Somethin’ From the Oven

In the autumn of 2012, the NFB community was shaken to learn that the national office was laying off 19 staff members at its headquarters in Baltimore. For those of you uninitiated readers, understand two things. The National Federation of the Blind was considered to be the largest and most influential voice of the organized blind in America. Also, employment is a much sought after, often elusive goal for blind people. As I have explained elsewhere in these pages, the NFB often served as the intersection between community and employment for many of its members.

So it was understandable why my friend Amy got roaring drunk on the eve of the convention of the Nebraska affiliate of the NFB in October, 2012. Amy was a loyal member of the Federation and had been an employee at the national office for about two years. Her job was safe, but some of her friends and coworkers were not. Amy wasn’t sure if her situation would continue to be secure going forward. So, she got shitfaced, then spent the next day nursing a hangover with crackers and water in her hotel room as the convention kicked off.

At the time, I was living in Colorado. I happened to be back in my home state standing as godfather to my new niece, if you can believe it. I attended her christening, then went to the NFBN convention the next day. It was a strange feeling being back amongst my fellow blind Nebraskans. I felt like an outsider looking in.

The sharpest memory that comes from that weekend was provided by Jim Gashel, fellow Coloradoan and national representative for the Baltimore headquarters. For those unwashed in the blood of the lamb, each state convention gets a national rep who comes with the proxy of the national president of the organization. It Is customary for each rep to deliver a report to the assembled convention body during the general session, as well as a keynote speech during the evening banquet. For me, it was often an excuse to go hit the head and grab some NABS snacks in the back of the room.

During Gashel’s remarks, he brought up the topic of the mass layoffs in Baltimore. This was 11 years ago, so I’m paraphrasing, but his remarks went something like, “Dr. Marc Maurer made the very difficult but necessary decision to lay off a portion of the staff.” At that point, a few people applauded, then quickly ceased when they realized that the applause was not going to swell.

What happened next was pretty stunning. Gashel said, with no sense of empathy or irony, “No, go ahead. That’s an applause line.” So, people applauded on mass. Amy and I were dumbstruck. Did the audience understand that they were applauding the loss of 19 jobs? Of course, they were really applauding Marc Maurer’s courageous sacrifices that had to be made for the greater good. Whatever the angle, it was tactless, heartless and cruel.

I remembered Gashel’s applause line later on that evening. Our state president pulled several students aside and gave them a stern talking-to. Apparently, they were laughing and chitty-chatting during Gashel’s banquet keynote speech. His wife Susan was offended by their irreverence and lack of respect, so she let the higher-ups know of her displeasure. And, the kids got a lecture. I don’t know if they got sent to their rooms without any of Nancy Oltman’s prize-winning cake.

Think about the dichotomy of those two situations for a moment. Gashel wanted everyone to applaud the termination of 19 jobs from the national office, but there was no sense of loss or regret in his words. Later, his wife gets pissed at a couple of college kids for a lack of respect. Absorb these disparities and you’ll have a decent snapshot of the culture within the NFB.

Sidebar: Nancy Oltman’s cakes were the stuff of legends around Nebraska NFB circles. They really did put Pillsbury to shame. Some people paid hundreds of dollars at fundraising auctions just to own one of her cakes.

I was thinking of that fateful convention and Jim Gashel’s applause lines two days ago when I learned that Blind Inc., one of the three NFB training centers in Minneapolis, would be closing at the end of this week. Their official statement on the matters reads as follows:

“The Board of Directors of Blindness: Learning in New Dimensions, Inc. (BLIND, Inc.) regrets to announce that we will temporarily suspend all of our programs and services as of January 1, 2024.
We take this action with heavy hearts. After extensive deliberation over our current financial and organizational obligations, we believe suspending operations at this time in order to make future plans is the best and most responsible available course of action. This decision comes after a review of compounded circumstances that have developed over a period of years, leaving our organization with inadequate resources to advance our mission at this time. One factor of this evaluation is that our current building, the Pillsbury Mansion, which is on the national historic registry, needs millions of dollars in renovations that must be done in a manner that preserves its historic character. Unfortunately, we have determined that we are not in a position to undertake the necessary building renovations while still providing quality adjustment-to-blindness training.
We recognize that this decision will be painful to our students, our dedicated staff, and to all of our supporters in the community. We acknowledge that it comes at a particularly difficult time, with the holiday season and new year upon us. We were not able to find a viable way to alter the timing of this decision. Our leadership is working with the National Federation of the Blind, Louisiana Center for the Blind, and Colorado Center for the Blind to help during this transition.
We deeply appreciate all of the work everyone affiliated with BLIND, Inc. has done over the past three decades to help blind people build the skills and confidence to live the lives they want. Our high-quality training has impacted thousands of people, not only the many students that have walked with us, but also the blind community who connect with the positive philosophy and high expectations demonstrated from our alumni and friends. With the continued support of our board, partners, and community, our goal in the coming months is to re-imagine what adjustment to blindness training can be, and to reopen our doors with fresh approaches and insights and on a sound financial footing.
BLIND, Inc, established in 1986, is a training center and community of blind and low-vision people, proudly affiliated with the National Federation of the Blind. We believe blind people can do anything. Every day, we encourage and challenge each student. When you believe in yourself and experience a thriving community of positive blind people, nothing can hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Our mission and values will continue to guide us to dream without limits, be bold, and work with love. Thank you for your support.”

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, Blind Inc. staff. Nothin’ says lovin’ like being fired for the holidays. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.” “Frosty the snowman, was a jolly happy soul.” “Riccobono took an axe, and gave the center 40 whacks.” Hope you can find work in 2024, cuz we may or may not be back.

I have to say that this statement is a slight step up from Gashel’s callous “applause line” comment. At least they acknowledged the shitty timing of the decision. Still, you can hear the martyrdom dripping from each word, even amidst the boiler plate sloganeering. “Live the life you want,” indeed.

The underlying sentiment is pervasive within the NFB, but as I’ve learned after talking to others in the nonprofit sector over the years, it is not unique to them. The critical importance of the mission is often weaponized against anyone who wants to openly question the maltreatment of employees, or to suppress employees who wish to economically advance within the organization. “If you truly appreciated the lord’s work that we’re doing here, you’d understand that we have to sacrifice you to save others, Hell, if you really love us, you’ll applaud your sacrifice on the altar of the greater good.” I have no doubt that this message is being implicitly or explicitly transmitted to the soon-to-be former employees at Blind Inc. during this yuletide season.

I could parse and deconstruct the statement, but it would be futile at this juncture. There’s just too much I don’t know. I do seriously wonder why it wasn’t possible to relocate the program to more modern and affordable surroundings, but I’m sure a certain segment of the blind elite would find questions like this pedestrian and sophomoric, so I’ll just leave it lay. It’s also quite evident that there is a hell of a lot more going on here than just issues involving an outdated building. Many hard questions will need to be asked and answered over the coming months. Every dues-paying member of the NFB should be outraged by this sad development. I wish the general membership had the intestinal fortitude to press the leadership for the answers, but I am skeptical of any such outcome. I am also highly skeptical that there will ever be a Blind Inc. 2.0.

But back to 2012 for a moment. Lest Amy be embarrassed by my portrayal of her, I have to admit that she wasn’t the only person who got shitfaced that fateful October weekend. After the banquet, I began consuming alternate quantities of Fat Tire and something called a, Cattle Prod. My memories are really sketchy, but I think a Cattle Prod involved the fusion of Royal Crown Cola and Jack Daniels Whisky. I can’t be sure. By 1AM, I have a very fuzzy memory of being wheeled back to my room on a hotel dolly. Apparently, I sang karaoke versions of “Love, Me,” and “Mamas, Don’t Let your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys.” If you’re curious how it sounded, you can probably find a recording of it somewhere on the internet. It’s every bit as embarrassing as you might guess. I also vaguely remember drunk dialing my girlfriend in Denver and hugging a lot of people. I’m a big lovie bear when I drink.

At 4AM, I woke up on my hotel room floor, my pants around my ankles and a cold puddle underneath my stomach. I won’t mention my roommate’s name because he’s respectable now.

At 8AM, my dad called and said they’d be over to pick me up in an hour. So I showered quick, said goodbye to my fellow blind, all of whom seemed reserved in their expressions of affection toward me, and I went to our family cabin, where I tried to shake off my monstrous hangover and put on a good face in front of my new goddaughter. To this day, that convention drinking bout was the worst black-out episode I’ve ever had.

Two weeks later to the day, at the banquet of the NFB of Colorado state convention in Boulder, Julie Deden won an award for her exemplary service to the organization. I got so angry, I started banging my empty coffee cup on its saucer until someone in leadership told me to quit it or get out. I think I was on Fat Tire number six or seven at that point.

The next morning, I shamefully slinked out of the hotel without saying goodbye to anyone. I went home to my apartment, tried to sleep, and wound up with the dry heaves on the bathroom floor at about 11:30 AM. There, retching and grunting with bile in my throat, I looked in the metaphoric mirror and decided that I might…might have a drinking problem.

That part was easy. The part where I had to admit that I might…might have an NFB problem didn’t come for many years. But that, gentle readers, is a story for another blog entry.

