Monday, December 20, 2010

A Few Things

 I finally decided to add some content to my website  It was originally going to be Something more ambitious, but I don't have the time.  Instead, it will have links to all of my other projects, blogs, artwork, comics, reviews and stories, including this blog.  Right now it has only a few links.  Even though there's enough content to keep most people entertained for quite awhile, I hope to improve on the selection as time goes on.  I have a comic project that is slow to get off the ground, a novel that I will probably self-publish (I don't want to jump through a bunch of hoops) and put online, some short stories to upload, several art projects-including some contests that I may enter, movie and video game reviews and maybe comic book reviews.  I've been trudging through Marvel's online archive lately. I totally recommend subscribing to their online digital comics too. It's well worth $60 a year.  I also just caught up on theWalking Dead. I was a year behind. I'm surprised that it's still so good.  More to come.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dear Rockstar Games, Please Don't Make GTA5

I was admiring your new project, La Noire, when I saw a surprising number of comments whining about you not announcing Grand Theft Auto 5.  Considering the upcoming La Noire and this year's Red Dead Redemption both have aspects of the GTA franchise built in, I'm not sure I see a point in another entry. After your pioneering efforts in the genre with GTA III, Vice City and GTA IV, is there really anything else we need to say about low-life crooks moving their way up the criminal command chain?  Even if some of us gamers enjoy having a grand theft fix, there are plenty of other competent knock offs of the GTA franchise, including Mafia, Driver 2 and Saint's Row.  There have even been improvements and fun tweaks with such games as Crackdown, Mercenaries 2, and Just Cause 2.

Your company redefined the driving game genre with radio stations, non-linear missions and sandbox cities. You've created the best third-person shooter of all time, Max Payne. You brought us Earthworm Jim 64 and made fake table tennis fun. You have proven time and time again that you are one of the forerunners in gaming production, ahead of the curve and improving on nearly every genre. With all this in mind, I beseech you, use your talents elsewhere. Why not jump over to the stagnating first-person shooter and inject some life into it or add some enjoyment to RPG stories instead of relying on the mind-numb self-plagiarism running rampant through Square-Enix? We have enough third person, sandbox driving games. Seriously, do not make GTA5.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Our President, The King

Once upon a time the American people didn't want an all powerful ruler. Our system of government was constructed to reduce the chances of it happening, with the inclusion of just enough elasticity as to avoid entirely neutering the President of his usefulness. That elasticity has been stretched far beyond the original vision of the Constitutional Framers. After years of slow expansion, Presidents hold powerful sway over the Legislature and can sign whims into law with executive orders. They have control of an extensive bureaucracy whose agencies create rules to be followed as law. Appointments to offices boil down to the President's preference of political party; merit is secondary. This has happened for a few reasons. First, of course, is because our Presidents have slowly usurped power from the other branches of government.  Secondly, we like the idea of a ruler, a figurehead and lightning rod, to affix our insecurities and blame, to pass as much responsibility onto as possible. We downright demand Presidential intervention in the most banal arenas. The President is having conferences on High School Football injuries and is forced to respond to accusation about smoking cigarettes. The President is expected to weigh in on every subject.

I mentioned in an earlier blog  how the president has extensive influence over congress. Because the President is the party leader, all members of congress in his party back his initiatives, proposed laws, programs, orders and policies, essentially making the leader of the Executive the most powerful influence in the legislature. This party influence extends to the governors and legislatures of the states. Presidential power is top-down policy all the way to county level. This wasn't an unforeseen development. Before George Washington's death, nearly every political leader voiced concern about the dangers of letting factions (parties) get a foothold of power in the government. Political Parties could push their agendas above the will of the people and infiltrate various branches of government, creating an infrastructure that would override the impartial operation of federal branches. Parties could create laws that favored themselves and then enforce them. Alexander Hamilton spoke about the dangers Factions posed in Federalist #9. James Madison suggested how to guard against them in Federalist #10. George Washington warned against them in his Farewell Address.  Within 20 years, the Republican-Democrat party seized control of the presidency and the legislature and their dominance wasn't seriously threatened until the 1850s, despite some losses along the way.

Many of the concerns about separation of power and Presidential abuse of power were voiced in anti-federalist essays by New York governor George Clinton, Virginia Revolutionaries Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, and other prominent founders. To allay these concerns Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, with an assist from John Jay, published 85 essays explaining the benefits of the proposed Constitution. These essays, now collected in one volume called The Federalist, stated arguments in direct refutation of the anti-federalist papers. Over the centuries many of the arguments laid out in The Federalist have been ignored. In addition to the loss of separation of power in the federal government, as explained above, the President can now wage war, probably the most significant fear voiced by anti-federalists and carefully guarded against by the Constitutional Framers. Obviously, all attempts to thwart this presidential abuse of power have failed.

Delegates to the Constitutional Convention made every effort to reasonably limit presidential war powers, allowing him to use his designation of Commander and Chief of the Armed Forces only when he was "called into actual service of the Union," as Hamilton said in Federalist #69. He goes on to state, "while that of the British king extends to the DECLARING of war and to the RAISING and REGULATING of fleets and armies, all which, by the Constitution under consideration, would appertain to the legislature." The power to wage war was not only excluded, it was and still IS forbidden under the current Constitution. To invade another country is supposed to be left solely up to Congress. Swift action without the consent of Congress by the Commander in Chief was only for the purpose of repelling invaders, suppressing rebellions and Indian attacks, securing the border against the Spanish, and guarding trade routes.  Over the next century, it understandably extended to covert military operations and military escorts. For a President to send hundreds of thousands of troops into foreign lands without the consent of Congress was not part of the plan. It was the exact thing the founders despised about the power of kings. Kings could start wars the people didn't want and then force the people to pay for them. You may think I'm making reference to the current Iraq war, and its certainly an example, but I'm more aggravated with all the times in the past that people supported the actions of the president when he expanded his powers to the point where he could do something like invade Iraq. This power didn't come from conservatives. The ability to wage war came mostly from liberals who wished to extend presidential power without considering who might inherit the throne.

In a few instances the American people attempted to limit the expansion of presidential power, but the efforts largely failed. For example, a few years after the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the United States ratified the 22nd amendment, which created term limits for the Presidency. Roosevelt was elected president four times and died while barely into his fourth term. For twelve years he set up a vast support structure throughout the government and even tried to further secure his authority by pushing through new laws that would allow him to appoint even more people.  The amount of power he wrangled out of the position caused opponents to call him "King Frank."  Due to the fear of the wrong person getting into the same position, the U.S. decided that Presidents should only be allowed two terms. To limit the tenure of office was not a new sentiment.  New York Governor George Clinton stated in one of his anti-federalist papers in 1787 channeling Montesquieu, "the greatness of the power must be compensated by the brevity of the duration" and "the deposit of vast trusts in the hands of a single magistrate enables him in their exercises to create a numerous train of dependents." Limiting terms turned out to not matter much because a president of the same political party as his predecessor is very much like having the same President. They can continue to build up their bases of party support in the federal government, appointing people, sometimes for life, and their agenda may be carried out even if they leave office or die.

The epitome of presidential power comes from "executive orders." They have the "force of law" and are now frequently used as laws over the American people. Executive orders were intended for very few uses.  War, of course, would require swift policy orders from the president that should not be obstructed.  Policies for martial law in occupied territories could fall under the jurisdiction of executive orders. Mostly, executive orders were for administrative purposes only. In the last hundred years or so, executive orders are becoming more like Royal Decrees; the President signs it and it is a law. Presidents have expanded this power at such an exceptional rate they can now dictate our personal management of valuables, prevent us from striking against employers (just about the only thing that has been challenged in the courts), imprison citizens without trial based on ancestry, persecute political undesirables, unconstitutionally distribute tax dollars to support churches (some safeguards have been attempted and continue to fail), and impede scientific research without the consent of the people. (Anyone waiting for me to attack President Obama for his abuse of executive orders, don't hold your breath. He has exerted a nearly unparalleled influence over congress but, as near as I can tell, hasn't abused executive orders. Then again, he hasn't needed to.)

Where does this leave us?  Basically under the rule of the Founders' definition of a King. I think that many people are not only tolerant of this development, but prefer it. Maybe because we haven't had to fight very hard for the freedoms we enjoy. I think it's dangerous and if we continue down this path, the current incarnation of federal government could become the greatest enemy to freedom we have ever faced.  Many times, we are afraid to point out abuses of power because it benefits us short term. I don't think we can let that stand.  We need to keep pointing out abuses of power, no matter where they come from.  We have already let it slip a long way and are facing the consequences of our apathy. We are finally becoming aware that Presidential power can realistically topple our economy and take away our freedoms. It's not as simple as voting a power hungry President out of office. During elections, we are forced to choose between two candidates that want to expand that power. We may eventually be able to turn it around. We can start with the abolition of special benefits to Republicans and Democrats. It would be a great benefit to the people's voice.  Placing more power in the individual states would also help reduce expansion and abuse of federal power.  I don't think increasing state power is ideal, but it's better than life under a King.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Rights of the Living and the Unliving

Abortion is a sticky topic.  Major groups opposing abortion consider fetuses alive from the moment of conception.  To them, abortion at any stage of pregnancy is tantamount to murder.  Those in favor of abortion are probably more numerous because of the varying stages of abortion they individually accept.  Many of the pro-abortion (renaming themselves the family friendly "pro-choice") don't believe this is a political issue.   They believe it is a personal choice.   However, determining whether something qualifies as murder is certainly a legal and political issue.

