Jack Chick, RIP

Another apropos-of-nothing post, but out of the many, many famous and semi-famous people who have died in 2016, Jack Chick died on Sunday October 23.

Chick was famous, or semi-famous, for being the author or at least publisher of a vast number of little cartoon booklets printed very cheap and en masse and laid around at various places so that people would pick them up and maybe learn the Gospel, or at least Chick’s version of it.  These tracts varied wildly in artistic quality between fairly realistic comic-book style and childish-attempt-at-velvet-painting style, but the tone was always very consistent: Repent and accept Jesus (the REAL Jesus, not the fake Catholic or Episcopal Jesus) or Burn In Hell.  Not only did this tone, along with the childish art, undermine the evangelism, it also demonstrates the main flaw of so many evangelists’ approach: Not that Jesus is a loving God, but that people must be scared into submission by telling them that if they don’t obey orders in this life, they will spend Eternity in a roasting pit filled with thieves, drunkards and prostitutes.

I live in Las Vegas.  It’s not THAT bad.

But I figured I should at least share the particular Chick tract that made the strongest impression on me.

A few years ago I’d gone to the South Point hotel to attend an event, only to find that the admission line was so damn long that I couldn’t attend and still get up in time for work the next morning.  So I walked back out to my car in the parking lot, and nearby my car, on the ground, I found a Chick tract, “on the ground littering the parking lot” being the place where most of us find Chick tracts.

This particular tract was called “Who Is He?”  If you want, you can follow along.  It’s one of the free samples on Chick’s website: http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/1049/1049_01.asp  But I read it, and here’s the part that got me thinking:

Look at the power Jesus holds… IT’S AWESOME!

“For in him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible or invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: All things were created by him, and for him.”  (Colossians 1:16)

What keeps the universe from flying apart?  IT’S JESUS!

“And he (Jesus) is before all things, and by him all things consist (are held together).”  (Col. 1:17)

Jesus is in complete control.

And this really explained a lot to me.

I realized why the universe works the way it does.

You remember, when you were a kid, and you prayed that you would get a puppy on Christmas?  And you didn’t get one?  And later, you remember praying to God so that your Daddy wouldn’t lose his job so that you wouldn’t have to leave your nice home and go to a cruddy apartment, only he did lose his job and you did have to move?  And you remember years after that, when your Mom was dying of cancer, and you prayed and you prayed and you bargained and pleaded, and finally screamed for God to save her?  And she died anyway?

Well, as it turns out, there’s a reason that God didn’t answer your prayers.

It’s because He was busy keeping the universe from flying apart.

And that’s a tough job.

I mean, you know how hard it is to multitask.

Like, you’re working at your cubicle on Monday and you have to catch up on the backlog over the weekend, and you’re trying to concentrate on that, and one of your co-workers comes up to your desk asking you to look into a request he wants you to forward to HR, and you can’t handle both things at once, and you get thrown off.

Now, imagine that you’re up in Heaven, and you’re doing your job, holding the universe together, keeping all physical phenomena in maintenance, and on a stray impulse, you pick up on some frightened Yazidi girl praying over and over again that ISIS won’t capture and enslave her, and all of a sudden- WHOOPS! There goes Alpha Centauri.

So on this somber occasion, I would like to look back at the life of Jack Chick and thank him for giving Christianity some necessary perspective.

You Want To Know About Voting? I’m Here To Tell You About Voting

Early voting in Nevada started this Saturday (October 22, 2016). I just went to my local shopping mall and voted. I want to go over the choices that I made as a sort of endorsement and analysis.

President of the United States

I have already addressed my reasons for endorsing Gary Johnson and choosing a third-party candidate over one of the “real” candidates, in particular Hillary Clinton. As of October 23, fivethirtyeight.com is projecting at least a 72 percent chance for Clinton to win Nevada, with initial turnout giving the Democrats a substantial edge.  Basically, things have gotten to the point with Donald Trump’s repulsive campaign that if Hillary Clinton somehow loses the presidential race, it’s because she deserves to. And up until fairly recently, that could not be ruled out. Because until Trump, there were no other candidates more incompetent at campaigning than Hillary Clinton and more unappealing to the voting public, and I didn’t think that was possible. The difference is that Clinton doesn’t GO OUT OF HER WAY to piss people off. The question is whether someone who doesn’t endorse Hillary Clinton should officially approve her coronation especially when the result is pretty much determined already.

