather old delusion that claims that “success” – no matter how you define it, for all you smartasses out there that hate that I’m exposing this little myth – is simply a matter of your “will” and “determination”.  “You can do whatever it is you want to do,” they would chant endlessly, “if you just put your mind to it.”

Really?  Because I was that young boy that once believed that he could fly like Superman.  And no matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I put my mind into it, no matter how much I willed myself to fly, I couldn’t.  “Whatever it is”, you say?  To hell it is, I say!

As an adult, I have come across many a supposed “multi-tiered” or “multi-level” or “poly-phased” business “program” - which goes under many names as long as they don’t have to admit that it’s a pyramid scheme - that takes the myth of all-powerful self-determination to another level.  It tries to sell the idea that anyone can be a salesperson and be able to sell not only a product, but to also sell the idea that you can recruit other people to be a salesperson to sell the same product.  And all of this “success” is supposedly only limited to your “will” and your “self-determination”.  Except that it doesn’t work like that.  And I’ve seen that on more than one occasion by people that had all of the self-determination in the world and yet got nothing in return but aggravation.

Let’s get brutally honest here… while determination and will help propel a person forward, these thing alone are not enough.  No amount of will and determination can command the fates and forces of the universe to do your bidding, never mind the will and determination of other human beings.

I do not have the power to force a company to hire me, no matter how bad I “want” that job.  I can convince them I have the tools, but they have to first “want” to consider me.  I can send out a million-billion resumes, make phone calls, shake hands, go down each and every business and personally ask if they’re willing to hire me, but if they all say “no”, then there is nothing I can do to change that, no matter how much I “want” them to hire me.

So you tell me… if the final power of employment is not in my hands, then why am I being burdened with the end result?

Essentially what this myth of self-determination does is it shifts the ultimate responsibility away from those with the power to make it happen.  It’s “our” fault if we don’t find work, while the people that pride themselves as “job creators” take no responsibility whatsoever in actually creating those jobs and are not held to account when they refuse to.  Instead, they get rewarded, while we’re branded as being “lazy” and “drug-addicted” and lacking those mythical “soft skills”.  That should be a crime against humanity itself if there ever was one.

Much like the over-religious parents that delude themselves into believing that prayer can substitute for medicine, we have been suckered into a delusion that “self-determination” is all that we need to get what we want.  But beating yourself against a societal wall doesn’t always make the wall break, no matter how much you “want” it to.  It takes others to help make it happen.  Otherwise you’re just bashing your own head in for nothing but the merriment of those that get off playing such games on us.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Week of 03/24/2014

New Rules Needed For Sequels
– by David Matthews 2

So Pixar, the animation studio that used to have some kind of connection to Disney, then did work for Disney, and then became fully owned by Disney, has announced they are working on the sequel to their 2004 hit movie “The Incredibles”.

When I first heard the news, I had some skepticism.  I’d like it to work, and I really hope they would keep the same chemistry and some of the characters that really made the original movie the success that it was.

But then the second thought that went through my head upon hearing that news was…


Oh, I already know the answer to that question.  It’s the same answer that applies to every other sequel that is made in Hollywood.  That answer is “Money!”  It’s always been about money and being able to suck every last dollar that studios can get from the great unwashed.

But, other than that eternal reason, why would there need to be a sequel to “The Incredibles”?

It was a good standalone story.  It pretty much resolved all of the underlying issues by the time it went to the end credits.  There wasn’t anything left hanging with it like some movies tend to do.  There really is no reason for Disney and Pixar to do a sequel other than because of the universal answer of “Money”.

And that got me thinking about some of the other movies that ended up as sequels.

“Ghostbusters”, for instance, didn’t really need a sequel.  It was a standalone story that answered pretty much all of the questions asked of it in the beginning.  Nor did “Caddyshack”, “Meatballs”, “Police Academy”, “Lethal Weapon”, “Friday the 13th”, “Nightmare on Elm Street”, or “Oceans Eleven”.  And that’s just scratching the surface.

That’s not to say that the sequels were just as good as or even better than their originals.  In some cases they were worse, like in “Caddyshack 2”.  For every “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back” there were others more like “Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment”.

And while direct-to-video has helped tremendously with making more movies available that would otherwise be ignored, it has also facilitated the production and distribution of bad sequels that would otherwise not survive production.  Did you know, for instance, that while the 1988 movie “The Land Before Time” was a box office success, it spawned a total of twelve sequels?  Twelve!  All of them direct-to-video, and none of those twelve sequel movies were associated with director Don Bluth or executive producers Steven Spielberg or George Lucas from the original movie.

