Outlining By The Seat of Your Pants

Author’s Note: The following is my teaching essay written during my MFA in Creative Writing program at Goddard College.

Outlining By The Seat of Your Pants
A Teaching Practicum Essay

By Jack Cameron

Goddard College
MFA in Creative Writing Program

via Zoom in cooperation with Creative Colloquy Writer’s Workshop Series
Two classes consisting of eight one-hour sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays from September 29, 2020 – October 22, 2020

BEGINNINGS          

When I was in high school a local mystery writer by the name of Earl Emerson visited our English class. At the time, I fancied myself a writer and never outlined anything I worked on. For me, the fun was joining the characters I had created on their adventures and seeing where they ended up. When he spoke of writing he said much the same thing about his beginnings in his craft. In that moment I felt a sort of kinship. Then he explained how he spent fourteen years writing novel after novel that no one wanted to buy. So one day he decided to outline a novel before he wrote it. That novel was The Rainy City and was the first of his Thomas Black novels. Every novel he’d written since had sold. It was after he said this that I started to take outlining very seriously.

            It didn’t take long for me to see the advantage of having an outline. My fear was that outlining would take the excitement out of writing, but I quickly learned that knowing how the story would end actually freed me up to pay closer attention to the characters and the writing because the ending would be there when I was ready to write it.

            In subsequent years I met dozens of other writers. Many enjoyed outlining. Many others refused to even entertain the concept of outlining. They preferred to write by the seat of their pants. These ‘pantsers’ as they are sometimes called, seemed fairly entrenched. I’ve had many spirited debates about this topic and have found myself similarly entrenched in the outliners camp. But the more I talked to these ‘pantsers’, the more I realized that they simply did not understand that outlining isn’t a blueprint in which nothing can be changed. It’s a roadmap. The direction and destination are set, but the map is not the terrain.

            It was with this concept in mind that I set out to teach a class I called ‘Outlining By The Seat of Your Pants’. I was hoping to convert some ‘pantsers’ and help those interested in outlining avoid some of the common problems with outlining.

            Originally the class was going to be taught in person at my alma mater, The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic made that impossible. Instead, I contacted Jackie Casella, the founder of a local literary organization called Creative Colloquy. They had something called The Writer’s Workshop Series. I asked if I might teach my outlining class as part of it. While I had participated in events with Creative Colloquy before, this would be the first class I’d taught through them. In fact, it would be the first class I had ever taught.

SETTING UP THE CLASS

Once I had found a topic for the class and a sponsoring organization from which to run the class, I needed to come up with an outline for the class itself. I spoke with my classmates at Goddard who had already completed their teaching practicum and found that some had fulfilled the fifteen-hour requirement by teaching a morning session and an evening session to two different groups of students. This appealed to me because it would give me an opportunity to see how the same lesson worked with different students and because I honestly wasn’t sure I had fifteen hours of material to teach.

            Having figured out the format, I looked at my options for teaching a virtual class. Thanks to my attending the recent virtual residency at Goddard via Zoom, my familiarity with the platform made it an obvious choice. It also presented a problem. My experience with Zoom classes had taught me that any class lasting longer than an hour had better be riveting because after an hour of staring at a screen, people tend to be restless. Given my inexperience, I figured it best not to tempt fate. My classes would be an hour long, twice a week for four weeks. Students could attend in the morning or the evening. Students would get two hours of class every week and I’d be teaching four hours every week.

            Creative Colloquy had done multi-day classes and workshops before, but to my knowledge, this would be the longest class they ever hosted. Thankfully, Jackie agreed with the format.

            I wanted the class to feel intimate. It was my hope that perhaps the disparate students would make friends with each other over the course of the class. So I limited each class to six students.

            Even with the class restrictions I had no idea how popular or unpopular the class might be. It was unfortunate that the class had to be virtual, but rather than focusing on what the class could not be, I tried to think of what the class could. The one advantage of having a virtual class is that no one has to travel to attend the class. I took advantage of the writing community that Jackie had created with Creative Colloquy and helped her with social media posts and any questions potential students had.

            Most of the students were local, much like the organization I was working through, but there were a few who were out of state and two from outside the country. One was an online friend who I had known for years. She lives in Abu Dhabi. The other was someone from Australia who I did not know before the class started.

            In thinking about the class, I was all too aware that mine was not the typical college experience. I had taken a twenty year break from college and returned to community college in my 40s, but after getting my Associates Degree in Human Services, I transferred to The Evergreen State College Tacoma Campus where much of the curriculum is self-directed and there are evaluations rather than grades. After getting my Bachelor of Arts at Evergreen, I found Goddard to be remarkably similar, but more focused on writing.

            These experiences made it almost inevitable that I would conduct the class in an informal and friendly manner rather than one of achievement and competition. I would hardly know how to do anything else. More than anything, in putting together the class, I tried to imagine what I would want in such a class.

            I had one additional idea: I would complete every assignment I instructed my students to complete. This would allow me to participate in the class while also outlining my next big project. I thought it would be a good way to make it more engaging for me. I would learn that I was very wrong.

THE FIRST SESSION – THE CORE CONCEPT

My first class began at 10:00am on a Tuesday morning. I had been told that all six slots had been taken. I started the Zoom call a full fifteen minutes early, nervous that I might have technical issues. I didn’t.

            For the first class I wanted to do two things: dispel some common thoughts about outlining and get the class thinking about the core idea of their story. In my original syllabus I had put these two topics as the first two classes, but as I reviewed my material, it became clear that I would have time for both in the first class. Before I could do either of those things though, I had to learn from my students what they already knew and thought about outlining. Were they new to the concept? Had they been outlining for years? Did they have an intense dislike for outlining? I would find that depending on the student, the answer was ‘yes’ to all of these questions.

            I have been known to talk a lot. It’s not uncommon for me to monopolize a conversation in a group of people if I’m not careful. Over the years, I’ve learned not to do that so much. It took some mental adjusting to realize that my students actually expected me to do most of the talking and lead the conversation. I know that this seems obvious, but it simply wasn’t something I thought about before I began the class.

            The next discovery I made was that it is very difficult to determine how long a particular lesson will take to complete. Each class was an hour long, but the length of the lesson was determined as much by class participation as it was by the content of the lesson. Despite combining what I initially thought would be two hours of material into one class, I found that I was out of material for my first session in just under forty minutes.

            To fill this time, I had an improvisational conversation with my students about their writing experiences and their expectations for the class. Some of what they said ended up informing future lesson plans.

            The first session in the evening consisted of five students. A sixth had signed up but never attended. Between sessions, I added some material to my lesson plan hoping that it would manage to fill most of the hour, but found the conversation at the end of the morning class so beneficial that I hoped I would have an opportunity to talk to my evening students in a similar manner.

            I needn’t have worried. It turned out that one of the primary differences between the two classes was that the morning class was simply less talkative because it was still morning. The evening class was much more engaged. In the morning class there had been one notable exception: A student named Ola was very talkative. I realized that this was because she was in Abu Dhabi and for her my ‘morning’ class was actually in the evening for her. Similarly, my evening class had a woman named, Mel who was in Australia. For her the ‘evening’ class was during her lunch hour.

            The evening class went much smoother. My class still ran short, but at forty-eight minutes, I was comfortable with that. I was surprised by the diverse experience in the class. One had never written much of anything. Another had published before, but never liked outlining. Yet another was attending the class because she was creating and running a Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

             After each class I sent an email that echoed things mentioned in class, gave links to anything I might have mentioned, and gave them their optional assignments. For the first class, the assignment was simple: Just write your core story concept in 30 words or less. I also gave a bonus assignment of expanding the idea to 100 words or less. This would be the only assignment I successfully completed with the class.