And given that Trump is not really an outlier in the GOP but merely the most honest expression of the ideology they’ve been building for some time,  it gets to my long term assessment of why I would rather be in a third party than one of the majors. I would rather work to refine something that doesn’t have an institutional presence than an institution that doesn’t think it needs to reform. (As anyone who voted for Sanders and then went to a Democratic state convention might testify.) And after this election, anyone who’s still registered Republican needs to consider what the future of that party is and whether it is going to turn around when it has rather clearly declared that Trumpism is what it wants. As it stands, I think a lot of the people voting for Democrats this year will be in the same mind as Will McAvoy in The Newsroom when he said, “I’m a registered Republican. I only seem liberal because I think hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure, and not gay marriage.”

I’ve also been willing to say that as a candidate in general and as an advocate for libertarianism, Johnson has screwed up. The thing that most pissed me off about Johnson’s Aleppo moment(s) was the realization that there IS NO good choice for president this year- not even on the sentimental, hypothetical level of “Gee, if only my vote was the only one that counted and it wasn’t gonna be drowned out by 65 million other people.” Because the Republican Party is that much more blatant in abandoning its public responsibility to present a serious candidate, and however qualified Hillary Clinton is, much of her resume is built on creating the stagnant economy and shaky foreign policy situation that Americans are objecting to in the first place.

I don’t think Gary Johnson is a good candidate for President. But at least he doesn’t disgust me.

United States Senate

The real problem with being a third-party voter in the short term is that your party is usually too small to run candidates in the “down-ballot” races. Take Nevada. I would like to vote for Libertarians in other offices, but the LP is not running anybody in the other federal races. The only third party that is is the Constitution/Independent American Party, which is basically where you go when you think that the Republicans are a bunch of godless pinkos. The two main candidates are Republican Joe Heck (currently a US Congressman) and Catherine Cortez Masto (formerly Nevada’s Attorney General). I don’t have anything against either candidate personally and think each did reasonably well in their prior jobs, but if the main issue other than the presidency is control of Congress and the Senate, the Republicans as a whole are sufficiently rotten and incompetent that where I didn’t get a chance to vote Libertarian, I went Democrat.

United States House of Representatives

Similarly I voted Dina Titus (Democrat) for the Congressional race for my district, since I know and like her well enough and didn’t think the other candidates matched up.

The Questions

The main issues that are up for vote in this state are the ballot questions, and these require examination in a certain level of detail. Because when you into detail it becomes clear that in many cases the question is worded in such a way as to convince people to vote for the opposite of what the ballot measure would actually do.

Question 1: Shall Chapter 202 of the Nevada Revised Statutes be amended to prohibit, except in certain circumstances, a person from selling or transferring a firearm to another person unless a federally-licensed dealer first conducts a federal background check on the potential buyer or transferee ?

I have no particular fondness for guns, but I am fond of the Constitution, including the Second Amendment. I also know that with the rate of civilian shootings in the last few years that many people have become concerned about “loopholes” to existing laws allowing people to get access to guns. The specific text of the measure says that it is intended to address the discrepancy allowing unlicensed sellers to transfer ownership of a firearm without a background check (which is now required for licensed sellers). Section 6 of the measure specifically exempts sale to law enforcement officers, sale of antique weapons, transfer to immediate family members, to trustees or executives of the owner’s estate, or temporary transfer at recognized shooting ranges and competitions. This basically covers most of the situations that “No” voters raise on the grounds of increasing bureaucracy. Arguably it doesn’t go far enough for “gun safety” advocates who say that many acts of gun violence occur within the home.

With some difficulty, I voted for Question 1, though I could have just as easily voted No. My main skepticism was whether any gun control law is actually going to accomplish its stated purpose. On balance I decided Question 1 actually accomplished the stated purpose of reducing the loophole of unregistered gun sales without creating an undue burden on private gun owners.

Question 2: Shall the Nevada Revised Statutes be amended to allow a person, 21 years old or older, to purchase, cultivate, possess, or consume a certain amount of marijuana or concentrated marijuana, as well as manufacture, possess, use, transport, purchase, distribute, or sell marijuana paraphernalia; impose a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale sales of marijuana; require the regulation and licensing of marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, distributors, suppliers, and retailers; and provide for certain criminal penalties?

This is a prime example of where what seems to be plain language on the ballot is something entirely different in the actual legal text. In this case the text states in Section 10 that a certified “marijuana establishment” cannot be located within 1000 feet of a public or private school, or 300 feet of a community facility, and to a limit of 80 licenses in a county with a population greater than 700,000. The provisions of legalization would render the possession of more than token amounts of marijuana, or the startup of a marijuana business, all but impossible to already wealthy interests. In all, the measure would be much like the 2014 measure in Ohio that failed because even legalization advocates saw it as a vehicle of established interests rather than protection of individual rights. And of course, until the Federal government re-classifies marijuana, a lot of this is technicality. I voted No on Question 2.

