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Driving For Uber in 10 Steps (Even if you don’t have a car)

 

 

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As some of you know, I recently started driving in Tacoma for Uber. Many people want to know what my experience has been like and I figure this is the best way to tell everyone all at once. What I’m going to do here is tell you the process I went through. If you are interested in becoming an Uber driver yourself, there is a link at the bottom of the article. Click it. If you use that link and become an Uber driver you and I BOTH get at least $100 after your 40th ride. It’s a referral bonus.

I became interested in Uber for two reasons. One was that I needed a new car. The other was that I needed a job where I could make my own hours. Uber has such a need for drivers that they have a program called Xchange Leasing where you can lease a car that qualifies for Uber through a participating dealership. You can apply for the program through the link at the bottom of this article. Once you apply, they will tell you whether or not you’ve been approved in a day or two. Even if you have bad credit you’re likely to be approved. There’s a chance you will only be approved for a car that is already in the program. This will limit your options, but as long as you’re patient, you should be able to find a car that suits your needs. I’m currently driving a 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.

The way the lease works is that every week when you get paid, Uber automatically takes out the payment for your leased car. (Typically between $135-$175 a week.) If you make less than the payment amount any given week you can pay it directly or pay it the following week. You do not want to get more than a week or so behind on payments. There are a couple of things that make Uber’s lease different from most car leases. One is that there is no mileage cap. This is understandable as Uber would like you to drive as much as possible. The other is that after the first 30 days if you need or want to return the car, you can do so after giving a two week notice with no penalty beyond paying for the weeks you had the car. If you keep the car for the duration of the three year lease, at the end they will give you the option of buying the car. While the payments are fairly steep, the advantage of this lease over others if you’re driving for Uber make it a relatively easy choice.

The other advantage to Uber is that you can never be late to work or be unable to take a day off. There is no event in your life that you’re going to miss because you had to work. You can Uber any day, any time and you can stop any day, any time. If you want, you can never work on Monday again. You need time in the morning to get the kids off to school? You can take all the time you need. Want to take a four hour lunch? Go right ahead. Just looking to make some extra money around the schedule of your other job? Uber is great for that too.

These are the reasons I got involved with Uber. Now I’m going to explain what the process was like getting into a leased car and beginning to drive people around for money. I’m going to be talking about specifically what it was like for me in the Tacoma area but most of this can be applied anywhere.

Getting The Car

Once you are approved, Uber will send you a list of participating dealerships. These are dealerships that typically have cars available for leasing through Xchange Leasing. Most dealerships have a specific person who deals with Uber leases. You will want to find out the name of this person and keep in touch with them. This part of the process was easily the most time consuming. It took me roughly four weeks of calling and emailing to find a participating dealership that had a qualifying vehicle available. Their stock of these vehicles changes daily. Often I would call just after a vehicle was leased or sold to someone else.

When you go to the dealership, bring $250 in cash. They will want the down payment before they get the ball rolling on getting the lease in order. You will then want to talk to your insurance company. They will give you specific instructions on the type of insurance required for the lease. This is insurance provided by you. Uber does not pay for it. The dealership will not let you drive the vehicle off the lot without this insurance. There is Uber-provided insurance as well, but this does not take the place of your personal car insurance.

Getting Your Car Ready For Uber

Next up, you need to go down to your local Uber office with your new car. An Uber technician will inspect the car. If you got your car from a dealership, you probably will have no trouble whatsoever. Most Uber offices are fairly busy. Expect to wait a little while.

After passing the inspection, they will give you a piece of paper with links to two online courses. One is a general knowledge test of your area. This test is about forty questions long and fairly simple. The other is an online defensive driving course and it is not short. It’s a six-stage online driving course that goes over just about every aspect of driving. It’s like online driver’s ed and it takes a few hours to complete. I did it in two sittings.

Now that you’ve passed the car inspection, the general knowledge test, and the defensive driving course, you need to wait for Uber to process all of that and send you an Authorization Letter. When you have that letter, you can take it down to your local city government office and get a local business license. Most cities are very familiar with Uber driver’s doing this and will be very helpful. In Tacoma you can get the business license for $25 (or $99 if you think you’ll be making more than $12,000 through Uber).

Finally, once you have the business license, you can go back to the Uber office and they will get you set up in the system and get you an Uber sticker for your car. Once this is done, you’re officially an Uber driver and can start going out and earning money immediately.

