Tag Archives: politics

Don’t Let the News Beat You Up

November 4, 2016

Let your kid do it instead!

Nah, it didn't hurt.

Nah, it didn’t hurt.

How are Bill Clinton’s Affairs Relevant?

September 30, 2016

Trump & ClintonWith Donald Trump threatening to bring up Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs in his next presidential debate with Hillary Clinton, we’re sensibly asking why he’d even go there. How is it relevant?

In the interests of fairness, let’s take a couple minutes to examine the subject. (Make sure to place the half of your brain into neutral that’s screaming about Trump’s supreme hypocrisy. Why yes, he did cheat on his first wife. Why yes, he’s been accused multiple times of sexual assault, even child rape.)

If I understand correctly, the critique of Hillary’s behavior falls along two main themes.

First, Hillary supposedly wanted to cover up these affairs because they threatened her political career. Linda Tripp, former White House aide and Monica Lewinsky confidant, alleged Bill had “thousands” of affairs. She said Hillary “is someone who had no real personal problem with any of this behavior. The problem was in it becoming public. They had to continue to become electable… She was the more aggressive one in ensuring that the political viability was not endangered in any way.” Buying into this line of reasoning, of course, requires forgetting that Tripp, in saying these things, continues to have a compelling self-preservationist motive of her own.

Second, this critique states, Hillary’s public support of her husband and initial dismissal of the sexual misconduct allegations violated her own feminist positions. She should have immediately smelled Bill’s bullshit, some have said. She should have stood up for women like Monica Lewinsky who’d been victimized by Bill’s abuse of his position. This is the criticism that most resonates with millennial women.

Here’s what I think. I don’t have the necessary psychic retro-cognitive omniscience to prove or disprove these allegations, and neither does anyone else. But since we’re in the spirit of speculation, I would like to raise a couple other possible explanations for her behavior.

The first is, as the aggrieved spouse, she may have been in psychologically self-protective denial for years. Maybe it was too painful for her to face the truth, so she did her best to malign any woman who accused her husband of misconduct. She desperately needed these women to be attention-seeking liars, because to admit otherwise meant admitting Bill had cheated on her. I know, from having ridden shotgun through others’ divorces, that one of the worst things a cheated-on wife must face is self-doubt: “Did I drive him to this because I’m not beautiful/intelligent/supportive/what-have-you enough?” If this explanation is true, it’s not a ringing endorsement of Hillary’s emotional toughness, but it’s definitely human, understandable, and forgivable.

Secondly, what if, as a loving wife, she simply believed her husband’s inevitable denials? Sure, Bill had a few affairs in the past (she might have thought), but this time, these accusers are only seeking attention.

And third, perhaps Hillary just bought into the increasingly rare American myth of the good marriage, that spouses stick by each other through thick and thin. She said as much during a 1999 interview in the LA Times. “Everybody has some dysfunction in their families,” she said. “They have to deal with it. You don’t walk away if you love someone. You help the person.”

Personally, the explanation I most identify with is anger. Yes, Monica Lewinsky was exploited by her boss, one of the most powerful people in the world. But no paramour is blameless. Monica was an adult who knowingly had an affair with a married man. So was Gennifer Flowers. An extramarital affair is an act of violence against the aggrieved spouse and any affected children. I wouldn’t blame Hillary one bit for being furious with these women at the same time as she was furious at Bill. For her to instantly walk out of her marriage to defend Monica Lewinsky — in the interests of feminism, no less — is simply ridiculous. If she’d done that, then she really would have been a political opportunist.

I cannot reasonably hold Hillary accountable for her husband’s behavior. Sure, in her shoes, I would have dumped his ass years ago, but she comes from a generation that believes in walking through hell for the sake of a marriage, even a rocky one, especially if that marriage produced children.

Bill Clinton, not Hillary Clinton, is responsible for his behavior. Let’s not lose sight of that truth as Mr. Drumpf attempts to twist it to his self-serving ends.

Every Tragedy Isn’t a Sales Opportunity

June 15, 2016

Let me paint a what-if scenario.

Let’s say you’re the parent of one of those fifty people killed at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Today is your son or daughter’s funeral. You look to the edge of the graveyard to see a carnival being set up. Merchants lay out their usual wares of artwork, rugs, and chotchkes. Several new products display your child’s face: hastily designed T-shirts and mugs decry this senseless death. A billboard announces all sales proceeds will benefit your family.

How do you feel about that? Are you flattered and grateful? Or is it too soon?