Let’s get brutally honest here… I really think that the various studios need to come up with some sort of ground rules when it comes to doing sequels.  I don’t mean laws and regulations, even thought the power-whores in Washington would love to hear that.  I’m talking about guidelines that the studios would be more prone to enforce themselves.

Most certainly there needs to be another answer to “why make a sequel” besides “money”.  Is there some sort of underlying story that hasn’t been explored?  Some thread still left hanging?

Marvel Studios certainly knew how to do that with their series of movies, starting with “Iron Man”.  A few threads were left hanging, such as Jim Rhodes staring at a suit similar to “War Machine” and saying “next time, baby”, and the teaser after the credits of Tony Stark meeting with Nick Fury and mentioning the “Avengers Initiative”.  They opened the door to a sequel but could still keep the movie as a standalone feature.  The same with “The Incredible Hulk”.  By the time they got to “Iron Man 2”, you knew Marvel had a plan for future movies and they stuck with it.  Not bad for a so-called “upstart company”, even if it’s a subsidiary of both Disney and one of the big comic book publishers.

Certainly the studios need to understand and accept that there are simply some movies that do not need to have sequels.  Some stories are self-contained.  Would you want a sequel to “The Ten Commandments”?  Or “Gone With The Wind”?  No?  Then why do you feel there’s a need to have a sequel to “Independence Day”?

I think even stricter scrutiny should also apply to doing prequels.  One just has to look at the two “Star Wars” trilogies to see there are just way too many logical errors between the two groups.  How is it that Owen Lars, Luke Skywalker’s uncle, did not remember C3PO in Episode Four when his step-brother had left the droid to his mother in Episode One and was still on the farm in Episode Two?  Little things like this cannot be ignored or dismissed.

Let’s put this in a way that the studios will understand.  Studios expect to make money off their productions.  They believe that sequels are a cheaper way to have financial lightning strike twice since they already have audience support.  Well that “lightning” can only strike twice if the same conditions are there for it to happen.  Story, attention to detail, proper casting, chemistry… these must still be present.

We’re continually told that success is a matter of hard work and perseverance.  That is the myth spread by businesses.  If that is so, then the movie studios need to heed that advice when it comes to their own works.  Sequels should not be seen as cheats, but as higher plateaus to reach only if they work harder at keeping their audience.  Only then will they deserve the continued support they get.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Week of 03/17/2014

The Real Potheads
– by David Matthews 2

They say that folks here in Georgia are not the sharpest tacks in the box.  Research, sadly, continually confirms this.  Georgia always ranks near the bottom in terms of education.  Our academic institutions will spend ten times more for athletes than they will for regular students.  School boards and teachers continually complain that their budgets are getting slashed to the core, and sometimes even through that.  The only good thing Georgia educators can say about the quality of education is that they’re not in Alabama. 

This is a state that will spend more for sports stadiums than on learning.  But, hey, at least we know how to play football, right?  Not like those “elite intellectuals” up north.

Now in case you have a hard time connecting the dots between this subject and the main subject of this article, understand that we elect the politicians that think like we do.  We don’t care for those “uppity elite intellectuals”, because we’re told they’re useless in society.  Hell, we won’t even buy salsa made in “New York City” (New York City!) because some commercial told us that it was wrong.  That is how extreme we get with this institutionalized anti-intellectual stance.

So there’s this bill up for consideration in the Georgia legislature.  It concerns the use of medicinal mari--… whoops, scratch that… cannabis oil to treat people, most notably children, that suffer from certain conditions, such as severe seizures.

It seems that the “acceptable” methods of dealing with these problems – in other words, all of the drugs by Big Pharma – just don’t seem to work.  What a shock, right?  But apparently cannabis oil does work.

There’s just one problem: cannabis oil comes from cannabis… a.k.a. marijuana.  Marijuana has been declared illegal by the federal government, not to mention the State of Georgia and every other state with the exception of Colorado.  For almost a century, we’ve been inundated with the continual script that says that marijuana is bad, wrong, illegal, immoral, destructive, and leads to death, destruction, destitution, immorality, post-nasal drip, that “not-so-fresh feeling”, not to mention a severe case of the munchies.  It’s a “gateway drug”, don’t-cha-know?  It leads to much stronger things… like late-night runs to Taco Bell.  (Hey, someone’s keeping them open and busy at those times of the night.)

And the script is so damnably strong and so damnably all-encompassing that anything associated with marijuana is tarred with the same brush.  Marijuana paraphernalia is wrong.  Flags and stickers featuring the marijuana leaf are supposedly “red flags” to denote use.  Even hemp, a cousin of the marijuana plant that has no drug effects whatsoever, has been outlawed even though all of our earlier flags and America’s founding documents were all made with hemp.