Question 3: Shall Article 1 of the Nevada Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to provide by law for the establishment of an open, competitive retail electric energy market that prohibits the granting of monopolies and exclusive franchises for the generation of electricity?

Most of the state is under an official energy monopoly called NV Energy, which is ostensibly regulated by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to protect consumers. However, this same PUC decided last year to remove credits that were previously given to customers of private solar energy producers by allowing them to sell power back to the main grid, a practice called “net metering.”  The irony being that such a subsidy is supposed to be how liberalism ought to work, using the power of the state to protect the consumer while promoting more progressive policies (in this case, a cleaner energy system). In practice, the power of the state is more likely to be used to protect those who already have wealth and power. Removing NV Energy’s monopoly would if nothing else remove the question of whether competitor energy providers are taking “their” energy.

I voted Yes on Question 3, with the reservation that while both Questions 1 and 2 are very detailed in their provisions, Question 3 merely states that after passage, the state legislature shall pass legislation to provide for an open energy market. Ay, there’s the rub.

Question 4: Shall Article 10 of the Nevada Constitution be amended to require the Legislature to provide by law for the exemption of durable medical equipment, oxygen delivery equipment, and mobility enhancing equipment prescribed for use by a licensed health care provider from any tax upon the sale, storage, use, or consumption of tangible personal property?

The ballot measure would add a Section 7 to the Article 10 of the state Constitution: “The legislature shall provide by law for the exemption of durable medical equipment, oxygen delivery equipment and mobility enhancing equipment prescribed for human use by a licensed provider of health care acting within his or her scope of practice from any tax upon the sale, storage, use or consumption of tangible personal property. ” So similar to Question 3, the matter is left up to the legislature. Still, this is pretty straightforward: People using durable medical equipment (DME) would not have to pay state taxes on what are often lifesaving devices and usually keep a person’s living standard from being debilitated. The main objection to Question 4 seems to be the concern that not having these taxes would create a budget shortfall, but anyone familiar with this state’s politics knows that it strains credulity to think that Nevada politicians won’t create some new consumption tax on the middle class when they want more money for something, as opposed to a tax on mining or income. I voted Yes on Question 4.

Question 5: Shall Clark County continue indexing fuel taxes to the rate of inflation, through December 31, 2026, the proceeds of which will be used solely for the purpose of improving public safety for roadway users and reducing traffic congestion by constructing and maintaining streets and highways in Clark County?

This is a Clark County (Southern Nevada) measure as opposed to a statewide measure. This simply allows the current practice of funding road construction and maintenance to be financed through fuel taxes through the next ten years. Since this is not really changing anything for the worse, I voted Yes on Question 5. Still, Las Vegas is a great rebuttal to the people who question libertarianism saying, “Without government, who would build the roads?” My response is, “We have government and taxes, and I don’t know if the roads are being built now or just ripped up.”

YOU, Democrats. They Learned It By Watching You.

The next Clinton-Trump brawl is scheduled for Wednesday October 19th, and Wednesday is a date that I usually go see friends, so I will most likely have to watch coverage after the fact. But I want to discuss certain things that have come up since, namely in regard to “Pussygate.”  As you remember, towards the end of the first debate, Hillary Clinton brought up Trump’s abuse of Miss Universe contestant Alicia Machado, the subject of which brought Trump nearly to rage even before Clinton specified Machado’s name. This caused Trump to respond that he was going to say something very bad about Clinton and her husband, but decided to stop himself. But never let Donald Trump be accused of class and restraint.

As you also know, on October 7, audio footage was released from 2005 of Trump and Access Hollywood reporter Billy Bush having an on-mic conversation about Trump’s technique with women which included the lines “you just kiss…when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything…grab them by the pussy…” While Trump was unusually defensive and willing to apologize over his 2005 quotes, he also insisted that “this is nothing more than a distraction” and “Bill Clinton has actually abused women, and Hillary has bullied, attacked, shamed and intimidated his victims.” Just the Sunday afternoon before the October 9 debate, Trump rounded up Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick, Kathleen Willey and Kathy Shelton, the first three of whom had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault or outright rape, and the latter being the plaintiff in a rape trial where Hillary Clinton was the defense lawyer who successfully plea-bargained her client’s case. Not only did these four women appear at a press conference where Trump openly accused Bill Clinton of assault, he had them appear as guests at the town hall debate that night. Since then he has told audiences that he is the victim of a great smear campaign and “character assassination”, and that the allegations against him since the Oct. 7 tape are “made up”.