It’s only been three days, and this is already happening in the publishing world. Except it’s not as a carnival next to freshly dug graves. I’ve seen several announcements for new anthologies of short stories and poetry where the sales proceeds will benefit an organized charity or the victims directly. This repeats a well-established pattern: something bad happens, and immediately there’s a new charity anthology.

I hope these are just good people who want to help — who want to do something, anything, to relieve the suffering. Most writers are good people. If wanting to help is their sole motive, then more power to them.

My worry, however, is every time a charity anthology pops up in the wake of disaster, writers risk engaging in opportunism and self-glorification. Every tragedy isn’t a sales opportunity. And charity should never call attention to the giver. I’m not alone in saying so.

I realize this isn’t a black-and-white issue. A commemorative product, aside from raising money for the victims, might raise awareness of the tragedy’s causes, or help process the black tar of grief. And I confess to being a hyprocrite about my qualms; once I organized and participated in a book signing benefiting a charity. Was I being totally selfless? No.

So, I have to wonder: wouldn’t it be more effective to pay a direct donation to the charity instead of making that donation contingent on commercial success? Wouldn’t it be better to quietly give support without publicly exhibiting oneself as a good person or advancing a political agenda or career? This isn’t about me, after all. This is about them.

I’m not going to tell writers and publishers not to create these products. I only caution them not to be vultures. If your motives are pure and your timing is right, then sally forth.

China’s Organ Trade

February 25, 2016

Matthew Robertson of the Epoch Times sent me his thorough investigative report on the current state of the organ trade in the People’s Republic of China. It seems the practice of harvesting human organs for transplant from questionable sources shows no signs of letting up.

The practice of harvesting organs from executed prisoners for transplant, in contravention of human rights and medicolegal ethics, inspired my first novel, The Organ Donor. In particular, my research was into the conditions in Tianjin, which Mr. Robertson’s article is about.

Being able to grow kidneys in petri dishes can’t get here soon enough. . . .

Trump and 9/11

November 25, 2015

For somebody who has managed so many billions of dollars in his career, Donald Trump has a remarkably underdeveloped sense of what “thousands” mean.

I’m referring to his claim that on September 11, 2001, he witnessed “thousands” and “thousands and thousands” of people in Jersey City, NJ, celebrating the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in tailgate-party fashion. Fact checkers from several major media organizations, plus the New Jersey police(!), have debunked this ludicrous claim. Thousands of people did not have a death-to-America parade in Jersey City on 9/11. But that doesn’t stop him from declaring massive victory in his version of history.

Since Trump and his supporters are unburdened by historical fact, let’s examine this outrageous fairy tale from a commonsense perspective. Let’s be charitable and assume that by “thousands and thousands,” what he means is no more than 2,000. (And let’s set aside the obvious question of Trump’s convenient presence in Jersey City on that day). So, a tailgate party of 2,000 people.

In case anyone is unfamiliar with what a 2,000-person gathering would look like, I’ve prepared a little computer simulation. Click on the below graphic:

Click to see what a parade of 2,000 people would look like.

Click to see what a parade of 2,000 people would look like. Scroll down for the full effect.

If you have any doubt whether that’s indeed 2,000 simulated people, hover your mouse over any of them to see the counter at work.

That is a fuck-ton of people.

I lived through 9/11, as did anyone else over the age of 14. And while I wasn’t in Jersey City on that day, here is what I remember:

A lot of frightened people. The sense that something apocalyptic had happened. We’d been attacked, on our own soil — an unthinkable event in America. We hadn’t been attacked here since Pearl Harbor, and even that wasn’t the continental United States. Those bastards had flown our airliners into our sky scrapers, plus the Pentagon, plus a field in Pennsylvania, and murdered thousands of innocent people. They slaughtered children. And they secondarily murdered and maimed the thousands of people who died afterward from environmental poisoning at the crash sites.

September 11, 2001 was a turning point in modern American history, and in that first 24 hours, what I personally saw, aside from smoke billowing up from the Pentagon, were people with deer-in-the-headlights fear.

What I also saw was a fierce patriotism. People were so, so angry. They remained angry, and justifiably so. They were also charitable: they lined up around the block at the local blood bank, wanting to donate to the victims.

So, in that kind of stunned, patriotic, Book of Revelations raw horror, how do you think our gun-totin’ culture in the ole U.S. of A. would have reacted to a crowd of 2,000 people, minimum, having a fucking tailgate party in New Jersey, celebrating the fall of the Twin Towers? It would have been a battle for the history books. There is no way, none, that could have possibly happened.

In fact, it didn’t.

Donald Trump should be excoriated for his blatant and shameful remarks. He disrespects everyone who died, and he dishonors himself. In particular, he deserves to be raked over the coals by the people of New Jersey, who have been slandered by his words.