The 10 Steps For Leasing A Car To Be An Uber Driver

  1. Use this link to apply. Wait to be approved. (Usually 24-48 hours)
  2. Find a participating dealership that has a car.
  3. Give the dealership $250 down payment.
  4. Get insurance for the car.
  5. Take the car to Uber to have it inspected.
  6. Take an online test of general regional knowledge (About 40 questions)
  7. Take an online defensive driving course (This is long. It takes 4-6 hours.)
  8. Wait for Uber to process everything and email you an approval letter.
  9. Take copy of approval letter and get city business license.
  10. Take business license to the Uber office. They will give you an Uber window sticker. They will get you into the system and you can turn your app on and start driving.

– Jack Cameron

Black Man. White Cop. You Know The Rest.

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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

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.

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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

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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.

Bernie über alles

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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.

When It Comes To Abortion, There Should Be No Controversy

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The last abortion clinic in Mississippi

 

Abortion is an issue that polarizes people. Anti-abortionists do their very best to restrict a woman’s access to legal and safe abortions all over the country. In Mississippi there is only one place in the state you can safely and legally have an abortion. The state has almost three million people. It also rates second in the nation in teen pregnancy.

Those who advocate for a woman’s right to choose will often argue that since it is the woman’s body and life that is most closely impacted by being pregnant, she should have the choice of what to do about it like any other health issue.

The problem is that those against abortion see the unborn fetus as a living being and think of abortion as murder and there is no argument to be made that will convince most of them that the fetus does not deserve every bit of protection we would give any other human life. This argument has been used again and again both in legislative buildings and in the defense of killing doctors who perform abortions. Given that this fundamental difference is so significant, I will not be arguing for or against it. What I am going to do instead is make an argument about abortion that I believe can be adopted by those who feel abortion is a woman’s right and those who feel it is no different than murder.

I know this sounds like a tall order, but I’m a liberal Democrat and my Dad is a Born-Again Christian who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and when I explained this to him, he and I agreed. I am genuinely hoping I am able to sway some more people with this because as I see it, there should be nothing controversial about abortion whatsoever.

Before 1973, abortion was not legal in much of the United States. This does not mean that abortions did not occur in the United States. They did. They occurred in unsterile environments with unqualified people who often left the pregnant woman permanently injured or dead. They occurred with women trying home remedies that often left them sick or dead. The only time they occurred with any semblance of safety for the pregnant woman was when the wealthy would hire a doctor to perform them. We know these things happened. We have hundreds of women and relatives of women who have bravely told these stories.

We also know the lengths that some pregnant women will go to in order to have abortions because there are states where anti-abortion laws are so strict that women have had to go to great lengths to get an abortion, including driving out of state, trying one of those home remedies, or getting butchered by an unscrupulous doctor. This is not something that only happened in the past. It happens today.

It is curious to me that the same conservatives who tell me that gun control will not work because criminals don’t follow laws are under the impression that laws restricting abortion will stop abortions. There’s a certain cognitive dissonance there. But if we know laws will not stop or lower abortions, maybe it is time to look at what we know works.

For starters we need to look at the cause of every single abortion ever performed: pregnancy. If we can limit the amount of pregnancies, we limit the amount of people who might want an abortion.

A popular idea among conservatives is to just tell anyone who does not want a baby to not have sex. This is a roundabout way of imposing antiquated religious beliefs on poor people. Sex is not simply for baby creation and it is not something you should only do if you have enough money. Sex between consensual partners is a human right. More to the point, we know that telling people to abstain simply does not work.

If we look at states where abstinence-only sexual education is mandated we find that there is a significant increase in teen pregnancy and STDs. This is because getting teenagers to avoid something by telling them not to do it, is like putting a steak in front of a dog and telling him not to eat it. It doesn’t work. It does not take an expert to understand why those with little cash and lots of hormones might engage in sex. It also does not take an expert to understand why a young woman who becomes pregnant who is poor might choose to have an abortion.

I would love to point to a state where there is solid nonjudgmental, non-religious sexual education, but there really isn’t one. So instead let’s take a look at Sweden where sexual education has been mandatory since 1956. Sweden’s pregnancy rate per 1,000 people is less than a third of ours.

It is clear to anyone paying attention that giving children accurate sexual education helps lower the pregnancy rate and as mentioned earlier, less pregnancies means less abortions.