THE SECOND SESSION – CHARACTERS

Though the class was focused on outlining, there is a lot of preparation that goes into the outlining process that I felt needed to be covered. For my second session I wanted to focus on what I feel is the driving force behind all great stories: compelling characters.

            For this session I partially relied on John Truby’s Anatomy of Story. In his book, Truby explains how characters in a good story are not separate entities apart from each other but carefully connected in important ways. As he puts it:

“The single biggest mistake writers make when creating characters is that they think of the hero and all other characters as separate individuals. The result is not only a weak hero but also cardboard opponents and minor characters who are even weaker…

To create great characters, think of all your characters as part of a web in which each helps define the others. To put it another way, a character is often defined by who he is not.” (57)

I then related this concept back to their core idea. How their characters interacted with this idea would reveal their roles and help create dimensionality in their characters. I felt it was important to focus on character because to me the best stories are character driven.

Like the previous class I found that my preparation fell short of the hour long class time. In both my morning and evening classes I ran out of material around the forty-minute mark and had to basically riff from there.

After the second evening session, it became clear to me that the amount of time I spent preparing for the class and the amount of material I used for the class had to increase. I needed to over-prepare.

THE THIRD SESSION – STORY CIRCLE

 The second assignment was to write up character sketches of each of our major characters. I realized I had time to adequately prepare for my class or do the assignment myself. Not both. But I also found a deeper revelation. This desire to do the homework with the class wasn’t just me playing along. It was me resisting my position as a teacher.

            My students did not want and did not need me to do the assignments or to behave as a fellow student. They hadn’t signed up for a writing sprint. They had signed up for a class and a class needs a teacher. Teaching the class required more than my interest in the topic. It required me to do the work and come up with lesson plans that would help my students learn. In order to be a teacher, I had to stop pretending to be a student.

            For my third class, I focused on story structure. Though I was familiar with various story structures, I spent hours reading and watching videos on the topic between my second and third session. I found examples and sources I could share with the class. I practiced talking about them. I spent the weekend reading and rereading.

            While Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey is a well thought out way to look at story, I have never found it particularly useful. I fundamentally disagreed with Blake Snyder’s book Save The Cat because I don’t believe that characters necessarily need to be likeable as much as they need to be understandable. (Walter White from Breaking Bad isn’t a likeable character, but since we understand why he does what he does, we’ll follow him anywhere.) What I have found very useful in my own writing though is Dan Harmon’s Story Circle. I wanted to teach the Story Circle to my students as I found it the most helpful way to look at stories.

            I first came across Dan Harmon’s Story Circle in a profile of him in Wired magazine in 2011. It’s essentially a simplified and more user-friendly version of The Hero’s Journey.

He wanted to codify the storytelling process—to find the hidden structure powering the movies and TV shows, even songs, he’d been absorbing since he was a kid. “I was thinking, there must be some symmetry to this,” he says of how stories are told. “Some simplicity.” So he watched a lot of Die Hard, boiled down a lot of Joseph Campbell, and came up with the circle, an algorithm that distills a narrative into eight steps:

  • 1.  A character is in a zone of comfort
  • 2.  But they want something
  • 3.  They enter an unfamiliar situation
  • 4.  Adapt to it
  • 5.  Get what they wanted
  • 6.  Pay a heavy price for it
  • 7.  Then return to their familiar situation
  • 8.  Having changed

Harmon calls his circles embryos—they contain all the elements needed for a satisfying story—and he uses them to map out nearly every turn on Community, from throwaway gags to entire seasons. If a plot doesn’t follow these steps, the embryo is invalid, and he starts over. 

(Raftery, Brian. “Dan Harmon Drives Himself Crazy Making Community’)

            In both my morning and evening classes my students lit up. They asked questions (and I knew the answers). They wanted to know more. They seemed to understand what I was trying to convey. It was the first session where I truly felt like I had some idea what I was doing. The assignment for the third session was simple: look for story circles in whatever television, books, or movies they consumed.

            There was another aspect to this level of preparation: I was enjoying myself. I had successfully navigated the first two sessions, but neither was fully enjoyable because I felt myself struggling quite a bit. I ran out of lesson plan before I ran out of time and as a result I felt like I wasn’t succeeding. With this class, I enjoyed the whole experience knowing that my students were learning.

THE FOURTH SESSION – THE SHORT OULINE & PERSPECTIVE

The fourth session of my class was the half-way point. We had talked about the seed of the story, characters, and story structure. Given that the class was about outlining, it seemed like it might be time to talk about actually writing an outline.

            However, the class went differently than I expected. Maybe my experience in the third session had given me some overconfidence. Maybe the fact that having classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays simply didn’t give me enough time in between classes to prepare enough material for Thursday classes. Whatever the case, my morning class in which we talked about how to do a short outline of their stories ran out of material at around the twenty-five minute mark. I knew I couldn’t simply wing it with nothing for the rest of the hour. So I took my loose sketch of next week’s lesson plan on character perspectives and started teaching that. The character perspective exercise was something I had come up with on my own where we write the story as seen from each major character’s perspective. I’ve found that this often locates plot holes. In between the morning and evening classes I solidified the perspective lesson plan and taught what I thought was going to be sessions four and five in session four.

            This experience was not only humbling but gave me a new problem: What was I going to teach for session five? Session six? I could do that, but it was just postponing the problem. I had to take a look at remaining parts of my entire lesson plan and rework it.

THE FIFTH SESSION – SCENES

After what happened with session four, I again spent as much time as I could making sure I had an hour’s worth of lesson plan. Now that they had a solid concept of their characters and story I wanted to get into the details of a scene. Many of the same mechanics at work in a story are at work in each individual scene. I spent a lot of time researching and finding examples of good scenes that I could show my students. The assignment for session five was to simply write one scene. Given that the class was a Tuesday class and they only had a couple of days to get it done, I didn’t expect much.

            I was surprised. Not only was this an assignment that garnered the most participation, but the results were impressive. I could see the students’ use of the topics we’d talked about in previous lessons. Their talent impressed me. I felt like just maybe I was succeeding at this teaching thing.

THE SIXTH SESSION – THE FINAL OUTLINE

Originally I had planned for this to be the seventh session, but since I had put sessions four and five together, I was now at what I thought was going to be the penultimate session, with still two sessions to go.

            This session was probably what most of the students expected the entire class was going to be. I focused on the final outline. I had no expectation that anyone was going to turn in a final outline. A final outline has every scene from the story in it and can sometimes be thirty or forty pages. I told them to ignore the old adage of ‘show, don’t tell’ because this outline was for them, not for the audience. I reminded them that the outline is just a guide and not scripture. Outlines can and should be changed when necessary. But I reminded them that if their characters started running away with the plot, they may want to do more character work and rework the outline before they continue with the manuscript.

            This class went well with both morning and evening classes lasting almost the full hour. I also asked them to email me over the weekend with any topics they wanted to talk about during our seventh session. My solution for having combined two sessions during our fourth class was to have a session that was simply whatever topics the students wanted to talk about. This would give them an opportunity to ask questions or touch on items we had not had a chance to cover in previous classes.

THE SEVENTH SESSION – STUDENTS’ CHOICE

Monday rolled around and I noticed that four of the five people in the evening class had sent me questions and topics while the morning class had not sent me anything. Given that the next session was in less than twenty-four hours, I reached out via email and received suggestions and questions from two of the five remaining students in my morning class.

            I knew immediately that there wasn’t enough material to sustain a whole class and decided to ask myself what I had missed and what I might want to talk about with the class before it was over.

            Since the morning class had not given me much to work with, I included some of the material the evening class had asked about. I also decided to talk about diversity in stories and how it’s important to remember that somewhere out there is a person just like your character and they will read what you wrote. If you get it wrong, they’re going to be upset. If you get it right, they’ll love you for it. It turned out to be a topic that fostered quite a bit of discussion.

