Black Man. White Cop. You Know The Rest.

blm

Back in high school I wrote this thing about racism. It was a bit of a disaster. Since then, as a white heterosexual male, I have decided to specifically NOT write about racism if at all possible because the last time I did, things went badly. But I kind of feel the need to break that rule.

His name was Alton Sterling. And if I tell you he was a black man who encountered a police officer you already know the rest of the story. You know the story because it’s the story of Dontre Hamilton. It’s the story of Eric Garner. It’s the story of John Crawford III. It’s the story of Michael Brown Jr. It’s the story of Ezell Ford. It’s the story of Tanisha Anderson. It’s the story of Akai Gurley. It’s the story of Tamir Rice. It’s the story of Rumain Brisbon. It’s the story of Jerame Reid. It’s the story of Tony Robinson. It’s the story of Phillip White. It’s the story of Freddie Gray. It’s the story of Sandra Bland. It’s the story of being black and unlucky in America.

We hear these stories of police shooting black men and women almost as often as we hear about white men committing mass shootings. And each time much like mass shootings we are outraged and paralyzed. Our outrage is understandable. How can these terrible atrocities happen in broad daylight on the streets of the greatest country in the world? Our being paralyzed takes a bit more explaining.

Part of it is the uncomfortable truth that racism is alive and well in America. We did not kill it with Civil Rights. We did not kill it by electing Obama. And if we did not kill it, then we have to admit it’s still out there. We have to admit that some of our friends, neighbors, relatives, and maybe even ourselves are racist or have racist tendencies. And that is really hard to do. It’s so hard to do that it would be much easier to simply deny it and pretend that racism is over. But it’s not. And what are we to do with that?

Another easy option is to simply vilify the police. This is unfair. The vast majority of police officers will go their entire career never firing a shot at anyone. And not every police officer is racist. But the terrible actions of a few make the police an easy target for blame. If we can blame it all on the police then maybe, we do not have to confront any racism closer to home. But this does not work because police officers come from the community. Despite their militarized appearance, these men and women are members of your community whether they act like it or not. They did not arrive at the police academy with no racist thoughts in their heads and suddenly become racist. They were racist before they were cops and the modern police environment nurtures that racism.

There are good reasons for this. Even a fully trained and ethical police officer will still sometimes have to physically put handcuffs on another human being and then put that human being in a cage. For most people, this requires a bit of a disconnect. I have gone on ride alongs with police officers and watched it happen. I have seen the moment when the person a cop is talking to stops being a person to him and starts being a thing. A good cop will tell you that you have the right to remain silent. What they are actually saying is, “Nothing you say will help you because you are no longer a person to me.” Unfortunately this depersonalization does not just make it easy to put someone in a cage. It also makes it easy to put them in a grave.

We’re paralyzed because even if we confront these truths we still don’t know what to do about them. I know that I have biases. I am aware of them and I do my best to combat them, but it is not always easy or obvious. And even being successful does not change what’s happening in this country.

I have given this a lot of thought. These are my suggestions based on what I know. I am interested in what you think of these suggestions. I am interested in other suggestions. I am interested in finding things we can actively do to stop this.

Keep Racists Afraid

One of the worst things about Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is that racists think he has legitimized racism. When the Republican Presidential Nominee is saying things like “Look at my African American.” and calling Mexicans rapists bigots everywhere think that maybe it is okay to spout racist crap publicly. It is not. Fellow white people, any time we hear some blowhard saying racist crap whether it’s a stranger or your best friend, you need to call them on that shit. If we are going to ask our police departments to stop their systemic racism, we need to do the same.

Lethal Force

America has a love affair with guns. As a result we lose 30,000 men, women, and children every year due to gun violence. That’s ten 9/11s every year. Of those 30,000 about 1,000 are police involved killings. It is important to note that not all of these killings were unjustified, unwarranted, or unnecessary. It is equally important to note that far too many of them involved white cops shooting unarmed black people. In a time when we have Tasers, beanbag rounds, and verified de-escalation techniques using lethal force should be the cop equivalent of the nuclear option. It should never be used unless it’s the only thing you can use.

Federal Prosecutor

One of the biggest problems with police involved shootings is that the prosecutor who brings charges against the police is usually the same prosecutor who spends every other day of his life working closely with that same police department. Imagine this. You are a local prosecutor investigating a police involved shooting. If you charge the cop with murder, right or wrong, you are going to upset the rest of the police force which is going to make your job on every other case very difficult. Such a prosecutor is not likely to get endorsed by the police union during the next election. There is a clear conflict of interest in these situations. The way around this is to make every single police involved shooting a federal case with federal investigators and a federal prosecutor. Until this step is taken, I do not expect we will ever see a significant number of these cases actually get any justice.

Community Policing

One of the worst things to happen to modern police forces in this country was the use of surplus military hardware on the streets of America. Giving military weapons and vehicles to a systemically racist police department that already dehumanizes much of the population of a city is a recipe for slaughter. And that is exactly what we have seen again and again. If you give men weapons of war, they’re more likely to fight one. It should be noted that the blame cannot be placed on the police department or the military alone. The blame also falls on city councils and voters who do not approve adequate funding for police departments almost giving them no choice but to accept military handouts because they’re better than nothing.

This is not how the police force always worked. There was a time when a uniformed police officer walked a beat. The police officer knew everyone on that beat and more importantly everyone knew the cop. If a cop had a problem on his beat more often than not he knew the perpetrator. It’s more difficult to use lethal force on someone when you know them. It’s also harder to vilify a police officer when they’re someone you actually know and who has demonstrated that they are simply there to keep the peace. This is what was known as community policing. It’s something that is lacking in most police departments. If you wonder if your neighborhood has community policing ask yourself if you know the cop that patrols your area.