Well, as many have pointed out, it isn’t Bill Clinton who’s running for president this time. Also, bad behavior on someone else’s part cannot be used to excuse bad behavior on your part. (Trump and conservatives may be unaware of this ethical principle, so it ought to be stressed at some point.) In any case, there’s also a factor of relevance. I mean, have you seen Bill Clinton lately? He’s deathly pale, near anorexic, he’s had heart problems, and cancer scares… let’s face it, his best raping days are behind him. Whereas Donald Trump is big, extroverted, and ruddy. Well, whatever that color is supposed to be. He looks like he could keep raping two, maybe three more years.

Another defense along similar lines is where Trumpers on social media show the picture of Miley Cyrus twerking her ass in front of Robin Thicke in that one awards show, or Beyonce in her stage outfit, and they’ll say something like “these are the liberals who say that Donald Trump is degrading women.” Well- for one thing, Miley Cyrus isn’t running for president either, and if she was, I would even vote for that tongue-wagging twerker before Trump. But however hypocritical or misplaced conservative criticisms of their opponents are, they aren’t totally lacking in point.

The actions of a politician or government official are potentially more corrosive to the public culture than the actions of an entertainer, partially for the obvious reason that entertainers do not have legal power over us. And because we recognize that the issue is different, we expect politicians to follow a different standard. We expect different behavior from George Clinton than from Bill Clinton.

But whether you think Ken Starr’s Whitewater investigation should have gone into the matter of Bill Clinton’s affair in the Oval Office,  or whether such a thing is a “private matter”, consider that at the time the Clinton Administration was defending a policy under which gay military members could be forcibly discharged over their private affairs, partially on grounds of being a security risk.  When you see the president flat-out lie about an affair on camera and ultimately get away with it, it does create an impression that as far he’s concerned, laws and standards only apply to others. And when you see Hillary Clinton get absolved by the FBI for security breaches that WOULD have gotten anyone else at least reprimanded, you see the same issue at play.

Of course, it wasn’t even as simple as Bill Clinton getting impeached over perjury and then found not guilty by the Senate. During the House investigation leading to impeachment, Republican head of the Judiciary Committee Henry Hyde was revealed to have had an affair in office as a state legislator almost 30 years prior. Pornographer and Democratic partisan Larry Flynt used Hustler Magazine to expose Bob Livingston (R.-Louisiana) who was expected to be the next House Speaker, but had to step down in favor of Dennis Hastert.

Contrary to Michelle Obama, the Democrat standard is not “When they go low, we go high.” It’s “when they go low, we go lower.” To be sure, it’s not the Democrats’ fault if they have that much more opposition research to work with.

The ultimate lesson here, if you’re a Democratic partisan, is that the Republicans are living in a glass house built next to a rock quarry. But Democrats need to keep in mind that all those Millennial voters (who for some reason they can’t understand, don’t trust Hillary Clinton) were not paying attention to this scandal factory right from the beginning. And if Bill Clinton is not as relevant to this election as Hillary Clinton, Hillary Clinton is a good deal more relevant than Ken Starr, Dennis Hastert or any other of the conservative meanies from the Whitewater period who either got in their own sex scandals or had to retire from public life while Clinton continued to become more important.

So if Democrats don’t understand that after all this time, Hillary Clinton’s campaign is undermined by the same defensive tactics that she used to defend her husband long ago, then they can’t understand why voters loathe both her in particular and this political system in general.

Nor is the Right unique in demonizing their enemies, nor even pioneers in that regard. I can remember “Bush Derangement Syndrome.” In certain “progressive” circles anybody to the right of Che Guevara is a Fascist. And it’s not like right-wingers aren’t taking notes. Charlie Skyes is a NeverTrump conservative talk show host in the Midwest who’s been making the rounds on MSNBC and other places giving his takes on where the conservative movement is now. Recently he decided that the culture had gotten to the point that he decided to retire his show after this year. But he gave an interview to Vox magazine about that, and I found this exchange very interesting:

Charlie Sykes

Absolutely. And you have these websites out there, like Breitbart.com, which is like reading third-world propaganda. These guys like Breitbart are smart enough to know that they’re full of shit. But if you inhabit that world, you can’t push back without being seen as a sellout.

Now I will say this one thing on the flip side. Some of these people have flocked to sites like Breitbart and they’ve retreated into these dark corners because the left has too easily tossed words like “racist” and “xenophobe” and “sexist” around.

