Democrats Must Stand for Something

I am a Maryland voter and (for now) a registered Democrat. I sent the following e-mail to Sen. Ben Cardin:

Dear Senator Cardin,

Ben CardinI found your name on a list of Democratic Senators who have not pledged to filibuster the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch for the US Supreme Court. I hope you will take action to remove your name from that list. We were implored to vote for Hillary Clinton because of the Supreme Court, but any Democrat who caves in to this nomination by the Trump Administration makes me feel like a chump. The reasons for opposing the railroading of this regressive judge through the confirmation process are legion:

Judge Gorsuch has a history of comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

Judge Gorsuch favored the “Hobby Lobby” decision in its absurd assertion that corporations have religious beliefs that must be protected, despite the fact that health benefits are part of compensation.

Judge Gorsuch callously ruled against the “frozen trucker” (dissent in TransAm Trucking v. Administrative Review Board), showing an inflexible determination to uphold the rights of corporations over their employees, even when a human life is at stake.

Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court hands Donald Trump a mandate to govern from the far right and rewards unprecedented Republican obstruction of the Merrick Garland nomination. Democrats need to stand for something.

Neil GorsuchJudge Gorsuch has repeatedly ruled against the rights of disabled students (Thompson R2-J School District v. Luke P. and A.F. v. Española Public Schools). He wants to make it harder for federal agencies to enforce laws passed by Congress. He has questionable views on workers’ rights protections, access to abortion, voting rights, money in politics reform, LGBTQ rights and more.

Judge Gorsuch has no understanding of sexual harassment in real life (Pinkerton v. Colorado DOT), has no sense of outrage at excessive use of force by police (Wilson v. City of Lafayette), and cares neither for the right to counsel (Williams v. Jones), not for the life of a patient needing extended leave to save her life (Hwang v. Kansas State University).

Yes, there has never been a successful partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. A Democrat-led partisan filibuster would be the first in U.S. Senate history, breaking centuries of precedent. But there has never before been so radical a move by one party (the Republicans) to block for 293 days a qualified nominee (Merrick Garland). And although there is a risk that Republicans will change the rules on the filibuster, they probably will do it, anyway. Let us not act out of fear.

Please add your voice to growing call to filibuster the nomination that should have gone to Merrick Garland: rewarding the bad behavior of Republicans in blocking that nomination is not the way to endear yourself to the voters who supported you. Thank you.

PS: I’m not alone in this.

Posted in Uncategorized

Liberal Genocide & Hypocrites

Reposted from SocioPentothal: A last haven of truth
Original posting 3/10/2017

Watch the video below… Then read on.

Liberal Genocide

Facts, evidence, truth. They are the result of objective reasoning, investigation, and rigorous testing. They are not manifestations of wild, ignorant imaginations. And yet, in the video you just watched, the number of lies being preached to the minions of madness in attendance, speaks volumes to the great hypocrisy of GOP politicians and their mindless, ignorant, xenophobic, racist, white male dominated, female subjugated, despicable waste of humanity followers. Three months into the new administration – and quite possibly the most corrupt administration to have ever led the country – the same lies used to subvert reality and put the GOP into the driver’s seat of the United States, are still being used to push an agenda that is far darker than simply trying to win an election. The very core of all these lies is a festering pustule of hate that welcomingly embraces and celebrates genocidal tribalism. It’s a grotesque side of humanity that some countries around the world have been unfortunate enough to experience first-hand. Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Rwanda, Bosnia-Herzegovina, ISIL’s genocide of Yazidis… These are just some of the genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries driven by intense hatred of others for whatever insidious excuse. But now…

Watch the video again. Listen to the intense vitriol, barbaric hatred, and the insidious dehumanization of Liberals, Muslims, Jews, and others, by the speakers and interviewees. Pay close attention to the manner with which they deliver their messages. It wreaks of a thirst for blood. It smacks of racial, religious, and political purity, of tribalism, of authoritarianism, of fascism.  And all of it spewing from the minds and out of the mouths of people who, FOR YEARS AND YEARS, claimed to be “Patriots”! This is a political party that SWORE that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were sacred, and that freedom and liberty for all was irreproachable!