Raise Non-Racists

One of the things you can do is raise your children to be tolerant. Raise them to celebrate diversity rather than be afraid of it. Tell them that we are strong because of our differences and that no human being is superior to another and all life is equally precious. Show them movies with leads who aren’t white. Have them read Between The World and Me when they’re a teenager. Do not tolerate hate speak from children. If we can all commit to this, we can ensure that in the future bigots are the only minority who are afraid.

These are the ideas I have. I do not know what else to do. While I was writing this a 32-year-old man named Philando Castile was shot and killed by police officers who pulled him over for a busted tail light in Minneapolis.

I am not okay with this being normal in the United States of America. I do not have all the answers. But I think it starts with talking. It starts by speaking up. It starts by giving a damn and saying, “Black Lives Matter.”

– Jack Cameron

Barely A Whisper Anymore

I woke up to the news that over one hundred people had been shot in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida last night. At least fifty are dead. After the initial shock of hearing the news a small voice I can barely hear anymore said, “Maybe this is the horrible tragedy that finally gets us to clamp down on gun violence.”

The day before, also in Orlando, Christina Grimmie, a young singer who was on the television show The Voice was shot and killed while signing autographs. I heard that small voice then too. And then I thought, “She’s probably not famous enough. It would have to be a major rock star.”

john-lennon

John Lennon shot four times on December 8, 1980

Oh yeah. That did not do it. If someone can shoot and kill a Beatle, a dead rock star isn’t going to do it. Maybe if it was someone important. Someone powerful. A leader of some sort.

jfk-in-his-own-words-1024.jpg

John F. Kennedy shot and killed November 22, 1963

mlk

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shot and killed April 4, 1968

rfk

Robert F. Kennedy shot and killed June 6, 1968

Wow. Clearly the death of one person is not enough to galvanize the American people to demand common sense gun control. You know what works on the news? Blonde girls. That gets people all upset for some reason. A blonde girl goes missing and everyone is up in arms and the 24-hour news channels cover it for weeks. What if a blonde reporter got shot live on television? Would that wake people up enough to do something about guns and gun control?

Alison-Parker_3422389b

Alison Parker shot and killed on live television August 26, 2015

Okay. I get it. One person whether they are an attractive blonde girl, the biggest rock star in the world, or President of the United States is not enough to make people rethink our policies on guns and gun control.

What about numbers? Statistics like the fact that more people died last year from gunshot wounds than from car accidents do not work either because they’re just numbers.

The kind of tragedy we need to wake people up to the horrible damage easy gun access has caused is something like a school shooting. Maybe that would work.

columbine

Fifteen people shot and killed including two teenage gunmen on April 20, 1999 at Columbine High School

Oh. That didn’t cause people to change their minds about guns either. Well, it’s high school. High school can be rough for some people. Hell, who didn’t want to kill someone in high school?

You know what no one could ignore? You know what would really get everyone ready to give up their guns voluntarily just at the sheer horror of it all? If someone shot up an elementary school even the most hard core gun nut would have to pause and think we need some sensible gun control laws. That maybe we should make getting guns at least as hard as it is to get a car. That would do it.

shvictims

Twenty-Six shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 12, 2012

Twenty-six dead. Twenty under the age of eight. And that was not enough to really enact change. And so I wake up this morning to the news that over 100 people have been shot and half of them are dead due to a gunman. And a tiny voice wonders if we will do anything at all about the easy access to guns in this country. But that voice has become barely more than a whisper because I know the truth. We will do nothing.

We sacrifice over 30,000 American lives every year and pay for the freedom to own guns with their blood. The Aztecs sacrificed lives to their Gods. Experts say they sacrificed as many as 20,000 people a year. We have them beat. We sacrifice so we can own weapons. We do not ask for volunteers. People are chosen at random and while most are poor, no matter who you are, you could be next. The fact that you have not been chosen is the only reason you still allow this to go on. Today, far too many will hear of a massacre in a gay nightclub in Florida and incorrectly think, “I don’t go to gay nightclubs in Florida and so I must be safe.”

Last night over 50 people unwillingly sacrificed their lives for your freedom to own guns. By next week you won’t remember any of their names and be just as shocked as you are right now the next time a mass unwilling sacrifice is made. And you will do just as little as you always have to stop gun violence and the easy access to guns because this is America.

– Jack Cameron

I Want No Part of Your Bloody Revolution

In 1991 I was a right leaning teenager who did not want to go to war. I was pro-death penalty. I was anti-abortion. I was anti-gay. I was also anti-getting-shot-at-on-the-other-side-of-the-planet. Eventually I met up with some acquaintances that wanted to firebomb the local Army Recruiting station after hours. They called me up to see if I was interested. I turned them down because it seemed like a stupid thing to do and it would not solve anything.

Despite my conservative leanings, I ended up looking more and more at the whole political structure. I started reading Noam Chomsky. I went up to Seattle and watched the documentary Manufacturing Consent based on Chomsky’s book of the same name. And then I had this epiphany: The Republicans were corrupt. So were the Democrats. The whole damn system was corrupt and had been for decades if not longer. We needed a new American Revolution.

1992 was an election year and I would not be able to vote because I would not be 18 until a month after the election. This did not lower my interest in the election. I was angry at George Bush for getting us into a half-assed war. To my mind at the time we should have done nothing or gone right into Baghdad and declared Iraq the 51st State. This kicking them out of Kuwait but keeping Saddam in power and not really stopping them from doing the exact same thing again bugged me. Besides. George Bush Sr. used to run the CIA and was involved in everything from Iran Contra to the plot to sell crack in inner city neighborhoods to help fund more wars in Central America. He was a walking talking piece of the big machine.

bill

I still have my copy of Bill Clinton’s interview in Rolling Stone from 1992.