So what’s happened is that when a guy like me or anyone or you says, hey, you know, Donald Trump is a racist and a xenophobe and a sexist. The conservative media world, the consumers, they tell me we’ve been called that for 20 or 30 years. They’ve become conditioned to blow it off as crying wolf.

Sean Illing

I think that’s a fair point.

Charlie Sykes

I’m old enough to remember that being called a racist was the worst thing, the most devastating thing you could call someone — and now it’s lost all currency. I mean, people don’t even blink at it anymore. John McCain’s a racist, Mitt Romney’s a racist, Paul Ryan’s a racist.

But when Donald Trump comes, who is the real thing, we call him that and say we didn’t really mean it about those other guys. This is who we were warning you about. It’s blown off by a lot of the conservative base.

So when you see that one side plays by certain rules and expects you to play at a disadvantage, you resent it. If you’re expected to act in good faith but they get to call you Klansmen and Nazis, you decide to fuck good faith. Fuck negotiation or even acknowledging the other side’s humanity. If they really think you’re a caricature- or know better but act like they don’t- you think there’s no point in trying to disabuse them with proofs. But then if you hold that attitude long enough, you either don’t notice or don’t care that some of your new friends on the alternative-to-being-right are REAL Klansmen and neo-Nazis.

There is a phrase I use that I am going to keep going back to, as appropriate. It is possible for two different things to be true at the same time.

A LONG time ago – a long enough time ago that it depresses me to think about how old I am – some of us judged the Lewinsky scandal and simultaneously decided that the President being an adulterous horndog was not the end of the world AND that it was still not a good thing for the country. It certainly was not a good thing that the President felt the need to commit perjury and get impeached over it. In any case, if an impeachment takes place in the Senate and they end up acquitting the defendant, then legally that’s it. Both the people and the government have spoken. The question then is, why would one bring up the matter again when it only brings up the point that you have more skeletons in the closet than Liberace’s Halloween Party, and in the broader picture, means that if we wash that one issue, forces us to consider your lack of record and competence in contrast to both Bill and Hillary’s political successes.

None of this justifies “conservatives” doubling down on immorality by supporting Trump, who magnifies all the Clintons’ vices while having none of their abilities, but if Democrats still can’t understand why some of us shake our heads at their invocation of morality, then Republicans aren’t the only ones with no sense of irony.

If Vomit Was a Political System, Yesterday Is What it Looks Like

I did not immediately follow up on the October 9 Clinton-Trump debate, partially because I need a real job to pay the bills and mainly because I have spent the other part of the last 24 hours trying to find some way to thread a Brillo pad through my nasal cavity out my ear canal so I can scour my brain.

If the first debate was a steel cage match where Donald Trump got bladed, this one was a knife fight in the depths of the Calcutta sewers. Even if you won, you still are bleeding and contaminated with toxic shit.

With Hillary Clinton, she at least got a couple of opportunities to explain her resume and speak unapologetically about her agenda, including gun control and creating a more liberal Supreme Court. But she continues to give non-answers with regard to her emails and lack of regard for their security, and when she responded to the suggestion of being “two-faced” and said that she was referring to Abraham Lincoln’s policy of having one public policy on Civil War legislation while pursuing a different private policy, Trump was able to respond by mocking her use of “Honest Abe” as a defense of her mendacity. Again, Clinton overall comes off as far more knowledgeable and competent than Trump, and can be sincere about positions she actually cares about. But she still does not come off as honest, and thus she suffers in comparison to Trump, who at least conveys the appearance of honesty even if that’s only because Trump confuses “honesty” with “having no internal monologue.”

As for “Sniffy” himself… he fought back this time.  Whatever his prior feelings about his old friends the Clintons, he has shown himself willing to take on the concerns, however warped, of the Republican base.  More than ever, Trump has answered the question, “what if AM radio could run for President?” He played all the greatest hits: Benghazi, Juanita, the emails that Hillary “acid-washed” like trendy jeans. As the pundits kept saying Sunday and today, he stopped the bleeding. But mainly in the sense that he threw red meat to the base and kept them going, which he really didn’t do last debate. He didn’t persuade the rest of us, who have been nothing but appalled by him, to find a reason to vote for him. In fact he doubled down on the offensive stupidity. He did not explain (beyond removing the barriers between states for insurance policies) how he would make a better replacement for Obamacare. He did not explain how he would straighten out Syria, beyond bombing the shit out of everything, which has worked so well up to now. He did not reduce the suspicion of his dictatorial whims when he said (in between sniffs) that he would appoint a special prosecutor to dive into Hillary’s email accounts. He certainly did not appeal to female voters, some of whom happen to be Republican.   Trump continued to insist that Pussygate was just “locker room talk” as if between Friday and Sunday, social media had not shot down, skinned and dressed that argument. And he did not reduce the impression of being “rapey” when, during Hillary Clinton’s addresses to the audience, he glowered and paced around, showing behind her in camera, stalking her like a particularly lazy and overweight lion with sleep apnea.