Bringing the argument to a different  issue reveals some of our collective ethics about protecting life.  We have obligations to lives that aren't human.  Most people agree that being cruel to animals is wrong.  In fact, torturing and killing them is illegal in most states.  Even though it is not "murder" to kill an animal, it's  punishable.   Even if many of us aren't willing to claim abortion is "murder," we can at least admit that it is possible under our current legal system to make ending a non-human life illegal.

Compromise is key to the longevity of the United States and vital to avoiding violence.  Pro-choicers  need to appreciate that compromising views on murder is difficult for the anti-abortionists (renaming themselves the family friendly "pro-life"). First of all, we need a legal definition of life. This will not be the same as the biological definition, because the biological definition requires an entity to be self-sustaining.  I find this a tricky definition to begin with, because kids aren't self-sustaining until they're able to walk around and scrounge for food.  I know, I know; that's not exactly what "self-sustaining" really means.  It means something that is capable of self-sustenance without additional biological support.  In that sense, some people believe that fetuses don't meet the definition.  I would disagree.  Some babies are capable of sustaining life in as little as 22 weeks of pregnancy.  I would say an abortion after that point, called "partial-birth" abortion, is undisputedly wrong, whether or not the baby meets the standard definition of "alive."

We should all agree that terminating a pregnancy after 22-24 weeks is despicable (unless the mother's life is endangered). In the United States, we can keep a baby alive after it has been prematurely born at 22 weeks.  Most die, but it is no longer a fetus, it's a baby, a functioning human.  To perform an abortion this late into the pregnancy, a doctor must perform a "partial-birth abortion."  It is basically a technical term to escape the questions of murder.  They don't pull the fetus all the way out of the womb.  They pull everything out except for the head and neck.  They reach with scissor-snips and sever the baby's spine directly under the brain stem.  This process kills a human that conceivably could survive with aid.  After 26 weeks, I would consider it first degree murder and the perpetrators should be considered for life imprisonment. Yes, even if the mother has been raped. It's disgusting.

Other people have different views on when an abortion is ok to perform.  Fundamentalist Christians obviously believe that at the moment of conception indicates a soul is placed within the womb.  This always struck me as odd because they have no way of knowing.  They frequently state they cannot know Gods will and they chalk up tragedy as "everything happens for a reason" or "God works in mysterious ways"--other than a few exceptions, it seems.   With issues such as abortion, they have no problem reading God's mind. They're just guessing the intentions of their God, who hasn't said anything to them in about 2000 years.  I just ignore them.  At the moment of conception, a sperm and an egg are just biological materials that have clashed. They are items that have no life force.  In fact, nothing even resembling the form of a baby is present until about two months, and then in form only.  Based on what I've read, I can't consider a mass of tissue comparable to a "baby."  I don't consider a fetus to be anything other than biological material for the first trimester.  After twelve weeks, I don't think we should allow abortion.  But this is all debated.

It's an issue that needs to be decided by courts and legislatures.  I think we should start with some common ground and prohibit partial-birth abortion.  We must also fervently ignore religious arguments.  They are based on nothing more than feelings and hunches.  They have no idea what their god's will is, which has no place in our laws anyway, so we must ignore their opinions.  Laws based on religious views are unconstitutional. If we research, we may be able to determine up to what point it is acceptable to terminate.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Safety Procedures for Oil Rigs

With today's release of BP's explanation for the oil rig disaster, a lot of finger pointing is going on.  This isn't a shock by any stretch of the imagination. We all expected as much. BP says the tragedy was the result of many mistakes by several companies. Of course, they blame themselves the least.  This actually isn't the reason I'm posting. I'm not outraged by BP's press release. I expected them to say something along those lines.

 I'm more interested in the new safety procedures that will come from the investigations on whose fault the disaster was. President Obama has his own commission that will investigate the causes of the explosion, fire and pollution. The commission will then recommend safety products that will prevent this from ever happening again.  This got me thinking about what the new procedures would be.  The first thing to come to my mind was nuclear reactors. They have safety protocols on top of safety protocols.  They have a button that anyone in the facility can anonymously press at anytime they feel that proper procedures aren't being followed. The EPA then shows up lickety-split

 After all, with all of the problems that oil rigs have, and the fact that they can incinerate 11 people in an instant goes to show how much they need something like that. I'm pretty sure that if I could be vaporized at my job, I would demand a way to tattle to a government agency so they could swoop in and save my life.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More American Hubris

There's really no way around it at this point. Anyone who doesn't believe in biological evolution is stupid. We've all had plenty of time to read up on the evidence, and really, only a cursory investigation is required to determine the truth of evolutionary theory. Despite its acceptance throughout the scientific community, it is still widely rejected in the United States. But it is so obviously true, proven beyond the point of contention, that even disagreeing with it proves stupidity, or at the least, proves an unreasonable desire to be willfully delusional. In Europe there is no grand debate over the legitimacy of something that has been proven. So why here, in America?

I posted a blog about the American Ego when speaking about philanthropy. Other countries are quick to point out our hubris at any convenience. There is no point in denying our ego. We have one. I'm guilty of showing too much pride from time to time. I still maintain that our egos have nothing on the French, but we do have an ingrained superiority complex. I first noticed it as a real problem when Oxford put out their yearly study on quality of life around the world. America was listed first above England for the last 100 years. In 2008, for the first time in a century, England topped America after our financial meltdown. Then, with ferocious rapidity, Americans simultaneously decried the study as farcical, nonsense, fraudulent, inaccurate and bullshit, a study that we were perfectly content believing for more than a long as we were winning. For the first time I considered Americans as petty whiners. Bad sports. Jerks.

Americans seem incapable of humility in the face of superiority. Sometimes this comes through in the most delightful ways as we truly do have contempt for the odds. Sometimes carelessly, but with bravado. You can see how that could be good or bad.

This superiority that is ingrained in us does not just apply to nationality. It occurs in political parties, as with the Democrats in the 2000 Presidential election. Democrats knew how the election worked, but never threw a hissy fit until their guy lost the election while winning the popular vote. All of the sudden, Bush "stole" the election. Which is not true.

Apparently it applies to species as well. Americans are incapable of being brought down to an animal level. We're not monkeys! so It must be a flawed theory, Americans cry.  On the whole, we cannot bring ourselves to believe that we were not always BADASSES at the top of the food chain.  Or moreover, that at some point, the world existed perfectly well without us.

That's my theory anyway, and unlike the theory of evolution, you can disagree with it without being a total moron.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Diversity in Narrative Media

I haven't posted a blog in a bit because, (1) I've been drawing and (2) I've been working on THIS.  It's a website dedicated to exploring the differences between storytelling media such as video games, movies, books and comic books.  I plan on adding some more to it later on.  I will surely focus on the ever-developing Video Game.  There is a lot of room for exploration on how video games tell stories, how the player affects the story, how the story can evolve due to interactivity.  The storytelling language of video games has not been extensively studied and I look forward to delving into it further.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Antipathy for Illegals

I never had a problem with illegal immigrants until 2006.  I understood anyone who wanted to come to America.  We have lots of money here.  Our crap jobs pay more than any other country's crap jobs.  People can come here and support their entire families with two minimum wage jobs.

Then came the rallies. In April of 2006, illegal immigrants from all over the country demanded to have the same rights as me.  I immediately wanted to deport all the ungrateful bastards.  I wanted to build a wall across the Mexican border and tell the whole Latin-American region to go to hell.  Then I thought about some of the laws I skirt because they are stupid.  A few laws have too much red tape, unnecessary policies, confusing wording and obfuscation to be properly obeyed (Tax laws came to mind.  Some tax evaders have my sympathies.  The government shouldn't have the power to tax the same dollar from a rich person six or seven times and then tax them after they die.  It's absurd).  I thought that maybe the immigration test might have the same absurdity to it. Maybe there was a reason so many immigrants avoided it.  I looked it up. I read the material.  I took the test.  It's fine!  The test aims to ensure immigrants know the responsibilities of being American and that they know the language of the law, English.  It's the language that our public documents, laws, and street signs are written in.  It's fair that people who immigrate here should have a working knowledge of the language.  For the Americans who are illiterate, well, it was their good fortune and privilege to be born here.

Hundreds of thousands of people file for citizenship every year and 92% of applicants pass the citizenship test.  It's a fair test with fair requirements, something rare in the federal government.  It is unfair to those people who waited their turn, took the time to learn what it means to be a citizen of the United States, learned the language, paid a fee, passed the test and became Americans.  Illegal immigration is unfair to the people who just want to work here, as well.  They get a work visa, pay taxes, and in return, they are rewarded with the same rights that I have: freedom of speech, religion, attorney, and the pursuit of happiness.  On the whole, Americans welcome legal immigrants. We like them.  My Egyptian friend got his citizenship a few years ago and just recently saved enough money to bring his family here.  I couldn't be happier for him.  It's great to live here and I know what it will mean for them.

