Monday, October 16, 2017

Week of 10/16/2017

Alpha Pigs And Other Thoughts
So... there’s a lot of stuff on my mind this week.  And rather than just pick on one subject, I’ll try to cover as many of them as I can.
And let’s start with some of the boring stuff.
The Fall of LEGO and Toys ‘R Us – I’ll admit it, LEGOs are my second-childhood hobby.  Much like Will Farrell’s character in “The LEGO Movie”, I see the “Ages 8-12” thing as a “suggestion”.  When my parents were my age, their hobby was puzzles, and nobody looked down on that, did they?  Okay.
Anyway, it wasn’t that long ago that LEGOs were “the” thing.  They were doing LEGO videos even before their major motion picture release.  They had video games.  They have their own stores and their own theme park.  Hell, they even have their own gaming network that actually uses LEGO figures that you can collect and put into the game.
And then… what the hell?  Now LEGOs are losing money, and their third major motion picture… well you haven’t heard too much about it since its release, have you?  And it’s no coincidence that this is happening at the same time that Toys ‘R Us declared bankruptcy.
Now I know it’s too simplistic to say that LEGOs caused Toys ‘R Us to go into bankruptcy.  I’m not going to even suggest that one led to the other.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that these two things were going on at the same time.
So… why are LEGOs failing?  Well let’s look at what they’re doing.  You pretty much have four tiers of LEGO models.  You have the cheap sets, running around $10-$20. The medium sets run $20-$60.  The large sets run between $70-$120.  And then you have the huge special sets that run around $300.  I’ve been noticing the trend have been for fewer cheap sets and more of the medium and larger sets.  Now if you’re a parent, and money is an issue, you’re not going to look at the big sets for your kid.  Or if you are, it’s just going to be that one set, so it better be worth it.  A lot of sets that I’ve seen haven’t been worth it.  Basically, they were thinking about money instead of the fun.
And… enough with the Batman fetish!  Goddamn it, LEGO!  Pretty much every LEGO set featuring DC superheroes has Batman in it! I can understand when we’re talking about “The LEGO Batman Movie”, where it was about Batman, but there was only one set based on the “Wonder Woman” movie, as opposed to three for “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice”, and none for “Suicide Squad” (which was strange because Batman was in it).  And even the majority of the LEGO sets that weren’t connected to movies had to include Batman in some fashion like it was some unwritten law.  LEGO guys, listen, the world does not revolve around Batman.  Only Batman thinks that it does.  Well, him and Donald Trump.
LEGO is full of missed opportunities, and sadly, their failings certainly played a role in the bankruptcy of Toys ‘R Us.
The Las Vegas Shooting – I’m sorry, liberals, but no amount of tragedy will get the GOP and the gun lobby to back down on guns and gun control.  You can hate it.  You can scream about it all you want.  It won’t work and it will not convince the people in Washington to change their stance one inch.  Even when it became personal to them, even when they were the targets themselves, they didn’t change their minds on the subject.  So what makes you think they will do so just because it happened in a public venue and involved more people than ever before in American history?
They’re willing to give up the so-called “bump stocks” because that is not really a gun issue.  It’s a cheat device to get around the ban on fully-automatic weapons.  But the truth of the matter is that there was nothing that could have been done to prevent the tragedy in Las Vegas from happening.  From all indications, the firearms were purchased over a long period of time.  The person who carried out the massacre was secretive enough to keep this from his girlfriend, and he knew that the hotel would not search his luggage simply because he was a high-paying customer, and you don’t do that to people with money.
We have this ongoing delusion that we can keep people safe at all times; that somehow if we just ban the right kind of things and outlaw the wrong kind of thinking and know what is in everyone’s minds at all times, that somehow we would all be “safe”.  I’m sorry, but the world does not work like that.  There are some people in this world that have dark hearts and evil intentions, and they are really good at keeping those things hidden from the rest of us until they are ready to make their move.  It doesn’t matter if we are talking about terrorists, politicians, Hollywood moguls, corporate executives, or some lone individual who simply wants to watch the world burn and take credit for lighting the match.
And that brings us to the last subject…
Harvey Weinstein and the other Alpha Pigs – I think something is being lost in the subject of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and the alleged cases of predatory sexual harassment and possible assault.
Yes, Weinstein’s actions – if true – are predatory and disgusting.  They may even be criminal.  But the one thing we should not be doing right now is to transform this into a Salem Witch-Hunt over male thoughts and how fast we are to judge and convict people.  Already there are way too many people that are being castigated and needlessly persecuted because they are making the “social mistake” of not outright condemning Weinstein and giving away anything tainted by his mere existence.