When Bill Clinton became the Democratic frontrunner, I had a subscription to Rolling Stone. They did an interview with him involving all of their top writers including Hunter S. Thompson. Each of the writers did an article about the interview. Each of them mentioned how Bill Clinton said he wanted more cops on the street while looking at Hunter. I liked Bill Clinton’s optimism. I liked that he was not an old man. I liked a lot of what he said. But he was a Democrat. That meant he was part of the corrupt machine.

 

And then there was Ross Perot. Perot wasn’t a Democrat or a Republican. He was a short firecracker of a man. A businessman from Texas who was somehow a billionaire. He was using his own money and insisted he could get America running the way he got his businesses running. He wasn’t afraid to say things that were not politically correct. He seemed pragmatic. I liked him. I bought his little book and read it. All I remember from that book is that he said that as a kid he wanted a job where he didn’t have to work outside. He was not part of the machine as far as I could tell. The establishment did not like him and I liked that. But he was a billionaire from Texas and probably not the guy who was going to help the common man. Still, there was something to be said for voting for a guy who was not a Democrat or a Republican because fuck the two party system, man.

I went to see Bill Clinton speak in Seattle during the election. It was an outdoor venue near the waterfront. They played David Bowie’s ‘Changes’ just before he took the stage. Regardless of your opinion of Bill Clinton and his politics, it is impossible to deny his ability to work a crowd. By the end of his speech I was all about this guy. When Ross Perot did a campaign stop, I saw him too and felt disappointed. That guy just didn’t have Bill’s charisma and seemed a bit unsure of himself. I didn’t quite believe Perot actually believed the things he said. I wanted so much to like Perot but I just couldn’t. I liked Bill Clinton, but he was part of the system and the system was totally screwed up and corrupt and needed to be destroyed.

As I said, I was not able to vote in 1992. So I did not have to make a decision. I watched all the debates. I watched Ross Perot quit, then come back, then quit again and completely implode. I watched Bill Clinton win and I thought about how it felt like a turning point for America. There was optimism in the air even though I was pretty sure it was bullshit. I mean I did not expect Bill Clinton was going to do a damn thing about the atrocities in East Timor for example. He probably didn’t even know where East Timor was.

Time passed. I learned more. I watched as Republicans started attacking Bill Clinton for fooling around as if he was the first President to ever do such a thing and saw their hypocrisy for what it was. Sure, the Democrats were part of the system, but at least they did not resort to this sort of character assassination. By this time I had changed my views on gay rights and abortion. I still thought the death penalty was necessary for some people and that everyone had a right to have a gun. But I really could not get past this ‘holier-than-thou’ crap pedaled by Congressional Republicans.

I started thinking about the system. The big corrupt machine. The eradication of the Middle Class. The completely hypocritical and useless drug war. The ‘tough on crime’ bills that ruined lives and did nothing to lower the crime rate and everything to increase the prison population. College was becoming so expensive that your parents had to make six figures or you needed a scholarship or a loan you would be paying back forever. The rich getting richer and richer while the poor weren’t just getting poorer. They were dying. Welfare recipients were cut to five years of service. After five years, you were on your own and could die for all they cared. The safety net for human beings was being erased.

I looked at all of it that I was aware of and came to a fairly disheartening conclusion: I cannot stop it without a lot of people helping me kill a lot of people. You aren’t going to convince the head of Walmart to stop keeping so much money. Talk to any seriously rich person and they will tell you how they are terrified of losing their money. It does not matter how much they have. I could see no way to create the revolution that I felt needed to happen without a lot of blood. And there was no way that blood would be one-sided. There were people who were alive right now who might have otherwise lived okay or even good lives who were going to die in such a revolution. And that’s when I made a personal decision.

I would not fight for the revolution. I understood those who wanted it. I wanted it. But if you seriously fuck with the system, the system will fuck you back. Every time. History is littered with examples. Look at Henry Wallace. Look at JFK, RFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Look at George McGovern. Look at Edward Snowden. The revolution is tough. It will destroy your life. It will kill you. And each of those people had more money and more power than I will ever have. I am a bug to be squashed compared to those men.

I like Bernie Sanders. I agree with almost everything he says. I donated to his campaign. I have a bumper sticker with his name on it on my car and it’s been there for months. He is right that we need to get money out of politics. He is right that we need a political revolution away from never ending war and towards actual progress for the people of this country. He is most definitely a guy who does what he feels is right regardless of consequences and I respect that. If I were the young man I was in 1992 I have no doubt that right now I would be telling you how Bernie Sanders is our only hope for a sane outcome in this election and that a vote for Trump or Hillary is just more of the status quo in varying degrees. I would be shouting it to anyone who would listen and commenting on any Facebook thread of a friend silly enough to disagree with me because the big corrupt machine needs to be brought down and sure, we can all agree that Trump is terrible, but Hillary Clinton isn’t going to destroy the machine any more than her husband did. I would have ‘B-E-R-N-I-E’ on my forehead in permanent marker.

I am not the young man was in 1992. A few weeks ago I looked at the electoral count and realized that Bernie Sanders simply did not have the votes he needed to become the nominee. In every state he lost someone complained about it being rigged or about some sort of corruption or cheating. Maybe some of it was true. Maybe not. It did not matter. Not really. I was around in 2000 when I watched George W. Bush actually steal an election. This was how American politics worked. It’s like bedtime when you’re a kid. You might not like it or agree with it, but it is what it is and sure, you can change things but that’s not going to actually matter until next time anyway. They are not going to retroactively give it to Bernie.