            More than any other session this one felt like a real class. I was leading the discussion, but the important part was that it was a discussion. There was some awkwardness in that two of the students from the evening class were unable to attend and they had both asked a significant number of questions via email. I waited to talk about those last just in case they came in late. I really didn’t want to have them come in and hear me say, “I’m sorry. We just answered your questions.” Luckily I was able to record the session so that they could watch it at a later date.

THE FINAL SESSION – RESOURCES AND GOODBYES

For the final session I had intentionally prepared a short lesson plan. I shared with the class what sources I used for the class, what materials I find useful in my writing craft, and ‘rules’ I’ve gathered from various writers I admire. I then allowed time for the students to reflect on the class and tell me what worked, what didn’t, and any other topics they wanted to talk about. It’s difficult to give that ‘last day of school’ feeling via Zoom, but I tried my best.

            Students expressed thanks for the class. One told me that they were unable to watch television now without looking for story circles and questioning the underlying mechanics of the story on screen. When I told them that I may do another class, to my surprise, they all asked me to notify them if I did. The morning class actually went a half hour longer than expected as our discussion warranted the extra time.

ENDINGS

As I write this, there is a voice in the back of my head telling me I need to prepare for Tuesday’s lesson plan. I don’t know that I became good at teaching during this time, but I certainly did get used to doing it.

            I had no idea if I would enjoy teaching and was pleasantly surprised to learn that I did. I also did not expect to connect with the students so much. It’s a genuinely odd feeling to know that I may never talk to some of them again. I have some sadness that I did not expect to feel.

            I still need to work on time management. I feel like the times when the lesson plan lasted the full hour was equal parts preparation and dumb luck. It’s clear to me that over-preparation is key and I marvel at work that must have gone into some of the four-hour classes I’ve taken. I don’t think I’ll ever look at classes quite the same way again now that I’ve been on the other side.

            My classes did not end up following the syllabus I put together and sometimes didn’t follow the lesson plans. There’s a real need for improvisation in effective teaching, but I also feel like I need to spend a lot more time preparing for class than I did during this practicum.

            I got into this program to hone my writing craft with a casual interest in teaching. I am shocked to discover that now, after teaching for four weeks and sixteen hours, after learning just how much hard work has to go into class preparation, after learning that despite all that the whole lesson plan may fail, after all of that, I’m already in talks with Jackie at Creative Colloquy to teach another class.

Works Cited

Raftery, Brian. “How Dan Harmon Drives Himself Crazy Making Community.” Wired, Sept. 2011

Truby, John. The Anatomy of Story. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007.

Believing Women and Voting Biden

bidentrump

Believe women. This is the rallying cry of the #MeToo movement and it is solid advice when it comes to allegations of men behaving in a sexually inappropriate manner. While the circumstances of many allegations cannot be substantiated due to lack of witnessed or evidence, it is exceedingly rare that women take the time or the risk to make up allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape. It is difficult to allege that someone is lying just to ‘make a name for themselves’ when that fame is the sort that typically results in more death threats than lucrative deals.

In recent years, the #MeToo movement has made great strides. People like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein who were thought to be untouchable are behind bars for terrible crimes they committed against women who had been telling their stories for decades.

And yet, despite the most diverse Presidential candidate field in history, the incumbent President and the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party are both straight white guys in their 70s with a history of being sexually inappropriate with women. Without paying any closer attention one might make the mistake of thinking that these two men and the allegations against them are essentially the same. That would be a mistake.

Here are all of the known allegations against Joe Biden in chronological order.

 

1993 – Tara Reade said in 2019 that Biden allegedly touched her neck and shoulders in a way that was inappropriate and uncomfortable. Now in 2020 she is saying he also pushed her up against a wall and put his fingers inside her.

2008 – Amy Coll says that Biden complimented her smile, squeezed her shoulders, and held her “for a beat too long”.

2009 – Amy Stokes say Biden put his hands behind Stokes’ head and pulled her close. She thought he was going to kiss her.

2014 – Lucy Flores claims Biden came up behind her, leaned in, smelled her hair, and kissed the back of her head.

2016 – Sofie Karasek was photographed with Biden holding hands and touching foreheads at the 2016 Acadmey Awards. Karasek later said she felt Biden violated her personal space.

2016 – Caitlyn Caruso shared her story of sexual assault at a University of Nevada event, Biden hugged her “just a little bit too long” and put his hand on her thigh.

2012 – DJ Hill says Biden rested his hand on her shoulder and began moving it down her back. She said the encounter made her “very uncomfortable.”

2013 Vail Kohnert-Yount says Biden put his hand on the back of her head and pressed his forehead to her forehead. He also called her a “pretty girl.”

 

Now here are all the allegations against Trump:

Late 1970s – Jessica Leeds claims Trump allegedly groped her repeatedly during an airplane flight.

Early 1990s – Kristin Anderson claims that Trump put his hand up her skirt to her underwear.

1989 – Ivana Trump, Trump’s first wife claims he violently raped her. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Coehn defended this by saying “you cannot rape your spouse.”

1992 – Jill Harth said she had dinner with Trump and her then-boyfirend, George Houraney. During the dinner she says Trump put his hand between her legs and tried to kiss her during a tour of his Mar-a-Lago estate a month later. She sued him and settled for an undisclosed amount.

1996 – Lisa Boyne said that she attended a dinner with Trump and modeling agent John Casablancas during which several othe rwomen in attendance were forced to walk on the table, during which Trump looked up their skirts and asked Boyne which he should sleep with.

1997 – E Jean Carroll claims Trump asked for advice on buying a gift for a girl and then while shopping with him he raped her in a dressing room. She told friends about the incident directly after it happened.

1997 – Cathy Heller claims she put her hand out to say hello to Trump at a Mother’s Day brunch at Mar-A-Lago where he unexpectedly grabbed her and kissed her on the lips in front of her family. She says she pulled away and he tried to kiss her again.

1997 – Temple Taggert was the 21-year-old Miss Utah in the Miss USA contest in 1997. She claims, Trump, who owned the pageant at the time, kissed her “directly on the lips.”

1997 – Mariah Billado and Vicotria Hughes both claim that Trump was walking into the dressing rooms fo the Miss Teen USA pageant while they were changing.

1998 – Karena Virginia, a New York-area yoga instructor, said Trump approached her in 1998 outside the US Open tennis tournament whil she was awaiting car srvice, made unseemly comments about her appearance, grabbed her arm, and groped her breast.

Early 2000s- Karen Johnson, says that at a New Year’s Eve party at Mar-A-Lago Trump pulled her behind a tapestry and kissed and groped her without her consent.

2000 – Bridget Sullivan, who was crowned Miss New Hampshire 2000 claims Trump came into the Miss Universe changing room while the contestants were naked. Trump bragged about doing this on Howard Stern in 2005.

2001 – Tasha Dixon, former Miss Arizona, says Trump walked into a dress rehearsal for a pageant while the contestants were half nakde and whe women were told to ‘fawn all over him’. She was 18 at the time.

2003 – Mindy McGillivray says that Trump grabbed her butt at Mar-a-Lago.

2005 – Rachel Crooks, a secretary who worked in Trump’s building says that when she first met Trump he shook her hand, then kissed her ont he cheeks and then on the lips, while outside an elevator at Trump Tower.

2005 – Natasha Stoynoff, a writer for People magazine says that during a break for an interview times to coincide with the first anniversary of Trump’s marriage to his third wire, Melania, he forced her against a wall and tried to kiss her and only stopped because his butler entered the room.

2005 – Jennifer Murphy, a contestant on the 4th season of “The Apprentice,” claims after she was fired  foromt he reality-TV show, Trump followed her to the elevator and kissed her on the lips.

2005 – Juliet Huddy, a former Fox News anchor said that Trump kissed her on the lips without consent.

