Dose of Theory

*Excerpt

About two years ago I received a ticket while driving for not having my registration up to date. My car was unwashed and banged up, and the cop that tailed me followed me for several blocks (running my plate through “the system”) before flashing his lights and pulling me over. My girlfriend was with me at the time, and the officer had me sit still for several minutes while he waited for two more cars to arrive.

I kept my hands on the steering wheel because I wanted them to see that my hands weren’t doing anything suspicious. I didn’t want them to get spooked or to give them any reason to put a bullet in me. Truth was I was afraid of them at the time, and with good reason.

When I was in high school my JV baseball coach was a police officer. During the course of the year the man shot a seventeen year old in the parking-lot of the local Walmart. The papers said it was in self defense, and it probably was, but there was doubt among the students and even my parents. Whether it was self defense or not, it was a white on black homicide, and it was someone I thought I knew and who I’d trusted.

I’ve heard that there is generally mistrust between cops and two specific groups; lower-class Americans, and Minorities. Continue reading

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Bite of Thought

Two books I’m about to begin reading for the purpose of generating good crude thought are The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap and The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America. The first was recommended on the Daily Show with John Stewart. I have become what I would call a strong reader, and I’ve worked to get there, but mostly what I read is fiction.

One night Jon Stewart did an interview with author Matt Taibbi, and I was hooked. I was beginning the semester taking Intro to Sociology, and here was a book that was right in line with one of the major schools of thought I’d been studying, mainly Conflict Theory. Loosely defined Conflict Theory is a school of thought which aims to search out  areas of social inequity and once these areas are identified deconstruction is used to examine the individual pieces of the “collage” that when joined together create the whole fucked-up picture. This loose definition also works to describe Taibbi’s The Divide.

First I started listening to the audio book. It was a new experience for me, but I learned how to book mark certain sections, and since I was accustomed to reading and writing in the margins, I had to develop a new kind of literacy. You might not believe me, but learning to listen can be challenging for some, and certainly for me.

Eventually I found myself in a world I knew, but all the same was shocking to meet and to see for what it really was, a mess. In the introduction Taibbi talks about a system of justice that is “universal” for all American citizens in name only, and that in fact the system isn’t universal but stratified just like the classes. And one thing that resonates deeply with me is this, “more and more often we all make silent calculations about who is entitled to what rights and who is not. It’s not as simple as saying everyone is the same under the law anymore. We all know there is another layer to it now.”

And I think we are seeing this even more now with police brutality clearly targeting low-income and working-poor neighborhoods, and our pampered friends on Facebook blaming our outrage and our call for regulation as the reason their cop-relatives are being gunned down in the streets. Here we see the lower and lower-middle classes taking aim at each other, when the ones that run the system that maims us continues to live and thrive hidden in obscurity.

While The Divide Looks at the current state of affairs and lays bare what’s actually happening now, The Unwinding looks at how we got here. This, was a recommendation, but one I’m glad I followed up on. I began listening to this on audio too. Here George Packer tracks the movement of “the” glacier that is American politics and Domestic Policy.

He’s worked hard to uncover and expose key players who have played a role in shaping the world we see around us, and he has worked hard to show readers how the pieces fit together, and to show that some things we look at and think “how crazy” actually fit together nicely, naturally, and snug as a bug when you examine the other pieces. Together I hope these books will prepare me for my next semester, one filled with Sociology and Argumentation.

While I’ve listened to these and gotten a lot, I’m now going back over paperback copies with highlighter in hand. What I find I’ll share with you.

And I haven’t Forgotten about Austen. Me and her are getting along just fine currently!

Two quotes to leave you with, some food for thought.

“We are creating a dystopia, where the mania of the state isn’t secrecy or censorship but unfairness. Obsessed with success and wealth and despising failure and poverty, our society is systematically dividing the population into winners and losers, using institutions like the courts to speed the process. Winners get rich and get off. Losers go broke and go to jail. It isn’t just that some clever crook on Wall Street can steal a billion dollars and never see the inside of a courtroom; it’s that, plus the fact that some black teenager a few miles away can go to jail just for standing on a street corner, that makes the whole picture complete.