And so I put my support behind Hillary Clinton. This move upset quite a few of my friends. They did not understand it. They thought I was compromising my values. Their mistake was thinking that just because we endorsed the same candidate we had the same values. That simply wasn’t true. My values are fairly simple. I want to be able to live my life with as few uncomfortable moments as possible while helping as many and hurting as few people as I can. I do not have any interest in being a soldier and I never have.

Hillary Clinton will likely lead us in what will basically be a more conservative version of Obama’s administration. The drone strikes will continue. Guantanamo will not close. And the use of force will always be on the table. But we will get a modest minimum wage increase, continued healthcare, continued gay rights, equal pay for women, and some actual infrastructure funding that is sorely needed. None of those good things will happen under Trump. Trump will not work with the Democratic Congress on anything he doesn’t care about. I drink Coke, but if you’re all out of Coke, I’ll take Pepsi because Diet Coke is terrible. I’m not going to burn the store down because there is no Coke.

Yes, the big machine is still out there making the trade of human lives for profits. In many ways it is stronger than ever. And for that very reason I do not have a lot of interest in directly fighting it. Back in 1992 you had to firebomb a recruiting station to get arrested. These days if you go to the wrong website, you can be put on a list, you can be detained indefinitely without ever being charged with a crime. Anwar al-Awlaki was an American citizen who spoke out against America, who advocated violence towards American people, who conversed with terrorists, but he never actually killed anyone. He mostly talked and wrote. That did not stop the Obama administration from killing him. It did not stop them from killing his 16-year-old son two weeks later despite his son being suspected of nothing at all. He too was an American citizen. Neither of them had a trial. We live in a very dangerous world where money is the only goal or God and suspicion is all that is needed to have you incarcerated indefinitely or killed. If you want a revolution, fine. But changing things takes time. If you want a revolution right now then it’s going to be bloody and people you care about are going to die for it. And I want no part of it because there is absolutely nothing pointing to that revolution being successful and even if it were, what guarantees are there that it would be any better?

I realize that you could read all of this and simply determine that I am a coward too afraid to stand up for what I believe in. I doubt anyone who really knows me would agree. But to make it clear, yes, I am aware that the entire political structure is corrupt and in desperate need of change. Yes, I am aware that Hillary Clinton does not have a spotless record and does not share every opinion I have. Yes, I am aware that for most of us our wages have gone nowhere, our job prospects are minimal, and in just about any way you look at it our lives could be better than they are. I am also aware that none of this will be resolved before November. You can go on and on about ‘What if this..’ and ‘What if that..’ and tell me all about how Bernie is the only real choice and how anyone who is voting for Hillary must be asleep and not awake like you. Go ahead. But Jill Stein and the Libertarian guy’s name that I can’t even remember aren’t popular enough to win and Bernie is not going to win anything if he isn’t the Democratic nominee. In November your choices are a former First Lady of Arkansas, former First Lady of the United States, Former US Senator, Former Secretary of State and current Democratic Presumptive Presidential Nominee who happens to have a former President of the United States as an advisor and spouse OR you can choose a person who publicly said women need to be treated ‘like shit’, a person who has said he is willing to nuke Eastern Europe, a man who encourages his audience to beat protesters, a man who calls Mexicans rapists, a man who makes fun of people with disabilities, a man who raped his first wife and said it was okay because spousal rape was legal at that time, a man who suggests we should keep lists or have people wear something to signify what religion they are, a man who failed to make money while owning a casino, and a man who repeatedly talks about wanting to sleep with his own daughter.

I know for some of you nothing I say will make Hillary Clinton someone you can vote for. That’s fine. If you want to vote for Trump. That’s fine too. If you want to vote for a third party candidate or write in Bernie Sanders or Minnie Mouse, you can do that too. We at the very least like to pretend it’s a Democracy and no one should take away your right to cast your vote however you want even if that means not voting at all. You have that freedom. As do we all. It your choice.

However, you do not have the freedom of absolution from the consequences of that choice. You do not get to say, “It’s Hillary’s fault I didn’t vote for her because she didn’t court my vote enough.” No. You did not vote for her because you did not want to. People fought and died to make sure you have the right to vote. The least you can do is own that responsibility.

It is easy to get discouraged. It is easy to feel like maybe the world needs a horror like Trump to wake up. Such feelings are understandable but ignore the human cost. It ignores the people who will suffer and die under Trump. Right now bullies are hassling kids and using Trump slogans to do it. If he were President it would be even worse.

I understand that to some Hillary is the enemy and always will be. But you have to choose your battles. You want to fight with all your might to get Bernie in? Go right ahead, but that’s a battle you will not win. I personally think it would be better to vote for the person most likely to work with Bernie when he goes back to the Senate and that is not Donald Trump. It’s Hillary Clinton who voted the same as Bernie 93% of the time.

But damn, isn’t that kind of bleak for a leftist revolutionary? We can’t get the progressive in office so we have to go for the establishment candidate who is just going to give us more of the same of what we have had the last eight years? We can’t take down the machine because it will destroy us? We have to live actually live with this? Yeah, it can be depressing and disheartening if you look at things in a certain way. But I don’t.

Instead I look at this simple truth: There is more good than bad. Don’t believe me? Let me leave you with this story.

I have a good friend named Kristopher Brannon. We went to high school together. He was the one driving the car that took me up to see Bill Clinton back in 1992. For the last ten years he has been tirelessly advocating for the return of the NBA Super Sonics to Seattle as the human mascot, Sonics Guy. He has been to thousands of sporting events, parades, grand openings, festivals, and council meetings. His work is so prolific and inspiring that a documentary was made about him called Superfan. It premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival three weeks ago. After spending the weekend in Seattle for the premiere, Kris came back to his home in Tacoma to find it ransacked. His collection of Sonics jerseys and memorabilia were stolen. So was his late father’s ring. It was devastating. You want to talk about discouragement? Imagine spending a decade making thousands of appearances, collecting hundreds of unique and rare items, and then it’s all gone.