It is easy to condemn a stranger for their actions.  It’s even easier to condemn someone that you already despise, because their conduct merely validates your own prejudices.  It’s hard to do so with someone that you know, and even harder still to do it to someone that has supported you or thought of you as a friend.  It’s hard to put aside your connection to that person and judge them on their actions.  You want to disbelieve it.  You want to give your friend or your acquaintance or your ally the benefit of doubt.  That is human nature.
And it’s not like this is some isolated incident.  There have been an ongoing movement to expose people in positions of power for their predatory actions.  Before Weinstein, there was Fox News head Roger Ailes and annoying media parasite Bill O’Reilly  Before that, there was Bill Cosby and Anthony Weiner.  Before that there was Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.  And that’s just on a national level.
And let’s not forget our current president, Donald “Grab ‘em” Trump!  It was just last year from this column’s posting that news of his audio tape was made public where he boasted that he could do anything to a woman because he’s rich and a celebrity.  To those of you who are quick to condemn Weinstein for his actions, and persecute his friends and allies for not instantly condemning Weinstein, how many of you ignored or even justified Trump’s own boasts?  How many of you were quick to excuse Ailes and O’Reilly?
By the way, conservatives and neo-conservatives and all the other Trump supporters *did* excuse Trump’s actions.  I sat there and I listened to the propaganda radio personalities and their call-in listeners prostitute themselves to the GOP and claim that Donald Trump’s boasts were, first, “locker room talk”, and, second, excusable because he was a so-called “alpha male”!  And then they compounded their disgraceful actions by saying that the women who would be victims to that kind of action were “asking for it”.
So if you were one of those people who excused Trump’s audio admission, then you have forfeited any moral authority to sit in judgement over liberals and any hesitation they may have to condemn Weinstein’s alleged actions.  In fact I will go one further and issue this warning: if you claim to be a Christian of any persuasion, and you still hold on to that self-righteous partisan hypocrisy, then you had better spend the rest of your pompous lives in hopes that the atheists are right about the hereafter, because no deity in their right mind would allow that kind of evil thinking to be excused with a simple “I’m sorry”.
But, again, we digress from what is not being discussed and needs to be…
Let’s get brutally honest here… the real enemy here is not just one sexual predator or the sycophants to said predator that give his actions a wink-and-a-nod.  Weinstein’s alleged actions are part of a larger problem.  It’s part of the so-called “Alpha Male” myth that allow certain people to behave aggressively and treat others as objects simply because they are seen as “winners” or “successful” or have any kind of power and influence.  And we sure as hell don’t want to mess with that, do we?  No, because we love “winners”.  We love success.  And we love power.  And if it means degrading other people to get that, then so be it… just as long as you’re not the one being degraded.
The sad part is that exposing Weinstein as the “Alpha Pig” that he appears to be is not going to clean up Hollywood, any more than the purging of Ailes and O’Reilly cleaned up the systemic attitudes in Fox News.  There will be other people that will still do those things and worse, and they’ll continue to do so on the belief that they are entitled to do it, and that they just have to try even harder to keep it concealed.  The real problem is the overall predatory behavior, not just when it comes to matters of the loins.  It is the very idea that other people are tools to be used as one sees fit, and that this behavior is allowed to continue because it brings wealth or success or power, that must truly be addressed and vilified and corrected.
By the way, Mister Weinstein, a bit of advice… probably the worst thing you could do in your situation is to say that “people make mistakes”. Being caught with your predatory behavior exposed like Weiner’s dick is not a “mistake” any more than saying that the Las Vegas massacre was “an errant shot”.  Sometimes the best thing to say in this kind of situation is nothing.  Oh, and if what they say about you is true, then you are a pathetic excuse of a human being.
It was the early 20th-century sportswriter Garland Rice that penned the legendary quote that it doesn’t matter if one wins or loses, but how the game is played.  Maybe the sentiment seems naïve, especially in light of this past year’s presidential farce, where one candidate was handed her nomination on a silver platter, and the other bullied his way past the so-called “establishment nominees”.   But isn’t that what ethics and morality are all about in the first place?  It’s not about the result but how we got there that is supposed to matter.
Yes, Weinstein and the other “Alpha Pigs” are scum.  Their actions when it comes to women are an offense to everything that I have been taught by my parents and teachers and priests and nuns.  Worse yet, as a fifty-year-old male with a non-existing social life, no wife or children, and struggling just to keep the bills paid, it galls me to see these people carry on like they do and be rewarded for it.  But we need to address the real systemic problem that rewards the mindset and not just the extreme result of that mindset.  That’s the only way to stop the next Harvey Weinstein or the next Donald Trump or the next Roger Ailes from getting that far.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Week of 10/09/2047

SCOTUS Need To Kill The Gerrymander For Their Own Sake
It was 1812 when then-governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts orchestrated the redistricting of his state in a strange and bizarre way that would ensure his party’s dominance.  The writers for the original Boston Gazette newspaper commented that one of the redrawn districts on the map looked like a salamander.  With that image in mind, Federalist supporters dubbed the redistricting process “Gerrymandering”.  Although Governor Gerry would eventually lose the election, the tactic did work in keeping the Democratic-Republican Party in charge over the state and shutting out the Federalist Party, which was the whole goal of the process.