And next debate is a week from Wednesday. In Las Vegas. People here have no clue how to drive in optimum conditions, and here we’re going to have TWO Secret Service details on the road.

Technical Winner: Hillary Clinton. But only by virtue of NOT being Donald Trump.

Real Winners: Gary Johnson (who can only look better in comparison) and anybody who skipped this thing to watch Sunday Night Football or Ash vs Evil Dead.

Losers: Intelligence, good taste, public service and the premise of a functional republic.

The Vice-Presidential Debate

On October 4, the two running mates of the main presidential candidates, Democratic Governor of Virginia Tim Kaine and Republican Governor of Indiana Mike Pence, got together in their first and only national debate, in which the two-party system attempted to answer the question: “Which one of these two men is better suited to be president once their running mate is impeached?”

Whereas the last vice-presidential debate (Biden-Ryan) seemed fairly substantial and respectful, this one didn’t come off that well in my opinion. It didn’t even come off that well compared to the September 26 presidential debate, where at least Hillary Clinton came off as both professional and sociable. What was odd is that for the most part it was Tim Kaine who was doing all the pointless interrupting, which only gave Pence the opportunity to say “let me respond” and go off wasting time on that point rather than answer the questions that Elaine Quijano asked. Not that either one of them is that good. Both of them seemed to be composed of their respective party’s cliches about supporting working people when the person at the top of the ticket has managed to get very rich gaming the status quo. Kaine at least has the advantage of living in the reality-based community, although he didn’t benefit his party as much as Clinton did in September or Joe Biden did in 2012.

So: Kaine. Pence. Who won? The answer is obvious. Gary Johnson.

Review: Westworld

And now for something completely different.

Sunday October 2, HBO debuted its re-imagining of Westworld, which was based on a 1973 movie written and directed by Michael Crichton.  Westworld was a major example of the weird old days of 70s science fiction on film, of a piece with Rollerball, Logan’s Run and Silent Running.   In the film, there’s this major corporation running a sort of “adult” Disneyland (featuring Medieval World and Roman World in addition to West World) where the “animatronic” characters are actually androids capable of interacting with humans at almost any level.  But their programming starts to go awry (in what may be one of the first mentions of a computer virus on film), and the androids start killing the customers, so that the movie ends up as a horror-stalker scenario where star Richard Benjamin (and his 70s pornstache) is being hunted by a sinister android gunslinger (played by Yul Brynner and dressed almost exactly like his character in The Magnificent Seven).

The difference here is that in the movie the androids were an unknown Other attacking the human protagonists, while in the TV show, the human customers are largely an afterthought to the narrative, with secondary focus given to the corporate staff running the resort and maintaining the androids, with the ultimate focus going to the androids themselves, whose increasingly complex programming is causing some of them to realize that their world is artificial and everything in their lives – including their deaths – is scripted for the amusement of others.

Foremost of these androids is the pure, beautiful and ever-suffering Dolores (played by Evan Rachel Wood) who apparently exists to see her father get killed over and over again.  She and her father both start to encounter what their inventor calls “reveries” of past programming.  But since their real-time experiences occur within a repeated script, the pilot episode plays less like the Westworld movie and more like a weird cross between Groundhog Day and Deadwood.

The odd thing about this setup is that even though the android “hosts” are there as stock Western characters for human tourists, they also seem to have interaction with each other that may not be strictly necessary for the purpose of the business.  For instance, the pilot episode sets up a romance between Dolores and Teddy (James Marsden), one of the “Newcomers” who just came to town.  But then Teddy gets killed, more than once, and is revealed to be one of the hosts.  It raises the question of whether the characters were “built” to be involved with anyone else, especially since their scripts change in response to customer interaction but otherwise repeat.

Meanwhile, the evil gunslinger in black is revealed to be a human (Ed Harris), who seems to be pursuing some quest within the setting that is unexplained at this point.  Back in the company labs, the head of the programmers (veteran character actor Jeffrey Wright) is trying to integrate the new programming codes with the help of the company’s founder, Ford (Anthony Hopkins).  Ford is both gentlemanly and sinister, a man who genuinely thinks of himself as a loving God in control of the perfect world he created.  The sort of role Anthony Hopkins could do in his sleep.