And then something happened. A friend of his started a crowdfunding campaign. She set the goal at a modest $1,000. It would not replace what was lost but it could help get him back on his feet. The $1,000 goal was met in hours. In two weeks that the campaign has been up, over $7,000 has been raised by over 200 people. (You can still donate to his campaign by clicking here.) There’s a benefit concert happening later this month. Kris had his possessions stolen by one person. He was helped by hundreds of people. Yes, the machine is out there and fighting it is near impossible. But there is good right here right now. This will be true regardless of who gets elected in November. It’s important to remember the basic goodness of humanity.

I’m not writing this to convince anyone of anything. I just had some stuff I needed to get out. If it resonates with you, great. If it doesn’t, oh well.

– Jack Cameron

X-Men: Apocalypse review

x-men-apocalypse-launch-quad-poster.jpg
I watched X-Men: Apocalypse last night. My first reaction was, “Well, that was a solid addition to the absolute mess that is the X-Men movie franchise.” Now before we get too far, let me say that I have been reading X-Men comics since I was twelve years old and have read literally every issue with ‘X-Men’ in the title that has come out since 1962. When it comes to the X-Men, I know what I am talking about. Also, from here on out, spoiler alert.

Of course the movies deviate substantially from the source material and I am not going to fault them for that too much. What I want to talk about here involves time travel and timelines and what appears to be a complete lack of understanding of these things on the part of the creators of the X-Men movies. In order to get into this properly I need to talk about all of the other X-Men movies before I start talking about X-Men: Apocalypse.

The first X-Men movie came out in the year 2000. The fact that it existed at all was impressive at the time. Growing up in the 1990s, an actual live action X-Men movie seemed impossible. X-Men began the franchise and while it had its faults, I liked it. X2 was even more to my liking. Wolverine finally got to cut loose and we learn about his time at Alkali Lake as a government experiment on the part of William Stryker.

Then came the disaster that was X-Men 3. Up until X-Men 3, Bryan Singer was the director. But Singer decided to go do Superman Returns and out of what appears to be sheer spite, the studio got Brett Ratner to replace him. Brett’s X-Men 3 was terrible. They killed a bunch of characters. They botched the introduction of new characters. They essentially ignored the idea of anyone being able to do a competent sequel by giving later creators nothing to work with.

It was no surprise that the next X-Men movie wasn’t even an X-Men movie. It was Wolverine: Origins which smartly decided to be a prequel to avoid the mess that was X-Men 3. Unfortunately this was the only thing they did that was smart. Wolverine: Origins was so bad it almost makes X-Men 3 look good. It also introduced all sorts of screwy continuity that has for the most part been entirely ignored by every X-Men movie before or since. They treat it like it doesn’t exist and really, you should too.

At this point it seemed that the X-Men movie series had gone the way of the Batman series after Batman & Robin. A once promising franchise that crashed and burned after a couple of terrible movies. This is why X-Men: First Class was such a breath of fresh air. Young Xavier and Magneto is incredibly compelling. It’s kind of weird that Marvel has never had a whole series about these two in their younger days. X-Men First Class shows us how the X-Men first formed and integrates their world into ours including a starring role in the Cuban Missile Crisis. We also get the briefest of cameos of Wolverine. By the end of the movie Xavier is in a wheelchair, Magneto is known as a bad guy, and the X-Men have been formed. As far as continuity is concerned, there were a few hiccups including the part where Xavier and Mystique had never previously behaved like lifelong friends in any of the other movies, but for the most part it worked.

There was another Wolverine movie called The Wolverine that took place after X-Men 3 and included flashbacks to WWII but for the most part didn’t really add anything except some more Wolverine stuff unless you count the post-credit scene where Magneto and Xavier show up asking for help.

And then we get to X-Men: Days of Future Past. This movie tries to take everything that has come before it and have it all make sense. Unfortunately it fails spectacularly and has created what I consider a fatal problem for the franchise. For starters, the part at the end of The Wolverine does not take place in the distant future but that’s where they need his help. But let’s just skip right by there. In Days of Future Past the X-Men from the distant future are being hunted to extinction by giant robots called Sentinels. So Kitty Pryde uses a power they never explain and she’s never had before to send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time to 1973 to stop an assassination that will lead to their terrible future. They succeed and Wolverine wakes up in the future and everything is fine and everyone is alive again and they aren’t being hunted. That is where X-Men: Days of Future Past leaves things with the exception of a post-credit sequence involving Apocalypse messing with pyramids.

However, there is a larger problem in Days of Future Past that is not immediately apparent. When Wolverine’s consciousness is sent back in time into his younger body he has to search out Xavier who it turns out is taking medication that allows him to walk but kills his mental powers. He’s also a drunk who is uninterested in saving himself let alone the world. The time traveling Wolverine literally shows up at his doorstep and changes all that. This is important. It is what allows Charles Xavier to become Professor X. The problem is that if Wolverine did this while time traveling, then how did Xavier ever get out of this funk in the original timeline? How did the X-Men form when Wolverine had not traveled back in time? How did Magneto escape his cell in the original since Quicksilver was only recruited after the time traveling Wolverine suggested it?