Illegals, on the other hand, skip all the proper steps to become citizens.  They don't pay the taxes that I do and they expect the same rights that I have.  They don't want to pledge allegiance to the United States, they just want our benefits.  After realizing that going through the proper steps of becoming a citizen isn't unfair, every bit of empathy I had for illegals disappeared.  What they are doing is tantamount to cutting in line at the bakery and demanding the fresh donuts, which everyone knows is just fucking rude.  Dick move, illegals.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Glorious Oil Spill

A hardcore capitalist tried to convince me of the power the free market has on the oil industry.  When we had this conversation, there were only gasoline powered vehicles.  Electric cars were an impractical novelty.  Car companies competed with each other. Oil companies competed with each other. Tire companies, engine manufacturers, and vehicle design teams all competed against their respective opposition. However, there was no viable alternative vehicle to a gasoline powered car. Trains, subways and planes take people to approximate locations near where we want to go.  Gasoline powered cars were the only thing that got us to our final destination and their dominance was unopposed. Oil and car companies, with big money, power and expensive lobbyists made sure that innovations opposing their dominance were crushed. This didn't seem very "free market" to me.

I told the capitalist this.  He just said that if people wanted alternatives, they would stop buying gasoline. Considering the circumstances, the public had no choice but to buy gas unless they couldn't afford it.  We were in the snare of an international conspiracy, forced to buy something we didn't particularly want.  We weren't just convinced it was a good idea by brilliant marketing; we were prevented from buying anything that would compete against it.

I began to root for the price of oil to rise nearly high enough to topple our economy, but didn't see how it could be achieved.  Enter China.  They began buying mass amounts of oil from the Middle East, thus increasing demand and driving up the price. Americans were outraged at gas prices that rose well above $3.50 and sometimes $4.00. We protested, carpooled, took trains and subways, rode bikes and even walked to work.  The big, bad and completely unnecessary 4x4 Hemis were no longer selling well.  Gas guzzlers stayed on car lots for months and years. Car companies faced serious trouble.

We saw a change.  Manufacturers mass-produced Smartcars. Hybrids were ushered to the mainstream.  Marketers began focusing on gas-mileage. Car dealers had limited time promotions for "free gas." Game shows started awarding "free gas for a year." Gas consumption took precedence and at long last, we were provided some alternative.  It wasn't enough. The United States began drilling within its borders again and the gas prices fell.  The collapse of the house market caused people to pay attention to gas mileage, but not as fervently as they did before. Due to the recession, people stopped buying cars altogether.  I was elated.  If the current car companies that shoved gas-guzzlers down our throats for the last 40 years went out of business, more responsible businesses would take their places.  Then we bailed them out.  The recession lifted and Dodge is still slapping Hemis into their ridiculous road monsters.  They have a few more restrictions now, after accepting government money, but they are still the same guys that had us under their thumb for decades.

I have no problem with cars running on gasoline.  I have a problem with ALL cars running on gasoline.  Which is what the oil companies have coerced/convinced car companies into providing.  Americans became more skeptical of oil companies when President Bush was repeatedly attacked for his "shady" ties to the oil industry.  It was in the news daily.  It was still not enough to make the American public hate, truly hate, the oil industry.  With high, fluctuating gasoline prices, an already notorious reputation, a media-induced association with war and the most hated president of all time, all it should take to unburden ourselves of their evil presence is a slight nudge, a negative event caused by an oil company, perhaps.  Something awful and close to home.  Something that devastates American businesses, damages the environment, and raises the cost of many products across the nation.

BP, you glorious bastards, thanks for the most tremendous fuck up in oil industry history.  Not only has your rig's explosion stalled the southern fishing industry, killed universally-adored dolphins and cute animals on international television, polluted Louisiana marshes, destroyed western Floridian tourism, it also killed eleven blue collar Americans. You united Americans in common hatred not seen since 9/11.

The President has finally chosen to manipulate a situation in a way I completely endorse.  He is using the oil rig explosion to cast a shadow of menace upon the entire oil industry. He's calling for a new clean energy policy that could end U.S. dependence on fossil fuels, which is exactly what we need.

What will be the lasting effect of the oil spill in the coast? Probably not too much.  In WWII, from late 1942 to early 1944, more than 60 oil tankers were torpedoed off the United States East Coast leaking millions of gallons of oil into the sea with each torpedo strike. For a time, New York State's tide was black with oil.  If this current oil catastrophe leaks steadily for the next 400 days, it have about the same ecological effect as the torpedoed tankers. In other words, massive amounts of oil in the ocean is not a unique event in history, but I completely agree with the politicians that are painting it so.

To me, the tragedy came with the explosion on the oil rig.  We lost 11 non-combatant human beings. Everything after that could be considered a lucky break.  If we manage to stop the leak in the next few months, recover most of the oil and clean up most of the damage all by billing BP, we will still have short term problems to keep us busy. That being said, if that is all it costs for ending our dependence on the Middle East, pulling out our troops without detrimental side effects, and developing more efficient alternative energy, we will make out like bandits.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Christianity in Science Class

I wouldn't normally redress a single religion, but other religions have not tenaciously battled to implant their faiths into a discipline that requires the exact opposite of faith.  Scientific conclusions are based on research and evidence.  Experiments are administered and results are published.  If the outcomes of experiment after experiment support a theory, stacking evidence upon evidence in favor of the theory, then and only then is the theory eligible to be taught in science class. 

Allowing faith in science class sets precedent for kids to supplant mysticism and superstition for rational thought and evidence, two vital ingredients in the solid foundation of all scientific disciplines.  Science teachers do not just fill in blanks with whatever religion conveniently gives explanations based on assumptions and a complete absence of research.   What happens when two religions give equally logical explanations of the same event? What makes us choose one over the other?  Faith? What if subscribers to various faiths were in a science classroom and being taught Christian Creation?  That is not "teaching".  It is indoctrination and it transforms the classroom into a mission.

The argument is caused by fundamentalist Christians' assertions that the theory of biological evolution is false because the Bible already has a story for the creation of humans (as we currently are), and the theory of evolution is incompatible with it. Well, evolution happens. It's true and it's been proven again and again. It's the Fundamentalists' responsibility to reconcile their beliefs with the truth, not the other way around.

In America, science and Christianity are estranged.  In 2005, fifty-one percent (51%) of Americans did not believe in Evolution.  These people believe that God created humans in their current form, as written in Genesis, and they want to teach not only their own children this, but ours, yours, his, hers, and everyone else's kids.  Bill O'Reilly gave pretty much the worst reason ever for wanting schools to teach the Christian version of creation. He said that Christianity had answers that science couldn't provide, such as how the world began.  Apparently, it doesn't matter how one arrives at the answers, just as long as the teacher has answers handy.  Following that logic, we could allow teachers to make things up, as long as they have answers to questions.  If science can't provide the answers then why would we bring something that is not science into science class?  If science doesn't have the answers to a question, that is exactly what the science teacher should say.  If the student wants answers that science cannot provide, then the student needs to search elsewhere.  It belongs in a class where unproven speculations are welcomed...whatever class that might be. 

In Europe, there's really no debate about evolution.  Nearly everyone accepts the truth of evolution, including Christians.  In one of the most poetic statements committed to words, Cardinal Ratzinger says the following in his commentary on Genesis:
"We cannot say: creation or evolution, inasmuch as these two things respond to two different realities. The story of the dust of the earth and the breath of God, which we just heard, does not in fact explain how human persons come to be but rather what they are. It explains their inmost origin and casts light on the project that they are. And, vice versa, the theory of evolution seeks to understand and describe biological developments. But in so doing it cannot explain where the 'project' of human persons comes from, nor their inner origin, nor their particular nature. To that extent we are faced here with two complementary -- rather than mutually exclusive -- realities."

Because Genesis is a Jewish text, I also consulted Jewish opinion on the matter.  According to the Rabbinical Council of America, "Evolutionary theory, properly understood, is not incompatible with belief in a Divine Creator or with the first 2 chapters of Genesis."  So, really, why is there even a debate?  Science teachers are teaching the SCIENCE behind whatever the "Divine Creator" may have created. They are not telling children not to believe in God.  That doesn't belong in science class either.