2006 – Jessica Drake, at a 2006 golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, Drake was asked by Trump to come up to his hotel room. She brought two friends with her because she did not feel safe. He allegedly hugged each of them tightly and kissed each of them on the lips without consent.

2006 – Samantha Holvey, a contestant in the 2006 Miss USA pagaeant said Trump “would step in front of each girl and look you over from head to tow like we were just meat, we were just sexual objects, that we were not people,”

2006 – Ninni Laaksonen competed in Miss Universe as Miss Finland. Before an appearance on the David Letterman Show, she says Trump grabbed her butt.

2006 – Summer Zervos, a contestant on the fifth season of the Apprentice kissed her without her consent on three separate occasions and groped her breast.

2013 – Cassandra Searles, former Miss Washington claimed he  grabbed her butt and invited her to his hotel room.

2016 – Alva Johnson, a former Trump campaign staffer, said that Trump kissed her without her consent at a Tampa, Florida rally.

This list is not including the three women Trump is known to have paid off including Stormy Daniels who he slept with in 2006 while his third wife was home with a new baby.

I’ll be the first to admit that Joe Biden is not my first choice. He’s problematic in a number of areas. It would have been great if someone like Elizabeth Warren had gotten the nomination.

We are left with the choice between two flawed candidates: Joe Biden or Donald Trump. And regardless of how you choose to vote or if you choose to vote at all, one of them is going to be the next President of the United States. It’s important to take allegations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape very seriously. It’s important that we acknowledge the bravery of these women for coming forward. It’s important that we honor that by believing what women have to say.

It would be understandable to throw one’s hands in the air and just proclaim that they’re all corrupt and there’s no point in voting at all. And I would agree with that if the job of President of the United States was simply to be the best person in the country because both fall far short of that. But the job of President is more than a simple popularity contest or purity test. It is to lead a diverse and chaotic nation of over three hundred million people during one of the most dangerous and volatile times in the history of this country.

We have seen how Trump does this. He does this through fear. He does it through bragging and lies. He does it by ignoring a pandemic until it becomes too big to ignore is killing thousands of Americans. He does it by stealing children from their parents and putting them in cages where some die. He does it by ridiculing women who dare do something as simple as ask him a question he doesn’t like. And given four more years he will do all this and worse. He will end legal abortion. He will fight against equal pay for women. He will continue to openly insult women doing their jobs. He will put more rapists on the Supreme Court. We know this.

We also know quite a bit about Biden. He helped write the first climate change law. He believes that healthcare is a human right. He listens to experts. He helped make gay marriage the law of the land. He was Vice President of the United States for eight years under Barrack Obama during which our economy saw more prosperity than it had at any other time in the 21st Century.

We know one other thing too. Incumbent Presidents tend to win reelection. See Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. So not voting or voting third party is not a protest. It’s not a way to show the Powers That Be that you’ve had enough. It’s surrender to four more years of Donald Trump in the White House.

I believe women. I believe women when they are making allegations against Republicans or Democrats. I believe women when they are making allegations against the powerful or the insignificant. And I believe that women will be better off under a Biden Presidency than another four years of Trump.
– Jack Cameron

Heroic

billy.jpg

Heroic
by Jack Cameron
I remember the fire like it was last weekend. We were only kids back then. I was over at Billy’s apartment because his place had a television and Transformers was on after school.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t really like Billy. Don’t ask me why. If I think about it, he was a lot like me. Though I’d never do what he did. I put up with Billy so I could watch cartoons.

I don’t know where he got the matches. I was busy watching television. But I heard the strike of the match and it turned my head. The first one didn’t light. He tried another one. It didn’t light. A third. A fourth. I went back to watching the Autobots fight the Decepticons.

Just as Transformers was ending and G.I. Joe was starting I heard the match ignite. I turned my head and saw the flash of the flame in Billy’s eyes. Billy was literally playing with fire. Then the match went out.

I had an idea. So I got up and ran down the hall to my place where there was no television. I found what I was looking for. I opened the spigot on top of the small yellow bottle. As I walked down the hall, I started spraying the liquid from the bottle onto the floor creating a trail from my apartment to Billy’s.

When I got back, Billy had a match lit. He used it to light another match. I sprayed some more of the liquid onto Billy’s floor.

“Drop the matches, Billy. They’re dangerous.” I said.

Billy dropped them without putting them out. So dangerous.

They flames hit the lighter fluid and ignited the trail.

“Oh shit, Billy!” I said, “You started a fire!”

As the fire reached the hall, I started pounding on doors, “BILLY STARTED A FIRE! BILLY STARTED A FIRE!”

Luckily I was able to let people know the dangerous thing Billy did. I was a hero.

Unite, Cheat, or Die

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I got into a lot of fights in elementary and middle school. I actually enjoyed fighting. It genuinely felt good to hit people who deserved to be hit. I didn’t pick on weak kids. I found bullies and beat the hell out of them. The thing of it is, I was known for ‘not fighting fair’. I would kick opponents in the crotch. I would poke them in the eyes. I would kick them when they were down. And I almost never lost. Some would say, “That’s because you cheated.” But while there are rules to boxing, wrestling, and baseball, there are no rules to a school yard fight.

I bring this up because the Democrats keep thinking they’re boxing when it’s a school yard fight with no rules. We are less than three weeks away from what may very well be the most important midterm election in our country’s history. Democrats are registering people to vote in record numbers. Republicans are doing everything possible to stop people from voting. In North Dakota, they’re insisting every voter needs a street address in order to stop over 35,000 Native Americans who use post office boxes from voting. In Georgia, a man running for governor is using his current job to try to stop over 53,000 voters from being able to vote. Over 70% of them are black. All across the South over 1,000 polling places have been closed to make it more difficult to vote. I could go on and on about the ways that Republicans try to stop people in general and non-white people in particular from being able to vote. In a country that supposedly prides itself on democracy, the fact that one of the two parties isn’t trying to sway voters but instead trying to kill their ability to vote speaks volumes about the Republican Party’s corrupt racism.

They cheat and they win.

And what do Democrats do? We eat our own. Last Summer using racial slurs and doubt, Trump said he’d donate a million dollars to a charity of her choice if Senator Elizabeth Warren submitted to a DNA test and found any Native American traits in her family as she had said there were Native Americans in her family tree. This past week she revealed DNA results that said it was very likely that she was telling the truth. It’s worth noting here that she never said, “I am Native American.” It’s worth noting that because people are saying she said that and attacking her for it. And when I say people, I mean fellow Democrats. When Trump saw these attacks on Warren this week by fellow Democrats I’m sure he got hard. I even had an allegedly ‘progressive’ Facebook friend unfriend me over it.

And when my Democrat friends weren’t attacking Elizabeth Warren, they were attacking Hillary Clinton for something she said about her husband’s affair from the previous century. Both Hillary and Bill Clinton have said that they are never running for office again. They’ve been explicit about this. And yet, especially from the sore Bernie Bros out there, bringing up the Clintons is the one thing they and the Alt-Right racists absolutely LOVE to do.

It’s also worth noting that the people we’re attacking on the left tend to be women. Women are a favorite target of Republicans and apparently of misguided and/or gullible Democrats. We need to stop this.

Republicans are well aware of our habit of eating our own. Here in Washington State, knowing the purity tests many Progressives use to fight other Democrats, Republicans created a fake Progressive PAC and then sent out fake mailers claiming whatever Democrat was on the ballot wasn’t ‘progressive enough’. Each mailer suggested a different prominent Democrat to write in. This is their attempt to split the Democrat vote through lies far too many of us are gullible enough to buy.

We outnumber the Republicans. We are better educated than the Republicans. But for whatever reason, when it comes down to beating the other team, we’re too busy worried about whether our teammates are wearing their uniforms correctly to actually play the game. And the people we’re playing against are cheaters.