I’ll let that sink in for those of you who still buy into the bold-faced lie that the Democrats and the GOP have always existed as the only two dominant parties in America.
Although nobody can really pin down who originated the term “Gerrymandering”, it was a process that can be traced going back to the early years of America as part of the bitter feud between Federalists and Anti-Federalists even before the first members of Congress could be elected.  But after 1812, that became the name of the tactic that has allowed party bosses to ensure that their will prevails over the voters.
The reasoning behind this is simple: to the victor goes the spoils.  Every ten years, federal districts for legislative representation are redrawn according to changes in population, as is required under the U.S. Constitution.  But the dreamers and philosophers behind the Constitution never really set down specifics, leaving the process to the dirty, rotten, scheming, corrupt politicians.  So it should come to no-one’s surprise when this otherwise simple idea would be corrupted and twisted and turned into a weapon to rig the process in favor of said politicians.
Gerrymandering has been challenged on numerous occasions in the U.S. Supreme Court.  Sometimes the justices allow it.  Other times they don’t.  When both dominant parties orchestrate it, it’s been allowed.  When one dominant party does it, the courts have stepped in and said no.  Sometimes.  Not always. 
But now the fate of the Gerrymander is back in the hands of the justices of the Supreme Court.  In fact, the whole process is being challenged on both First Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment grounds.  As of this column’s posting, the justices have already heard arguments for and against the process, and we won’t know how they decided until next year, just in time for the 2018 mid-term elections-slash-screwjob and two years away from the next obligatory census.  But this commentator sincerely hopes that the justices euthanize gerrymandering so it can join segregation in the graveyard of despicable practices.
In fact, I would dare say that the justices would have a very good reason why they must kill gerrymandering, and that is to hold themselves to the rationality set by their past decisions.
For countless generations, the justices of the Supreme Court have shot down any attempt to rein in government on the belief that the “ultimate decision” rests with the voters.  Term limits, campaign finance reform, and every other attempt to control the abuses of the elected schemers and con-artists and their party bosses have all been shot down by the justices on the belief that the voters would be the “true instrument of control”.
Unfortunately, with gerrymandering, that is just not true.
Gerrymandering rigs the game, much like the legal casinos do to ensure that the house always wins.  This is something that our current President of the United States knows first-hand as the former owner of legal casinos.  Ironic, since he was the one that campaigned during the 2016 Farce by saying “It’s a rigged system.”  Yes, it is rigged, and it keeps getting worse and worse with every election.
So how can the justices of the United States Supreme Court say that the voters are the “ultimate deciders” in the American political process when the actual decision is made by party bosses through their manipulation of voting districts?  The recognition that this blatant rigging of the process exists undermines their own decisions.  It makes liars of the justices.
Let’s get brutally honest here… gerrymandering, by its very nature, is designed to deny voters their right as the ultimate deciders in government.  It manipulates the election process by manipulating districts based on which partisan party would prevail instead of what the voters want.  It means that the voters are not the “ultimate deciders” in America; it’s the party bosses.  It means that America has never been “a democracy inside a republic”, but instead a passive plutocracy pretending to be “a democracy inside a republic”.
If the justices want any of their past decisions striking down campaign reform and term limits to have any credibility to them, then they have to stand up to the party bosses and the career politicians and kill the Gerrymander.  They need to stand up for the idea of “one person, one vote” instead of “one party, all votes”.
There have been cases made in the past for a nonpartisan commission to come up with the districts.  While the definition of “nonpartisan” is contentious (the fraud perpetrated by the so-called “Commission for Presidential Debates” quickly comes to mind), it would be far better than left in the hands of corrupt politicians eager to solidify their perceived “entitlement”. After all, there is nothing in the Constitution that spells out how those districts are made.  The very reason that allowed gerrymandering can also be used to fix the damage caused by it.  But for that process to change, there needs to be a reason.  The judicial branch can make that change necessary with just one decision.
Ideally, our election districts would be drawn using a protractor instead of a French curve being wielded by an abstract artist on LSD.  But leaving the process in the hands of politicians was our great mistake then, and it remains a great mistake today.  The only way to fix that rests with the highest court in the country, presided over by judges that supposedly are no longer beholden to any political party or corrupt party bosses.  I would like to continue to believe that they decide things based on the Constitution and not on political ideolog or partisan favoritism.  With the gross ineptitude in Congress and the narcissism of the current White House occupant, this country needs to have their last bit of faith with our system rewarded.