At the end of Days of the Future Past, Wolverine is badly injured and found by Mystique pretending to be William Stryker. The next time we see Wolverine he is at Alkali Lake under the supervision of the real William Stryker with no explanation at all as to how that happened. That’s all well and good except for the part where Days of Future Past changed the timeline. In the original timeline, Magneto didn’t put a stadium around the White House and fill Wolverine full of rebar before tossing him into the water and so Stryker/Mystique would not have found him there.

This brings us to X-Men: Apocalypse*. There is a lot to like this in this movie. Magneto’s story of trying to live a normal life and not being allowed to, finally watching Xavier fight a battle in his mind, and a near-perfect Wolverine cameo appearance immediately come to mind. But the problem that started in Days of Future Past and gets worse in Apocalypse. Since Magneto never did what he did in Days of Future Past in the original timeline, we do not know if Magneto ever tried to settle down before or if this is new. We also do not know if the X-Men fought Apocalypse in the 1980s in the original timeline. If they did, it could not have possibly happened the way it does in Apocalypse because both Magneto and Mystique are in very different places then they seem to be in 2000’s X-Men. Mystique was not known to the world in the original. Nightcrawler had never been to the X-Mansion in the original timeline. There are dozens of these kinds of problems that all make it very difficult to pay attention to the rest of the movie for me because the creators never bothered to make sure their continuity was solid. Instead the creators want to have their cake and eat it too, essentially allowing the new timeline to lead up to 2000’s X-Men with no explanation as to why or how that makes any sense.

One could argue that this timeline and the original timeline are one and the same and that Wolverine always traveled back in time, but the problem with this is the scene where Wolverine wakes up and everything is okay. If that’s what they’re leading up to, they’ve failed to do the groundwork.

I realize that for many, none of this matters. For many all they want is some reasonable special effects, a bunch of fighting, and a loose plot to hang that on. As a life-long fan of the X-Men and someone sees bad continuity as bad storytelling, it bugs the hell out of me.

That said, X-Men: Apocalypse is on par with the rest of the X-Men movies. Good characters. Decent acting. Some great sequences. But a fundamental flaw in their continuity and plotting.

– Jack Cameron

 

*Yes, I know that Deadpool is technically an X-Men movie and it’s a great movie but it does very little when it comes to overall X-Men continuity and so isn’t relevant for this article.

How The 1% is Killing Us All

 

Income-Inequality

Click on the image for more from Mike Luckovich.

I’m going to tell you a true story* about one man and then I’m going to tell you how I feel this story is basically a micro version of what is happening in the United States to anyone who isn’t a millionaire.

Dave is a handyman in his 60s. He lives in a shop in Kent. It’s pretty much just a garage. It has no running water. It has no electricity. His landlord, Matt charges him $350 a month. He works for landlords fixing up their properties when they need it. He built my front and back porches. He is currently fixing a wall that had some water damage.  He is a likable guy with solid skills. He’s getting old and can’t do as much as he used to, but he’s still working and typically charges about $12 an hour plus material costs. (Charging more has historically resulted in less work.)

One of the landlords he works for happens to be Matt, his own landlord. Dave has been living in his shop for the last four years. In that time he has done dozens of jobs for Matt. One time last year Matt asked him to spray some mold killer and paint over some black mold in an apartment that Matt owned. Dave arrived and found that a family was living there. The room with the black mold was the baby’s room. And the black mold wasn’t isolated to one small spot. It practically covered the ceiling.

Dave called Matt and told him that this was a much bigger job than simply spraying some mold killer and painting over it. This stuff was clearly in the attic as well on the surface of the ceiling. Matt told him that replacing the ceiling and getting into the attic was going to be ‘too expensive’ and demanded that Dave paint over it as requested. Dave refused. Dave then warned the family about the dangers of the mold and how the spores get into the air and cause all sorts of health problems especially for children.

A few months ago Dave was called to that same apartment to fix a leaking toilet. The same family was there. He took a look at the baby’s room and saw that Matt had found someone to paint over the mold and now it was growing through the latest paint job. He again talked to the family but the man he talked to said he was afraid to confront the landlord because he didn’t want to get kicked out and he couldn’t afford to move.

In January Dave did some work for Matt. The work totaled about $1600. When Dave was finished with the work, Matt said that he would pay him soon but that he couldn’t pay him at that time. A month later, Matt had property Tumwater that had been burglarized. He asked Dave if he could stay at the house a few nights until he had it rented out. Dave and his grandson drove from Kent to Tumwater and back for nine days. Shortly after that, Dave’s truck broke down. The transmission had gone out in it.

A week later Matt called him and asked him to do some work on a property in Bremerton. Dave said, “I can’t do it. My truck’s broken down.”

Matt said, “I can drive you there.”

Dave responded, “What you can do is pay me the $1600 you owe me so I can fix my truck.”

“You’ll get your money, but I need this done today. I’ll just pick you up.”

“And where in your Tesla will we put my saw? Where will you put my ladder? How will I get to the hardware store to get supplies?”

By late April he had still not been paid one dime from Matt. Eventually Dave was able to get his truck fixed using money he made from other handyman jobs. (Like the ones my landlord has him do.)

One day just before May 1st, Dave and Matt ran into each other at the grocery store. Dave said, “You owe me rent for the last few months.”

Dave said, “I don’t owe you rent. Rent is $350 a month. That’s $1400 rent for January through April. You still haven’t paid me the $1600 you owe me. By my count you owe me $200.”

Matt got angry and said, “I’m not paying you any money. And your rent just went up to $500 a month which I know you can’t afford so I’ll start eviction proceedings.”

Tomorrow Dave is talking to a lawyer to get this settled. I talked to him today. He said, “I’ll get this sorted out. Until then I’m gonna work. It’s all I’m good for.”