“Lock her up!”  “If she really is that Jewish, she should go back to her country, that girl right there.” Obama’s birth certificate is fake. “The Democratic party is anti-American… they’re liars and cheaters… and they want to wipe us out.  We need to wipe them out!”  “I just want to let them know that I can’t wait for the Liberal genocide to begin. That’s the way to make America great again because Liberals are destroying the country.” These are just a few of the statements from the video you just watched. How reprehensible and frightening do you find these statements? Personally, I’m not surprised. The GOP propaganda juggernaut has been in full swing for nearly 30 years. It has been tremendously potent, fact free, and completely dedicated to seizing power at all costs. Party before country.  At the same time, the GOP has repeatedly laid sole claim to a moral high ground that is best described as “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” or simply “I don’t recall.” Add to this disgusting display of hypocrisy the fellatio-fest they have with the Religious Right every election cycle, portraying themselves as the keepers of liberty… Well, you get the vomitus picture. Anyway…

I can’t tell you how many times a day for the past 30 years I’ve heard the GOP called hypocrites. Politicians, pundits, radio show hosts, TV hosts, voters… If they are GOP, they seem to be immune to the conventional meaning of the word and the implications of it.  But I have a theory as to why the word doesn’t appear to have any impact on them. First, the GOP engages in, what psychologist’s call, “projection.” This is a bad thing.

Wikipedia calls Psychological Projection “a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”

The word Hypocrisy, as most sensible and sane folks understand it, is not complimentary. And Wikipedia would seem to agree: “Hypocrisy is the contrivance of a false appearance of virtue or goodness, while concealing real character or inclinations, especially with respect to religious and moral beliefs; hence in general sense, dissimulation, pretense, sham. It is the practice of engaging in the same behavior or activity for which one criticizes another.”

I propose that the GOP doesn’t consider projection as something bad, therefore, to be called a hypocrite is simply a compliment?

Posted in Uncategorized

Today’s lesson

Blogger’s Note: This post is adapted from a letter/email sent recently to a Russian-born friend who emigrated years ago and is still fascinated by American culture. ~Rm

overtheedgeToday’s lesson is about “Groupthink.” I know it sounds like a word from George Orwell, or perhaps from Russian propaganda, but Groupthink resides in groups that consider the minimization of conflict and the maximization of group cohesion to be more important than critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints. I used to teach this concept when I was a speech communication teacher in community college – incidentally, one of the most personally and intellectually rewarding periods of my unusual career.

Groupthink is usually considered dysfunctional and unproductive. For these reasons – and because it discourages individual initiative and independent thinking – it has always been quite popular as a model for hierarchical groups such as capitalist corporations, government agencies and, most notably, mainstream news organizations. Here are some examples.

Iran is the enemy

Most mainstream news organizations unquestioningly parrot the Trump Regime’s lie that Iran (a) has a nuclear weapons program and (b) that its recent (failed) missile test shows that it wishes to break out of the JCPOA negotiated with great skill by the Obama Administration (who also repeated the lie that Iran has a nuclear weapons program). (The JCPOA is the 2015 Iran Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an amendment to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which was signed not just by the U.S., but also by China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany.)

However, nuclear weapons experts from around the world, including those within the U.S. intelligence community, agree that (a) is not true and that the Trump Regime’s over-reaction via unilateral sanctions to (b) is based on a deliberate misinterpretation of the facts: Iran is “on notice” –  whatever that means –  but Iran was never banned from testing “conventional” weapons, nor did Iran ever agree to refrain from doing so. Indeed, like any sovereign nation, Iran has the right to defend itself from external aggression and any sanctions must be agreed to by all JCPOA parties. But the mainstream media plays along with the Trump Regime’s position: Groupthink.

China is the enemy

The Trump Regime, like the Obama Administration before it, accuses China of unfair currency manipulation. But, oh, facts: The world’s second-largest economy behind the U.S. hasn’t manipulated its currency to aid its trade position in years.