The great nonprosecutions of Wall Street in the years since 2008 were just symbols of this dystopian sorting process to which we’d already begun committing ourselves. The cleaving of the country into two completely different states–one a small archipelago of hyperacquisitive untouchables, the other a vast ghetto of expendables with only theoretical rights–has been in the works a long time.”

-Matt Taibbi, The Divide

It’s like If I were to walk down to the creek, I’m going to wear a path, and every day I’m going to go the same way. That how the roads in this country were built, basically. The people that built the roads followed the animals’ paths. And once that path is set, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to take another path. Because you get in that set pattern of thinking, and it’s passed down generation to generation to generation.

-Dean Price, in The Unwinding

Plugged into the Narrative: One effect of the Military Industrial Complex on the American public

I have this page in my Sociology text that talks about members of the armed forces deployed overseas as being “Cultural Emissaries.”

“Wherever they serve, American Military personnel have the opportunity to learn about other cultures and to act as representatives of American Culture to the people they encounter.”

Basically the idea is that these men and women become ambassadors. They have the opportunity to participate in what we would consider foreign cultures, and the have the ability to share their own personal culture, to some degree, with the people they encounter as well.

This idea was something I hadn’t thought of before, though in reality it makes a lot of sense. It was just an idea that never occurred. Men and women of the armed forces acting as “cultural emissaries” makes so much sense, and yet we never hear about it in the news or anywhere for that matter. Continue reading

Groups we Live in, and that Live in Us

All the connections both unseen and unheard

All the connections both unseen and unheard

Recently in my Sociology class we were asked to brainstorm a list of groups we were a part of and how those groups affect us. Well these are some of the groups our proff asked us to consider. My answers were quick and spur of the moment in class, but I thought it might be interesting to share, and perhaps something for you to consider.

Q: What groups are you a part of and how do those groups shape who you are?

Here’s mine

Family- I’m an only child. My parents and my aunts help me out financially quite a bit, and I suspect when I’m older I’ll be helping them just as much. In that way we have a bit of a symbiotic relationship we both give and take. My dad introduced me to two things that have significantly shaped my life, Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings. My mom is maybe a little more realistic, and I can definitely see more of her realism as opposed to my dad’s more idealistic views of the world.

Religion- I’m not in this group, but it’s hard not to be affected by organized religion. for example because Religion plays such a huge role in what society deems acceptable/appropriate behavior we at Burger Hut only get to listen to BOBFM (top 40s station) on the radio… and that’s just one of the many unseen ways Religion affects my life every day.

Friends and peers- This is one of the most important groups I’m in. Some of my best friends and peers are ambitious. We push each other to do better and go further. I worked hard to make sure my closest friends do anyways.

Government- This effects every level and facet of my life maybe almost as much as organized religion does. Gov. determines how much I get paid, how many classes I have to take before I can apply for the jobs I really give a  damn about, they affect who I can marry, and so many other things that are just as important… but Religion is one of the biggest things pushing for government to enforce their sense of morality.

Economy- I’m part of this group sure. I’m a consumer… although maybe I’m not a very good one at the moment. Most my income is designated to monthly bills and groceries… but the world seems happy with me right where I am.

Culture- Hard not to be a part of this group right. Culture does affect who I am, what kind of conversations I can have at a cafe, what activities occupy my time, where I spend my time and at what times during the day too. Culture affects the way I dress and speak, and even how I prioritize my goals.

Writing group- Northern California Novelists is one of the most influential groups I’m a part of right now. I’m trying to become a professional writer, and this group meets once a week on Monday nights to take two people’s stories and talk shop and hone skills. This group will be a part of me wherever I go in life.

Work- Burger Hut def. affects me. My manager has the lowest opinion of me out of all my coworkers (shift leaders included). He thinks I’m dumb and that I can’t see past my own nose, but I’m aware of it and I can see right through him… that being the case I can’t ask him for a raise. But it is a job I can keep as long as I want, I just won’t be moving up. So it’s a job that is emotionally degrading, but one that’ll put me through college. (To honest? :P)

Education- This has been huge for me. Butte specifically has been both a curse and a blessing. Through Butte I’ve found my writing group, I’ve helped put together WordFire two years in a row, I’ve been president of both the GSA and the Literary Arts Club, and I’ve accompanied the GSA to the Western Regional Queer Conference.I hate how long I’ve been at Butte (people judge you for that you know?) but through butte I’ve collected some amazing experiences, so I’ve got to be grateful at the end of the day.