As for Amy, she worked at NFB headquarters for a few more years. She eventually left the national office and moved to San Francisco, where she happily now shares her crackers and water with the homeless.

Does anyone remember Jim Gashel’s letter of, “caring concerns,” that he published two years ago in the wake of the NFB’s internal investigation of the sexual misconduct scandal? One can’t help but read it (particularly Section II) and get the sense that Gashel was being relegated to the storage closet of history. I read it and gave it the applause it deserved. I have no idea where Gashel is now or what he’s doing, but I doubt he’s in the unemployment line.

Before I depart, let me say that I’ve been pretty flippant in this entry. It’s what I do. But I genuinely feel bad for the men and women who got laid off from Blind Inc. Most paid NFB underlings are decent, hard-working people who honestly want to make a positive difference in the lives of the blind. Whatever incompetence transpired behind the scenes, the workers at Blind Inc. didn’t deserve the holiday shit sandwich they just got. As I’ve stated before, blind people can’t just lose their jobs and pick up and work for Uber or Chipotle to carry on through from paycheck to paycheck until a better job comes along. I really, really hope they’ll be all right.

Merry Christmas.

Silence is Complicity

I’ve come to the conclusion that the only reason I maintain this blog is so that there will be a record of my thoughts, feelings and actions if I should die unexpectedly. Who was Ryan O? What did he believe? Did he measure up to the standards that he set for himself? This blog will not persuade anyone of anything. It will not move the needle. I’m just another American nobody with a series of opinions. Let the record reflect that, after a certain point in my life, I tried to do the right thing when it mattered most. Or maybe I’m just writing down my thoughts so as to keep my own reality solidified in a world that seems to be tilting ever more toward the psychotic zone.

I think I’ve been pretty consistent in these pages in condemning sexual assault and misconduct. For those of you that are so inclined, check out my entries throughout 2016, particularly in Mid-October. Check out my very lengthy, very emotional entries in early 2021. Weigh those entries against what I’m about to write here.

Last Sunday, a clip of Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal went viral on social media. Dana Bash was interviewing her and asked why politicians and women’s groups who claimed to stand against sexual violence were not more forceful in their condemnations of Hamas terrorists on October 7. Jayapal hemmed and hawed in typical politician fashion. The noteworthy part was when Bash pushed back on her, refusing to let her get away with the typical progressive stratagem of deflecting all criticism of Hamas back on Israel.

A day later, Jayapal came out with a statement, but it was too little, too late. Any reasonable person can and should read Jayapal’s tepid and tardy statement as a reaction to being publicly shamed. This was not a statement born of principle and conviction. It was a move born of embarrassment and damage control.

On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood came out with a generic statement condemning Hamas. The United Nations for Women organization also recently came out with a statement condemning the actions of Hamas against Israeli women on October 7. All of these bodies, who claim to speak for women, did so only after mounting criticism that they were too slow to acknowledge that Israeli women had been systematically raped, tortured, kidnapped and murdered during the attack. It is also not a coincidence that the statements began to drop after female hostages were released from Hamas captivity.

Today is December 7. Two months ago, Israeli endured the worst attack and loss of life in one stroke since the Holocaust. The simple fact is that female politicians and activists, as well as groups purporting to speak for women, have been shamefully silent on this issue. This despite the fact that, unlike many claims of sexual violence which ultimately boil down to ‘he said/she said’ there is ample evidence that mass rape did in deed occur. In fact, the perpetrators bragged, laughed and celebrated their brutality against Israeli women. They took live videos of their assaults, posted them to various social media accounts and shared them with sympathetic parties. The only doubt fostered as to the depth of depravity of these crimes come from conspiracy nuts, leftist extremists and useful idiots for the cause of Hamas who want to water down the events of that bloody day.

Here is the bitter pill with no chaser. The brutal truth is that the left has now experienced it’s Hollywood Access tape moment. It faced the same test confronting Republicans in October of 2017. And, just like the bastions of “conservative” politicians, activists and common voters six years ago, the left has now failed the test.

No one likes to be the villain of the piece. No one likes to think that their actions, or inactions, result in a villain achieving power. This is why people are so emotionally malleable. They can lie to themselves, to others and to their god of choice, all in the name of justice, righteousness and principle. But it’s bullshit.

It’s all well and good to speak supposed truth to power when you’re in a friendly crowd. It’s all fine to pick a fight and throw bombs when you think you’re going to gain a lot of “likes” and “shares” from it. But it’s quite another when you run the risk of speaking your truly held beliefs, only to be ridiculed, threatened, taunted, mocked and maybe even assaulted because of those valid views. That is the honest to God meaning of conviction, and once again, we learn that those who scream about justice in public come up well short when it really matters.

Do you think I’m waggling my finger here? If you do, then you haven’t been paying attention over the past eight years. I’ve been largely alone since Trump came to power. Six years ago today, I walked away from a community from which I derived a good deal of my self-worth. Four years later, I walked away from the other major community from which my identity sprang. IN both cases, it was because of the issue of sexual predation. So, with all due respect, fuck you if you think that I’m enjoying myself here. Being a man without a country really sucks.

I honestly don’t understand why progressives have to make it an either/or scenario. Why can’t they say, “Sure, we support the Palestinian right to statehood and we want them to be free of Israeli oppression, but wanton rape and murder are a bridge too far.” By not taking this position right out of the gate, they’ve destroyed any credibility they had in the realm of sexual justice for women. All the counter forces have to do is stand up and parrot New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. “Silence is violence, but not when it comes to Israeli rape victims.”

So, if progressives love call-out culture, let me employ it here. Shame on all of you who rightfully spat fire over Donald Trump’s callous admission of his assaults on women, only to hold your tongue when video evidence was set before you of a woman begging for her attackers to kill her after being gang-raped. Shame on all of you who stridently attacked Brett Kavanaugh based on hearsay testimony, while ignoring video images of a woman crawling on the ground with her pants full of blood. Shame on those of you who screamed about the systematic cover-ups of sexual abuse in the National Federation of the Blind who now downplay the forensic evidence of female corpses that had their pelvic bones crushed from violent and repeated rape. Shame on those of you who proudly posted #MeToo on your social media feeds, but who now turn a deaf ear to the testimonies of the hostages who are now home, and refuse to call for the release of the remaining hostages who are very likely still enduring repeated rape and maybe worse. Shame on those of you who are reading this right now, who know I’m right in all that I say, but who refuse to speak up because…you don’t want to ruffle feathers, or make people uncomfortable, or maybe show your true colors.

Donald Trump knows he can, “grab ‘em by the pussy,” whenever he wants because scores of people from politicians to law enforcement to church ministers will defend him, regardless of the evidence. Now, the Hamas terrorists who raped, murdered and pillaged, and who have sworn to do it again and again and again, hold the same comfort. They know that a collection of western idiots will give them either passive or active permission to act on their blood hatred and brutalize women as they see fit. If silence really is complicity, than all of you are guilty. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

The reason that the left remained silent for so long isn’t particularly complicated, even if they claim otherwise. Just as they believe in, “good trouble,” or, “good violence,” maybe they actually believe in, “good rape.” Rape as a form of resistance to the so-called occupation of Palestinian land. Stop for a moment and examine this rabbit hole from a slight remove. See where it takes you? It does go to a very dark place, indeed.

My ultimate message today is the same as its been all along. Sexual assault is not a partisan issue. It affects everyone, no matter what their gender, race, political stripe, sexual orientation or ideology. If you want to sit on the sidelines and ignore it, that is your choice. If you want to pass yourself off as a courageous defender of justice, then be consistent in your message. Otherwise, you’re nothing but a hypocrite and a fraud and your contradictions will follow you.

I stand with Israel. I stand with survivors of sexual assault, no matter what the circumstances may be. If I haven’t done enough to combat it in my past, I’m trying to do my bit now. Can those of you who invoke the cause of justice make the same claim?

One last point. KFAB radio personality Jim Rose recently delivered one of his morning monologues on this very topic. It was one of his best. He forcefully condemned the silence on the part of women’s groups toward the brutality against Israeli women. It was a moment worthy of applause…until you realize that Jim Rose will gladly pull the lever for Donald Trump if he is the Republican nominee for president next year. What a shame. Hypocrisy seems to be the order of the day.

3-F

Let me start this entry off with a caveat. If you are a person who is absolutely genuine in your concern for the Palestinian people who are now caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas, none of what follows will apply to you. If you are using concern for the Palestinian people as a shield for other purposes, you can kiss my ass.

For the past three weeks, my emotions have alternated between shock, sorrow, disbelief and mounting rage over events transpiring in the Middle East. I was deeply shaken by the surprise attack on Israel on October 7. I was heartened by the support Israel received from many of the leaders of the West in the following days. I was disgusted, though not surprised, by the pro-Hamas rallies that came so quickly after Jewish blood was still wet on the ground.

What I was not prepared for was the rapidity from which much of the media narrative would shift from a compassionate or neutral tone toward Israel to one of sympathy for those in the Gaza Strip, while mixed with a growing skepticism of Israel’s motives, tactics and end goals. I’ve been paying attention to Israel now for 20 years, so I expected the media and many politicians to turn against Israel at some point, but I figured it would happen after Israel ramped up its ground assault in Gaza. I did not think it would take mere days.