And how like our “enemies” we wish to become! The Trump Regime wishes to build a Wall on the southern U.S. border to keep out the “bad hombres” that can’t bypass it by flying or boating into the country – a wall that promises to be just as effective as the Great Wall of China, that is, not effective at all. (As the saying goes, “Show me a 10-foot wall and I’ll show you an 11-foot ladder.”) However, the mainstream media dutifully plays along: Groupthink.

So, of course, Anthropogenic Climate Deterioration (aka, Global Warming or Climate Change) is a Chinese plot to undermine U.S. trade. But, oh, facts: 97.1% of scientists with expertise in the field endorse the consensus position that humans are causing global warming, so the contrary position – and the attempt by the Trump Regime to silence dissent within the government and kill the EPA – exist to enforce conformity and discourage thinking outside the fossil-fuel box. In other words, Groupthink.

There may be war

Steve Bannon, the chief advisor to Der Orangeführer, and a former editor of a right-wing publication (“Breitbart”) and currently an unabashed white supremacist, says there’s “no doubt about” war in the South China Sea (with China). Of course, opposing China will require working with Russia and – surprise! – that is precisely why the Trump Regime is so friendly with the strongman-controlled, former Soviet nation. Again, the mainstream media play along, as if they believe it is too difficult, or too tendentious, to separate truth from fiction. Groupthink.

Russia is the enemy

The mainstream media have such difficulty with this one! On the one hand, the Trump Regime is soft on Russia. On the other hand, the mainstream media hew to the Democratic Party line that Russia is the reason that Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election to Der Orangeführer. The Democrats believe that Russia “hacked” the 2016 election. And the Groupthink of the DNC informs the Groupthink of the mainstream media.

But, oh, facts; oh, logic! Are the DNC seriously saying that Russia wrote the emails showing the DNC’s thumb on the scale against Bernie Sanders? That Russia made Hillary Clinton the most unpopular Democratic candidate in history? That Russia made Clinton ignore her working class base in favor of her corporate masters? That Russia forced Clinton to make speeches to her banker buddies? That Russia persuaded Clinton not to campaign in three “swing states” she desperately needed to win the election? If so, Russia really is evil!

Furthermore, as Consortium News points out, “This CIA-initiated narrative that Putin somehow rigged the election for Trump has become an accepted wisdom not only in Official Washington but among much of the Democratic Party and within the progressive movement. Little interest is shown toward the lack of evidence provided by the U.S. intelligence community and the dubious reasoning involved, since it would have been a huge gamble for Putin to have interfered in the U.S. election and then faced the likely outcome of an angry President Hillary Clinton seeking revenge once she took office.” Again, Groupthink.

Turn off your TV

So what is my advice? Turn off your TV, put away your New York Times, your Wall Street Journal and your Washington Post. Seek out independent sources of news (if news still interests you) because Groupthink infects mainstream (corporate-controlled) news sources. They cannot be trusted without corroboration. But whatever you do, trust the evidence of your eyes and ears, not the Groupthink of the Trump Regime or the tweets of Der Orangeführer.

It has been said that war is when your government tells you who the enemy is; revolution is when you figure it out for yourself. So fasten your seat belt. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Posted in Uncategorized

The New America – Authoritarians, Fascists, Doomed

Reposted from SocioPentothal: A last haven of truth
Original posting 1/17/2017


“They attacked liberalism because it seemed to them the principle premise of modern society; everything they dreaded seemed to spring from it: the bourgeois life, Manchesterism, materialism, parliament, and the parties, the lack of potential leadership. Even more, they sensed in liberalism the source of all their inner sufferings. Theirs was a resentment of loneliness; their one desire was for a new faith, a new community of believers, a world with fixed standards and no doubts, a new national religion that would bind all Germans together. All this, liberalism denied. Hence, they hated liberalism, blamed it for making outcasts of them, for uprooting them from their imaginary past, and from their faith.”
~Fritz Stern, “The Politics of Cultural Despair: A Study in the Rise of the Germanic Ideology” (1961)

If you replace the word “Germans” with “Americans” in the above quote, the paragraph is terrifying. And it should be. Because the Republican party, Donald Trump and his cabinet, and Trump voters, have embraced this ideology to the letter. Anyone or anything that the Right disagrees with is automatically considered, labeled, condemned to be “liberal” and must be expunged from the American landscape. It’s time for a New America!