“The Jennifer Lawrence Controversy” and Rubbernecking

This is what we do to celebrities, right? Now a days, with social media, everyone is a potential target.

So if you haven’t heard, a slew of actresses have had their private nude images stolen, or hacked, and the images have been made readily available on the internet. When I first heard of the story I’ll admit a moment of cro-magnon brand male lust. I’m a fanboy from time to time, sure, and I crushed on Jennifer Lawrence as hard as anyone.

I was close to following the rabbit hole when finally my super ego, or my conscience kicked in to stay my hand. I didn’t know Ms. Lawrence and I didn’t owe her anything more than I would another human being. That being the case I didn’t follow the links… not because I’m a good man, but because in this case I felt it was the right thing to do.

I’d been faced with similar choices before. For example when Saddam Hussein was publicly executed, I think he was hung, the broadcast was made available worldwide. I know what he did to his people, and he deserved what he got… but did I deserve to gawk? It seemed barbaric to participate in his death as a viewer, something akin to watching gladiators fight to the death in Roman times. We made a spectacle of the man’s death, and the only profit a viewer hoped to gain was, at its core, entertainment.

I didn’t want to be the kind of man that was entertained by real death.

You might think it is a stretch to compare the two situations. One is a “harmless nude photo” and the other the deserved death of a dictator linked to America’s 9/11 disaster, but to me there is a similar spectacle frenzy. Come watch this man be punished for his crimes and feel good that we have done justice in the world, this was the message for Hussein. Click on this link, see the nude photos you’ve always wanted to see, and take part in the greatest tragedy that has ever befallen one of America’s most beloved stars… after all she’s a celebrity and that means her life exists only to entertain you, right? I’m not so sure.

For Hussein, I was aware on some level that it was wrong for me to profit on his death, even if that profit was just “innocent fascination” or “justified satisfaction.” We should not celebrate execution. For Ms. Lawrence, she is completely undeserving of this breach of privacy. So yeah, in her case what you are feeling you might be able to convince yourself is just “innocent curiosity,” but the only justification you’ll be able to name is that she is a celebrity, and that doesn’t give you the right to profit from her plight.

Now let me be clear, just because I have shown restraint and respected one actresses’ privacy does not make me a completely enlightened man. I do watch porn, and even though I’m in a serious relationship I have fantasized about other women, and even some of my closest friends… what can I say? I’m a complicated man. But I think there’s a difference.

When I watch pornography I’m watching women who have consented to be filmed (and I use sites that have definitely paid their “performers,” none of that revenge filming bullshit). So there’s consent there. The women in that industry know they are creating a product. The actresses who have had their pictures stolen have given no consent, and Ms. Lawrence at least has made it clear that for her this is a nightmare. And my fantasies are my own, no one hears about them because i know what kind of damage that would do to the people I care about, and I’m mature enough to know the difference between fantasy and reality. I for one will not add to her nightmare, and I’m certain I am not the only one who feels this way.

I don’t think there’s a term for what’s happening here, but it’s like rape in that these women have had no choice in whether or not people view their images, and there are people who forced this situation onto them. It’s like rubbernecking too in that the “crash” is someone’s personally tragedy, and here we are hitting the breaks to get a better look. We don’t care if we’re slowing the people behind us because sure enough they’ll want to take a peek and see if there’s any guts on the road too.

I’m not Christian, or religious, or anything of the sort… and I wish we were a more moral country and society.

A Fish, But Still a Man!

Morning Writer Frizz!

That first week was pretty rough. As unusual as it was, it wasn’t cruel and unusual. Sure there were a whole slew of new sensations and needs to get use to. There was a time where a strand of excrement hung from his sphincter like he’d broke some fecal-tether and the length that remained attached to him just drifted behind him. His humiliation lasted for hours, and Rudy wouldn’t let him hear the end of it. So sure there was many new sights and sounds to get use too, but by the end of the week the grueling truth of it finally sunk in.

Monotony was King in this realm.

There were very real dangers too. Always Cliff kept in mind the man in the black suede shoes, the blue-eyed devil, and his minion. The cat was always slinking about near by, and whenever he had a mind to look for her, eventually he’d find her somewhere sneaky and hidden just staring at him. Sometimes the girl would come by with her strip of paper and frown. She’d say, “your pH is a little high.”