As I said at the beginning, Dave’s story has a lot of things that I believe apply to those of us who aren’t lucky enough to be in the top 1%. He’s paid below a living wage when he gets paid at all. His employer cares only for profits and nothing for the safety or welfare of those who help him make those profits. When someone becomes undesirable, they increase costs to price those people out of the market.

While not everything below applies to Dave’s specific situation, much of it does and the things that don’t apply to many people who are in similar circumstances as Dave. There is a concentrated effort on the part of the 1% to drain whatever power the rest of us have to nothing.

Here is the one and only conspiracy theory I truly believe in because the evidence is everywhere and it requires no collusion or secrecy on anyone’s part. Their attacks are overt. And they do it with impunity because they know we’re as afraid as the guy in the apartment with the black mold who is literally forced to choose between living somewhere unhealthy or not having a place for his family to live at all.

Here are some of the things that get legislated to make sure the poor don’t only stay poor but get poorer.

– Keep cutting funding to public education

– Keep wages low

– Increase cost of living expenses

– Restrict access to health care

– Restrict access to birth control

– Restrict access to abortion services

– Cut public assistance

– Increase taxes on the poor

– Increase college tuition to unaffordable levels

– Replace affordable housing with smaller more expensive ‘luxury housing’

– Give tax breaks to millionaires

– Eliminate restrictions on guns

– Implement mandatory minimum sentencing

– Privatize prisons so they are for-profit
Each of these things has been championed by prominent Republicans across the country over the last thirty years. The result is fairly simple. If you are not rich, you will be working harder and for more hours and less pay in order to simply maintain the lifestyle that previous generations could attain by simply working one full time job. If you fail to work hard enough, there will be no social safety net to save you. One of the few things you can get your hands on is a gun. Two out of three gun deaths are suicides. So maybe you decide to take yourself out after all of society has deemed you a failure for not playing along.

Or maybe you are desperate enough to commit crimes at which point, you end up in prison. Thanks to the for-profit prison system you’ll be able to make corporations money in the same way you would have working a dead-end below-living-wage job. Either way, you’ll be doing your part to make the rich richer. This is the system that is in place at this time and Republicans are only making it worse.

And I haven’t even mentioned the part where if you’re female or not white, your options and advantages are even worse than that. As a woman you’ll make 70% what men make in the same job. As an African American you’ll deal with systemic racism on all levels of society that make getting that job more difficult and authorities more likely to treat you violently.

I don’t have a solution for this. Voting for Democrats might not make things worse, but I don’t think they’re going to necessarily make things better in any real sense regardless of how progressive they claim to be if only because they can’t negotiate with the terrorists the Republican Party has become.

For a long while I wondered what it was going to take before things got violent. Then I realized things have been violent for a while now. It’s just that we aren’t even coming close to being what might be called a Resistance. Instead we’re being slaughtered in the street by militarized police forces and anyone who steps out of line can simply be labeled a terrorist. When someone within the government decided that the government having access to every phone call, email, and cellphone in the country was not okay, he had to go to Russia to avoid prosecution and is labelled a traitor.

I have asked myself what I should do about this and the truth is I can’t do much and neither can most of you because you’re like me just struggling the best you can to pay bills so you can make rent. It’s kind of difficult to make a concentrated effort at resistance when you’re spending all of your energy just trying to make enough money to survive.

As I said, I do not have a solution for you, me, or Dave. My solution for myself has been to enroll in college in the Human Services program. I did this both because I genuinely want to help people and because given all of the things I mentioned, there are going to be millions of people who need professional help. I figure one of the handful of growth industries in this culture is going to be counseling people who are trying to cope with a world so wildly out of balance that the richest country in the world also happens to have some of the highest child poverty in the world. I won’t be able to change the world, but I might make some people’s worlds better. Maybe I’ll find I can do more. Maybe it won’t make a lick of good. But I cannot look at what’s going on and do nothing.

– Jack Cameron

*Names and specific details have been altered to protect identities.

Captain America: Civil War Movie Review

Captain-America---Civil-War-RGB-300ppi

I have been an avid reader of Marvel Comics since 1988. In the twelve weeks leading up to Captain America: Civil War I watched the twelve Marvel movies that came before. I walked into Captain America: Civil War with about as much of a pre-established bias as one can. I am not surprised that I enjoyed Captain America: Civil War. I am surprised that it may very well be my all-time favorite superhero movie.

Civil War had a lot to do in its two-hour and twenty-six minute run time. It had to continue the ongoing story of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I had to give us a believable reason that half of the Avengers would be willing to fight the other half. It had to introduce a totally new Spider-Man that was different from any live action Spider-Man before him. It had to introduce Black Panther for the first time in a live action movie and establish who he is and what his motivations are. And lastly it had to give character moments throughout the movie for Captain America, Iron Man, Black Widow, War Machine, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Vision, Hawkeye, Ant-Man, Winter Soldier, Black Panther, Spider-Man, General Ross, Aunt May, Sharon Carter, Crossbones and Baron Zemo. Oh, and it has to have a compelling story with lots of good action and mind-blowing special effects while simultaneously remaining true to the original comics and putting their own spin on it. Somehow, the Russo Brothers and screenwriters Christopher Markus and Steve McFeely manage to do all of this and make one of the best movies I have seen in years.

This is a movie where everyone is going to have their favorite moment. Many say it’s Ant-Man’s big scene. Some like the final fight. Others like the opening sequence with Crossbones. For me, it was a scene in which we see Tony Stark in 1991. I spent most of the scene wondering how the hell they filmed this scene twenty-five years before the first Iron Man because it was clearly Robert Downey Jr. in 1991. I’ve seen incredible de-aging effects before (most recently in Ant-Man with Michael Douglas), but this was some next level stuff. I am no longer concerned about actors being too old for a part. They could make Indiana Jones 5 right now and set it five years after The Last Crusade with Harrison Ford and we would think they found it on a shelf somewhere. And on top of that, the scene in question is a vital piece of what makes Tony Stark tick as a person.