Do you want to know what stopped me from fighting all the time when I was a kid? Other kids started bringing knives and guns into the equation. And they started joining gangs. I stopped fighting because they were cheating back and uniting. If we really want to beat these guys and I’m of the opinion that defeating them may be the only hope our country has from falling into a fascist regime, then we’re going to have to do at least one of two things:

We either need to recognize that fighting each other only helps the Republicans and learn to fucking unite. Or we’re going to have to cheat. Republicans have the uncanny ability to unite behind whatever monster is on the ballot as long as there is an R next to their name. (Trump coined the term ‘Lyin’ Ted’ regarding Ted Cruz and hosted a rally in Texas where he endorsed him last night.) Democrats will attack another Democrat for saying the wrong thing once. We need to stop that or we need to start coaching children to say they were molested by Republican candidates or something similarly heinous. Or we can just keep losing.

Unite, cheat, or die. Those are the only choices for Democrats in 2018. Choose wisely.

– Jack Cameron
(A version of this article appeared in my weekly newsletter last week. Subscribe at http://tinyletter.com/jackcameron .)

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

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Note: A version of the following post was previously published in my weekly newsletter. Click here to subscribe.

In early 2002 I quit my job at Amazon.com. I was answering customer service emails in a small Tacoma office that used to be a bank. When they announced that they were closing the office and letting the offices in India take over, they were also nice enough to offer us work in the Seattle office answering phones. Instead I quit on the last day of the Tacoma office operating and cashed in my stock options the next day. I used that money to sustain my family and me for the next two years. A few months later I ran into a former coworker. He looked at me like a guy who cheated the system. Why wasn’t I working? What was I doing as a fully able bodied adult not spending my days working a job?

The answer was simple. I was spending time with my five-year-old son and my seven and eight-year-old stepdaughters. I was studying writers and improving my writing skills. I was giving myself a mini-retirement in my 20s.  And many of my peers resented me for it.

In 2015 I got laid off after working an IT job for two years. Before that I was working as a marketing and technical writer for five years. Before that I worked in logistics at a paving company for two years.  Before that I had a string of temp jobs as I got back into the workforce after two years of mini-retirement. (I once did the math to see what those stock options would have been worth if I hadn’t sold them back then. It was just over $400,000. It seems like a massive mistake, but I wouldn’t trade that amount of money for those two years with my kids.)

After getting laid off from the IT job, I went on unemployment and tried without any luck to find something new. It didn’t help that I was one of 21 people laid off, all of us with similar skillsets. As my search for work approached the six month mark, I was notified that my unemployment would be cut. I did some research and found that I could extend it another six months by going to college.

I had attended some classes at Tacoma Community College twenty years earlier, but never got a degree. Now I was back as a 40-year-old student. I chose to get into Human Services with the intention of being a clinical therapist. (I was looking for a profession where I could help people and not break my back or knees when I got older.)

During this time I kept expenses low and used financial aid and loans for the most part to make ends meet. I also received help from friends and family and started driving for Uber. In my second year at TCC I started an internship as an Anger Management Counselor which soon turned into a paid internship. I was employed again and not just as an Uber driver. Unfortunately, budget cuts resulted in my not being paid for the final months of the internship and Uber’s car lease program died, resulting in my car being repossessed. So I took Summer classes just to get the financial aid money.

I excelled in college. More than that, I really enjoyed studying and learning. After two years at TCC, I applied for the Evergreen State College Tacoma program. My first year there was incredibly rewarding and challenging. Most weeks I was reading over a hundred pages a day.  Evergreen is famous for not giving out grades, but what you get instead are evaluations of how and what you did in class. These could be far more damning if one didn’t apply themselves.

After my first year at Evergreen Tacoma I was in love with the program and more excited than ever to get back to it. I considered taking Summer classes, but my girlfriend pointed out that I was mentally and physically exhausted and that maybe I needed a break.

As adults, taking a break is frowned upon. Anything more than a two-week vacation and you’re some sort of lazy bastard who isn’t willing to put in the work to help themselves. One of the first questions people ask when meeting each other is ‘What do you do?’ This nearly always translates into ‘What is your job?’ and saying you don’t have one is met with derision or suspicion. It’s irresponsible to not be working when you’re able to. What gives you the right to sit around and do as you like without punching a clock or waking up at a particular time if you’re not rich, right?

It’s this sort of mentality more than any financial barrier that keeps grown adults from allowing them to take care of themselves by just taking an extended break. One of the first things I learned in the Human Services department is that job number one is not ‘do no harm’ or ‘meet people where they are at’. Self-care is job number one. The reason people burn out, the reason people freak out, the reason people shoot up their place of employment is because they do not know and do not use good self-care techniques.

I once went to an old friend’s funeral. He had been a custodian at the local high school for over 40 years. They placed his nameplate from his desk that had his name and the words ‘Chief Custodian’ on top of his coffin. One of the guys who spoke at the funeral tried to make some sort of analogy about him not just being Chief Custodian of the school, but Chief Custodian of life. I couldn’t help but think at the time that he was more than his job or at the very least he should have been.

Back when I worked at Amazon.com, I found a sign someone had taped to the bottom of my keyboard. A message from a former coworker. It said, “If someone made you an offer of sacrificing 50 of the 52 weeks in a year to work at least 40 hours a week for $30,000 a year, would you take that deal?” It was, of course, a rhetorical question. If I was reading that sign, I had already accepted that deal.

Since then I have been someone who sometimes takes time off from that deal. It’s not always easy. It’s rarely accepted by my peers, but it is always worth the trouble.

As the Summer began my landlord decided to move his daughter into my house leaving me with no place to live and no income. Thankfully, a couple of old friends have let me stay in a room in their basement (for a modest monthly payment). I’m more grateful than I can say for their generosity as without it this Summer would have been impossible. The house is across the Narrows Bridge and far away from everything else in my life. I’ve referred to the place as Outpost Zero.

I did a couple of low paying freelance writing gigs over the Summer and worked on my novel. I drank with friends. I read and wrote a lot. I spent some time wandering around Pt. Defiance with my now nearly 21-year-old son. I got to spend a lot of time with my girlfriend. I caught up on movies, television shows, books, and comic books that I haven’t had time to get to during the school year. I meditated and took some time for myself. I lost over 20 pounds. And I launched a campaign to pre-order my first novel. It’s been a very eventful, but mostly relaxing Summer vacation.

Another aspect that is just as forbidden as taking extended time away from work is asking for and/or receiving help. To some, one should always earn whatever they have and should not have whatever they have not earned. On the surface this seems like a practical way to look at the world, but upon closer inspection such thinking justifies not helping those who need it and more importantly, functionally destroys the very concept of true community. My breaks from work and my attending college would be impossible without the help of countless friends and family. I could not have taken the Summer off without my friends letting me live in their basement. Friends and family have bought me drinks and meals. Directly before I started at TCC, I had a financial hardship and crowdfunded over $1,000 from friends and strangers to make ends meet.

For some accepting this sort of help is considered wrong or having failed on a societal level that is unacceptable. But I’ve also helped others when I’ve been able to. One of my friends who let me stay at Outpost Zero needed a place to stay shortly after Hurricane Katrina. He found a home in my apartment. A few years ago a family I know was homeless. I let them stay at my house for a while. And everyone I know is aware that I’m always good for a ride to the airport. Helping when one can and accepting help when it is offered is part of being a functioning community and nothing to be ashamed of. It is actually one of the most human things that we do.

I can’t help but be excited for the upcoming school year. One of my classes is on the midterm elections. That’s going to be all sorts of fun. But I also can’t help but think of all my friends and acquaintances who do not understand the life I lead or how I lead it. To them, I am not behaving like a productive member of society because I’m not spending my time helping someone else achieve their dream of having a profitable company. I’d love to explain to them that they would be better off if they took breaks. I’d love to tell them how life is so much more than how much money you make or the social value of having a day job. Maybe some of them will read this and think about taking some time for themselves.