Authoritarians Anyone?

Donald Trump and the Republican party are authoritarian by nature. To them, everything in their fantasy world is black and white. Evil or good. Their world is one of absolutes. They’re terrified of the shades of gray (and brown) in the uncertain world of reality. They have rooted themselves in an imaginary past, where the history of the United States is perfect, sanctified, and sacred. The only thing that stands between them and living in this imaginary past under a vengeful, righteous god, is anyone who disagrees with them. And it is here where they have nested their authority to subjugate, rule, and conquer.

Fascists Please

In the book “American Fascists – The Christian Right and the War on America”, author Chris Hedges lays out 14 ways of identifying what he calls “Ur-Fascism”. Below are some of the 14 ways which are applicable to the Republican mindset today.

Hedge’s writes:

“3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore, culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Hermann Göring’s fondness for a phrase from a Hanns Johst play (“When I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun”) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals”, “eggheads”, “effete snobs”, and “universities are nests for reds.” The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.”

This should sound familiar… Climate deniers, creationists, anti-vaccination zealots, home schoolers… These are just some of the folks who take irrationalism to new heights of absurd. It is here that we find the most robust rejection of facts and evidence, and the afterbirth of the slimy scourge of fake news. Here, I’m reminded of a quote from “Idiot America – How Stupidity Became a Virtue in the Land of the Free” by Charles P. Pierce:

“But Idiot America is a collaborative effort, the results of millions of decisions made and not made, to reduce everything to salesmanship. Debate becomes corrupted argument, in which every point of view is just another product, no better or worse than all the others, and informed citizenship is abandoned to the marketplace.”

Fox News? Breitbart? Name your poison! Moving on… Back to “American Fascists – The Christian Right and the War on America”

Hedges continues:

“4. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.”

Disagree with the fascist Right? You’re a liberal, communist, atheist, pig! You’re not a “patriot”!

“5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus, Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.”

This should sound VERY familiar. The war against civil rights is well documented. More so, the current legislative assaults on immigrants, people of color, and others who hold different religious viewpoints, underscores this one well.


“Before they seize power and establish a world according to their doctrines, totalitarian movements conjure up a lying world of consistency which is more adequate to the needs of the human mind than reality itself; in which, through sheer imagination, uprooted masses can feel at home and are spared never-ending shocks which real life and real experiences deal to human beings and their expectations. The force possessed by totalitarian propaganda – before the movements have the power to drop iron curtains to prevent anyone’s disturbing, by the slightest reality, the gruesome quiet of an entirely imaginary world – lies in its ability to shut the masses off from the real world.”
~Hannah Arendt “The Origins of Totalitarianism” (1951)

Yes. That about sums up where we are right now. And it is where we are right now that leads me to believe, based on the facts and evidence at hand, that we are truly doomed. The United States of America, the people, and the country’s institutions, will be tested as never before. Unfortunately, I cannot foresee any of us surviving this onslaught. The coffin has been built, the lid is wide open. All that’s left for us to do is to lay down and close our eyes one last time. That shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve closed our eyes to the possibility of this for a long time.