Some Christians issue arguments from more solid ground and only claim that we should teach Intelligent Design in science classes.   I don't really have anything against Intelligent Design.  It can be defended just as easily as non-design, in my opinion.  I can very effectively refute any argument that claims "Intelligent Design is false".  God/Divine Creator has the most powerful trump cards imaginable: he is omniscient and omnipotent.  With those two attributes, literally nothing is impossible, so defending him as the creator of the universe is not challenging.  But, virtually all supporting evidence for Intelligent Design has been thoroughly researched and the results invariably suggests logical explanations concurrent with scientific theories. This, by no means, invalidates the concept of Intelligent Design, it just makes the reasons for teaching it superfluous.  A grand designer may have set evolution into motion, but in order to debate the existence of a designer, no matter what stance is argued, we would have to speculate with no way of verifying our speculations.  If a student asks if Intelligent Design is true, the correct answer is "maybe" or "I don't know." There's nothing else to say about it.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Two Headed Beast: The American Two-Party System

America, according to Democrats and Republicans alike, is doomed. Other countries believe so too, but I suspect wishful thinking on their parts. Republicans believe that the Democrats are demolishing what makes our country great, removing individual rights in favor of government control that will drive us into financial ruin.  Democrats believe the Republicans are keeping the U.S. in an archaic state of apathy and greed, perpetuating an already failed financial system that funnels money to the top at the expense of the working class.  Ask card carriers from either major party for a prediction of American prosperity and they will try to convince you, with the utmost certainty, that the other party will ruin your life and their way is the only way to save the country.

Both parties are correct and both are incorrect.  Republicans and Democrats are certainly damaging the country and neither party is willing to explore non-partisan solutions.  And here is the American public in the middle of an entrenched, self-perpetuating system, which forbids a viable third option, and instead we are forced to pick between two gnawing cancers.

The two major parties have devolved into opposition parties, allowing no room for good ideas from the major opposing camp simply because they are the enemy.  Enemies can't have good ideas, see, because they are the bad guys.  There is an inherent distrust on both sides of anything the other party says because they despise each other.  They would rather poke holes in an idea from the opposition, condemning it as a failed attempt to harm the public good, than to even try and improve it and recognize its merits.  The two heads of the beast would rather annihilate each other than protect the public or acknowledge the damage their war is causing it.

When voting to fill a government office, lest one of the candidates be the rare independent, we must choose between two preset ideologies, uniform among party members, that regulates a candidate's reasoning, restricting it from operating outside party lines.  The individual candidate that has been elected to office, entrusted with the power to make consequential decisions, will, when beckoned, vote along party lines with Pavlovian expediency.  When we vote for a candidate, whether for state representative, congressman or President, we are not voting for a man or woman that can get the job done, who can adapt to situations as they arise and solve problems, we are voting for a tool of the party, a bullhorn used to broadcast an ubiquitous political agenda.  Candidates frequently have no opinion of their own. Opinions jeopardize candidates' positions within the party.  They must vote with the party or risk losing their support.  That is why you will see so many politicians voting against their own inclinations.  If an unforeseen danger pops into American view, the U.S. is incapable of proper and quick response because our representatives must filter their opinions through the party, making sure their proposed solutions do not conflict with party ideals*.  If freed from party affiliated candidates, we would be freed from policies that have been passed through the biased filters of several party leaders, irrevocably binding those policies to the archaic or naive ideals that impair their ability to adapt to elastic and elusive issues.

The average but loyal party subscriber, Joe Democrat or Joe Republican, doesn't help matters.  The major political parties rely on our unflinching obedience and loyalty.  Over sixty percent of the population gives exactly that to one party or another.  Party subscribers tend to sanitize their candidates of any wrong-doing, exonerating or ignoring conspicuous errors in judgment, frequently forgiving them for blatantly lying to the public or straying from the political ideals their constituents expect them to champion.  On the other hand, the opposition blindly focuses on innocuous indiscretions.

No candidate is inexorably clean.  I'm sure we can all agree that even the most revered of us are imperfect.  For example, George Washington was a hesitant leader that frequently let things spiral out of control before confronting a situation.  Thomas Jefferson struck personal low blows against his political rivals, likely slept with his slave(s), and condoned the reprehensible slaughter of innocents in the latter period of the 1789 French Revolution.  Abraham Lincoln was probably Bi-polar, which dipped him into deep despair without a moment's notice, and suspended Habeas Corpus in the raucous Union states during the Civil War.  Franklin Roosevelt authorized the concentrated imprisonment of Japanese Americans during WWII and bullied unconstitutional legislation through Congress, a branch of government he should have had no direct influence over. And these were the "Greats."

None of us should expect or even accept that a candidate is flawless.  A voter must weigh a candidate's flaws against his attributes or accept that the voter himself is but a mindless tool to be used in political scheming. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt all deserve their esteemed position in American History, but one must consider their whole reputations, their bad decisions along with their good.  Glossing over their mistakes denigrates the difficulty of their position and the efficacy of their tenures of office.  In the majority of elections, we have both parties claiming perfect candidates.  Without party affiliation, candidates would have to rely on their merits and individual worth and not their political propaganda machine. We should use our reason and education to select a candidate that best fits views arrived at with individual critical thinking, not views that have been thrust upon us by others.  Unfortunately, this is nearly impossible in a two party system, because both candidates in any race are cookie cutter replicas of their party confederates.

A side-effect of the two party system may be the most problematic to our government.  The U.S. was built upon separation of power and checks and balances.  Those two concepts are the first things we learn about government while in grade school.  The Executive branch and the Legislative branch are separate in order to keep the president from forcing his agenda into law.  The president is supposed to have nothing to do with the legislative branch.  His domestic role is to protect the people and enforce the law.  He is not supposed to have a role in a law's creation other than signing it. Thanks to the two-party system, the president becomes the leader of the party and forces his soldiers to back his play. They do, of course, because the President himself is a product of the party, endorsing his party's plans for the country. That's how he got the nomination in the first place. Men and women are not running the country; we are ruled by the checklist-agenda of the party in power.

There doesn't seem to be much desire for reform, no matter how needed.  Most people are unaware that other possibilities exist because of the stranglehold the Republicans and Democrats have on the American political process.  We still have a two-party ballot, for one thing.  We must 'write in' other options in most races.  Funding laws also heavily favor the two parties.  It's difficult for a third party to gain any ground without the generous benefits given to Democrats and Republicans.  Because all other parties are at the mercy of the lawmakers who are 99% Democrat and Republican, we may never see any legislation favoring small parties.  Indeed, we may never even be aware of reasonable smaller parties. The only way to gain favor for a third option is to create something akin to the 19th century Whig party, a hodgepodge of all the non-partisans wishing to oust the current powers.  This too will create problems, but at least we could drive a wedge into the power of the great two.

Sadly, all options outside the two-party system are unlikely, because it would face too much opposition.  Somehow, along the way, these parties convinced us that, not only is the two-party system harmless, it's a good idea.  That is, unless the opponent wins the election. Then it's dumb.

* On those rare occasions we see a Congressman vote against his party, it is not a crisis of conscience or a moral statement, it's just bribery.  Politicians refer to bribes as "contributions," in exchange for "earmarks," or "pork-barrel spending." Let me simplify: they're bribes. This practice is impossible to eradicate without passing some laws.  Who passes laws? Congress.  Who takes bribes? Click the following links for the answer. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jenny McCarthy Gets Her Money's Worth From Free Speech

At what point does a person take the freedom of speech too far?  Most people cite the example of shouting "fire" or "bomb" in a crowded theater, which could cause extreme physical injuries including trampling deaths. Most of us recognize the prudence of safeguards against such actions. We accept certain limitations on speech when it comes to probable public endangerment. Other people cite the Presidential Death Threat as an example. We're not allowed to proclaim, "I will kill the President of the United States," unless we want the Secret Service kicking down our door.  That too, most of us understand.  But what about the murky areas between obvious extremes?  What if endangerment is subtle and erosive rather than overt and explosive?

At what point does someone incite a riot rather than passionately express her views to the public?  At what point does condemnation of a nation's administration turn into aid and comfort to the enemy?  When is art too obscene to display?  The answers to these questions are constantly negotiated, decisions are renewed or overturned with each new court battle, regulation, or arrest.  Each nation's enforcement of these issues differs.  Any criticism of Chinese government will get you imprisoned.  Not here in the U.S.  Chuck Norris can say states are on the road to secession, which he will support, and he is free to go about his business.  That may or may not be because he is Chuck Norris.  The Japanese, who are apparently allowed to inflict psychological trauma as a television prank, will censor mild gore--which seems to be the complete opposite of here.

America has more freedom of speech than any other nation.  We can say or create just about anything without fear of being arrested for it. We no longer ban books as even the United Kingdom, our English-speaking cousins, still do.  The only films denied American distribution are those whose content supposedly break laws; and then we have the court system to challenge unjust enforcement. Unfettered freedom of speech, more than any other reason, is why I love America.  The law of the land protects us from unreasonable government interference in our daily lives.  We are not only able to say what we think, we are encouraged to do so.  Our founding fathers made federal laws to ensure no one could take away our right to open dissent.

There comes a price with such freedom.  For instance, we have to put up with the KKK and Neo-Nazis and worse.  Then there is that subtle, erosive danger I talked about.  In the cloudy, less fanatical area between activism and public endangerment exists Jenny McCarthy, a woman hellbent on spreading a contradictory message of support and encouragement that undoubtedly causes harm.  Her mission is to spread the word that vaccinations cause autism.  She has hit the talk show circuits, public speaking events, published articles, and visited families to get the word out.  She also does all that after she's been proven wrong.