The best example of this tonal shift, of course, was the Israeli bombing of a Palestinian hospital that wasn’t. The New York Times lead the charge in labeling the attack as coming from Israel. When President Biden visited Israel the following day, he had to inform the world that the rocket had actually been fired from Gaza and fell far short of its target. Yet, it took the NYT six days to correct the narrative. To this day, certain members of the progressive left such as Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib still maintain and trumpet this spurious, libelous story.

This was just the tip of the iceberg. Social media swarmed with deniers questioning everything from whether or not babies had been beheaded, whether women had actually been raped, whether children had been kidnapped, or whether the videos, many of which were taken by Hamas terrorists and proudly flaunted on social media, were authentic. This forced Israel into the position of having to validate the attacks by holding special screenings for journalists, posting graphic photos of dead babies on the internet, and justifying its strategy to the western world.

And then came the campus rallies. Angry young people marching on free, comfortable, entitled colleges, chanting and screaming slogans that they’ve been taught in classrooms without the benefit of any critical analysis. Then came cowardly, mealy-mouthed administrators issuing tepid, toothless statements trying to soothe everyone while condemning no one. Then came a group of terrified Jewish students locked in a library at Cooper Union with an angry mob of pro-Hamas supporters banging on the doors and screaming taunts and epithets. The students had to be escorted from the building by armed cops.

The only silver lining I can find in all of this bloody business is that the masks are finally off. If the bigoted right wing of the Republican Party was drawn out of the closet during the rise of Donald Trump, the anti-Semitic bigoted left is now feeling free to crawl into the light under the umbrella of the Democrat party. Supposed anonymity on the internet, masks in public and the comforting yoke of permission granted by a cadre of media, intellectual and academic elites gives these people cover to reveal who they really are. Let them have their reckoning in public, rather than the quiet solitude of the voting booth where they expose their hearts to no one but God. We will remember them.

I doubt anyone reading this is familiar with the three D’s as connected to antisemitism. I don’t blame you. I had never heard of them until recently. The three D’s are, demonization, delegitimization and double standards. Demonization is the historical pattern by people of blaming the Jews for all of the woes of the world; economic, political, social, etc. See Adolf Hitler and Louis Farrakhan for further reference. Delegitimization is the practice of downplaying or denying the right of Israel to exist, or questioning or denying the existence of historic events, such as the Holocaust. See Ayatollah Khamenei and Nick Fuentes for further reference. Double standards are the practice of applying standards or expectations to Israel or other Jewish persons that would not otherwise be applied to other countries in a similar situation. See most college professors, media pundits, leftist politicians and CAIR for further reference.

These three D’s, reflected in the charter of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, perfectly illustrate what Israel and Jews across the world are up against. Yet, the working definition of antisemitism as brought forth by the IHRA has been adopted by numerous countries, including the US, Australia, Germany, Canada, the UK, Spain and Italy. Strange how so many civilized countries can so easily agree on a working definition in peacetime, yet can buck at the notion of applying such definitions when the theory is put to the test.

As a tribute to the three D’s, I have implemented my own system for countering antisemitism. They are, the three F’s. Fuck you, fuck off and fuck yourself.

If you are a pundit, politician, journalist, college professor or even an Uber driver who uses terms like, “moral equivalency,” “apartheid,” “occupiers,” “ceasefire,” or “decolonization,” then fuck off!

If you are a “protester” who tears down posters of Israeli child hostages and wears paraglider stickers at your pro-Hamas, anti-Israel rally, then fuck you!

If you are someone who is, “just asking questions about the Holocaust, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the October 7th Massacre, when there is ample evidence available, then fuck yourself! You’re not really asking questions. You’re planting poisonous seeds.

If you’re someone who uses the Israeli-Hamas war as an excuse to instigate harassment, discrimination or even violence against Jewish citizens in your own country, then fuck you, fuck yourself and fuck right off!!!

Let me (ahem ahem) just ask a few questions before I finish up.

What does the chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine, it will be free,” really mean? How many people who gleefully chant this slogan at rallies also love to employ the word, “genocide,” when speaking about other minorities?

If the Jewish people were to leave Israel, or be forced out, where would they go?

If the United States had been told to, “control your rage,” or “don’t escalate,” in the months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, what would our response have been?

How many of the progressives who are calling for a ceasefire have also called for Hamas to release the hostages?

What do pro-Palestinian protesters in the West really know about the workings of the Israeli government? How do they square their western values, such as pro-homosexuality, overt feminism and diversity with the treatment of women, gays and other minorities by Hamas?

Why did the Palestinian people elect Hamas as their government in 2006, after Israel had already relinquished the Gaza Strip to them? It wasn’t as if Hamas was lying about who and what they were. Unlike the Nazis, who went to great lengths to conceal their crimes, Hamas has been perfectly clear in their goals. They want to eradicate Israel and the Jewish people from the Earth. I’m not trash-talking here. Look it up.

And for you Jewish leftists who are still anti-Israel, when are you gonna wake the fuck up!?

Let me hasten to add that criticism of Israel as a country is fair game. No country is above reproach. But when masked students project vile, anti-Semitic slogans on to a library on an American college campus under cover of darkness, there’s something else going on that goes far beyond criticism of Israeli policy. When people are sharing pictures of the Star of David in a garbage can, that’s not pro-Palestinian, or even pro-humanitarian. That is pure evil.

The worst part of this whole business is that I used to view the rise of Nazism and the subsequent Holocaust as, just history. It was a horribly fascinating period of history that I was sure wouldn’t…couldn’t happen again in our modern world. I don’t think that way anymore. Between the rise of Donald Trump, the bending of the knee to authoritarianism along the entire political spectrum, and recent events in Israel and abroad, I now have a much clearer understanding of exactly how and why the events of the first half of the 20th Century occurred. It happened before and I am certain that it will happen again. Between Russia, Iran and China, I have no doubt that we will be in World War III before long.

Against this dark and ominous backdrop, I can only make one final statement. It is a statement that comes without equivocation or nuance.

Let history bring down the sword of war upon us all. My neck is my own, for the saving or the severing. I stand with Israel. I stand with my fellow Americans who are Jewish. I stand with the Jewish people of the world.

Death to Hamas.

Kiss My Cinnabons

Welp, I’m about a year overdue, but I did promise that I would render my final verdict on Better Call Saul. Last night, Dana and I watched the BSC episode concerning Mike’s backstory, which turned out to be the Mike high point of the series. Today, I engaged in a thread by the one and only Wes Craven, in which he expresses bafflement at the notion that Better Call Saul is perceived by some to be superior to its predecessor, Breaking Bad. Perhaps this is God’s way of telling me that it’s time for me to hold forth, so here goes.

First, anyone who believes that Better Call Saul is better than Breaking Bad should be given an acid bath in Jesse’s tub. I have written elsewhere about my opinion of the two shows, but now that both are complete, I stand by my initial assertion that Bob Odenkirk is simply not leading man material; certainly not in the way that Bryan Cranston was. This becomes more evident as BSC moves along and becomes more serious. As the story calls on Jimmy/Saul to plumb the depths of his complex core, I don’t feel it in the way that I did with Cranston.

It is ironic that I began the show fully invested in Mike’s character, while caring little about Jimmy. At the end, I was largely underwhelmed by the Mike arc. Unlike BB, which revolved around Walter and Jesse, it felt as if BSC ran along parallel tracks. The characters of Jimmy and Mike seldom intersect. When they do, the moments are fleeting. One gets the impression in BB that Saul and Mike are in it together, but the prequel doesn’t bear this out. Also, the drug stuff involving Mike, Nacho, Hector, Tuco, The Cousins, Gus and Lalo all feels anticlimactic. We know Gus is ultimately going to prevail over Lalo. We know that Hector winds up stranded in a nursing home at Gus’s mercy. We know The Cousins live through BSC, only to be killed by Hank in BB. We’re supposed to care about Nacho’s fate, but really, he’s a small cog in a bigger wheel. When he finally kills himself with a ‘fuck you!’ to Lalo, it has a meh feel. The worst part is the cold fact that we know that everything that Mike does in the name of providing for his granddaughter will ultimately come to not. Why is any of this dramatically interesting?

The Jimmy arc is more compelling, particularly in the early seasons when Chuck was alive. We don’t need long, clever musical montages of Saul selling burner phones and representing hookers in court to know why he does what he does. Chuck is the reason. But once Chuck dies, Jimmy’s story becomes less absorbing to me. He eventually transfers his feelings of hostility from his dead brother to Howard Hamlin, but of course, this doesn’t end well. I think the best moments of the series happen between Jimmy and Chuck. Both are right about each other’s flaws and both are powerless to do anything about it while they are locked in their sibling antagonism.