(Reposted from SocioPentothal: A last haven of truth. Original posting 1/17/2017)

Posted in Uncategorized

This Will Not End Well


Reposted from SocioPentothal: A last haven of truth
Original posting 1/8/2017

Everybody’s got a bomb,
We could all die any day
But before I’ll let that happen,
I’ll dance my life away

– Prince, 1999

The new millennium was saddled with many theories as to how it would begin. Most of those theories claimed that the year 2000 would be the beginning of the end, if not the end. The end of life. The end of civilization. The end of the world. Fortunately, and unfortunately, none of those theories would materialize. The Y2K bug bugged out, and 2000 began as 1999 had ended. Uneventful. Uninteresting. Just another year gone by. Seventeen years later, the year 2017 has arrived to the very real and thundering sound of blazing guns on the deck of a nationalist, fascistic, imperialistic dreadnought. The smell of war hangs thick in the air on the fresh gunpowder smoke of Trumpism. It’s Trumpism now that threatens the world stage with imminent destruction at the hands of its narcissistic, lying, cheating despot, and his merry band of tyrannical robber baron’s. This will not end well. Y2K would have been so much easier.

Buyer’s Remorse

Social Security. Medicare. Obamacare. Planned Parenthood. These are just a few of the issues that are now being threatened by Trump and his GOP brown-shirts. The “Swamp” that Trump promised to drain has been stocked with corporate SS (super sharks) ready to devour these programs that many people, who voted for Trump, use and badly need. Meanwhile, the brown-shirts of the GOP majority Congress, are still trying to decide if they’re more afraid of the electorate, or Der Pumpkin Führer. Some Trumpettes (Der Pumpkin Führer voters) are slowly coming back to reality over these programs and are having a hard time holding their right arms high enough to appease the Reich. Buyer’s remorse?

This will not end well.

Check it at The Door

A recent poll by Center for American Progress Action Fund found that 56-61% of Trump voters want the Democrats to be a “check and balance” on Der Pumpkin Führer. After all the demonizing of liberals, independents, LGBT’s, and anyone else who disagrees with them? They want the Democrats to keep Der Pumpkin Führer and the SS in check? After threats of violence and civil unrest the Trumpettes want the rest of us to contain any of the Füh·rer’s indiscretions? Nope. They need to own it, reap what they’ve sown:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

This will not end well.

The Palace Guard

What do Trump’s private security and the Secret Service have in common with each other besides being associated with Der Pumpkin Führer? Nothing really. Der Pumpkin Führer’s private security reflects his distrust of government… The very government he plans on conquering and commanding. The Secret Service is charged with protecting the President of the United States, risking their lives to ensure that POTUS is kept safe at all times, no matter what party the President belongs to, or the ideological bent of his or her political philosophy.

Der Pumpkin Führer has no rational reason to fear the personal protection of the Secret Service. Perhaps the word “rational” isn’t appropriate in this context? Could it be that Der Pumpkin Führer knows just how badly he’s despised by the POPULAR MAJORITY of the electorate? “I’ll be GREAT for America! So, just sit down, shut up… Guards! Guards!”

This will not end well.

Bad Influences

Der Pumpkin Führer is going to be da boss. Mafia reference aside, there are bad bosses. And according to at the University of Manchester’s Business School, bad bosses are bad for your health and reputation.

Lead researcher Abigail Phillips said:

“Overall the picture is clear leaders high in dark traits can be bad news for organisations (sic). Those high in psychopathy and narcissism have a strong desire for power and often lack empathy. This toxic combination can result in these individuals taking advantage of others, taking credit for their work, being overly critical, and generally behaving aggressively. In other words, leaders high in psychopathy and narcissism are more likely to be bullies.

Workplace bullying is obviously unpleasant for the target but also creates a toxic working environment for all involved. In short, bad bosses, those high in psychopathy and narcissism, have unhappy and dissatisfied employees who seek to ‘get their own back’ on the company.”

Hmmmm… “…‘get their own back’ on the company”? Sounds so much like the makings of a Greek tragedy.

This will not end well.

This Will Not End Well

I’m reminded of a story I heard quite a few years ago… After a rash of deadly car accidents, the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety asked volunteer Oklahoma drivers for permission to install audio recording devices in their cars. Officials wanted to know what was being said in the brief moments before each accident. They were hoping the recordings could shed some light on the causes. After several months, more accidents, and finally some analysis of the recordings, officials announced their findings by playing back the recordings for the public. What was heard was nothing short of astounding. In every single instance, some variation of the following was said…

“Hey! Hold my beer and watch this!”