Not only does this automatic guilt-by-association part of the script include cannabis oil, but it also includes any kind of research that would validate legitimate use of cannabis oil.

Okay, so what government first made illegal, it can make legal again.  The bill proposed sets up an oversight board, regulations as to how this would be used and who would use it, and immunity from arrest for people who use it.  It doesn’t legalize marijuana itself.  It doesn’t allow the creation of “grow houses” or “pot shops”.  It only legalizes cannabis oil under certain conditions and only for certain people; and those people cannot get high off cannabis oil any more than they could get high off hemp.

The Georgia House saw no problem with it.  They passed it overwhelmingly.

The Georgia Senate, however, has been taking their sweet time getting to a vote.  In fact, with just four legislative days left (as of this column) before they adjourn for 2014, there is a possibility that they may just let the clock run out and let the whole thing die.

I’m sure you’re asking “why”, right?  Well there is some talk about a dispute concerning which company makes the cannabis oil and how much money they would make off it.

But this commentator suspects there is something a little more primal behind the reluctance to pass this otherwise no-brainer of a bill.  And that reason can be summed up in an equally primal sentence:

“Well, duh, War on Drugs!”

That’s right, boys and girls, it’s the script!  It’s that damnable script from the cult of perpetual warfare that says that the government cannot give one inch of ground when it comes to their self-serving “War on Drugs”.  No retreat!  No surrender!  No negotiations!  No compromise!  Starve the babies!  Suffer the little children!  Better to have the sick die in agony than to have their precious “drug warriors” give up the high ground!

We’re being forced to pay millions in tax money to pay for the state to go after marijuana plants and even what they call “synthetic marijuana”… which is a category that they can never legally define but “they know it when they see it”.  They’ve already given law enforcement unlimited power to void the Constitution in order to go after this stuff!  And now we’re turning around and asking legislators to allow cannabis oil – taken from the actual plant – to be used to treat certain medical conditions?

I’m actually surprised the legislation even got this far!

And if you thought that was bad enough, then try this: the actual bill doesn’t even authorize the distribution and sale of the cannabis oil!  It’s only for research into it!  Research!

There are parents that are petitioning legislators to pass this bill, hoping that it would give them access to this cannabis oil for their children who need it, and it turns out that all it does is it authorizes research for possible future distribution.

Go ahead and read the bill if you think I’m kidding.  I have read it – all thirteen pages, twice – just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.  It’s all for “continued research”!

And yet Georgia legislators are still hesitant about passing it, because doing to apparently would violate their extremist cultist stance on the “War on Drugs”!

Let’s get brutally honest here… this is the depth of stupidity we have reached when it comes to politics.  We have a no-brainer legislation that would potentially help people – children – that need it to help get through life, and that legislation is being stymied and possibly even brought to a halt because doing so goes against some asinine political script!

These are the people we elect, folks!  These are the legislators we send to the Gold Dome in our name and with our tax monies!  If they’re siding with a script over actual taxpayers over something like this, then they’re fools.  But if we continue to send them back to the Gold Dome, then they’re really not the idiots… we are. And it’s high time (no pun intended) that we wise up and realize this.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Week of 03/10/2014

Liberty Or License?
– by David Matthews 2

In the 1860’s, southerners in America were told that they couldn’t keep people as slaves.  They had to treat the people they once considered to be sub-human to be on equal footing with them.

It’s not like this was news to them.  The effort to end slavery was going on for generations.  It was a major contention during the cobbling of the Declaration of Independence, especially when it came to the famous line “that all men are created equal”.  But southerners maintained that they were justified in what they did.  They called it “heritage”.  They called it “culture”.  They believed they had a biblical right to own others.  They even tried to separate from the United States and waged a bloody civil war to keep this supposed “right” intact.

What they were really defending, of course, was their own sense of superiority.  Institutionalized, codified, and passed from one generation to the next, it is the ego-centered narcissism that says in no uncertain terms that one group of people is superior over another group.

And when the Civil War ended and the southerners were defeated, they refused to accept defeat, just like they refused to accept that they were ever in the wrong.  When the U.S. Constitution was amended to say they couldn’t keep slaves and that they had to recognize the “all men are created equal” line as applying to all people of race, southern legislators wrote laws that said otherwise.  And when those laws got tossed out in the courts, southern legislators wrote new ones.  They created the asinine idea that you could have two separate standards and yet somehow be “equal”, just like they once championed the idea that certain people were only three-fifths human beings.