Otherwise, again, the focus is away from the humans (other than a small story with Currie Graham as a deputized crimefighter) which produces a deliberately alienating effect when one sees how they treat the androids.  The female hosts (not all of whom are prostitutes) are used to prurient ends by the male guests, and when two of those guests hire Teddy as a local guide, they raise the question of whether they should take him out to the wilderness and kill him just because they can.  So once again James Marsden is cast as the nice, handsome guy who exists to get stomped on.  It seems to be his karma for some reason.

That artificiality makes the show seem rather sterile, though I’m pretty sure that’s by design.  But that, and the question of how long it will take the whole situation to blow up, raises the question of whether this premise can be stretched out past one season, although it seems like it would be a very interesting miniseries.





“No really, WHY Gary Johnson?”

That’s a question I see a lot of liberals asking on social media. The gist of the query was probably best summarized by celebrity George Takei on Twitter September 24: “Libertarian Johnson supports TPP, fracking, Citizens United, and no min wage. How any Sanders supporters could back him is baffling to me. ”

Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party presidential nominee, has gotten a lot more attention than most third-party candidates, often for the wrong reasons. But while never having much of a chance, Johnson cannot seem to be killed. Even despite his own best efforts. I had thought that this means that Johnson has learned from Donald Trump that any publicity is good publicity. But I have also said that the primary lesson of the Trump campaign is that voters will lean toward you if they identify with your own ignorance. It seems that others agree. The Christian Science Monitor had a recent article citing the polls on Johnson’s foreign policy gaffes.

“It isn’t that foreign policy doesn’t matter to young voters, although older people do place slightly more importance on it. … But the young also tend to view foreign policy differently. A 2015 study by the libertarian Cato Institute concluded that Millennials – defined here as those born between 1980 and 1997 – see the world as “significantly less threatening than their elders,” and policies drawn up to deal with foreign threats as less urgent. They’re also more supportive of international cooperation, and far less keen on the use of military force, the report found.  Both major candidates are considerably more hawkish than this standard. In comparison, Johnson’s floundering on foreign policy questions might seem relatively benign. ”

Indeed, his polls don’t seem to be going down. The same article says, “The lapse didn’t hurt him in the polls: for months, about 7 or 8 percent of likely voters have said they would support him.  His peak, of just over 9 percent? According to polling averages from RealClearPolitics, it came from Sept 8-14: the days immediately following the first incident.”

And more than that: On September 27, Johnson was endorsed by the Detroit News.  This was followed two days later by his most prominent newspaper endorsement to date, when the Chicago Tribune officially endorsed Johnson for president.

In context, what makes these endorsements that much more remarkable is that they were issued AFTER Gary Johnson started having his “Aleppo moments.”

I direct the reader to the Tribune article, because it’s one of the better opinion columns I’ve read on this subject and the 2016 campaign in general. It goes over why (despite his problems) Gary Johnson is a serious and qualified candidate for President, and why Clinton, despite her obvious superiority to Trump, has too many problems to endorse, addressing much the same points that I did earlier, but in much greater journalistic detail.

I’m sure these editors, like the rest of us, are perfectly aware that “third” parties don’t win elections, at least for president, because to get Electoral College votes you need to win at least one state, and third parties don’t have enough votes to do that (without effectively supplanting one of the other ruling parties) and they certainly don’t have those votes this year.  Knowing that, and knowing that other conservative papers have endorsed Clinton, I take these endorsements to be a “no confidence vote” in our political system from a center-to-Right community that is not “with Hillary” and also recognizes that the Republican Party, at least currently, is too broken to fix.

What then of all those lefty “progressive” Millennials who supposedly should be voting for Clinton? Why are they looking at the “neoliberal”, pro-market, pro-privatization Gary Johnson and preferring him to Hillary Clinton or even Jill Stein? It’s actually a good question.

Because if I were a “progressive”, I’d probably follow the logic of Bernie Sanders: Run for the Democratic Party nomination on the premise that they are a more effective vehicle for my ideas than the Green Party or an independent run, and if I win the nomination (unlikely given my lack of network in the party), that’s great and I can move on to the general election. If I don’t win (likely because of the structure of the party) I can still use my support base to agitate for reform of the convention platform- and at that point, I will endorse the eventual nominee on the premise that she now IS the most effective vehicle for my ideas.