America has the recording of the moments before this pending crash. Yep. And this will not end well.

It’s time to party like it’s 1999… and long for Y2K.

(Reposted from SocioPentothal: A last haven of truth. Original posting 1/8/2017)

Posted in Uncategorized

Palimpsest: My Take on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

I mentioned to selected friends that I was planning on seeing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the 2016 film that has raked in ungodly amounts of cash at the box office. I wasn’t planning on writing a full review, but with an 85% approval rating on “Rotten Tomatoes,” I have a few of my own thoughts to share. No spoilers, I promise.

rogue1Was it worth watching? At over two hours run time, it had better be. I can’t say that I was bored, but I honestly have a few “issues” with the film. On the plus side, those who subscribe to the “great man” (or in this case, “great woman”) theory of history will no doubt take comfort in the recognizable if stereotypical characters in this drama. Those to whom hackneyed, predictable dialog is not an impediment to enjoying over two hours that foreshadow the original (1977) Star Wars film will enjoy this film. The action sequences mimic every World War II film you’ve ever seen or heard, yet they fit in well with the storyline of sacrifice for something larger than oneself. And when has sacrifice been popular? Also, I applaud the inclusion of female and black/brown/Asian heroes.

I’m not sure that watching in IMAX 3D really enhanced the experience, but I gave it a go. As for characters, I enjoyed the re-programmed imperial droid who had a personality that wasn’t as grating as that of C-3PO. The female hero – we used to call these heroines before that apparently became sexist and demeaning – becomes even more heroic after the greatest personal tragedy in her life. There were a couple of digitally resurrected characters from the original Star Wars. The only character I really took issue with was the blind monk who tries to feel The Force: why can’t we stop patronizing blind people by endowing them with superior insights and miraculous powers?

I’ve been criticized before (I think a more accurate term would be “lambasted”) for saying that I think the Star Wars genre is fiction for teenagers who can’t handle the more grown-up themes and near-atheism of the Star Trek universe. In my opinion, Star Wars is about video game battles and simple-minded good vs. evil conflicts: it’s action-adventure and thrills and chills, like a roller coaster. By contrast, the Star Trek series (if not the films) is so nuanced about the concepts of good and evil that it often dispenses with any true villains and any clear-cut solutions. But for the most part, Star Trek solutions don’t include violence. Indeed, in the Star Trek universe, the use of violence is seen as a failure of intellect.

I digress. For Rogue One, and the entire Star Wars universe, there is one thing I simply can’t get past: The Force.

I think George Lucas invented The Force to appeal to the “spiritual-but-not-religious” crowd of young people who, and I think with good reason, feel disaffected from mainstream religion and who may be too timid to reject belief in the supernatural altogether. It has been called “a religion for the secular age,” but to me, The Force is a palimpsest: something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form. Basically, The Force is a mash-up of early Christian faith, ESP/telekinesis, Zoroastrianism, Taoism, Buddhism and a vague connectedness of all life – even over vast distances of space and across vast differences among species. In my estimation, The Force is a cheat code in the video-game Star Wars universe, suggesting a belief in the supernatural without endorsing any specific religion and premised on the existence of the supernatural and distinct ideas of good vs. evil.

But in the Star Wars universe, The Force is used variously as duct tape over plot holes, a bright line separating good vs. evil, a firmament separating the elect from the masses. It is naturally hierarchical and therefore undemocratic. Sure, everybody has the potential to tap into The Force – but, as with Christian theology, you have to believe it before you will see it. That is the exact opposite of how science and empiricism work, and these two human inventions are the cornerstones of an evidence-based approach to reality.

Taken on its own terms The Force isn’t complicated, it’s just old spiritual wine slapped with a new label. But in an adventure film aspiring to be about rebellion and sacrifice for a greater cause, I question the relevance of the veneer of mystical mumbo-jumbo. Generally for the franchise, but specifically for Rogue One, if you intend to tell a human story, The Force just seems so unnecessary.