This brings me to Kim. Many critics and fans fell in love with Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler, Jimmy’s sometime girlfriend, partner, friend and eventual spouse. In the growing age of strong female characters, Kim is supposed to represent the moon to Jimmy’s sun. Yet, it never feels earned to me. At first, Kim appears to be a strong, confident, intelligent woman who deals with a career setback and eventually goes out on her own. Then, she becomes Jimmy’s enabler, aiding him in his con games. Her code is, “The mark deserves it.” Then, she becomes his wife. It seems she loves taking the dark ride that Jimmy offers…until she doesn’t. She pushes Jimmy to go after Howard, but ultimately, she appears to fall victim to her own sense of guilt and regret when things turn fatal for poor Howard. Her story ends as she is living a self-punishing life of dullness, complete with a monosyllabic sex partner. When she breaks down in a less than convincing crying jag on an airport shuttle, we’re supposed to bleed for her, but it feels like a female trope meant to wring sympathy from a jury.

My problem with the Kim character is that she feels like the result of an identity crisis born in the writers room. Yes, she is a woman of conflicting passions and morality, but none of it feels particularly self-aware. It’s as if the writers are engaged in a game of tug-of-war with Kim. Will she be good or bad this week? Will she be Jimmy’s conscience, or the devil on his shoulder? Unlike Walter White’s descent into pure evil, which felt organic, this feels patched together, as if we are seeing sign posts planted along a highway that is in a state of constant disrepair.

Finally, the ending. I started out lukewarm on the finale of Breaking Bad, but my appreciation for it grew over time. Conversely, I started out really liking the finale of Better Call Saul, but like it less and less as I process it more. Given all we know about Jimmy’s character, I can’t believe that he would throw himself upon the mercy of the court and take 76 years in prison just because he loves Kim. That is simply not in keeping with anything that we’ve learned about the character. Yes, it was cathartic to see Jimmy confess all of his sins in court, particularly his role in the suicide of his brother, but the confession also felt inorganic to me. I did like the flashes we saw of Jimmy’s life as Gene in Omaha. We always knew the criminal life was too much of a temptation for Jimmy to resist. I like the idea of Carol Burnett serving as Jimmy/Saul/Gene’s undoing. I just don’t buy that he’d throw himself on the sword to save Kim. Nothing we saw in the previous 61 episodes indicated that he was capable of that level of self-sacrifice.

A big problem with BSC is what critic Hannah Grace Long calls, “Prequelitis.” You see it all over the place with Star Wars, Star Trek, Batman, Game of Thrones and all other stories of an origin nature. When you’re writing a prequel, you can’t help but do a certain amount of dot-connecting. This is how Jimmy meets Mike. Check. This is how Mike meets Gus. Check. This is how Gus outwits the cartel. Check. Man we even get Gale Boetticher singing the periodic tables. Cool, or superfluous? You be the judge. Unlike Breaking Bad, which had a clear canvas on which to paint, Better Call Saul is bound to be a bit contrived. This leads to storytelling that is choppy, uneven and sometimes, disappointing. You can’t help but compare the prequel to the original. You can’t help but build up your expectations based on previous work. And when those expectations are not met, many fans can’t help but be disappointed. It is as inevitable as a heroin addict choking on her own vomit.

Vince Gilligan once said that Breaking Bad was really about the in-between moments. BSC was even moreso, but too often, it fell down on the job due to the viewing audience already knowing where the story was supposed to go.

The best example is Mike. In the episode, “Five-O,” Mike confesses his sins to his daughter-in-law after he relocates to Albuquerque. He asks her, “Can you live with it?” The next time we see Mike with his granddaughter, they are playing happily together. Given the nature of the crimes Mike admitted to Stacey, one would think she would have a hard time forgiving him, but she appears to do just that without any explanation as to how she made that emotional journey. This is something Breaking Bad would never have done. It couldn’t. In BB, we already know that Mike has a great relationship with his surviving family. Therefore, BSC doesn’t have to go to the trouble of showing us how Mike gets there. This is lazy writing in the service of prequelitis.

I’m high-lighting the weaknesses of Better Call Saul, but it really is a solid series by prequel standards. The writing is very good, especially compared to most other dramatic fare today. If you like Breaking Bad, BSC is worth a look just to see how all of the pieces fit together. But when people try to tell you that BSc is superior, give them a verbal box cutter.

Last Friday marked the 10-year anniversary of the Breaking Bad series finale. I will be watching it this fall as a commemoration. I never tire of the show and still feel it is the best television series of all time. Better Call Saul is worthy, but Heisenberg’s shoes are impossible to fill. Anyone who tells you otherwise is engaging in wishcasting.

And Bethany, if you’re reading this and want to argue with me, come do it in person in Omaha. We’ll debate it over a pint at a place called Brazen Head pub. They don’t serve fried chicken with meth batter, but their fish and chips are excellent.

The Death Sound

This entry is going to be more or less scattershot. Pretty rough and unpolished. I figure it’s best to just write down what I’m thinking and let the shit sort itself out, come what may.

I did not spend last weekend as I originally planned; that is, hanging out with my cat. Instead, I took the bus to Iowa to support a friend at a funeral. She was mourning the loss of her long-time partner, who died by his own hand. It was not a fun trip, but it was a necessary one.

The thing I remember most about the service was the sound that my friend made as she went to the altar where his urn was being kept. As she bid him her final farewell, she emitted the death sound. This is a somewhat melodramatic but accurate way to describe the mournful sound that a loved one makes when he/she has had someone ripped from their life unexpectedly. I don’t care if you’re a part time community theater player or goddamn Meryl Streep. You cannot duplicate this sound unless you’re experiencing it firsthand. It’s also not the sound that you hear when attending the memorial service of someone who has died in a natural or totally expected manner. I’ve been to funerals for my grandparents and a few aunts and uncles. I also attended a friend’s funeral last year after she succumbed to kidney failure. The grief was muted, but genuine. The tears were sincere, but expected. It was nothing compared to the death sound.

The death sound is a series of cries and sobs that are suffused by a wailing or keening quality. It is raw, audible heartbreak, pain, loneliness, loss and despair, all wrapped into a series of breaths and cries that swoop and dip from bass to treble. It can last for a few seconds, or a few minutes, but in the moment, it seems as if it will never end. It is the closest thing you will hear to the sound of a person’s soul as it shatters in front of you. It is a siren song of complete and utter brokenness that is enough to freeze the blood and maul the spirit.

There are no words to respond to the death sound. There are no actions that can provide comfort or any sort of soothing to lessen the pain. All one can do when they witness this rending of the heart is to try to be a rock in the midst of a tremendous earthquake. You stand there helplessly and watch as a close friend endures the battering ram of a life storm and you wonder when (or if) they will ever recover.

I’ve heard the death sound twice. Once was last weekend. The other time was six years ago when another close friend lost her husband to cancer. I hope I never experience it again… But I know I will. The pain of sudden loss and wrecking ball grief is as unavoidable as blizzards, tornados, hurricanes or dickhead politicians.

Aside from the deep sadness I felt for a friend who was beyond comfort, I also felt a fire tide of anger. The man who died by his own hand was “honored” by a Christian funeral. Yet, he was not Christian. As far as I know, he was not religious in any sense of the word. The closest that he came to religion was to appreciate the gifts of nature by spending time outdoors. The fact that he was given a Christian burial, complete with worship songs and a rambling, impotent sermon from an ignorant pastor, made more of a statement about the living than it did about the dead. The Christian trappings served only to protect the feelings of family members who could not reconcile who this man was in his life. In lying about him to cushion their own grief, they did serious harm to those who knew and were closer to the deceased.

This is Christian hypocrisy at its worst! It did nothing to endear me to any church or any denomination that would tell bald-faced lies about one who has passed, thereby dishonoring his memory,, just to help the survivors save face in the eyes of a chosen few who were sold a convenient narrative. After all, what is the purpose of a memorial service but to honor the memory of someone who has died? This wasn’t honor. It was an exercise in goddamn deception and denial.

I can tell you for a fact that the way that my friend was marginalized and disrespected was a twisted knife in an already open wound. She knew more about the man who died than a lot of other people there, yet she was treated like a stranger in an alien land. Aside from a small group of friends who gathered around her to try to offer consolation, no member of the family initiated engagement with her. It was infuriating.

Here’s a side question. Do all of you fucking self-professed Christians who behave like this, treating certain friends and family members one way in private and another one in public when your Christian brethren are nearby, think that God doesn’t know? Do you think he can’t see behind all of your masks? If you believe that God is all knowing and all seeing, don’t you suppose that your ass is gonna get judged when your time comes? Who were you really protecting at the funeral? Was it the man who passed away, or was it yourselves? Why didn’t the dipshit pastor walk up to my friend and say, “Ma’am, I don’t know you, but I’m praying for you.” Do you think that by ignoring the 500 pound elephant in the room, you can just wish it away? Do you suppose that, if you pray hard enough, God will just scrub away reality? Fuck. That.

I’m gonna be honest. This episode fucked with me a little for a few days. I’m over it now. I’m calm and collected and back in my routine with my kitty nearby to lend physical and emotional comfort in the absence of human affection. But I sure as hell won’t forget what I saw. I’ll never forget the death sound, or how it might have been lessened, if only for a brief instant, by a small measure of warmth and compassion.

As it stands, the memorial was a farce. The real service occurred with a small group of friends gathered on the patio of a restaurant somewhere in Iowa, drinking beer, eating burgers and telling stories about the man who left this world all too soon. In this scenario, the Christians were the liars before heaven and earth. The socially branded transgressors were the authentic truth-tellers.