This presidential campaign season already promises to be a depressing chapter of American history. False and pandering remarks like these should have no place in it.

Success Doesn’t Mean Making Enemies

October 14, 2015

At the end of last night’s Democratic presidential debate, the moderator quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt’s adage, “I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made,” before asking the candidates to name the enemies they’ve made during their careers.

Iterations of the quote abound, such as from Sidney Sheldon (“To be successful you need friends, and to be very successful you need enemies”) and The Social Network movie’s tagline (“You don’t get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies”). It’s repeated by self-help gurus.

That doesn’t mean it’s true.

It would have been refreshing to hear somebody challenge the basic premise of the claim. It’s a tantalizing mantra because it excuses our interpersonal failures as virtues. To say that success means making enemies is to believe that life is a zero-sum game, that every success is achieved at the expense of someone else’s failure. That everything is a fight. And it’s crap. People are confusing enemy-making with courage, with standing up for one’s beliefs, and that’s a false equivalency.

I posit that one can advocate for a position without making enemies of those who oppose you. Be courageous and assertive, but be humble. Call a spade a spade when you have to, but be respectful. This is particularly imperative for the next U.S. president, who ideally should be leading, building consensus, and forging alliances.

I’m not going to judge you by your enemies. I would rather judge you by your friends.

You Hear That Sigh of Relief?

June 26, 2015

hand_thumb_upThat sigh of relief you’re hearing across the country is because of the two landmark Supreme Court rulings this week on the Affordable Care Act and gay marriage.

I’m personally relieved about the Affordable Care Act decision. My family’s ACA-compliant health plan, with its $12,000-plus deductible, is already a major headache. But it would have graduated from headache to coronary inducing if an adverse ruling caused my monthly premiums to double as well. Antonin Scalia can troll all he wants in his dissenting opinion, but I suspect he’s too rich to empathize with what might have happened to my wife, 3- and 5-year-olds, and me had things gone the other way.

As for this morning’s decision about gay marriage, bravo. That one stirs up my dormant sense of patriotism, too. I’m happy for my gay friends across the country who’ve suffered as second-class citizens. Hopefully, this ruling will help unwind the vise of bigotry.

Letter to Editor Published

December 14, 2014

The News Leader this morning ran my letter to the editor about civics tests for high school students. Here’s what I said:

Del. Dickie Bell has proffered a civics education bill to hold back high school diplomas until students can pass an American civics test similar to that required of naturalized citizens. It sounds like a good idea, but it has troubling implications.

Why does this particular area of knowledge, but not others, warrant the special hostage-and-ransom treatment? Is it because the ability to read and write well, for example, isn’t as emotionally charged as a topic connected to immigration?

The answer to ignorance isn’t to burden high school seniors with yet another standardized test. Bell’s bill is a Band-Aid solution to a larger disease, which is the overall decline in public education caused by a lack of proper support for teachers. If you want graduates prepared to assume their civic responsibilities, then make their education a central budgetary priority rather than using it as yet another ideological tool.

Instead of wasting resources erecting barriers in front of students, let’s try nurturing them the right way. Give educators more money and not test requirements.

Matthew Warner

The house editorial is on the same subject. The editorial board didn’t really take a position (i.e., copped-out) on the separate civics test and just said civics is a topic worth learning, one way or the other.

Film Industry Tax Credits are a Good Thing

November 17, 2014

My first movie, a long four years ago. Watch it online.

The Associated Press this morning breathlessly reported that a rich Virginia lawmaker and his “politically connected father” received $1 million in tax incentives for filming a Civil War-themed movie here last year.

(In case you don’t know, receiving tax credits in exchange for filming somewhere is a normal film industry practice that often determines where production companies shoot their movies and TV shows.  The hosting state, while foregoing some tax dollars directly from the film companies, receives collateral economic benefit.  Productions require huge support apparatuses that spend lots of money on things like catering, hotels, and hiring local film crews and actors.)

Plan 9, the zombie movie I’ve been involved with, likewise received help from the Virginia Film Office in exchange for keeping the production local.  It was produced by a Virginia company, Darkstone Entertainment, which most likely would not have filmed here if not for the tax incentives.  The same goes for the Virginia lawmaker Del. Peter Farrell’s film company, Tredegar Filmworks, who stated the tax credits and grants were the primary reason they choose to shoot in Virginia.  As a Hollywood line producer said earlier this year, shopping for tax credits and rebates is “the single most important financial decision made in the earliest preparation of bringing a script to life. It wholly affects both the creative look and financial bottom line from day one.”

Another fun movie I made. No, I didn’t get any tax incentives for this one, either. Watch it online.