Of course I’m not a progressive, but broadly speaking, the Democrats have done a fair job adapting to that community, to the extent that the party has experienced less internal dissent than the Republicans with their civil war of Tea Partiers versus “Republicans In Name Only”. But a lot of leftists do remember that Bill and Hillary Clinton didn’t seriously endorse gay marriage until after the Obama Administration did. With the Affordable Care Act, there were several opportunities to make the final project more “progressive” and closer to single-payer (like the public option) than the corporatist project that the ACA became. And the main reason it had to be compromised down was not to win Republicans, who were already a bloc against any Obama legislation but were not yet a majority, but moderate (often pro-corporate) Democrats. Not only that, Senator Barack Obama had promised as a candidate to roll back the security state that George W. Bush and Congress had created in the wake of 9-11, and his record in that area has been uneven at best. And if a young and woke Barack Obama has proved disappointing by “progressive” standards, they won’t be much more enthused by Hillary, who as Senator voted for an Iraq invasion that Senator Obama opposed.

It’s pretty clear that just from the standpoint of not making things worse, a center-to-Left voter ought not to choose Trump, or even to abstain from voting Clinton if she is the most realistic way of stopping Trump. But on economic issues at least, a lot of voters are seeing “progress” only in drips and drops, often despite and not because of the Democratic Party. This is why a lot of them supported Bernie Sanders in the first place. And the way that ended up is part of why they still don’t trust Clinton.

During the Clinton-Sanders run to the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton ended up winning a majority of states without counting superdelegates, although there were several states where results were close enough and tabulations were vague enough that the outcome was in doubt, and Sanders voters felt the need to investigate. The state of Nevada was the most prominent example. Under the caucus process, which is questionable to begin with, Clinton ended up winning a majority in Nevada, but that simply meant electing delegates to represent candidates at the county conventions, which would then send delegates to the state convention to vote at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. To the surprise of the Democratic Party in Clark County, more Sanders people showed to the Clark County convention than Clinton people, despite their pre-emptive suspension of the party credentials chairwoman for allegedly being pro-Sanders. So going into the State convention, Sanders people had a technical majority, except that this time the party got more Clinton people to show up. According to party rules, delegates had to be approved by two-thirds voice vote, which party chairwoman Roberta Lange ruled for Clinton. Even a Politifact article which was sympathetic to the party position conceded “trying to determine the outcome of a voice vote from a video of around 3,000 delegates is somewhat arbitrary to begin with. The only person with authority to call for a different voting mechanism is the convention chair: Lange.” And: “Volunteers circulating the petitions changing the rules abandoned their efforts after the permanent rules were adopted, saying they missed their chance to introduce them. Either way, any rule change would require a two-thirds majority vote which would be highly unlikely given the Clinton campaign’s public opposition to any rules changes.”

Now with me, I think that the September 26 debate proved Clinton to be far superior to Trump in both knowledge and temperament, while Johnson is getting problematic in both areas (although STILL better than Trump). But the liberals ‘shakin my head’ as to why Sanders fans would pick Johnson apparently didn’t remember that the lackluster past eight years inspired a “change” campaign with both Trump and Sanders after Obama’s “change” failed to give us much. They forget that some of us were physically present (and posting on social media in real time) about the “Democratic” establishment ginning the results at party conventions. And establishment liberals look at something like Secretary Clinton’s email issues (which the press has obfuscated as much as illuminated) and ask why she is considered “untrustworthy” as though not being forthright on email security was one isolated reason why she would be considered untrustworthy.

This undermines the final promise of the Sanders campaign: that even in the likely event that he lost the nomination, he would still have an influence. A party establishment that goes to such lengths to control results can’t be trusted to maintain its promises more than it absolutely has to. Yes, a lot of the dissenters are grousing because they’re “kids who don’t understand how the world works”, but I’m not sure that anybody who gets into American politics for the first time would come away thinking that it DOES work.

And a lot of those folks look around and if they’ve rejected the Green Party (because it has that much less organization, registration and exposure than the Libertarians) they look at the Libertarian Party and think, “okay, these guys aren’t really aligned with me on a lot of things, but they are with me on some things, and they seem like they would actually LISTEN.”

Not only that, but there’s the impression that Donald Trump could be a Central Casting villain recruited by a Democratic focus group to trigger all the buttons of feminist/liberal support networks, AND is so incompetent at running his own campaign that he might as well be throwing the race, and it just contributes to a sense that the fix is in.

Indeed, this resistance (subconscious or otherwise) to the establishment foist of Queen Hillary the Inevitable would explain not only why the anti-Trump majority hasn’t fully rallied around Clinton but why Trump remains competitive in the polls despite his kamikaze debate performance in September, not to mention despite objective reality.