I freaked out some of my Facebook followers, because the day after the service, I wrote a post making my wishes known should I be killed in a bus crash or something. I really appreciate the kindness and concern from others. I’m doing pretty well, actually. It’s a great time to be alive and autumn has come to be my favorite time of year. I haven’t had dark thoughts in years. I can definitely say that owning a cat and having a stable job that I love helps immensely.

Still, if I should die. I’ll write my wishes here as just one more place where they can be found.

I don’t want a church service. The fact is that, despite a few flirtations over the years, I am not religious. I believe in God and Jesus Christ, but frankly, I don’t want anything to do with church. Too many people wearing false faces, seeking the approval of their fellow men and worshiping false idols in God’s name. My ultimate guiding authority is the Constitution of the United States, including the First Amendment. I want my memorial to be a place of openness where everyone can come and talk about me honestly. You don’t need to trash-talk. You don’t need to white-wash. Let the tears and the laughter come freely and honestly. Pray or don’t pray openly and without fear or favor. Everyone is welcome, except predators. The best way to honor me is to find the back room or patio of a bar and grill somewhere, play some good music, drink beer and eat unhealthy food and have a nice celebration. It will not be a true tribute to Ryan O. unless George Strait is included in any playlist.

As for my remains, cremate them and dump my ashes in Johnson Lake. That is my happy place. Do not bury my ashes at the Colorado Center For the Blind. I loved Denver, but that time has passed. I hope the people who take the boat out include close family members and a couple of my closest friends. After I’m overboard, have a drink of your choice (and a cigar if you want) and tell a few stories on me.

Finally, September is suicide prevention month. The mental health crisis is real. The pandemic only exacerbated it. If you’re in trouble, for fuck sake, get help! Choose to live. It won’t be a picnic, but it will be worth it.

The man who took his own life left a teenage daughter behind. I encountered her, but I didn’t meet her. I’ll be praying for her. I hope God can help her through the dark night to come.

Tosty

In the autumn of 2016, I was seated in a banquet room in Denver at a convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Colorado, swigging beer number three (or was it four) listening to Kevan Worley, the bumptious and loquacious master of ceremonies, as he berated the sound guys from the stage.

“Hey! Sound guys! I’m just gonna say…Where we are…where we wanna be!” he bellowed. Then he said, “If our sound guys can handle it, we’d love for anyone listening on our stream to give us a call on Skype and say hi.”

I pulled out my phone and sent a text. “You should call in,” I wrote.

Two minutes later (or was it five) my phone rang. I answered and the warm, familiar voice said in my ear, “What’s the number?”

Five minutes later (or was it 10), Kevan eagerly grabbed the mic (again) and said, “Folks, we have a guy on Skype who wants to say hi. Maybe you remember him. Tom Anderson, from Kansas.”

The room exploded in the loudest ovation that I’d ever heard at an NFB convention anywhere. It was a riotous, joyous shriek that kept going and going. Eventually, much of the crowd burst into the chant, “TOSTY! TOSTY! TOSTY!” In my beer-fogged brain, I remember a thought emerging; this is the most authentic, heartfelt cheer I’ve ever heard at a convention. At the point, Tom had been absent from Colorado for almost 18 months.

In May, 2015, Miles Thomas Anderson retired from the Colorado Center for the Blind as a Braille instructor after a 27-year career. I left work early to attend the party. It was a strange, almost surreal affair that was dampened by an accidental power outage that left the CCB in total darkness throughout the entire proceedings. The good lord was making a statement that was unmistakable. The CCB was losing a light that could never be replaced.

Tom could often seem nonplussed when speaking publicly, but he took the occasion with his usual good grace and humble humor. The party was well-attended, including many VIPs from the national office in Baltimore. Many of his former students were in attendance as well. It was clear that Tom was leaving a professional legacy that was vibrant and strong. I remember the speeches from the leadership seeming canned and perfunctory, counter to the tributes from his students, which all seemed natural and sincere.

A year before Tom’s retirement party, I was hired as a summer counselor for the CCB youth program. I was set to be a cane travel instructor. It was the most tempestuous, heartbreaking three months of my life. Two weeks of training were not nearly enough to prepare me when the students came to the CCB. On the third day after they arrived, a latecomer named Andrew joined us. He was a soft-spoken lad who seemed overwhelmed by everything at the center. At one point I asked him, “How ya doing?” He said, “I haven’t even had a tour yet.”

So, I gave him the nickel tour. At one point, we came to the braille room in the basement, in which were housed shelf upon shelf of braille volumes. Andrew and I walked through the door and were greeted by Tom’s customary, “Hi, Ryan.” It was at that point, with the smell of the library in my nostrils and Tom’s warm greeting in my ears, that I began to relax a little.

After Tom explained the braille room, I sent Andrew upstairs and lingered with Tom for a moment.

“How you doing?” he asked.

“Tom, I think I’m in over my head,” I said as I exhaled a cloud of pent-up anxiety.

“Well, you’ll be alright. Just take it one day at a time and try your best to listen to what your students are telling you.”

As I walked out of Tom’s library I thought, if I could be half the teacher that Tom was, I would count it as a win.

As it turned out, I didn’t even come close. Not even in the ballpark. But then, Tom Anderson was (and is) a tough act to follow. He was a steady, unassuming leader without exuding the forceful qualities that are so often sought and projected within the power players of the NFB. There was nothing artificial or disingenuous about Tom Anderson. When he spoke in his halting, tentative style, you knew that he was not selling you anything that he did not believe in his own heart. When he spoke of the history of the National Federation of the Blind, he spoke with love and affection. When he imparted the NFB’s positive philosophy of self-empowerment, he spoke in the spirit of gentility, not in hackneyed clichés. When he spoke critically of the organization, there was no self-serving aspect to it. Tom did not trash talk other people for his own personal gain, even when they deserved it. His honesty was always tinged with compassion and an empathy that came from a real and humble place.

I’ve alluded to the fact that Tom was not the best public speaker. He could sometimes stutter or fumble his words, as if he were searching through his vast book knowledge to pull out just the right modifier or qualifier. But the veil of hesitancy fell away when he spoke of his faith. He orated upon the subject of the love of God with a rising, staccato-like barrage of verbiage that resembled the thunderous “click-clack” of a Perkins braillewriter. Tom Anderson was an unashamed Christian. There was a reason why he was always asked to deliver the invocation at both state and national conventions. When his words turned heavenward, his timber would sharpen and his voice would rise and fall like the tide, sometimes bordering on tremulous passion for his holy savior.

Everyone who knew Tom Anderson knew where he stood with regard to questions of the power of the almighty Jesus Christ. Yet, I don’t ever remember Tom castigating anyone who did not share his view. He was not a fire-and-brimstone preacher man who hurled pronouncements of doom for those who did not accept the holy word. I remember him more as a stalwart messenger who spoke of his witness openly and unreservedly, but who did not cast stones at others. Tom was that rare kind of Christian that I respected. He always appeared to live the beliefs that he preached to others. I remember vowing that, if I ever got married, I would want Tom Anderson to officiate my wedding. How sad that this will never come to be.

I remember when I first met Tom in the summer of 2001. I was visiting the CCB for a three-day stay and met him in the braille room. I spoke to him of my belief that braille was paramount in the learning development of blind children. Naturally, he agreed. Then he asked me, “What would you say that you struggle the most with in your braille?”

My answer was automatic. “The slate and stylus.”

“Ok,” he responded. “So, I want you to slate me one page of contracted braille telling me about yourself.”

So, I wrote Tom one page of braille talking about myself. When I was done, I slapped down the stylus and said, “My right hand hasn’t been this sore since I watched The Spice Channel a few months ago.”

My companion who was with me at the time gasped, sure that I had offended Tom’s pious sensibilities. For his part, Tom threw back his head and laughed. It was a warm, infectious sound that drifted through the room like the smell of freshly baked bread. Tom was a strong Christian, but he was not a prude. He did not swear, but he did not police the language of others out of moral purity. Later that day, we all sang Eric Clapton’s “Layla,” with Tom singing the loudest while stomping on the floor as if he were leading a revival.

Tom and I kept in touch after he left Colorado. Through the power of WhatsApp, we spoke about the changing nature of politics, the changing culture of the NFB and of small things such as new-fangled iPhone apps, country music and books worthy of attention. When I moved to Omaha in October of 2017, Tom was a stable presence throughout my emotional turmoil. “Colorado is not the center of the universe,” he would tell me. “The Midwest really is a great place to live.” I took a measure of comfort knowing that Tom was just down the road in Overland Park.

Tom and I were closely aligned politically, which often made us feel like outriggers in an organization ubiquitous with professed liberals, many of whom were drifting toward progressivism. But Tom professed his political views in the same manner that he spoke of his faith. He was open and honest, but not a firebrand. He bemoaned the rise of Donald Trump in the Republican Party, but ultimately, he set upon the path I could never tread when he seemed to accept that Trump was a force that had to be dealt with reasonably, if not fully embraced.