As I end this latest break, I’m feeling more rested and able to tackle my last year at Evergreen. This year is going to be especially challenging because once again I’m employed. I’ll be working in the writing center at Evergreen Tacoma as a writing tutor. In a way it’s a perfect job in that it will fit around my college schedule and involves skills I not only have but enjoy using. In the Spring there’s a community fair project that’s going to take a lot of work. You’ll hear more about that from me later.

Some people thought I was crazy when I quit Amazon. Some people think I’m crazy for being a 43-year-old man able-bodied man who takes breaks from working. I think they’re crazy for never questioning the idea of never taking a mini-retirement. I know people who’ve practically missed their kid’s entire childhood because they were busy working. I understand that the work affords a certain level of lifestyle for the children, but I can’t imagine a retirement in the future that’s worth that sacrifice of time away from your kids. Luckily I never have to. It’s unfortunate so many others cannot say the same.

– Jack Cameron

Throats Slashed! Sold Into Human Trafficking!

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Oh my God. Did you hear? Homeless people are getting their throats slashed. Women are being grabbed in parking garages and sold into human sex trafficking. Children are being grabbed up off the streets. The media isn’t telling you about these things and the police are hiding these terrible stories from you.

More and more this is the sort of thing I see on my social media feeds and it’s almost always bullshit. The difficulty here is that all it takes is one person making something up. Then some well-meaning people share it thinking they’re helping, usually with a ‘Be careful out there’ warning to their fellow social media users.

I’ve been covering Tacoma homicides for over a decade now. Over the years I’ve received countless ‘tips’ about all sorts of horrific and gruesome murders that never happened. I will do my due diligence and contact the police department, the Medical Examiner’s office, and local reporters to see if there is any meat to the rumors, but there rarely is.

It’s gotten to the point where I can spot a lie before I research it. Here are some things to watch out for.

Lack of Detail: Exactly where did this happen? Who was involved? What did they look like? What time was it when it happened? How many perpetrators were there?

Sensationalism: If the story sounds outrageous and there isn’t any media coverage whatsoever of the story, then it’s likely false because the media LOVES outrageous stories. Last week I saw a story about a guy who stole an airplane from Sea-Tac. When it first appeared on social media I was skeptical, but within minutes the story was picked up by mainstream news because a story like that when true is worth covering.

Personal Anecdote (and nothing else): Personal accounts of terrible things are always compelling, but they’re also among the least verifiable forms of evidence. That’s not to say that everyone who tells you something terrible that happened to them is lying. But if there is no other evidence to back up their story, it’s healthy to be at least initially skeptical.

Secondhand Information: Occasionally I’ll get emails from people who will tell me that my depiction of a homicide is inaccurate because they know a guy who was there and… But of course if I ask to talk to that guy, they can’t produce him.

Now it should be noted that in all of these cases it’s possible that the story you’re being told is actually true. Sometimes things happen quickly and it’s hard to give details as to what happened. Sometimes the true story is so sensational it sounds false. Sometimes things happen to you and you have no evidence that they did. Sometimes you hear a story from someone and never talk to them again. This is why it’s good not to just assume that they’re lying to you.

Instead what I suggest is to believe the story until you find reason not to, but not to share the story until you have some sort of corroboration. Multiple sources are good. Confirmation from authorities or experts is better. Physical evidence is even better.

Ask questions. If someone says something happened and they talked to the police, ask for the incident report number. If someone tells you something incredible happened, ask for the source of that information.

Do your own research. If someone has supposedly been killed, ask the Medical Examiner’s office. Contact the police department’s spokesperson. Check various media websites.

Be respectfully skeptical. There’s no reason to call someone a liar until you have evidence that they are one. The truth is occasionally hard to prove. My rule is fairly simple when it comes to sharing information: Trust, but verify. If it can’t be verified, depending on the source I might still believe it, but I’m not going to share it.

– Jack

To Protect And Serve

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It took me a long time to understand people who hate cops. I grew up a middle class straight white boy in the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t have much trouble with police. When they did show up, I’d talk to them and they’d go away. And for far too long I was under the impression that this was how most people interacted with your average American police department.

My view of police officers growing up was that they were the good guys. They were the heroes. They were the men and women risking their lives on a daily basis to protect our society from chaos and harm. Some of my favorite television shows and movies involve good cops trying to do good work.

For a time I even worked for law enforcement. For two years I transcribed police records for the Law Enforcement Support Agency which handles records from the Tacoma Police Department, Puyallup Police Department, Lakewood Police Department, and Pierce County Sherriff’s Department. I went on ride-alongs with police officers. I learned what kind of people become cops and what being a cop is like. And for the most part, I gained tremendous respect for the police in general.

It was exhilarating reading and transcribing 50+ police records every day and seeing what their day to day life is like. One cop described it to me as ‘vast amounts of time of complete boredom punctuated by moments of absolute terror and action’. I’ve read hundreds of accounts of local police officers saving lives and making the streets safer.

That’s not to say that I saw nothing wrong. I lost count of how many times I transcribed phrases like, ‘suspect apparently fell on pavement’ or ‘suspect hit head on top of police car’ or ‘suspect lost a few teeth after we cuffed him and lost hold of him’. There was even a guy known for going through pairs of boots at an alarming rate due to the amount of people he kicked with them.  But most of the reports weren’t like that and the reports that were, I told myself were reports in which ‘bad guys’ got hurt. So what? Right? Does anyone really care if an accused rapist gets his ass beat by cops?

I learned that there are basically three kinds of cops or at least three primary motivators for cops.

There are the Boy Scouts. These are the Captain America sorts who genuinely want to help and embody the spirit of protecting and serving their community. These are what people tend to think of as good cops. If you have to personally deal with a police officer, this is the guy you want.

There are the adrenaline junkies. These cops joined the force because action movies made being a cop look like an adventure and what other job puts you right in the thick of it like being a cop? These are the cops who love a foot chase because of the unwritten rule that if ‘you make us run, we make you pay’. They love a car chase too. Anything that gets the blood pumping. These guys can go either way and it’s largely a personality thing as to whether or not they’re going to end up being a positive part of the police force.

Then there are the bullies. These are assholes who picked on other kids growing up in school and quickly learned that the only way to keep picking on people is to get some authority. These are the guys who will bounce your head on their car. They’ll take your license and not give it back just to fuck with you. They’ll arrest you for domestic violence and ask your wife out. They’ll make sure your arrest comes with at least a little bit of pain. These are the last kind of cop you want personally dealing with anyone you care about.

A good police department has the right mix of all three.  You need the boy scouts to keep the department honest. You need the adrenaline junkies because they’re never going to freeze or bitch about the danger. And you need the bullies to hurt people who are hurting people. Finding the right mix is difficult.

If you’re a boy scout cop, the worst part is you’re likely doing your job in a way that benefits the community but never makes the papers. The result is that the public thinks that you’re all bullies because wild dogs make more noise than domestic ones.

Before it appears that this is just me telling you how great cops really are, understand that I said all of that, so that I can say the next part with what I feel is a fairly informed opinion on the topic.

For the most part my defense of police officers and police departments can be seen as essentially #NotAllCops. This is a weak argument in favor of cops because ‘not all cops’ means ‘some cops’.  And if it’s your loved one lying dead in the street with bullets in him from a police issued gun paid for by your tax dollars and the only reason he’s dead is the color of his skin, saying ‘not all cops’ isn’t helpful. In fact it’s cruel. So what if not every cop is willing to murder an unarmed black man just because they can. The fact that any one cop would is bad unacceptable. It’s like having 1% cancer.