This comment was connected to some vague “badness” coming down the road. Apparently if the pH remained high death would come on swift wings to collect his soul, but Cliff found it hard to believe. When he was a human he never even went to get his flu vaccination, and even when he did catch a cold he’d be back on his feet in in just a couple days. Still part of him was uneasy. He’d never kept fish before, but he thought of those ten cent goldfish he’d won at the fair, and he hoped his new keeper was better at keeping animals alive than he’d been when he was twelve. But besides the danger, which was more of a constant presence and an irritant than something that he really had to worry about. Cliff found his days filled with aimless drifting, odd movements of gas and muscle within his body, and conversation with his tank-mate, Rudy.

On day two Cliff had studied his surroundings. The world outside the tank was small, but homely. There was a large bookcase across from where he swam and it was filled with an odd assortment of fantasy, sci-fi, and educational texts. From that fact he gleaned that his captor was a student of some sort. There was a desk beside the bookcase made of black metal, not exactly pretty but expertly crafted. Metal legs twisted in on themselves and supported a flat top of melted and welded together washers that had been tinged the color black, as if burnt.The book on top of the dest was Introduction to Logic, and from that he guessed his captor was a philosophy major.

Well that figured, didn’t it? It had to be a philosophy major that found herself running an afterlife detention-center and not even know it!

Beside the desk was the vent of a heater and a hallway leading at one end to his captor’s room and at the other a big question mark. Because Cliff was an orange goldfish he was limited to the vantage afforded by his tank, and no more. To his left was the door, and the world beyond where presumably his family was mourning his death. Had they held a funeral yet? The thought, whenever it visited him, filled him with sorrow and regret. He sunk low until his belly hit the glass bottom and let the light current push him around until he found the solace of sleep.

To the right of his little tank was the big tank, and if he and Rudy ever lived through what the captor called, quarantine, they’d be allowed to join the general population in the big tank. There they’d be allowed to mingle, and Cliff and Rudy had a mind to speak with the black fish… the way it floated above their tank, one eye peering down. It was like the black fish knew something about them, perhaps the black fish with the bulbous eyes was just like them, a sentient being stuck in the body of some mutated fish! Whatever happened they had to know.

There was also a patio through which Cliff could see the light of day filtering through, and somewhere behind the wall with the bookshelf was a kitchen, for he had seen his captor disappear behind it and reemerge with a box of cereal, milk, and a bowl. Whenever she did wake up to a slow morning she would stumble out of her room with sleep crusted eyes, yawning, and to his surprise she often wore only a tank top and panties. This had become the highlight of his days.

While he knew he was her prisoner, he also knew that while he was a fish he was still a man! Through her tank top he was a hint of pink areola, and that had become the closest thing to religion he’d ever come. One day Rudy caught him staring.

“I know, Mr. James. They’re nice, being breasts and all. They’re really a nice pair…” He hovered just above Cliff and tracked her as she made her way to the kitchen. “But I’m not sure this is the way we were meant to atone for our sins, you know? Ogling women and such.”

If Cliff had had arms or just a fist he would have hit the little blue runt right between the eyes for robbing him of the one thing that made the afterlife bearable. “Listen, There’s not much to this life is there? No, I didn’t think so.” Cliff let the current turn his body set him sailing for the hum of the filter. “Let me have this one thing. Just this one is all I’m asking.”

Rudy, keeping on eye on their girl floated a little too close to the surface of the water. He screamed a wild yell that only the two of them could hear, and Cliff wheeled around. “He’s trying to get me!” A rush of blue came at a blur down to the depths of the tank, and up above them a white socked paw was dipped into their water, its claws outstretched and reaching for them. Two green eyes peered down at them over silver talons, and a shiver ran down Cliff’s spine.

Cliff kept an eye on the menace up above. “When you were crossing.” He turned to Rudy. “When you were crossing, did you see the man…”

Rudy whispered feverishly, “I don’t remember any man. What man?”

Cliff circled around so he was facing the ridicules blue fish that was his friend and cell-mate. “The man in the deep red!”

He watched his friend’s eyes go wide. “I saw him… I’d nearly forgotten Mr. James, but I did see him.” Rudy sunk a little lower. “I don’t like to think about him Mr. James. Not one bit.”