In the past year or so, Tom and I drifted apart a little. I must confess that I pulled away just a bit. I drew back instinctively after January 6th. In discussing it with Tom, I was disconcerted to hear him describe the attack on our nation’s capital as, “civil disobedience.” Recent Facebook posts from him seemed to take a turn toward anti-vaccination, a position that is distasteful to me. In a world where so many people that I once loved and respected seem to have gone off the map, I didn’t feel I had the heart to fully reckon with the idea that calm, gentle, reasonable Tom Anderson may be losing his marbles. For me, a certain remove served as a measure of self-protection.

August has been a month bookended by death and loss. My uncle passed away at the beginning of the month after suffering a stroke on the 4th of July. We were not close, but I have fond memories of him from my childhood and I grieve for his remaining family. Two days ago, a close friend suffered the loss of her long-time partner. I didn’t know him, but watching her suffer the ravages of his death will be painful. But, of all the losses I’ve felt of late, the one that impacts me the most is that of Tom Anderson. When I heard of his passing last week, it was a bolt from the blue.

I was not prepared when I heard the news that he was gone. My first thought was one of anger, toward myself. I wish I had given Tom the same benefit of the doubt that he gave so many others when he taught all those years. If nothing else, Tom earned respect from me. If I was going to write him off as another Christian broken by Donald Trump, at least I should have given him a fair hearing before making my final judgment. Now, I will never know where he truly stood. I will never have the chance to thank him for all he did to inspire me during my time in Colorado. I will never be able to bid him a proper goodbye.

And yet, knowing Tom’s belief system as I did, I know that he is with God right now. I know he can see into my heart and can see my regret at not keeping in touch. I know that he is following the word of his lord and savior and that he has forgiven me. Someday, perhaps I’ll be worthy of that forgiveness.

As for Tom’s legacy, I will always remember him as a light that touched a great many people. Tom believed in the power of the written word and its ability to transform lives for the better. Whether he was reading Harry Potter, Lonesome Dove or The Bible in braille, he was always reading something. May that spirit continue to flourish amongst the blind of the world.

God bless you, Tosty Andersox, and thank you for all that you have given to us. We love you and miss you.

God’s speed, my friend.

PS: If you want to know while we all called Tom, “Tosty,” find someone who knew him and ask them. The best way to keep Tom alive is to speak of him.

Indiana Jones and the Dump of Destiny

Let me begin this blog entry with a question. Who asked for a new Indiana Jones movie? Seriously…who asked for a geriatric guy to run around the screen, occasionally cracking the whip while being upstaged by a younger, more female character? I get the concept of franchise greed and all that, but where was the outcry for a new Indy movie?

I ask this question as I watch the MCU movies, beginning with Iron Man and ending with Avengers: End Game. I’ve been down on comic book movies for the most part, but after a recent Facebook rant in which I admitted to being burned out on shows full of unlikeable, toxic characters such as Succession and Barry, I wanted something different. Somehow, I decided to give the MCU a try.

I can’t say I’ve been disappointed. On the contrary. I’ve really enjoyed the complex story that is being laid out in this string of Marvel productions that were released between 2008 and 2019. I just finished the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie and, while I’m not a comic book nerd convert, I thoroughly enjoy and now have a new respect for the storytelling in these movies.

It’s also not a coincidence that, against my better judgement, I watched the third season of Star Trek: Picard. I was absolutely floored by how good it was. It did everything that the first two seasons failed to do and will forever be remembered as the true send-off that the crew of the Enterprise D truly deserved.

So, I ask the question. Why were the MCU movies and Picard Season 3 so good? Why is Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny so bad, along with almost all of the new Marvel movies and TV shows?

If Ron DeSantis and his fans are reading this, they would stand as one and yell, “DISNEY IS EVIL!”

Ok, I admit that Disney has a lot of problems, many of which are self-inflicted, but the issue goes beyond Disney. I think a lot of it has to do with the ideas of masculinity, femininity and the encroachment of toxic politics into the culture.

Consider this string of events.

In 2015, Han Solo returned to the Star Wars universe after a 32-year absence. He was a broken-down old space bum drifting through the galaxy with Chewbacca. At the end of the movie, he was murdered by his son.

In 2016, Batman went to war with Superman.

In 2017, Luke Skywalker returned to the Star Wars universe after a 34-year absence. He was an embittered old hermit living in isolation. At the end of the movie, he died.

In 2020, Jean-Luc Picard returned to the Star Trek universe after an 18-year absence. He was an embittered old man living in isolation on his family vineyard in France. At the end of the first season, he died and came back as an android.

Sidebar: Even though William Shatner is still alive, It would’ve been impossible to bring Captain Kirk back as an angry old man because he was already dead. So, they did the typical Star Trek thing and brought him back as a young man in an alternate timeline.

In 2023, Nick Fury returned to the Marvel universe after a four-year absence and is…you guessed it.

In 2023, Indiana Jones returned to his own universe after a 15-year absence and got punched in the face by Phoebe Waller-Bridge at the end. I haven’t seen the movie, so I don’t know if he died as a bitter old fart.

Now, what do all of these fictional characters have in common. It’s obvious. They were all heroes from the childhoods of Gen-Xers and Millennials over the past 40 years. They are also all male. With the exception of Nick Fury, they are all white. So, why bring them all back and, more importantly, why paint them all with the same brush?

I think the answer has a lot to do with the rise of woke feminism in Hollywood culture. With the exception of Picard, these male heroes were all men of action and bravery. They were paragons that boys could hold up as examples to try and emulate. They weren’t overtly aggressive, but they all believed that a strong defense is a good offense. Couple that with the progressive notion that America is, at its heart, a corrupt and guilt-drenched country, and add to that the fact that all of these fictional creations are products of the American mind, and you understand why certain writers in certain corners may wish to give generations of American men the comeuppance that they think we deserve.

During this same time, strong female characters were being heavily promoted. Marvel brought out Captain Marvel, Black Widow, She-Hulk and a new female Black Panther. Star Wars promoted Rey as the new leader of the Jedi. Star Trek: Discovery was given a female lead. It’s also noteworthy that prequels to Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings were made with female leads.

Sidebar: Apparently, we’re going to get a new Harry Potter TV series. I have no doubt that, if someone could wrestle the property away from J. K. Rowling, they would kill off or otherwise defenestrate Harry off-screen and make the new lead a transgender character.

I have no problem with movies and TV shows featuring female leads. I enjoyed the first Wonder Woman movie. If Star Trek: Legacy ever gets off the ground, I’ll give it a fair shot as long as Terry Matalas has creative control. I loved Rogue One. But why do we have to show empowered female characters at the expense of the male characters. In other words, why is Hollywood determined to crap all over my childhood?

It is inexplicable to me why Hollywood would want to alienate its core audience. The fact is that the majority of comic book readers are boys and men. I know there are a lot of female Trek and Star Wars fans out there, but when I was a kid in the ‘80’s, all of us boys played with Star Wars figures and Transformers, while all the girls played with Barbie. I understand that gender roles are in flux right now, but if for no other reason than finances, why piss off the people whom you want to attract to your movies? Do these producers, directors and writers really think it’s worth the accolades of their fellow wokesters at the expense of losing money? Is there a large mass of girls and women out there screaming for empowered super heroes, Jedi Knights and starship captains? I am genuinely befuddled.

Only one movie defied the unwritten rule of woke pandering. It was released in 2022. It was not a comic book movie, or a sci-fi movie, or a fantasy movie. It was Top Gun: Maverick. Not only was it commercially and critically lauded, but it was the highest grossing movie of 2022.

Yes, Maverick was a lonely, melancholy older man, but when the job needed to be done, he hopped in the cockpit and did it. There was no assassination of the character. The success of Maverick, plus the success of Picard Season 3, shows me that Hollywood can still make movies and TV shows that people want to see if they stop shitting all over us.

I am genuinely happy that women are having their day in the creative sunshine. But I firmly believe that current events show us that men of all ages need heroes. Not just real life heroes like fathers, friends, mentors and leaders, but they need fictional heroes as well. Middle aged and older men don’t want to see the heroes of their youth resurrected as broken down failures. They want to see them rise up from the ashes and go out in a blaze of glory, as did Jean-Luc Picard. As men, we need something more to look to than Donald Trump and a cadre of sad imitators.

My final thought. I do think it’s more than possible that the super hero genre might simply be past its prime. Some of that may have to do with the pandemic and the seeming collapse of the movie theater experience. But I wonder about that. Maverick was in the theaters and a lot of us went…again…and again…and again.

I just realized that I didn’t answer the question about Indiana Jones. Who asked for it? I guess I don’t have an answer. It looks like it’s gonna lose money, so poor old Indy goes out on a humiliating note. How sad.

I also didn’t mention the Marvel Netflix properties such as Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, but they coincided with the prime years of the MCU movies.

And I forgot the glut of CW shows like Arrow, Supergirl and Batwoman, but they were forgettable. Can you blame me?

What a World! What a World!

I recently listened to a fascinating podcast series called, The Witch Trials of J. K. Rowling, produced by The Free Press. This seven-part series chronicled the rise of Rowling, the success of the Harry Potter books and her clashes with extremists ranging from radical Christians to radical transgender activists. It framed the various controversies swirling around Rowling through the prism of the burning of witches throughout history.