Unfortunately it is more than one bad cop. Over 1,000 people lose their lives to police bullets every year in this country. The Black Lives Matter movement was the result of an epidemic in lethal run ins between people with brown skin and the police departments across this country. It’s a simple slogan asking for the simplest of rights. A right that any true conservative should care about: the right to life. This is why NFL players take a knee for the anthem contrary to what you might have heard from Fox News or the White House). It’s the simple idea that when the police show up, they’re there to help everyone because black lives matter too. Sadly that is far from the reality we live in.

The problem is that the actions of police departments across this nation show again and again that black lives do not matter to police departments. In fact, this is where everyone seems to agree. The systemic racism of police departments throughout America is so well known that in Charlottesville, three of the most popular flags the Nazi thugs marching in the street flew were the Nazi flag, the Confederate flag, and a black and white flag with a thin blue line representing the police.  The combination of African Americans being killed by police, actual Nazis infiltrating the police force, and officer after officer getting little if any punishment for killing people of color has made it practically impossible for one to differentiate between those who fly the thin blue line flag who are just supporting the police and those who would feel at home in Hitler’s Germany.  And increasingly, the difference barely matters. Once the killing of a certain group of people is allowed, the only real difference is number of dead. Then the only question to be asked is how many you’re willing to allow to be killed before you pull your support?

Much like how so much of our news media has been corrupted, the same can be said of our police departments. Just as we need good journalists we also need good cops. The answer cannot and should not be that there should be no police whatsoever. Such talk is anarchy and while I know anarchy has its fans, I’m not one of them.

This is why though I am an atheist I take the ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ approach to police departments. I like the idea of police, but I hate how they’re going about it. Those who hate cops make perfect sense to me now. I don’t hate all cops. I hate the bad ones and applaud the good.

I want to share a bit of a thought experiment. Imagine having such a sense of civic duty and righteousness that you want to risk your life on a daily basis genuinely making your city a better and safer place in the most direct way possible as a police officer in your town. Now imagine being that person and having to deal with the modern day militarized, gung-ho, racist occupying force mentality of the modern police department in any sizable city. Not every cop is experiencing that. Some are there for all the wrong reasons. But some are exactly those guys.

The last thing I want to say is to any cop reading this is that you stop being a good cop the second you let a bad one keep hurting people you’re supposed to protect and serve. I know speaking out against fellow officers is dangerous both from a career and personal standpoint, but I was under the impression you joined the police force to risk your life for what’s right. Do that. Be the hero I looked up to as a kid. It’s the only way things get better.
– Jack Cameron

The ICE-age Must End

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I’m going to use this article as a place to add things we know about the children who have been stolen from their parents by the United States Government under orders from Donald Trump.

I feel like this is something that I shouldn’t even have to write about. What sane person capable of empathy or compassion would need someone to explain why stealing children and putting them in cages is wrong? If you’re in favor of such a policy you lack sanity, compassion, or empathy. Or maybe all three. I don’t know.

So lets start with what we don’t know. Right now we don’t know what records ICE is destroying, but we do know they have plans to destroy records of abuse, sexual assault, and death. I’ve personally seen paper shredding trucks arriving at the for-profit prison here in Tacoma that is currently holding at least 22 parents of children who have been stolen from them. We also don’t know how records have been destroyed that could have reunited families, but we do know that some records have been destroyed.

We know in Victorville, California in the Mojave desert, the facility is overcrowded and lacking medical staff and has had multiple cases of scabies and chickenpox. A current member of the medical staff at that facility said, “It’s gone from bad to worse ― there are going to be some detainee deaths,” Check out this article from The Nation if you want to get an idea of what these facilities are really like.

We also know that at least one ICE employee used his status to steal the identities of immigrants. When they aren’t stealing identities, they’re roughing up people just for the hell of it.

Some might ask what this dramatic increase in immigration enforcement is all about. It’s not about an increase in immigrants. Immigration to the United States has been going down. It’s about ICE modifying their rules so that they can grab pretty much anyone they want to like a modern day gestapo. This is allowing them to grab up people who are legal residents of this country as reported in the LA Times.

If all of this isn’t enough to give you pause and realize that our immigration policies have severe flaws that rise to the level of crimes against humanity, then maybe the fact that after stealing these children some were literally given to human traffickers who will sell them into the sex trade to the highest bidder will. This comes not from some fringe media, but the New York Times.

Do you need to hear that the children who weren’t sold to be whored and fucked were tied naked to chairs and beaten? They were. Do you need to hear that at least one sex offender was in charge of these children? He was. Do you need to hear how the present administration thinks reuniting a child with her parents and adopting that stolen child out to an evangelical white family is basically the same thing? They do. Do you need to hear that pregnant women have been abused and had miscarriages because of the way ICE treated them? They were. Does the danger of you child being stolen from you go away if you are a United States citizen? It doesn’t. 

And before you think that the present regime (it’s difficult to call this group of criminals, con men, authoritarians and white supremacists an ‘administration’) is going to stop stealing children who are stripped, beaten, raped, and sold to whore mongers, they’ve budgeted for an increase in these Trump Camps.

Before you think they’re destroying records just for fun, there’s money in it. They’re charging desperate parents up to $800 for cheap DNA tests to find their children.

A common argument made by the anti-immigration crowd is that they should just come here legally, but it turns out that even if you play by the rules, in some cases children are still stolen. Including a 3-year-old who was taken from his father who had crossed the border legally.

ICE needs to be abolished. The people behind this inhuman, psychotic, genocidal program need to be punished and imprisoned. One can only hope that if they are, they are treated with the same courtesy they have shown the desperate men, women, and children coming here for a better life.
– Jack Cameron

 

Avengers Infinity War

 

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Slight Spoiler (This scene is not in the movie)

Avngers Infinity War (Non-Spoiler)
Back in the 1990s when I was really getting into comic books I would tell people how Marvel should just start making Movies and TV shows that all take place in the same universe like they do with comics. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is something I wanted for decades before it happened. And after ten years they’re finally reaching their end game for a storyline they started in 2008.

Directors Joe and Anthony Russo had an impossible job: Take characters from 18 previous movies, some technological, some tactical, some magic, and some cosmic, and make a coherent story that ties up storylines that were spread throughout movies from the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is similar to what Joss Whedon had to do with the first Avengers movie except multiplied into double digits. Most of all, they had to have Thanos, a character with less than five minutes total screen time all together, be as fearsome and dangerous as he’s been built up to be. I’m happy to say that the Russo brothers not only pull this off, but go far beyond that.

With so many characters, it’s no surprise that some characters do not get much to do or say. What is surprising is how few characters I can say that about. The Russos did a fantastic job of giving even secondary characters a good moment or two.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Infinity War is how Marvel earned this. Taken on its own, Infinity War is a non-stop action slugfest. Taken with the 18 films that have led up to Infinity War and this fight is one of the most earned fights in cinema history. One of the key things that plague DC Universe movies is that they simply have no patience. The first Avengers movies was the fifth MCU movie. They did five whole movies without much more than a wink or a nod at each other. DC did exactly one movie (Man of Steel) that didn’t explicitly have direct connections to the other movies. Imagine if Captain America: Civil War was the second movie in the MCU. It wouldn’t have made any sense because we don’t yet really care about the characters. Now imagine the opposite. Imagine if Batman vs Superman wasn’t the second movie in an ongoing franchise. Instead it’s the 13th movie (like Civil War). Suddenly the stakes of Batman and Superman fighting actually matter. There’s a classic moment in the first episode of Community when Jeff Winger says, “I can pick up this pencil, tell you it’s name is Steve and go like this…[breaks pencil] and a part of you dies just a little bit on the inside.” That’s basically storytelling in a nutshell. DC is under the impression that the important part is breaking the pencil. They’re wrong. The important part is naming the pencil. It’s only after we know the pencil has a name that we care. If we don’t know the characters we can’t care about them.