So what’s the problem?  Well, according to Del. Scott Surovell, the intent of the Virginia tax incentives was actually to lure Hollywood billionaires, and not Virginia legislators, to film in Virginia.  Furthermore (or so implies the subtext of the Associated Press’s reportage), Del. Farrell and his politically connected father were just too darn rich (and therefore evil) to benefit from a tax incentive.

Do you already see the contradictions here?  Del. Surovell is saying you can film here if you’re a rich Californian but not a rich Virginian. Hell, you shouldn’t even get the credit if you’re a Virginian.  Which means that a small independent company like Darkstone, for instance, should have filmed in North Carolina.  Darkstone is neither a non-Virginian company nor a large, wealthy one.

Hey, Del. Surovell, what’s the matter with a Virginia tax program that benefits Virginians?

(And, by the way, wouldn’t you rather that a period piece about Virginia history get filmed here in Virginia?)

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a Virginia controversy. Lawmakers in Maryland are torturing themselves with a similar debate over film industry tax credits. Primarily spurred over productions of “House of Cards” and “Veep,” the argument there is whether these incentives should exist at all.  A recent report to the Maryland assembly states that “for every dollar granted in credits, state and local governments received only about 10 cents in tax revenue in return.”  The report also alleges that visiting film productions don’t create lasting benefits in job creation.

Let’s assume all this is true and these incentives, which exist in 37 states, are a waste of time.  Let’s assume they’re too costly to taxpayers, don’t leave lasting positive benefits, and that they’re benefiting the wrong people.  Why then is California so absolutely desperate to keep film production local?  They even have a term for it, “runaway productions,” I guess because anything filmed elsewhere is technically running away from its true home in Hollywood.

I co-wrote this one. Alas, you can no longer watch it online.

Two January articles from the Los Angeles Daily News are fascinating.  Start with “Why TV, film production is running away from Hollywood,” and you’ll learn California hates that places like Virginia and Maryland are luring film crews away. A lot of people in the film industry can’t afford to live in California anymore because they’re no longer getting the work. Between 2005 and 2012, the California film industry lost 12,400 jobs due to the runaway effect.

To put a human face on these numbers, read “Middle-class Hollywood workers lose jobs, income when filming flees Los Angeles.”  You’ll read about people losing their homes and vehicles and having to delay starting families because their jobs are getting siphoned away.  It reminds me of when an American car factory shuts down in favor of an overseas factory because it’s cheaper to do business elsewhere.

As awful as that all sounds, these articles illustrate some basic truths that California learned long ago, and which it’s desperate to prevent Virginia and Maryland from learning: that there is big money in the movie business; it’s a major industry; and rightly managed, it can be a boon to a state’s economy.

So I encourage Virginia and Maryland to fine-tune their programs to support the movie industry. If Maryland is worried the benefits of its incentive programs are too short-term, then it should creatively seek ways to make those benefits long-term. That’s better than just scrapping the program altogether.

And Virginia . . . man, just get your head screwed on straight.

Write a Novel and Go to Jail

September 2, 2014

. . . At least that’s how it’s looking for Patrick McLaw, the eighth-grade school teacher in Maryland being punished for authoring The Insurrectionist, a novel whose synopsis begins as follows: “On 18 March 2902, a massacre transpired on the campus of Ocean Park High School, claiming the lives of nine hundred forty-seven individuals–the largest school massacre in the nation’s history.”

A read of its Amazon page shows The Insurrectionist, authored three years ago under McLaw’s pseudonym of K.S. Voltaer, to be a Hardy Boys-style thriller that pits the sleuthing skills of three high school students against an at-large serial mass murderer. The book’s sequel, Lilith’s Heir, deals with the psychological aftermath of the shooting.

Is the series any good? I intend to start reading it and find out.

Except that’s not the attitude of McLaw’s employer, the Dorchester County Board of Education, and the local sheriff’s office. As The Atlantic reports, the following reactions have ensued:

  • the author has been placed on leave from his job
  • a K-9 unit searched the school he teaches at for bombs and guns
  • the police searched his residence
  • the author’s background has been investigated
  • and the author has possibly been arrested and forced to undergo a psychological evaluation

Were any weapons found? Was any specific threat made against Dorchester schools? Does the author have a criminal record? No, no, and no.

What exactly was the probable cause for this treatment?

I and other writers find this behavior troubling and a complete overreaction. No one directly involved in this investigation appears to have even uttered the phrase “First Amendment.”

The only upside I can see to this is his books have received some terrific free press. I hope his sales pick up enough for him to hire a great attorney through the ACLU and take these people to the cleaners.