Time Magazine explained why Jenny McCarthy is wrong and even considered a national health risk. Jenny McCarthy fired back with an article that accuses 22 studies, Time Magazine, research experts, the CDC, and all pediatricians of not only being wrong, but operating in lock-step to a diabolical money-making conspiracy.  No matter how much evidence is stacked in front of her, not even when she's been presented with the evidence that she is helping cause a resurgence in horrible diseases once controlled by vaccinations, she will not back down.  She has invested her reputation and so much of her time and effort into this crusade that she can't turn back, not even when confronted with proof of her folly.

She's not alone in this crusade, of course.  Otherwise, she'd just be a lunatic howling at the moon.  She has support from parents of autistic children, suffering from heartbreak and searching for a tangible target, who want nothing more than to blame someone for the horrible affliction.  Parents got their first opportunity to blame someone when a preliminary study was released in Britain linking Autism to an MMR Vaccine with mercury in it (since abandoned).  Britain halted MMR vaccines and measles came back.  The study was contradicted by more thorough research and the original findings were retracted.  But it was too late.  Mania had gripped too many celebrities, who then proceeded to accuse the American government of administering unsafe vaccinations. It's comical, but true: Americans listen to celebrities more than scientists.  Now, after billions of dollars in research revealing definitive proof that vaccines don't cause autism, celebrities like Jenny McCarthy still won't shut up.

What may actually be worse, Jenny McCarthy encourages parents to seek out untested alternative treatment.  These parents dish out several thousands of dollars to quacks and gurus based on a false hope of their children recovering from an (as yet) irreversible disease. Now, she's not only helping expose the nation to previously contained diseases, she's also helping put parents into financial trouble during a recession.

This situation causes me to ask myself, when does campaigning for a cause turn into child endangerment?  Jenny McCarthy has become a health risk. Unless she refuses to save the life of her child by getting immunizations, I don't think the government should restrain her from saying what she feels, but nor is this a situation where the rest of us can "agree to disagree."  Her opinion should not be respected.  She should be booed from her soapbox.  Objections should be raised every time she utters a word about vaccination.  Fighting someone like Jenny McCarthy is difficult because she appeals to people's emotions.  Emotions are easily manipulated and often override intellect. Just ask Nikola Tesla.  What McCarthy is saying is perfectly false, but it isn't stopping people from listening.  Maybe a more direct emotional appeal will help the truth sink into the unconvinced minds: Jenny McCarthy will kill your children.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Founding Fathers and Religion

Fascination with the founders of our nation is a unique attribute of Americans. We not only study them, we seek their counsel and pillage their opinions for insight into modern problems, hoping to find shortcuts to solutions.

Gordon S. Wood, in his Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, explains it so:

-"The identities of the other nations, say, French or German, are lost in the mists of time and usually taken for granted...But Americans became a nation in 1776, and thus, in order to know how we are, we need to know who our founders are. The United States was founded on a set of beliefs and not, as were other nations, on a common ethnicity, language, or religion. Since we are not a nation in any traditional sense of the term, in order to establish our nationhood, we have to reaffirm and reinforce periodically the values of the men who declared independence from Great Britain and framed the Constitution."

The Founders were amazing thinkers who wrote so voluminously on such a variety of subjects that we still find in their writings valuable and applicable ideas for our modern world. We should seek their counsel. Unfortunately, though perhaps not uniquely, certainly prevalently, Americans tend to treat the Founders' aggregate ideals as dictums from a hive mind. Many of us behave as if the Founders sallied forth in unwavering solidarity with prescient foresight of the world superpower we would become.


They recognized that being hanged for treason in 1776 was an all too possible fate. Beyond that, many delegates to the Constitutional Convention believed the Constitution would fail within twenty years. Even Washington referred to it as the "great experiment." Some delegates refused to even sign the final document. It was, and is, the result of endless compromises that, by the end of its creation, almost everyone involved was displeased with.

After the Revolutionary War, there was very little solidarity among the Founders. They hurled vitriolic attacks at one another that would shrivel the most vicious of today's political ad campaigns. John Adams hated Alexander Hamilton, famously calling him the "bastard brat of a Scotch peddler." Adams liked then hated then liked Thomas Jefferson, whose backstabbing intrigue caused Adams to lose the 1800 Presidential election. By the end of his second term as President, George Washington had washed his hands of his fellow Virginian Founders Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, George Mason and Edmond Randolph. The author of Common Sense, Thomas Paine, finished off his miserable life hating Washington and just about everyone else. Unable to withstand the constant insults (deserved as they may have been), Vice President Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton to death in a duel.

Just as with any collection of people, we can't narrow the Founders' views into a consensus. On some issues they did generally agree. The Bill of Rights is a list of individual rights that nearly all of them endorsed. Virtually all the founders agreed on what role religion should play in government policies. None. This is the one thing that far too many Christians deny in the face of common knowledge. No matter how much Bill O'Reilly, John McCain, and fundamentalists say the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian ideals, it is still not true.

I watched the O'Reilly factor when he discussed a school principal who removed Christmas decorations from the school. O'Reilly said several times throughout the program that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian ideals, as if to reinforce by repetition. Worse still, every day, I am flooded with emails from Christians who want to teach divine intervention in science class because we were "founded on Christianity." Nevermind the lack of scientific evidence for miracles.

The most incredible assertion of ignorance came when Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes spoke to congress about the Christian character of our government. He actually brought some evidence, though his conclusions are warped by Christian zealotry. He brings up several instances of religious associations with government made over the course of over two hundred years. I'll speak of his comments relating only to the foundation of our country and the Founders. Forbes said:

-"When the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783, it ended the revolutionary war and birthed this nation. The signers of that document made clear that it began with this phrase, "in the name of the most holy and undivided trinity."

-"When our constitution was signed, the signers made sure that they punctuated the end of it by saying, "in the year of our lord, 1787."

-"President George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson...indicated how the bible and Judeo-Christian principles were so important to this nation."

Even though his argument hinged on the idea that our nation originated as a Christian one, those comments were the only attention he gave the Founders in his speech. That one line in the Treaty of Paris is an odd choice of evidence and I will start with that. First off, it was written in 1783. Our constitution wasn't written until 1787, so it doesn't really have much to do with the foundation of our current government, but, because it was signed by three of our founders, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay, we'll take a closer look.

"In the name of the most holy and undivided trinity" is an opening or closing line, a courtesy. It is a statement that really has nothing to do with the body of the document. Even I say "Thank God," but I am not literally thanking a deity. We all know what "thank God" means. It's a common phrase, just as signing a document with the blessing of God was common practice then. That being said, John Jay and John Adams were extremely devout Christians who both could have wanted that line added for personal reasons. Let's take a look at these three men, their roles in the government's foundation and what their views were on Christianity in government.

I'll start with Adams because he is the most complex. He was absent from the Constitutional Convention, being in Europe at the time, but he was an influential voice of the generation. His Thoughts on Government was widely read and the final draft of the U.S. Constitution reflected many of his views. Similarly, he had no direct effect on the Bill of Rights, ratified in 1790, which, of course, secures religious freedom for all. Adams believed whole-heartedly in equal Constitutional protection for all religions, but he wasn't a protector of atheism. He used religion as a political weapon in the 1800 election, claiming that Jefferson would favor atheistic laws. However, his views on religious freedom of all creeds was pretty clear. He wished reason was the guiding force of Christians and despised the concept of "miracles." He believed religious fundamentalists and zealots were more dangerous than any other faction. Even though there are occasional inconsistencies, Adams' writings reveal a strong desire for church and state separation. I will only include his comments in direct reference to the United States and religion. Here's what he had to say on religious freedoms in the United States:

-"Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without the pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind." A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America

-"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this as an era in their history."

-"We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions...shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power...we expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society."

Benjamin Franklin was the only one of the group that actually attended the Constitutional Convention. He was not Christian in the modern fundamentalist definition. He doubted Christ's divinity and thought the Bible and the worship of it were corrupted by time and the diabolical nature of priests. At one point during the Convention, he asked that the delegates say prayer. His motion was denied. Hamilton warned that its commencement might lead the public to form "unpleasant animadversions." However, when it came to the intermingling of government policy and established religion, his views were clearly stated throughout his life.

-"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." Poor Richard's Almanac, 1754

-"I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies." Toward the Mystery

Franklin was religious. He believed that "God governs in the affairs of men," but he certainly didn't think of him in a Judeo-Christian way.

John Jay was a dissenter from the common fold. He believed we were a Christian nation, but he was intolerant of Catholicism. He wished to pass laws preventing Catholics from holding office in New York, even though he was the governor of a state that expressly forbade the favor of any religion. New York Law stated "the free exercise and employment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall for ever hereafter be allowed within this State to all mankind." Nonetheless, Jay said this: "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." It is important to note two things about Jay, (1) he was not at the Constitutional Convention but (2) he provided a minor contribution the Federalist, probably the most influential political text in history and directly responsible for the ratification of the Constitution. In his contribution to the Federalist, he made no mention of religion. In essence, his religious views were uninfluential on the foundation of the country.