One aspect I found particularly intriguing was the rise of the internet and it’s affect on politics as we know it today. The actions and language of the current progressive movement can be traced to the rise of Tumblr, circa 2012. Tumblr is a microblogging site where many groups of various identities shared their feelings and experiences. Terms like, “Safe space,” “Microagression,” and “Triggered,” gained popularity on Tumblr. According to the research done by Megan Phelps-Roper, author of the Rowling podcast, Tumblr was populated overwhelmingly by females.

At the same time, another social media domain called 4Chan was mushrooming. This site was populated largely by males and prided itself on being as politically incorrect and offensive as possible. It largely resembles the right as we know it today.

These two sites seem to operate in complete polarity to one another. Yet, they seem to represent the perfect example of the Horseshoe Theory. This theory posits that the extreme left and extreme right may appear to be far apart, but upon close inspection, they are actually close together in their actions and underlying views, much as the two ends of a curving horseshoe are in relative proximity.

If you listen to the entire podcast series (which I highly recommend), you can see how this works. One might think that Christian extremists and trans radicals have nothing in common, yet in their tactics and outward demands, they share a great deal. One of the most obvious points of commonality is that they both tried to have J. K. Rowling canceled at various times.

The examination of Tumblr and 4Chan also makes me think of a comparison between our two political parties. I once heard Jonah Goldberg posit that the Republican Party was like a father figure, while the Democrat Party was like a mother figure. Dad is concerned about keeping your doors locked at night, arming for proper defense, paying the bills on time and forcing the kids to take risks now and then in the hopes that they will flourish. Mom wants to make sure the kids eat their vegetables, play nice with the other kids, keep their room clean and protect the kids from being hurt.

These notions rely on stereotypes to a degree, but they are also rooted in thousands of years of tradition. This pattern also helped to distinguish the two genders from each other. Now, with the rise of the digital age when norms and customs are being redefined, things that were once thought of as normal are now considered dangerous. This explains the propagation of the term, “Toxic masculinity,” in leftward circles.

But what about toxic femininity? What about the idea of safetyism to the exclusion of the traditional values of western civilization such as free speech, freedom of association and freedom of religion? Could the erosion of individual rights in the name of protecting the historically vulnerable and marginalized be acceptable? For a growing number of people, particularly the young who have grown up entirely under the umbrella of relative security, the answer is sadly, yes.

This is why the success of Rowling represents such a threat to so many. If she can withstand attacks from both ends of the horseshoe, are they really effective? The recent popularity of the Hogwarts videogame in the face of an attempt to cancel it, and plans to produce a new television series based on Harry Potter in the face of more protests seem to suggest that Rowling is too big to cancel.

But what about the little people who aren’t the most successful author in the world? What about the academics, the cubical workers, the journalists, the programmers and scores of other workers who don’t have Rowling’s resources? Many of them choose to stay silent in the face of the fear of cancelation. Others who do speak up quickly find themselves marginalized and suddenly on the outs. Some who witness this growing phenomenon decide to throw their lot in with another figure who seems too big to cancel, Donald Trump.

It’s a vicious cycle that threatens to tear at the fabric of our democracy. The ends of the horseshoe poison the middle until too many people find themselves forced to make a false choice that is suddenly all too real. Choose right or left. Choose toxic masculinity or toxic femininity. Choose Door #1 or Door #2. Behind either door is the same monster wearing different garb; fascism, authoritarianism, totalitarianism. Call it Voldemort, or Darth Vader, or Daenerys Targaryen. Either way, the threat is the same.

As for Rowling, I admire her for sticking to her values. Yes, she’s famous and rich and does appear to be too big to cancel. But if you listen to her speak in the podcast, you can hear her voice waver with emotion as she describes the assaults she’s had to endure in her life. She may be cancelproof, but she’s still a human being who hurts.

I also feel anger on her behalf. As SI prepare for another read of the Potter books, it strikes me that she has given an extraordinary gift to the children of the world, and to many adults. She gave us a universe full of rich characters, wonderful friendships and daunting challenges. In return, many have told her to, “Suck my big, fat trans dick.” Others have applauded those sentiments, or have stood silently by. It really does hurt my heart on her behalf.

I do believe that Rowling will ultimately be vindicated. I think the trans movement is a time bomb that will eventually explode sometime between now and when we know more about the long term effects of children transitioning with surgery and puberty blockers. The explosion will come in the form of lawsuits against the medical establishment who has too quickly decided to champion a trendy cause over their patients.

Rowling’s efforts to maintain safe spaces for biological women will also eventually be seen as a no-brainer, but how many more women will be assaulted by biological men in women’s prisons, battered women shelters and even in locker rooms in the interim? Far too many; more than I care to ponder.

And…since I’ve started writing this, Tucker Carlson was fired from Fox News. Everyone was quite startled to learn that Tucker was not, in fact, cancelproof. I have no sympathy. Next to Donald Trump, Carlson is the living avatar of the toxic right. There are a lot of rumors floating around as to why Tucker was abruptly canceled. We may never know the reasons, but whatever they were, he discovered the same hard truth that Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Megyn Kelly and others learned. No matter how big you think you are, nobody is bigger and badder than Rupert Murdoch.

Resistance Is Futile

Thanks to Picard Season 3, I’m back in a Star Trek phase; surprise, surprise, surprise!

That’s right. After I excoriated the first season on this very blog, I gave up on Picard and his angsty group of space misfits. Reports on the heinous second season (Q not withstanding) seemed to validate my position.

Then came the third season. The show got new writers, the band got back together and everyone who has hated new Trek started telling me how good the third season of Picard is.

They weren’t wrong. More on that in a few weeks after the show ends.

But this reemergence into Trek has got me to thinking. One of the purposes of Star Trek has always been to serve as subtle commentary on contemporary society. To that end, I will spend these remaining paragraphs illustrating why the progressive left and the so-called “new right,” strongly resemble the two greatest adversaries that the United Federation of Planets have ever faced in the whole of the Trek universe.

First, imagine this, if you will.

An alien species that is driven by a hive mind. It is one giant collective that feeds on the uniqueness of other cultures and worlds to grow itself. Individuality is strictly prohibited. All members are born into the collective and are immediately raised to service the larger community. There are no parents. There are no genders. There are no individual characteristics of any kind.

“Why do you resist? We only wish to raise quality of life.” That was the quote from Locutus, formerly Jean-Luc Picard, when his crewmates rescued him from the collective and restored him to his human self.

Such is the creed of our current progressive left. Resistance is futile. We only wish to raise quality of life. But instead of words like, “assimilate,” and “irrelevant,” they use other universal language such as, “diversity, equity and inclusion.” Always in that order, always with an eye toward intersectionality, always with the goal of inclusion, which is merely code for assimilation into the community (collective.) If anyone should express any tendency toward individualism, they are immediately castigated. “You will either be assimilated, or you will be annihilated. Resistance is futile.”

Think I’m exaggerating? Try attending any seminar or conference at which the language of the progressive left is used. Try dealing with governmental bureaucracy, the red tape of the university system or the growing number of corporations who subscribe to the hive mind and you’ll discover how Borg-like they really are. Today, it’s cultural. Tomorrow, it’s business. Next year, it’s the government. It ends with totalitarian regimes such as you find in China, North Korea and Cuba.

Sidebar: Eventually, we learn that The Borg have a queen. I guess the future is feminine.

On the other side of the table, we have a group of people who can change their shape at will. Yesterday, they described themselves as limited government conservatives who believed in fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, the positive power of character and freedom for all. Then, a great changeling came among them and they all proved to be changelings themselves. This changeling took many forms over the years; successful businessman, Democrat, architect, stalwart husband, Independent, television star, Republican, and eventually, president. In truth, he was none of those things. He merely changed his shape to fit whatever circumstance suited him.

Like the Founders of the Dominion, this changeling insisted on absolute, unquestioning loyalty and obedience. This authoritarianism took the form of a spiritual slavishness in his followers. Any question should not only be ridiculed, but should be punished. Like the Jem’Hadar, these slavish soldiers will even attack institutions based on the mere whims of their leader.

As it turns out, all of the changelings, including the great founder, are nothing more than buckets of shapeless, formless goo. Whatever shape they take in the moment is not their true form. That has only the substance of soft, organic slime that will retreat, regroup and reconstitute itself when conditions warrant. As it turns out, many of the Trump loyalists such as McCarthy, Cruz, Giuliani and even Haley are little more than masses of undulating goo at their center. And if anyone should not proclaim an instant, dogmatic loyalty to the head changeling, he/she will be severely punished.

There was a time when no changeling was allowed to harm another. See Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment. But with the emergence of Trump the changeling, that rule was abandoned with gusto. It’s not a coincidence that in the current iteration of Picard, changelings can and do kill one another.

Sidebar: Eventually, The Cardassians (the space Nazis of Star Trek) allied themselves with The Dominion during the war. Art imitates life.

Think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at what’s happening to state and local GOP parties at the grass roots level across the country. Today, Arizona, Nebraska, Michigan, etc. Tomorrow, America. There are no countries currently ruled by right-wing fascist ideologies, but the movements are growing.