Cliff felt something in his great mass moving, clenching up at the thought of the blue eyed devil. “Well I saw him too, and I think…” He’d never said it aloud before. “I think this cat’s in league with the bastard.”

Shock colored Rudy’s face a lighter shade of blue. “What makes you say that Mr. James?”

The words stuck in his throat as he tried to force them up. “Well you know how we think the black fish knows something about what’s happened to us?” Rudy nodded, following along so Cliff continued, “I get the feeling that this cat’s in on our game.”

“No!” Their captor hissed the words at the little cat. Cliff looked out and saw the woman grab a bottle, a squirt bottle. She shot a stream at the cat and made contact. The little devil leapt from the tank and disappeared into the bedroom at a sprint shaking water off its feet with every step.

Rudy was right beside Cliff. “Well we know one thing Mr. James. Whatever the truth is about that cat, the one thing that’s certain is that she don’t like water none too much.” And as far as Cliff could tell that was true. His gaze shifted and once again he spotted the black fish with the bulbous eyes staring down at him and Rudy. What do you know black fish? Are you friend or foe?

-to be continued-

 

PS-

Fishy Poems #1

A new place
A new time
Without hope…
or a rope
Orandamned if I do
Orandamned if I don’t

Perception is the Enemy

Perception, a glass half full or half empty and full of truths and deceit.

Been away writing. This next chapter is challenging for me. So many emotions must come to a head, and beyond that DeFalco (the villain) will make a key move. What he has to do is convince Thompson that he is an ally and that he has his family’s interests at heart. This is a tall order, but it deals with slight of hand. DeFalco is a master manipulator who has always orchestrated events to see himself come out on top, and in this chapter he makes a masterful play, he is able to drive a wedge between Thompson and the Wilder-Folk and he is able to make Thompson begin to realize that he is his only hope for survival in this new world… From this point forward Thompson will be watched closely through DeFalco’s sights.

This leads me to two of the themes I’ve been working with here, namely perception and trust. How can you trust anybody if you can’t even trust yourself? In my story it comes down to things not seeming what they are. The dystopian government pretends at having the interests of the people at its heart. The world itself can’t be trusted because not more than a few short generations ago Humanity was nearly wiped out by something called the Phantenheit virus. Beyond that Thompson is a product of his world… the world keeps its secrets from him, and he keeps his secret (The fact that he is a cyborg) from the world, his family, and even himself.

I know it’s an old trope, but it’s been fun to explore. I can see the ties to my real life plainly enough. If I’m looking for errors in perception I need look no further than childhood social studies where we learned about the 13 colonies and their “valiant efforts to spread freedom throughout America.” Later on we learned that perhaps those early motive weren’t so entirely noble. So there we have the government and propaganda, and there is probably one of the first seeds of mistrust ever sown.

Then we have first loves. When I was younger I was so sure I’d found lasting love. Heart break was hard enough when you were dealing with it for the first time, but if you’ve ever had something good fall apart on you, beyond your control, and seemingly defying all reason you face something dangerous… loss, and the realization that in some instances you are not in control of your story. I think that kind of loss is a reminder to us that we are mortal. I felt loss at the end of a relationship that felt worse than the death of a grandparent, and I’ve even felt guilt over the selfishness that. I grieved more over the loss of a woman, when no one was dying or hurt physically, and all I can say is that like most of us I am indeed flawed.

Perhaps that is the ultimate betrayal of our existence. We are allowed to live, some of us are allowed to see, or envision, how beautiful life can be and then biology catches up with us, and we die. I know, I’m sorry this post took a dark turn! We were talking about perception and trust and how those two themes worked in my current novel, but it’s interesting to trace where some of these things may have come from within the self is it not?

And that’s Thompson’s burden. He mistrusts himself, and I think that’s where he, and a lot of heroes, are most relatable to people now a days. If you ever felt like a fraud, or worried that you wouldn’t be up to the challenge of standing up for the things and the people you say you believe in then you understand the challenge of perception, trust, and doubt… self-doubt being the worst of all. If Thompson is to triumph in the end, and I think he might, then I suppose the underlying message of my story is, trust thyself.

Anyway thanks for reading,

David

PS- what themes or character traits (in books or movies, anything really) do you find resonating with you?