Because Forbes thought it prudent to include the courtesies in a treaty as sufficient evidence of our Christian foundation, I'll finish off this section with a quote from the body of another treaty. Section eleven of the Treaty of Tripoli, written in 1796, during George Washington's second term as president, and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1797 and signed by President John Adams reads thus:

-"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] and as said States have never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

There was no public outcry about the treaty. No congressmen like Forbes complained to the Speaker of the House about it. It was routine--commonly accepted. It was also not that big of a deal in religious circles, just like the treaty of Paris was not that big of a deal.

The second example from Forbes about "in the year of our Lord" is a silly, silly point. A.D. stands for 'Anno Domini,' translated from Latin to mean "in the year of our Lord." The Founders did not yet have our now commonly accepted BCE and CE year designations ("Before Common Era" and "Common Era.") I personally still use BC and AD because that's what I grew up with. It is in no way an endorsement of Christianity on my part.

The final quote from Forbes is by far the most befuddling. He says George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams indicated the importance of Judeo-Christian values to this nation. Because I've already quoted Adams, I'll provide quotes from the other two.

George Washington wrote: "If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitutional Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any religious society, certainly I would have never placed my signature to it. And if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be administered as to render liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one will be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution."

Thomas Jefferson wrote: "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. (Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from presenting even occasional performances of devotion presented indeed legally where an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect)."

Those two quotes, from the most influential Founders, somehow, did not already put a definitive end to this ridiculous debate. Jefferson and Madison made it their mission to include religious freedom for all religions and especially the non-religious. Speaking of which, what did Madison, "Father of the Constitution," who had more influence over the content in the first amendment than any other man, have to say about its meaning? A lot.

-"An alliance or coalition between Government and religion cannot be too carefully guarded against...Every new and successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance...religion and government will exist in greater purity, without (rather) than with the aid of government. Letter to Livingston.

-"What influences, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishment had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people."

At this point, I'm not sure any more quotes are necessary to definitively put an end to the nonsense brought forth in congress, but I can't resist quoting the one thing that fundamentalists Christians usually forget:

-"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievances." First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Movie Review: Born of Hope

Born of Hope is a fan film prequel to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, but it quickly transcends past amateur filmfare. After all, this movie cost as much as Clerks, The Blair Witch Project or El Mariachi. Writer/editor/director/etc. Kate Madison dumped her life savings into the film and managed to scrounge the remaining funds from donations.

The film takes place before the birth of Aragorn (played by Viggo Mortenson in the canonized trilogy) and during his young life. Instead of focusing on his youthful exploits, the film follows his parents, Arathorn and Gilraen, climaxing in a showdown with orcs.

Madison takes painstaking steps to tie this movie to Jackson's trilogy. The moods are similar. The script is consistent, and though the story is by-the-numbers, it's well-written. We are introduced to the movie with a title card that flickers into view and a detached voiceover explaining the history of Middle Earth, just as in the original films. The costumes are consistent with the originals. The Orcs are especially effective. Diffused maps glide across the background during time jumps. The film enters slow-motion during times of bravery and sacrifice. Unfortunately, Slo-mo can be expensive to film. Instead, in Born of Hope, normal speed film is slowed down, which creates a choppy effect called 'fast-motion.' I despise fast-motion unless it's used for a very deliberate reason (the beginning of Reservoir Dogs).

Born of Hope has a few more technical problems that are usually remedied with money and equipment. We sometimes can't hear characters who speak away from the microphone because Additional Voice Recordings (AVR) weren't done. Those lines are lost. The acting varies, but the two leads, Christopher Dane (Arathorn) and Kate Madison (Elgarain), are both very good. Of course, there is a conspicuous lack of crane and helicopter shots, digital color manipulation, and New Zealand locales that gave the original trilogy its epic feel. Nonetheless, Madison's efforts do much to place the film in the same world as Jackson's films.

The film actually improves on the original in one area. Orcs. Because the big bad Uruk-hai don't exist in the timeline of this film, the villains are your garden variety orc, shown as cowardly cockroaches in the original trilogy. Here, they are murderous, persistent, threatening and menacing--not to be trifled with. The film length is perfect. Because of the small budget, we aren't subjected to twenty minute action sequences that too often used to fill the running time. The battles get to the point quickly.

I enjoyed it. It was a nice, new taste of Middle Earth that fits in a realized universe without creating waves or contradictions. That is no easy feat.

Here is the full movie.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What is Census Advertising Worth?

Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) seems to share some of my views on misappropriation of government funds. They attack government officials for frivolous spending and improper distribution of tax money. I love the idea. I wholeheartedly endorse organizations that wish to limit government waste. I am all about efficiency.

CAGW, however, seems to have disregarded a fundamental attempt to identify the truth (i.e. they didn't do any research). The president of CAGW, Dan Williams, openly bashed the Census Bureau's Superbowl ad as a "colossal waste of money." The advertisement cost nearly $3 million, a drop in the bucket compared to the $133 million the Census Bureau plans to spend on advertising between now and May. In the same Fox News Article, Williams says, "That's a lot of money to spend on a glorified public service announcement. While they're counting people, we're going to be counting the dollars that they're spending." Further support of their argument was proclaimed by an outraged John McCain on his Twitter page: "While the census is very important to AZ, we shouldn't be wasting $2.5 million taxpayer dollars to compete with ads for Doritos!"

The Fox article (supposedly "news"--fair and balanced, of course) makes no effort to convey the Census Bureau's reasons for spending the money on the Superbowl ad. Apparently, the CAGW made no effort to ascertain the reasons either. The organization just attacked the Census Bureau for wasting our money. To level the playing field against the willful ignorance (or laziness), I'll provide you with the reasons and "let you be the judge," as O'Reilly likes to say.

The Census Bureau is charged with counting all the people in our country as dictated by the Constitution of the United States of America. To do so, they rely greatly on our voluntary cooperation. It's important that we participate. The Census determines how many members of the House of Representative are issued to each state. It is the primary source for figuring out where aid and grant money is sent. It also serves to paint a portrait of our economy, diversity, and progress, or lack thereof, in many social areas. To do this, the Census Bureau mails out a mandatory ten question form. If we do not fill out the form, the Census Bureau is forced to send temporary employees to our homes, knock on our doors and make us fill out the form. It is quite the process, let me assure you. Census Bureau employees must figure out which households have not filled out the form, track the residents down and get their answers. It costs the American taxpayer $85 million for every one percent of mailers not returned.

To reach a wider audience, the Census Bureau has partnered with over 170,000 business and organizations to help raise awareness about the importance of filling out the census form. They have dumped millions into advertising and nationwide tours trying to get people to mail back the forms. If all of the Census Bureau's efforts convince only two percent more people to mail back the forms, then we save money. According to an article from the political website The Hill, the Superbowl ad likely saved us $30 million.

If it makes a noticeable difference, I'm all for advertising the hell out of the census. If next year reveals that all their efforts made little difference, I'm against it. To provide some recent perspective, in the 90's, the Census Bureau spent $167 million in advertising and the participation increased by six percent. If that is any indicator of today's efforts, this year's census advertising could save us about $377 million.

So, that's the argument for the Superbowl ad. Is it a good idea? You be the judge!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The American Ego

Americans have a compulsive need to defend themselves in the eyes of the world. Now that the world is more globalized, most of realize the world hates us. Instead of taking it in stride, like the leaders we claim to be should, we throw fits. It's a bit embarrassing. An article from the UK Guardian shows the American Government pledged to donate more money to Haiti than any other government--$450 million. The amount will cost the American taxpayer about $2.50. That's fine. Canada, making the second highest pledge, said its government would donate $130 million, costing their taxpayer quite a bit more considering their population (man, woman and child) is about 33 million--approximately 1/9th the U.S. Population. We must keep in mind that other countries are also generous and consider population. While I'm happy the American Government hasn't become so jaded by every other country's opinion and ceased charitable donations altogether, we cannot lose sight of the reason we give relief funds and aid.

In the Guardian article's online comments, most non-American comments bashed the United States for... well, what seemed to be just about anything. Some said we were only donating to Haiti because it is close to us. Some people argued that we are responsible for their horrible state in the first place (this is kinda-sorta true, but not really. Click Here for additional info). Some say it is only in our military interest, otherwise we'd do nothing. I hate these comments as much as the next American, but it comes with the territory of being a powerful nation. Deal with it.

Instead, what do the American commenters do? They boast about how generous we are. They boast about how much money we always give and without us, the world would collapse. It aggravates me when Americans turn national wealth and worth into a competition. Those who say Americans only donate when it is in our interest don't pay attention and know little about us. However, in reading the comments from my American contemporaries, I can see how our image is tarnished. There are enough Americans out there, damaging our reputation, spreading the word that we should be thanked, that we should be appreciated, that we should be recognized as oh-so-totally-awesome, and it's sanctimonious autofellatio.

We should be doing the right thing only because it is the right thing to do and for no other reason. If people need our help, we help without expectation of reward or appreciation. Someone expecting gratitude is making humanitarian gestures for the wrong reasons. I believe that most Americans understand this, even the simplest of us. Or, perhaps, especially simple Americans, unclouded by political complications and outside influence, they know that Good is Good and that's all they need. Everyone likes to be appreciated, but expecting praise for good deeds is egocentric and sad.