Civil War has a ton of action, but that action is entirely character driven. Over and over again things happen not just to further the plot but because that is who the character is and if anyone else did it then it would not make sense. We know this because most of these characters have been around for at least two or three movies. This is one of the advantages of franchise filmmaking. And yet with Spider-Man they had the exact opposite problem. How do you re-introduce a character we’ve seen played by two different people in five movies over the last sixteen years and make it better than anything we’ve seen in any of those movies and yet fit into this ensemble cast? They manage to do that and more even though Spidey probably isn’t in the movie more than fifteen minutes.

I’m doing my best to keep this review mostly spoiler-free, but there is one thing I really want to talk about and it requires spoilers. So skip the next paragraph if you have not seen Civil War and want to remain unspoiled.

 

Okay. So the trope of hero vs. hero is about as old a comic book cliché as there is. Invariably it revolves around a fundamental misunderstanding that results in the two fighting until they realize they are really both on the same side and then they go after the real bad guy. We saw this done in the most clumsily possible fashion a few weeks ago in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. They do it in Civil War too. Iron Man and his crew are certain the Winter Soldier is responsible for the attack. Then Stark realizes that he wasn’t and heads to Moscow to help. What happens next is that after the fake reason to hate Winter Soldier has been exposed Zemo reveals to Tony Stark a much more personal reason for hating both Bucky and Captain America. Revealing that a brainwashed Bucky was responsible for the death of Stark’s parents took some serious inspirational brilliance. And the fact that Cap never told Tony that his parents were killed by Hydra makes it all the more painful for him. This is after everything else that has happened. After Ultron. After Pepper left him. After he failed to keep the Avengers together. After Rhodey was severely injured. After Black Widow stopped supporting his cause. After all of this he finds that Captain America, the guy his father revered, lied about the death of Tony’s parents. The resulting fight is exactly the opposite of what nearly every other superhero movie of the last twenty years has been. Instead of saving the world, these people are trying to save a friendship. Hell, they’re just trying to save themselves.

 

I have mentioned the directors and writers and special effects teams, but really none of this would have worked if they didn’t have what appears to be the world’s best casting directors. This cast is amazing. Each embodies their character on a level that makes it difficult not to think of them when I read the comic book. Veterans like Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans continue to do great work, but newcomers like Tom Holland as Spider-Man and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther absolutely nailed their roles too. The camerawork and stunt work is still being done by the same people who did Captain America: Winter Soldier and it shows.

I give Captain America: Civil War my highest recommendation. Everyone brought their A-Game to this movie. Go see it. Stay for both after credit sequences. They’re worth it.

– Jack Cameron

Bernie über alles

berninator
It is no secret that I am a Democrat. I am fairly vocal about it on my Facebook page, on this site, and elsewhere. In 2008 and 2012 I donated to Obama’s campaign. In 2016 I have donated to the Bernie Sanders campaign. I have a Bernie bumper sticker on the back window of my car. If you ask me who I want to be the next President of the United States out of the current people running, I will tell you Bernie Sanders. And yet that is not enough.

Unlike many of my fellow Bernie Sanders supporters, I believe that Hillary Clinton is an incredibly accomplished woman with the best resume a Presidential candidate has had in my lifetime. I also believe that if Bernie fails to get the nomination, Hillary Clinton is a fine second choice who I will be happy to endorse, support, and help elect. This, for many, is falling short of being a True Bernie Supporter.

To add insult to injury I also feel that what the Republicans want more than anything since they failed to find a viable candidate is for Democrats to rip each other apart and so I refuse to bash Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton. I do not see any reason that I should do what the GOP wants me to do unless they pay me. It would seem many Bernie supporters I personally know would prefer to work for them for free.

In the last two days I have been personally approached online and off by multiple friends of mine who are Bernie supporters. Each of them has tried to convince me that Hillary is a terrible Presidential candidate and seem genuinely upset when I refuse to agree with them. Keep in mind these are personal friends who know that I am already a Bernie Sanders supporter. Given the chance to vote for Bernie in the election I will and they know that. And yet, that is somehow not enough.

When I tell people that I feel Hillary is a near equal candidate to Bernie, far too many Bernie supporters get angry. It’s important to note that I said ‘near equal’ not ‘the same’. Bernie and Hillary while both being Democrats are very different. Hillary is a terrible substitute for Bernie. However she is a fine candidate in her own right. I could explain why, but I do not feel the need to. Plenty of others have done a far better job of that than I can.

My point in writing this is to point out that if you treat your allies (who are already voting for your candidate) like the enemy, you are failing at supporting your candidate. In November I will be voting for Bernie Sanders or I will be voting for Hillary Clinton. And I am fine with either choice regardless of how many people might want me not to be.

– Jack Cameron

UPDATE: I was reminded that there is a contingent of Bernie fanatics who believe that Bernie should run as an independent if he fails to get the nomination. This of course is the only hope for the Republican Party to get the White House in November. Splitting the Democratic vote will only help someone like Trump get in the White House. It will not result in a Sanders Presidency. When I point this out these people typically say that Trump as President will just make ‘the revolution come sooner’. These are living, breathing, and allegedly thinking Americans who genuinely want a violent revolution of the United States with apparently no regard for the loss of life that may result. The breadth of the short sighted stupidity on display in this scenario is amazing.

Luckily, Bernie Sanders himself is far smarter than many of his followers no matter how fanatical they may be. He’s said so himself that he’s not running as an independent.