The Borg. The Dominion. The two chief antagonists of the Star Trek universe. Very different, yet similar at their core. Despotic, totalitarian, autocratic and absolutely convinced of the moral certainty of their cause to the exclusion of all others.
Perhaps all two of you who read this may find my analogy to be trite and simplistic. Many find Star Trek itself to be trite and simplistic. Yet, I urge you to examine the chief avatar of both the extreme right and left; Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If they aren’t generators of trite simplicity, I don’t know who is. And their quixotic proclamations only hold purchase because of their amplification by their legions of slavish followers, especially within the media.

Of course, neither side sees itself in the way I describe. The right views themselves as Klingons; a proud, warrior race. But the Klingons have honor. The new right have none. The left views itself as a group with infinite empathy, compassion and intellectual superiority, much like the Betazoid race. Yet, the Betazoid people also welcomed free expression and debate from all viewpoints. This notion is impossible for the left to grasp.

I’m sure anyone who is a Trek fan and who also cares about politics will read this and say something like, “Ryan, your analogy about the right is spot on, but your depiction of the left is crap.” People from the other side will echo this sentiment in reverse. It’s very easy to diagnose the opposition without running a concurrent self-evaluation. That is why we find ourselves where we are now.

In the escapism of Star Trek, both The Borg and The Dominion were fought and defeated by the Federation and their allies. That is fiction. We have no idea how things will play out in the real world of today. All I can tell you with certainty is that the threat is real and it is growing on both sides.

Happy Easter.

Can a Blind Person Fly the Plane?

I’m trying to remember the last time I wrote in this blog. I think it’s been months. I admit fully and firmly that I’ve dropped the ball. Frankly, I’m tired. I’m tired of talking to myself. I’m tired of feeling like one of the few sane minds in a room full of cuckoo birds. I’m tired of watching people whom I know to be smart, rational people put their brains in their back pocket. I’m tired of the encroaching groupthink mindset that wants to push me into being absolutely for things, or absolutely against things.

Take Elon Musk, for instance. The guy recently went through with one of the dumbest moves in financial history when he purchased Twitter. The left went bonkers, screaming about the horrors of an eccentric, often erratic millionaire taking over a website mostly known for its high levels of toxicity and reflexive vitriol. In some quarters, folks are acting as if winter is coming. Maybe a nuclear winter, complete with total, eternal darkness, sparse life underground and 12-fingered children playing with two-headed mongrels in piles of glowing dust.

And why? Because, Musk dares to espouse the value of free speech. How dare he consider allowing Trump back on Twitter. How dare he give a platform to haters, homophobes and heretics?

Worse yet, he dared to cut Twitter’s bloated staff by half, a privilege extended to any new management when they take over a company. The former heads of Twitter knew this was a possibility when they agreed to sell. Included in that massive slashing of personnel was the entire accessibility team. For those uninitiated in the disabled club, these are the people who insure that Twitter is useable for those folks who do not interact with their computer devices in conventional form; folks like myself who use a screen-reader to voice the text on my screen.

Predictably, the disability justice crowd went nuts when the news came down last Friday. I’ve learned to reduce much of the shrieking of the online woke mob to background noise, but a few people whom I consider to be reasonable, level-headed thinkers also began to doomcast. One of them was my pal, Steve Sawczyn.

I mention Steve specifically and by full name because he is my benefactor. Steve is the reason why this blog exists; financially speaking. He pays the bill every year that allows me to continue to log in and share my inanities with all of you. I know Steve personally and he is a calm, kind man with a decent family who is generally not given to panic, hyperbole or capriciousness.

This is why I was startled when I read a tweet from Steve in the wake of the mass firings that said, “A few hours ago, Twitter laid off its entire Accessibility Experience team. This is sad not only because so many lost their jobs, but because so many more around the world may lose their voice.”

My response to Steve was characteristic of Twitter in immediacy and tone and indicative of my foul mood. “That is a load of horseshit! You can’t possibly believe that.”

Steve’s response was equally characteristic, equal parts brevity and deadpan. “This too shall pass.”

I want to repeat that I know Steve and he is a smart cookie. If he really believes that many blind people would lose their voices if Twitter should become unusable, he’s making this argument in good faith. A lot of the woke disabled left do not argue in good faith, such as their recent efforts to cast the legitimate questioning of John Fetterman’s fitness for office as, “Ableist.” If Steve says it, I’m sure he believes it to be true.

I have also learned a very painful lesson over the past seven years or so. No one is too smart to be stupid. Let me be clear that I am not saying that Steve is a stupid man. Quite the contrary. However, even the smartest people can behave in a stupid manner if they give themselves permission to do so.

I can’t tell you how many people whom I previously viewed as those of high intellect and strong character who evolved in their defenses of Donald Trump’s every action and utterance from tentative rationalizations, to shameless justifications, and finally, to full-throated cheerleading. The consequence of this was for the left, also populated with a lot of people who should know better, to use Trump as an excuse to rationalize, justify and cheerlead their own stroll down the path of casual authoritarianism. See previous arguments on abolishing the filibuster for more information. The latest culmination of this is the second of two speeches delivered by the current president of the United States, warning that, if Republicans win back control of Congress this coming Tuesday, Democracy will be endangered.

This unfortunate phenomenon is what us political junkies term, The Flight 93 Mentality. It stems from a now-deleted essay by Michael Anton in 2016, comparing the eminent presidential election to the doomed Flight 93 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on September 11, 2001. Anton’s ultimate point was that Americans (those who chose to vote for Trump) were the ones who would save the plane before it became a deadly missile that would inevitably destroy our country.

The premise was poppycock in 2016 and it is abject folderol now with Biden piloting the plane! I’m sure that Biden is typically unaware of the grand paradox (there’s that P-word again) of his assertions. If voters exercise their democratic privileges, they will only preserve said privileges if they keep one party in power without a proper counterweight. Come to think of it, I doubt Biden even knows what a paradox is. I’d hate to see him try to pronounce it. God, I love ableism!

How does this relate to Elon Musk and Twitter? Very simply, Twitter is a large source of the problem. Various doomcasters, doomscrollers and doomtrollers all find plenty of fodder on Twitter. Indeed, why can’t we distill the great nuances of life down to 240 characters, static photos and short video clips?

Am I saying Twitter shouldn’t exist? Hell no! It’s the consequence of a free society with innovation at its core. Am I saying it’s largely a cesspool of digital sewage? Absolutely! The whole blue checkmark debate reveals a virtual cast system perpetuated largely by those who decry cast systems in other quarters. Am I saying that blind people shouldn’t care about Twitter? Of course not. Bud disabled people around the world had a voice long before Twitter came to prominence and, now that we’ve proven that the bell cannot be unrung, we will find a way to express ourselves should Musk crash the plane in a grand, fiery plunge.

I think some of this current panic mongering comes, not just from the fear of lack of access, but from a personal animus toward Musk. Many people (disabled included) view Musk as a Trumpian figure who’s takeover of Twitter signals the decline of the noble order of values that once held sway in this valiant land of blue checkmarks. This is more uninformed fiddle faddle. I am not a cheerleader for Elon Musk. I don’t see him as a conservative avatar, or an avatar of any sort, for that matter. Like most rich people, the guy is probably equal parts crazy, narcissist and asshole. He has too much of an affinity for the Chinese government for my liking, which means he probably enjoys his own brand of autocracy. But how is this any different from the previous regime who chose to suppress the Hunter Biden story in hopes of swinging the 2020 election in their favor?

Elon Musk is now the sole controller of Twitter. That is the reality. He’s not going anywhere and he will not be cowed by online theatrical protests. If Twitter really is a hallowed ground of sacred principle, and if the disabled want Musk’s attention, how about trying to start a dialogue with him rather than going all fetal position inside of your own comfort bubble? Or maybe Jonathan Mosen will have his way and the NFB will sue Twitter. If there’s one thing the NFB knows how to do, it’s sue. I guess Mosen likes the NFB now, or at least, he likes them when they suit his purposes. I hope he doesn’t have any underage daughters who plan to attend their convention without a bodyguard.

In the meantime, another guy I follow on Twitter noted yesterday that the Instacart app seems to have become partially inaccessible. You can load your grocery cart, but you can’t check out. Yet, not a peep from the usual suspects. I guess mundane things like buying groceries isn’t nearly as sexy as hand-wringing over a crackpot rich dude who just took a wrecking ball to the latest international order.

Finally, on another subject, I wanted to write a long blog entry about the death of Queen Elizabeth and the profound sadness I felt when she left us. I guess it’s just not in me. I will simply say that, upon her death, it felt like the last truly adult head of state left the table. Now, it feels as if the kids are flying the plane. I know that new leaders will rise and some of them will be competent, but right now, it feels as if we’re in a void with no one to look to for guidance. What we’re left with is a country that can’t even hold a Prime Minister, another that will likely have a rematch between two addled octogenarians for the presidency in two years, war in Eastern Europe and a lot of countries who are casually veering toward authoritarianism. Does this seem like doomcasting to the two of you who are reading this? If so, than I have plenty of good company. God save the Queen.

As for you, Steve, if you’re reading this, feel free to pull the plug when the next bill comes due. The world will have to wait for my final thoughts on Better Call Saul. Honestly, at this point, I think I’m past caring.