Even when people are properly informed and educated about sex, they may still engage in unsafe sexual activity, especially if it is difficult to get birth control. This is why we do not just need good sexual education. We need access to free and low cost birth control. Studies have shown that when women have access to free birth control unwanted pregnancies go down. These two things lower the pregnancy rate dramatically and when there are less unwanted pregnancies, there are less abortions.

Now, let’s review:

  • Abortions happen whether or not they are legal.
  • Illegal abortions often put the life of the pregnant woman in danger.
  • Nonreligious, non-judgmental sexual education and access to free and low-cost birth control lowers the abortion rate more than anything else.

Given these facts the only logical thing to do is provide good sexual education, free birth control, and offer safe, legal abortion services for those women who choose to have abortions.

Any other alternative either increases the abortion rate or puts the pregnant woman’s life in danger. In either case, you can’t call yourself ‘pro-life’ while putting a woman’s life in danger or deliberately blocking something you know will lower the abortion rate.

Nothing I have said here is opinion. Each of the things said here can be verified. I’ve included links and there is more information out there if you are so inclined to find it. I welcome discussion, but if you are going to say that anything in this article is not true, please cite your sources.

Ultimately, those in favor of cutting funding to Planned Parenthood or creating new laws that restrict a woman’s right to choose are at best misguided and at worst simply anti-woman. Hopefully this article helps make sense of an emotional issue.

– Jack Cameron

Other Sources:
http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/publications-a-z/597-abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs-ineffective-unethical-and-poor-public-health

Eye In The Sky Movie Review

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A suicide bombing is going to happen. It will kill at least eighty people and seriously injure dozens more. You know who is going to do the attack. You know where they are right now. And you have the opportunity to destroy the house they are residing in. You can stop the next headline before it happens. The only catch is that you can only do it using a missile and that missile will kill not only everyone in the building. It will kill an innocent child. What do you do?

This is the situation depicted in Eye In The Sky, a movie starring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman, and Aaron Paul. Eye In The Sky is a fascinating movie in that it’s basically one long scene happening all over the planet at the same time. British intelligence have a plan to capture some terrorists using surveillance provided by a local spy on the ground in Kenya, a drone operated by the Americans from Nevada, and facial recognition provided by a base in Hawaii. As we bounce between these places we watch as various parties determine the best course of action.

I imagine that they chose British intelligence for the driving force behind this because anyone who knows anything about drone warfare done entirely by Americans would know that there would be no debate about what should be done. We would simply kill the bad guys and to hell with the collateral damage. (Anyone who thinks I’m mistaken about this should check out what we did in 2009 in al Majalah.)

I didn’t go into this movie expecting much. It’s directed by Gavin Hood who did Wolverine: Origins. Though he also did Rendition. Eye In The Sky is much like Rendition in that it takes a page out of our questionable foreign policy actions and explores it a bit. Unfortunately, much like Rendition, it’s fairly forgettable. Part of this is because it never bothers to humanize the terrorists. We barely hear a word out of their mouths. They are just bad guys putting together suicide vests. It never gets into who they are or why they’re doing what they’re doing. Eye In The Sky asks the important question, ‘Should we be willing to kill innocents in order to save more innocents?’, but it doesn’t ask or answer, ‘Who are these people who are so willing to kill themselves in the name of radical Islam?’

It may be that I’m asking too much of a mainstream Hollywood film. But if you’re going to get into the morality of the war on terror, I think it’s worthwhile to look at how our actions often help create the very things we’re supposedly trying to stop. It’s fairly simple to say that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few and so we should just accept that innocent children are sometimes killed in order to stop worse things from happening, but such a viewpoint ignores the consequences of those actions. It ignores the part where killing a child leaves a father and a mother who will not blame radical Islam for the death of their child. They will blame the West. Imagine some attack from a foreign government killed your government and then you meet a group that wants to conduct terrorist attacks on that same government. How easy is it for you to agree to help? This movie asks important questions but it ignores questions that are just as important.

Eye In The Sky is a worthwhile movie and I was glad to see it if only to watch Alan Rickman on the big screen one last time. It was also nice to see Aaron Paul in a non-Breaking Bad role. And Helen Mirren is always a joy to watch. I just wish they would have done more with the subject matter.

– Jack Cameron