They did anything and everything they could to continue the delusion, the ego-centered arrogance that they were still inherently superior over others.

And now we are seeing that same pompous, self-serving, narcissistic, arrogance rear its ugly head once again.

Only this time it’s not about racial superiority.  It’s all about religious superiority.

Religious groups are busy pushing so-called “Religious Freedom” bills through state legislatures.  While some, like the one in Georgia, seem to be more of a solution looking for a problem, several others bills being rushed through aren’t even trying to be subtle.

The scripted argument being used is this: A bakery is visited by a same-sex couple looking to have someone bake them a cake for their same-sex wedding.  The baker is a thumper and believes doing business for the same-sex couple is a violation of his or her religion, but he or she also doesn’t want to get sued for discrimination or make a stink about it because that is bad for business.

Thumpers claim they don’t want the baker to be forced to “sacrifice” his or her religious beliefs by doing business with the same-sex couple.  What they are demanding is a religious veto, similar to a heckler’s veto, where the person says “it’s against my religion” and the other person is obligated to shut up and go away.  No retribution, no lawsuits, no boycotts.  Just shut up and go away.

I’m sure some of you are saying “where’s the harm”, right?  Well if that’s the only bakery in a fifty-mile area, I’m sure you can see the harm.  But let’s use a different scenario to really drive the point home.

9-1-1 call goes out to a home.  Someone is injured or sick.  They could die unless they go to the hospital and are treated immediately.  Minutes count.  Police call for an ambulance.  In many communities, the ambulance service is a private organization.  Ambulance driver realizes that this is a home of a same-sex couple.  The ambulance driver says “it’s against my religion to help” and refuses to allow the injured person into the ambulance.  Another driver has to be called, or maybe even another ambulance service needs to be summoned, and hopefully that one will “allow” the patient to be transported to the hospital.

The near-death patient is transported to the nearest hospital.  The Emergency Room doctor on-call takes a look at the sheet, sees the patient is in a same-sex relationship, and says “it’s against my religion to treat this person” and demands another doctor come in.  The hospital administrator hears what is going on and tells the patient’s partner “our religion says we can’t treat this person; go find another hospital”.

Far-fetched, you say?  It wasn’t that long ago that some hospitals were turning away patients on the basis of whether or not they could pay, even on an emergency basis.

And remember the whole debacle with the pharmacies refusing to fill proscriptions based on their “religious beliefs” and then keeping the scripts?  It was only a decade ago, and it’s still being hashed out in the courts and legislatures today.

Here’s the kicker: in some of the legislation being rushed through, the proposed legalized discrimination on the basis of “religion” isn’t just generic.  The LGBT community is actually being singled out by name.  So discrimination against other religions in the name of religion would still be wrong.  Discrimination against other races or ethnicities in the name of religion would still be wrong.  Discrimination by gender in the name of religion would still be wrong (as long as it doesn’t pertain to either sex or abortion).  But one group would be legally singled out as being “allowed” to discriminate against on the basis of “religion”.

And they don’t see what’s wrong with this picture?  They who claim to champion “history” and they don’t remember what happened the last time a specific group was singled out for “legalized” discrimination?

Let’s get brutally honest here… this is Jim Crow all over again!  This is the singling out of a specific group for discrimination sanctified by legislation.  The only difference is the group being discriminated against.

Even worse, they’re using their interpretation of religion as an excuse; claiming that their First Amendment rights trump everything else.  This from the same political faction that loves to carve out exemptions to other parts of that same First Amendment!

But what they want is not “liberty”.  It’s “license”.  They want the green light to discriminate against those they hate without consequence.  “Liberty” applies to all.  “License” only applies to those that meet certain standards.

And make no mistake: this is all about their religion, and their ego-centered interpretations of that religion being given superior status over everything else in society.  This is about feeding their egos, believing that no matter what the rest of the world feels about the evolving stance of the LGBT crowd, their views and their interpretations of religion are the “superior” views.  Their views and their stances are the ones that get preferential treatment in government.  Their views and their beliefs are the ones that get codified and sanctified and enforced by government.  “Their” will be done… on Earth, in the name of their Heaven.

Just like the pro-slavery factions were wrong, so too are their modern-day successors.  They are not the “superior” group.  Theirs is not the “superior” belief.  They are just pompous narcissists demanding something that they have neither earned or should they ever deserve.

Monday, March 3, 2014

No Column For Week of 03/03/2014

(Due to the recent passing of the author's father, there will not be a Brutally Honest column for this week.)