Posted in Uncategorized

It’s a Wonderful Lie

For Christmas 2016

First published 11/2/2002

There has to be some halfway point between being an abuser and being a doormat. Are the only choices in life being Mr. Potter and being George Bailey? Because It’s a Wonderful Life presents me with that bleak choice, I hate the message while I praise the craftsmanship.

For me, it’s personal. I don’t in any way think myself that paragon of moral virtue portrayed by Jimmy Stewart (as George Bailey) in the Frank Capra film: as far as I know, I never saved anyone’s life; never restored anyone’s faith or reputation; never changed anyone’s existence; never seriously considered suicide. Yet I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling myself forced into the George Bailey mold: I really don’t think it’s better to stay home than to trot the globe; I really do think I can do good work (or good works) and feel fulfilled elsewhere. I have never in my life felt an emotional attachment to any particular place. Never have I felt the sense of home in any place that I have lived any more than in any other. Everything seems to pull me back and keep me rooted here at home in the Washington-Baltimore area — yet what I yearn for most of all is to be a traveler. I’ve done a little of it, but enough to know that I love it. I really like airplanes and trains and new places and varied peoples.

So I don’t think It’s a Wonderful Life speaks to me — or of reality. George Bailey was given the chance by Clarence the angel (Henry Travers) to see what life in Bedford Falls would have been like had he (George) never been born. George found out that he had made a difference in the lives of many other people. But what he didn’t get to see was what life would be like if he had made different choices, or if he had done almost all of those other things and then left for college as planned, made his fortune (like the friend whose wife he got), and become a benefactor of Bedford Falls — the anti-Potter. He had the moral backbone for it:


“Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you’re talking about,
they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.
Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of
decent rooms and a bath?”

The same beneficial result could have come to the town if George had taken the plastics job offered by the same friend. Who knows? Maybe he could have bought out old Potter!

George Bailey never found out how the world might have been better without him — after all, there are some people the world would be better off without! That scenario, obviously, wouldn’t have tied in neatly with Capra’s simplistic, uplifting message (based on the story by Philip Van Doren Stern). But in real life, as opposed to Wonderful Life, people make bad choices, in addition to the good ones. And they hurt other people: often unintentionally, sometimes intentionally. And they miss opportunities to make good choices, or to do good, by not being in the right place at the right time. Or they fail to rise to a challenge, either through lack of skill, or lack of preparation, or lack of courage.

As I think of it, all of these things describe me and not George. So why has mine been a wonderful life, for all that? I’ve been fortunate in so many things in my life. I don’t want to appear ungrateful, even though I have been unsuccessful in the one thing I believe would make me happiest: I want to make a difference in the world, not just warming up one dark corner of it. Wetting my pants wearing a dark suit would give me a warm feeling, too, but nobody would notice.


You sit around here and you spin your little webs and you think the whole world
revolves around you and your money! Well, it doesn’t, Mr. Potter!
In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you were nothing but
a scurvy little spider.

It doesn’t help people like me, who don’t believe in angels, that George had this revelation, this epiphany of how his life was so wonderful after all, as the result of semi-divine intervention. I don’t believe there’s an angel looking over my shoulder, ready to intercede with a Wonderful Life story should I one day stand on the brink of suicide. If angels are among us, it must be admitted that they are mostly incompetent: they either failed to prevent — or somehow encouraged? — the multitudes of suicides who are “successful.”

And while I’m on the subject (since angels, in the popular imagination, are a peculiarly Christian concept), if there’s anything compelling in the modern Christian theology, and there isn’t much, its the idea of redemption. Yes, I’m sure the Christians borrowed it, as they borrowed most everything else, from one demolished pagan sect or another. Who invented the idea of redemption isn’t important; who fully realized it is. And there is something about the idea that a man or a woman can get a second chance in life that appeals to me. Perhaps that’s why I like films such as Groundhog Day (1993) so much better than It’s a Wonderful Life. Phil Connors was a defective personality redeemed by the love for a woman. To me that’s more believable than a near-perfect human being redeemed by an angel.