I truly believe Americans want to help because they can. We have our financial struggles, but in dire circumstances, we have the funds to lend a hand. So we do. In addition to the pledged $450 million from our government, private U.S. organizations have donated an additional $700 million. I'm very happy that the American public was motivated to donate such a large sum. I'm glad we donated more than any other country. Honestly, though, if we didn't, I'd be ashamed of us. We should help because Haiti needs it and we can do it. People who take those numbers and boast about our superior generosity are missing the point and do not properly represent what America is about. It's not about bragging rights. We should be content to live in a country that can make a difference.

Occasionally, I've run across Americans who think we should donate nothing because we've got our own problems. We've got homeless people and poverty stricken communities, we should focus on them, they say. True we have our own problems and should address them, but our homeless aren't eating dirt to survive as they are in Haiti. Our poor population didn't just have their buildings crash in on families. Our government was not demolished in a few minutes. Most of us have no problem with our government giving aid. Again, most of us think it's a good thing. The rare (and unfortunately loud) Americans who compare our problems to Haiti should find a cliff and make like lemmings. They don't represent us.

For those Americans who throw a royal fit about being verbally attacked when we don't deserve it, I understand your frustration, but do try to practice magnanimity. We can be hateful and petty with one another, boast and sing our praises at home, but please, keep it off the international stage. Because if I were from another country and read the crap you said, I'd kick you the fuck off that high horse too.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Avatar to the Rescue! Maybe.

Some of you are aware that movie theaters lost much of their relevance when Big Screen met DVD. Moviegoers began to forgo opening weekends of blockbusters and opted to wait for DVD releases. Girlfriends had a tougher time convincing their boyfriends that romantic comedies were worth seeing on a fifty foot projection. Boys taking girls on dates no longer needed to pay forty dollars for a movie, candy, drinks and popcorn. If they watched a movie at home it would cost fifteen bucks, tops. Parents no longer wanted to quiet their crying kids without the ability to pause movies. Crusty old curmudgeons could watch movies at home without the nuisance of noisy whippersnappers and cell phones. None of us have to sit in a jam packed theater, wondering why, oh God why, was the only open seat next to the fat, sweaty dude who steals armrests.

I came around to team DVD a little later than some. I couldn't immediately take the plunge because I still remembered getting vertigo in the opening scenes of Mission Impossible 2 and feeling the ground-shaking roar of the T-Rex in Jurassic Park. I remembered the chills creeping up my neck upon seeing the Star Wars: the Phantom Menace trailer for the first time on the big screen and having the same feeling when watching Keanu Reeves dodge gunfire in "bullet time." I didn't think it was possible to appreciate that type of movie magic from home. In 2004, I was forced to surrender my obstinate position and admit that movie theaters kind of sucked. One movie experience after another for every year since has reinforced my opposition.

Here are just a few experiences that nudged me away from theaters. I could not stand being subjected to commercials after the movie was supposed to have started, especially after paying $8-10 per movie. I got pissed off when they wouldn't let me bring bottled water in, because they sold bottled water for $4.50. The seats are never particularly comfortable and in some of the less popular theaters, they aren't too clean. If you ever wondered why seats in some theaters fold up, it's to make the greasy popcorn crumbs fall through to the floor. I got sick of dim projection. I could hardly see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon because the theater owners reduced the intensity of projector bulbs in hopes of either reducing their power bill or to make the bulb last longer (which doesn't work). I watched three movies at my local theater that were shaking so badly, I had to take off my glasses (making everything blurry) to make it possible to tolerate. The theater did not replace the shaky projector for two years. When I watched Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the projectionist forgot to change the fucking reel. I've never even heard of that happening. During a screening of K-Pax, eight fifteen year old girls talked, giggled, answered loudly ringing cell phones and eventually, after I asked them nicely to be quiet, started throwing popcorn over their shoulders at me and my friend. Never one to take the high road, I pelted one of them squarely in the back of the head with an ice cube, which won me a smattering of applause from other patrons. That was the worst of many giggly-girl encounters. If the giggly-girl was on a date with dumbass-boy, rest assured, red laser lights were zinging across the screen. (I must admit, laser lights were more popular about five years ago. The last I saw of them in a theater was during a viewing of 300 in 2006.)

I'm aware that businesses can't fully control the behavior of their patrons, and I rarely blame a theater for rowdy kids or talkative people. I hate some theater crowds, sure, but that's not the biggest reason I hate theaters. It is how they are run. Charging 400% retail for snacks is unacceptable. That sort of gouging should only happen at ballgames, which are once in a lifetime experiences. The greatest play in the history of the sport may happen on any given night. Concerts are the same way. Bands never play the same way twice. Movies cannot boast that sort of uniqueness. The movie will not change from one viewing to the next. To ensure that we buy their drinks and snacks they refuse to let us bring our own. They do this in because they make most of their money off snacks. When a business can't make money from its primary reason for existence, without extorting its patrons, it's time to update the business model. I'm most shocked by the cost of tickets. Kansas City has about the least expensive movie ticket prices in the nation, and ours cost about ten dollars. I can rent newer movies for $3-6 depending on its DVD release date. I can own most movies for $20, and DVD sales have an astronomical markup. I don't care where money goes, what the cost is, or why movie tickets cost $10-15. It's not cost effective for the consumer and should be abandoned.

For more than five years I've wanted theaters to crumple under the pressure from their unsustainable business model. I was awaiting the day that they folded into oblivion, leaving room for only a few of the best, consumer friendly theaters and well-maintained IMAXes. And I still believe that to an extent, but damned if James Cameron's 3D Avatar didn't shake my faith to the foundation. All of the sudden, this movie marvel created a need for theaters.

I've listened to nonsense hype about 3D for over a decade. To me, 3D always looked like one cardboard cutout set a little closer to me than the background. I hated the effect. It was unnatural to my sense of depth perception, doing more to distract me than it did to enhance the experience. Many critics complain about the dimness of 3D. I only remember its annoyance. Even Superman Returns' 3D on the IMAX was jumpy and blurry. Avatar gave me depth. Long corridors and rounded objects stretched into the distance, each line of trees in the forest was distinguishable from the next. The effect makes Science Fiction seem more science-fictiony.

I get depressed when I think of watching Avatar on a home TV, no matter the size (with the possible exception of my friend's 65-inch monster HDTV). Only a handful of movies in the past few years were worth seeing in theaters. Fewer are released with each passing year. If we suddenly saw a surge of films taking full advantage of Real 3D, creating wondrous worlds and mystifying spectacles with epic storytelling and fearlessly pursuing the story to a logical conclusion, regardless of running time, I would go to more movies.

For the first time in years I can at least see a beneficial function of movie theaters. I hope new filmmakers will take advantage of the 3D big screen experience, otherwise movie theaters are expendable. Pixar is planning on releasing Toy Story 3 in 3D. If it too is as an impressive technical achievement as Avatar, I might forgive past transgressions and once again look forward to opening days at the movies.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Stephenie Meyer Sucks. And How?

We all have our guilty pleasures. I loved Hudson Hawk, the 1991 musical comedy starring Bruce Willis. That's right, loved it. This is the same movie Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers called "unspeakably awful." Not to stop there he says, "You want to throw things, yell at the actors, beg them to stop. But the film drags on, digging horrible memories into the brain." And yet, to me, that movie rules. It has characters inexplicably survive tremendous falls from buildings and cliffs. It has Sandra Bernhard in it (shudder). It makes cartoon slapstick sounds like those in Batman & Robin. The villains are named after candy bars. And, as if that wasn't enough, David Caruso as a mime!


I get it. I understand liking something fun and familiar and just a little bit awful. Stephenie Meyer books appeal to adolescent girls, and the occasional misdirected boy, because they are high-school-age fantasies in which new readers don't know the outcome. I can even get behind the idea of people liking them for the same reason chicks like romantic comedies and guys like watching stuff get blown the hell up. Unfortunately, people are defending this woman's writing, and that, my friends, is horseshit. When Stephen King trashed her, some fans shouted "sour grapes!" claiming he was jealous of her popularity. I've even heard from her fans who think J.K Rowling is a bad writer compared to her. That statement did not come from the mentally handicapped or insane (maybe a little insane). It came from her common, normal fans. I don't believe all of her fans are stupid enough to say something like that, but I've met plenty who are.

Most readers who have a basic knowledge of English will know something is not quite right with her writing, but won't be able to point at what it is and say, "here's why." I can.

Let's start with punctuation, the simplest fundamental in language. It signals when thoughts change topics, when those topics are related, and when they are not. Glancing at the first chapter of Twilight tells me that she has no idea how punctuation works. She uses dashes instead of using the various punctuation marks that differentiate meanings. In my years at college, my hatred for dashes softened. At times I even employ them. They can be useful. They set apart extra details that would alter the narrative course. They are not supposed to relate to any other sentence or paragraph outside of the sentence that contains them. Some people use parentheses to the same effect. Meyer, on the other hand, throws dashes into anything and everything, for any reason, on almost every single page. Do you want to see examples of Meyer's use of dashes? I thought so.