The action in Infinity War is unrelenting and incredible. Given all of the things going on with so many characters it is impressive as hell that they were able to do everything they did without making it confusing.

 

Overall, Infinity War is a fine addition to the MCU and the best of the Avengers movies in my opinion. In order to talk more about this and its connection to the comics that inspired it, I need to get into spoilers.

Infinty War (SPOILERS!!!!)

Infinity War impressed me on a number of levels, but I think one of the best things about it is that it put millions of viewers in a position comic book fans find very familiar. When reading a comic book, if one of the side characters die, you know it’s kind of serious. If one of the major characters die, you know it’s really serious. And if half of the major characters die, you know they’re almost definitely going to be brought back. This was true the first time Thanos snapped his fingers and killed half the universe back in 1990.

Check out the list of dead from Infinity Gauntlet #2 (Note that only Black Panther is disappeared in both the comics and the movie.)

InfintyGauntlet2

There are of course significant differences between the comics and the films, but one of the other surprising things about Infinity War is that it has a lot of things in common with the comics. In the comics Thanos is in love with the entity Death. She’s resurrected him and told him to kill half the universe. And so he gets the Infinity Stones to do so. In the MCU abstract concepts aren’t entities (yet). So instead they give him the motivation of feeling the universe is dangerously overpopulated. This also comes from the comics. There’s an issue of Silver Surfer leading up to Infinity Gauntlet in which he makes much the same argument.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that unlike comic books (usually), we have to wait a whole year to find out what happens next.

This gives Marvel a great opportunity to integrate their TV stuff. They could easily have episodes of Agents of SHIELD, Daredevil, Luke Cage, or any of the other upcoming seasons of Marvel shows in which half the cast disappears into dust. If history is any indication, Agents of SHIELD will touch on it while the other shows will not.

While it’s true that they’ve killed off characters we know are coming back, (Sony isn’t going to let Spider-Man die after only one of their movies.) it’s still impressive to end a movie that’s likely going to make a billion dollars in less than two weeks with the bad guy killing half the universe and smiling at the sunset. When DC killed Superman in BvS they felt the absolute need to put hovering dirt above his coffin to make sure even the dumbest person in the theater knew he was coming back. With Marvel, at least they had the guts to kill them dead.

What happens next? Well I can tell you what happens in the comics. If you don’t want to know, skip this paragraph. In the comics it’s the Silver Surfer who falls through Dr. Strange’s roof to warn everyone about Thanos. Then half the universe disappears. Then the rest of the heroes show up to save the universe. Of course Thanos is all powerful and it does not go well. Eventually Thanos tries to become one with the cosmos, but he retains his mortal body. Nebula gets her hands on the gauntlet and puts everything back how it was, but that includes her being on fire. She loses the gauntlet only to have Adam Warlock pick it up and save the universe. Of course in the MCU, Adam Warlock has only been hinted at and isn’t likely to save the day. That role seems to be filled by another hero, Captain Marvel.

Captain Marvel is the symbol you see on Nick Fury’s space pager in the after credits scene. She’s a human named Carol Danvers who has quite the colorful history in the comic books. Carol is an old spy pal of Wolverine’s, got her mind, personality, and powers stolen from her by the X-Man Rogue in Rogue’s first appearance, ended up getting a whole new power set and becoming a space pirate for a while before eventually going back to being an earthbound superhero who is more than comfortable in space. These days she’s taken up the role of Captain Marvel and runs Alpha Flight Station, an orbital platform that tries to keep the Marvel universe safe from near constant alien invasions.

Of course in the MCU, since they have yet to get the rights to the X-Men back, most of that isn’t going to happen in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie or in Avengers 4. Instead I expect that there will be a variation of the Nebula moment (given that she’s still alive) and everyone who got killed by Thanos with the snap of his fingers will come back (though Heimdal and Loki are probably dead for good). I’m personally holding out hope that Avengers 4 is going to give us at least a hint that the next big overarching storyline is Secret Invasion.

That’s all speculation naturally. Officially, next up for Marvel movies is Ant-Man and Wasp which takes place shortly before Avengers 3 and Captain Marvel which takes place in the 1990s. It’s going to be a long year waiting for Avengers 4, but I get the feeling it’s going to be worth it.

NOTE: This review was featured in my weekly newsletter, Notes From Table 30. The comments section is for those who want to talk about this review and other content from the newsletter. Not a subscriber to the newsletter? You can do that right here.

Trumpism is the new McCarthyism

trumpmccarthy

“Around the country he flew, reckless and audacious, stopping long enough to make a new charge, to exhibit a new list, a good newsworthy press conference at the airport, hail-fellow well met with the reporters, and then on to the next stop, the emptiness of the charge never catching up with him, the American press exploited in its false sense of objectivity (if a high official said something, then it was news, if not fact, and the role of the reporter was to print it straight without commenting, without assaulting the credibility of the incredulous; that was objectivity). It was like a circus; he was always on the move, his figures varied, his work was erratic and sloppy, he seemed to have no genuine interest in any true nature of security. It sometimes seemed as if he too were surprised by the whole thing, how easy it was, how little resistance he met, and so he hurtled forward to newer larger charges. But if they did not actually stick, and they did not, his charges had an equally damaging effect: they poisoned. Where there was smoke, there must be fire. He wouldn’t be saying those things unless there was something to it. And so the contamination remained after the facts, or lack of them, evaporated….

All of which did not displease the Republican party. The real strength of [him] was not his own force of brilliance, it was the acquiescence of those who should have known better.”

The above quote is from David Halberstam’s book, The Best and the Brightest. He is talking about Senator Joseph McCarthy. He goes on to talk about how McCarthyism only lasted a few years but the impact of his relentless and meritless hunt lingered for decades and heavily influenced our view of communism leading into the Vietnam War. I kept all of this in mind as I read and reread the above passage because the description above, though written decades ago sounds for all the world like Trump since 2016. If Donald Trump is this era’s McCarthy, what can we learn from the past about where we are headed?

Both men have a habit of making things up. Both men have a habit of playing the victim. Both men like to act as though they are the only hope for America. While there are certainly plenty of differences between the two, as the quote above attests, the two had some striking similarities.

McCarthy’s impact on the 20th Century in America cannot be overstated. It was the echo of McCarthy that kept Americans believing in the myth of monolithic communism. That helped the United States misinterpret the war in Vietnam as a war against communism rather than a war for an independent Vietnam. This would prove catastrophic for both countries and kill over 58,000 Americans and countless Vietnamese.

Keeping this in mind, when it comes to Trump’s behavior towards immigrants and refugees, how much of his attitude towards these people is going to be reflected in his supporters decades after Trump is out of office? What poison is Trump putting into our American culture? And if we are aware that he’s poisoning the culture, is there a way for us to counteract that? Will these vilifications lead us into some future conflict that could be avoided if only some people were not taken in by his lies? I do not know the answers to these questions, but I feel like they are questions that should be in our heads as the Trump regime goes on.

Part of me wonders if the similarities between the two men are actually coincidence. Perhaps Trump purposefully modeled Joseph McCarthy’s tactics. Is that giving Trump too much credit? Then again, maybe this is just some sort of American archetype that appears from time to time to take advantage of people’s fears and exploit paranoia and bigotry. Just how much is history repeating itself?

Unlike McCarthy, Trump is being investigated by the FBI. There is the chance that maybe now that all other checks and balances have failed to stop him, that Mueller’s investigation will end this sham of a Presidency. But how much destruction will happen before that happens and how will Trump echo through the coming decades? In many ways I fear the damage has already been done.

I try to take a bit of comfort in the McCarthy/Trump comparison. Just a few years after the height of McCarthyism, Joseph McCarthy was dead. History correctly views McCarthy not as a hero trying to save America but for the proper villain that he is. One can only hope that a similar fate awaits Trump in the future.

– Jack Cameron