As another example: The Fugitive (also 1993) is about redemption, but in a different way. Richard Kimble was a good man falsely accused. Like Phil, Richard had to redeem himself, but unlike Phil, the redemption was public rather than private: Phil had to become a better person before he could be loved by the woman of his dreams; Richard had to re-prove he was a good person before he could be accepted again by the world. If Richard’s was a fall from grace; Phil’s was an earning of grace.

It’s a Wonderful Life is about redemption, too. George is in despair and on the brink of suicide and along comes an angel and he’s redeemed. But therein lies the problem for me. George didn’t really earn that redemption; his redemption was handed to him. Worse, it was handed to him by a creature that doesn’t, and can’t, exist. I can’t accept divine intervention in human affairs: I don’t believe it’s possible and, even if it were, its not something we really want — not if we want to call our achievements our own.

Suppose for a moment that divine intervention is true and does happen. What would be the consequences? I believe the world would be even more chaotic than it appears now. We couldn’t trust the painstakingly compiled observations we call the laws of nature. People would accuse divinity of playing favorites. Instead of honest asserters of uprightness, humanity would be reduced to sniveling supplicants for support. If we can fall back on prayer and supplication to solve our problems, rather than relying on ourselves and each other, what’s the point of striving to better ourselves? Counting on divine intervention — expecting miracles — is how we become slaves rather than masters; how we become less morally respectable and more dependent. It is the Divine Dole. Is this really how we humans want to be?

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-6-29-18-pmFurthermore, as Thomas Paine pointed out two centuries ago in Age of Reason, a revelation — that is, a direct and immediate communication from God to Man — is compelling only to the person to whom that knowledge is revealed. For the rest of us it is only hearsay. Therefore, George’s experience may make an inspiring story, but it cannot be compelling or convincing to anyone but George. We saw that in the film, too. Indeed, if George had told the details of his angelic visit to anyone, he would have been judged insane. He would lose all of those things in his Wonderful Life that he cared about: his wife and kids, his building and loan business, his friends. Ironically, being truthful about the angelic intervention in his life would have made old Potter the winner in the story after all!

It’s a Wonderful Life is a touching tale, and indeed I did weep toward the end when I watched it again. Frank Capra’s tear-jerking powers are formidable. But I don’t believe lives are ever so simple; I know mine isn’t. I don’t believe the average human being can so consistently rise above self-interest in making choices. I don’t believe life’s choices are so clear as they were for George. Indeed, in each case, George Bailey was the only one who could undertake to solve the problems presented. Only George was in a position to save his brother from drowning; only George could have withheld the poison from the drug store delivery customer; only George could run the building and loan after his father died; only George could save it from bankruptcy with his honeymoon money — his choices, while perhaps not easy, were obvious ones. In short, I don’t believe the story. The story might be more accurately titled if you leave out one letter: Its a Wonderful Lie.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) 130 minutes. Directed and produced by Frank Capra (1897-1991). Written by Philip Van Doren Stern (story The Greatest Gift), Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling (additional scenes), Michael Wilson (uncredited). Cast: James Stewart as George Bailey, Donna Reed as Mary Hatch, Lionel Barrymore as Mr. Potter, Thomas Mitchell as Uncle Billy, Henry Travers as Clarence Oddbody (the angel), Beulah Bondi as Mrs. Bailey (George’s mother), Frank Faylen as Ernie, Ward Bond as Bert, Gloria Grahame as Violet Bick, H.B. Warner as Mr. Gower (the druggist), Frank Albertson as Sam Wainwright, Todd Karns as Harry Bailey, Samuel S. Hinds as Pa Bailey, Mary Treen as Cousin Tilly, Virginia Patton as Ruth Dakin, Sheldon Leonard as Nick (the Martini’s bartender). Also known as: The Greatest Gift (1946) (USA: working title). Note: Capra worked with Stewart twice before the War: on You Can’t Take it With You (1938) and on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Posted in Uncategorized
John Mill