Page 4 (which is actually the second page of the story): "Bella," my mom said to me--the last of a thousand times--before I got on the plane. "You don't have to do this."

This sentence sucks for several reasons. I know we're trying to focus on dashes, but that's not the only problem. First of all, she split the sentence in two. The mother's line of dialogue is one sentence ("Bella, you don't have to do this"); therefore the writer should not break apart the dialogue with a period. By writing it the way she did, she is effectively saying that "Bella" is a sentence in itself. It is not. Back to the main point: dashes. Instead of dashes, you may be asking yourself, what is she supposed to put? Nothing. Those dashes aren't in place of anything, they're just stuck in for no reason. The sentence would read fine as: "Bella," my mom said to me the last of a thousand times before I got on the plane, "you don't have to do this." You could argue those dashes replace commas, but to place commas in the sentence disrupts the flow with wasted excess, neither adding nor detracting meaning. You know, the same thing her dashes do.

Page 5: I didn't see it as an omen--just unavoidable. It should be a comma. I didn't see it as an omen, just unavoidable.

Page 7: The thing, I thought to had possibilities--as a nickname, at the very least. I nominate this for the worst published sentence ever. For whatever reason, some of Bella's thoughts are in italics and others are not. Unless, of course, emphasis is supposed to be placed on "the thing." If that is the case, Meyer shouldn't be putting emphasis on "the" as well as "thing." Ellipses (...) are normally used to show an omission of words. Recently, in dialogue, they've been used to show hesitation or the trailing off at the end of a sentence, leaving the line unfinished. It does none of those here (I suppose Meyer could have used "that" originally then omitted it and put ellipses in its place, but doing that would imply her blunder is due to overthought. I have serious doubts about that). She is using it to replace a comma. The dash, again, serves no purpose. It is just shoved into a sentence that doesn't need punctuation there. The comma after "nickname" is also pointless. I know why she added all this punctuation, though. The sentence has two qualifying statements at the end. By adding the qualifiers, Meyer's sentence developed a roller-coaster effect. Just when you think you've reached a logical stopping point, there's another hill. This is what the sentence would look like with correct punctuation: The thing, I thought to myself, it had possibilities as a nickname at the very least. The real problem is that the sentence sucks and instead of changing it, she punctuated it. Here's a good way to write that sentence: The thing, I thought to myself, at least had possibilities as a nickname.

Page 8: It was too green--an alien planet. By the way, this sentence is also a paragraph. Besides rewording and fleshing out, this "paragraph" needs a comma, not a dash. It was too green, an alien planet.

Page 9: All of the kids here had grown up together--their grandparents had been toddlers together. There it is! The cardinal sin of dash use. Meyer combined two complete sentences with a dash. It's the same as a comma splice. The only way to combine two sentences is with a semi-colon. In that regard, you may want to follow Kurt Vonnegut's advice, "Never use semi-colons."

I left out any criticism of dashes in dialogue because dialogue always breaks rules, in real life as well as in fiction. That and there are so many dashes and ellipses in her dialogue that it looks like Morse code. I could probably show examples of poor punctuation on every page for the rest of the chapter but I would likely kill myself before the end. Let's move on to another part of language.

Word choice is my favorite aspect of linguistics and communication. It is difficult and rewarding to make every word in an article or story the most correct, accurate and functional. Every word in every language carries its own stigma, nuance and connotation. Every word has history and social value. Constructing a most perfect sentence out of the most perfect words is the job of every novelist. Meyer constantly fails to get the correct meaning or feeling across to the reader because of her inability to recognize nuance. Most readers blow over these errors in judgment quickly because her writing is comprised almost entirely of common words and clichéd phrases. The words just wash past the reader in a blur. Using common, accurate words can be wonderful. As shown by: Ernest Hemingway, Elmore Leonard, Stephen King, W. Somerset Maugham, J. M. Coatzee, and Cormac McCarthy. Using slightly inaccurate words and clichés is not. Shown by Dan Brown, many unpublished authors and most bloggers. Meyer is in the latter group.

In my college writing classes, I met several students who tried too hard to use poetic descriptors (like 'beautification,' 'gargantuan,' or 'sanguine' when 'improvement,' 'big' or 'happy' would work better) . The words were usually long and sounded good when sitting by themselves, outside contact with any other words. These students would add these words to otherwise normal and simple sentences. It was beyond their ability to write anything more complex. Instead of improving their skills by rigorously studying sentence structure or even accepting their weaknesses and playing to their strengths, they would cram these flowery, overly-descriptive, slightly inaccurate words into their sentences. Not surprisingly, most of these students would write about vampires. These writing students gave me a lifelong aversion to the word "crimson." In their stories, crimson liquid was always running down someone's chin, down walls, down windowpanes, splashing across the floor, flowing from fresh gashes and cuts and puncture wounds. I would write on their papers, "it's fucking red!" Stephenie Meyer is the same way they were. She is the same type of writer I took care to help out of the thesaurus-stage of writing. Either no one helped Meyer in workshops or she ignored the help. For proof, I'll copy a section from the early pages of Twilight. As I think of better words, I will put them in parentheses after the words that suck.

It was to Forks that I now exiled myself (traveled)--an action that I took with great horror (nervousness, trepidation, regret). I detested Forks.
I loved Phoenix. I loved the sun and the blistering (enveloping, dry, extreme) heat. I loved the vigorous (vibrant), sprawling (omit) city.

(Before I get to vocabulary, I wanted to point out that the first sentence is in passive voice, a high school sophomore no-no) Here are the reasons for my edits. By using the already awkward phrase "exiled myself," she adds more description to the action than needed. How she "exiled" herself is explained throughout the chapter. She doesn't need to burden the sentence with this extraneous idea. "Horror" is an awfully strong word to describe something she's gone through before, traveling to a town she knows. How will her feelings be described when she's truly terrified? Perturbed? Miffed? "Blistering" is the idiotic word choice that first drew my attention to this section. "Blistering" is an inflated description of the discomfort heat causes. It is a complaint about heat, not to be misused as a compliment. Unless Bella is a sadist, she doesn't "love" anything that is uncomfortable. She can love heat; that's fine. It has to be for positive reasons, though. Some people like saunas for their extreme heat, but they don't describe the comforting envelopment of warmth as "blistering." "Vigorous" implies a massive effort showing someone to be full of life. A city is full of life or it is not. There is no attempt. Finally, what city isn't "sprawling?" This adds nothing but flowery nonsense. Cut it.

In other sections of the book, it seems as if Meyer lost her thesaurus and had to rely only on her ingrained vocabulary. Which, apparently, doesn't exist. Check out how she describes Edward when Bella first gets a chance to examine him up close.

I couldn't help myself from peeking occasionally through the screen of my hair at the strange boy next to me. During the whole class, he never relaxed his stiff position on the edge of this chair, sitting as far from me as possible. I could see his hand on his left leg was clenched into a fist, tendons standing out under the pale skin. This too he never relaxed. He had the long sleeves of his white shirt pushed up to his elbows, and his forearm was surprisingly hard and muscular beneath his light skin. He wasn't nearly as slight as he'd looked next to his burly brother.

"Through the screen of my hair" is terrible. Hair doesn't have or resemble a screen. Why not use the most obvious choice 'veil?' Less good, but still not as bad, would be "through the woven threads of my hair." "Stiff position" makes sense and is difficult to mistake her meaning, but it's boring. I would have chosen 'imperial posture.' "Hard" is a textural description. Unless Bella reached out and stroked Edward's forearm, she would have no idea if it was hard or not. It can look hard. It can seem hard. Unless she touches it, it cannot be hard. "Hard" is a boring word choice anyway. Solid, taut, toned or sinewy would all be better. Just to put my money where my mouth is, I'll rewrite the paragraph so you may compare the two.

I couldn't help peering through my veil of hair at the strange boy next to me. During class, he never relaxed his imperial posture. He sat rigid on the edge of his chair, as far from me as possible, his left hand clenched into a fist, tendons straining under the pale skin. He had the long sleeves of his white shirt pushed up to his elbows. His forearm was surprisingly taught and muscular. He wasn't nearly as slight as he'd looked beside his burly brother.

I don't have much to say about the overall story because someone, somewhere, can make just about any story entertaining, no matter how vapid. The only problem with the story I have is that Stephenie Meyer seems to be so devoid of ideas that she can't even form a basic plot structure without stealing from famous literary works. It's kind of like rappers sampling famous seventies funk songs and overlaying them with new lyrics. It's lazy and defiling. For Twilight, Meyer raped Pride and Prejudice’s plot; for New Moon, she rips off the most overused story in all history, Romeo & Juliet; and Eclipse steals the plot from Wuthering Heights. I'm guessing the only reason people like her books is because they were originally someone else's.

One more thing. I riddled this blog entry with exceptions to rules just to show that if you know what you're doing, exceptions are acceptable. There are so many rules that if you followed every bit of writing advice about what pitfalls to avoid, you'd have a stack of blank pages. However, if you don't know what you're doing and you still try to write a novel, you will probably write like Stephenie Meyer.

P.S. Most people don't become millionaires by writing trash. She's lucky and I hope she knows it.