October 25, 2018

The Dragon Blade

Watched this finally the other night on Hulu. As seems to be the case with recent attempts at foreign-made blockbuster-style films with international appeal, this was all kinds of awful.

I mean, just a stinker.

The script is terrible. The tone is all over the place. The editing is choppy -- making the narrative disjointed. I like John Cusak but he's terrible as a battle-weary Roman General, completely miscast. Brody is pretty good as the villain, a snarling Roman Consul. And Chan's action choreography is great. But, ugh, what a terrible film.

October 13, 2018

Favorite Slasher Films

Between reading about the Friday the 13th lawsuit yesterday and checking the release date for the new Halloween, was thinking about slasher movies so--- 

10.) Sleepaway Camp

Probably most famous for it's twist ending and the fact that Bruce Springsteen's sister plays the killer in the two follow-up films. It's honestly kind of a weird film, but there's also a kind of an interesting subtext about how painful and awkward growing up is. 

9.) My Bloody Valentine

Worth mentioning for the setting and the avoidance of teen focus/characters. 

8.) Prom Night

The thing I like about Prom Night is it's a cross between Halloween and Carrie with a disco soundtrack.

7.) Black Christmas

There's two things I especially like about Black Christmas. Time is spent getting to know the characters so their deaths are more meaningful. And Bob Clark shoots the film in a very claustrophobic manner -- you always feel boxed in.

6.) Texas Chainsaw Massacre

At it's best Texas Chainsaw Massacre thematically confronts American disillusionment in the early 70's. At it's worst, it's an extremely gross and grubby little film that probably should have never spawned sequels. But it's impact on horror and cinema and the popular consciousness is immense.

5.) Nightmare on Elm Street

Nightmare proves that with the right script you can create something worthwhile with even the most played out of genres. The script is scary and witty. Craven manages a lot on very little budget, producing a film that’s one part exploitation, one part surrealist. Nightmare is a well-done examination of the traumas we accrue in adolescence, especially as we struggle to make sense of sexuality, and discover that the adults in our lives aren’t as helpful as we want or need them to be.

4.) Friday The 13th

Friday The 13th is a prime example of the creative filtered through a profit motive. The first film is a gory whodunit produced for no other reason than to capitalize on the success of Halloween. The rest of the franchise never intends to be anything other than that experience (jump scares, gore, and boobs) distilled and duplicated over and over for money. All that being said though, it’s hard to deny the culture impact of the big unstoppable killer – especially considering the film that spawned the Jason franchise would create a franchise of its own that basically forgot the source material and copied the copy.

3.) Scream

The cold open timed to last the length of time it takes to make popcorn is still a pretty solid bit of suspense and terror. The thing, however, that I’ve found interesting about the film on later, repeat viewings is the film’s confrontational tone with the audience (this starts right from the beginning when Ghostface taunts Drew Barrymore's character)– you know what happens next and you’re still watching and you’re still going to jump even as we remind you of what happens next.

2.) Psycho

I don’t know if most people consider Psycho a slasher film, but I’d argue that it’s kind of the granddady of the subgenre. It was really the first horror film about a person and not about some supernatural or science-created monster. So much about the film would be borrowed for later slasher flicks. And if you think about it, the script would require very little tweaking to make it a straight flasher film.

1.) Halloween

I really can’t say enough about the first Halloween. It’s such a well-done script. Brilliantly shot – all those scenes of Michael Myers in the open or moving around in the background. It makes wonderful use of sound. There’s tons of suspense and actually not a lot of gore. Women fare better in the first film than pretty much any other slasher flick to come. It succeeds by playing on real fears and not just jump scares and gore. It’s so good that all the films to follow are pretty much kind of a disappointment.

October 12, 2018

10 Favorite Vampire Movies

10.) Fright Night

Fright Night is a great little riff on Rear Window – sometimes spying on your neighbor means you see bad things. Though perhaps a better way to describe it is a mash-up of those De Palma style voyeur films and those teen movies where the losers go up against the popular kid. There’s a lot of fun here. Roddy McDowell has a great turn as the horror-host Peter Vincent. Chris Sarandon is a lot of fun as the vampire. I saw this film on broadcast TV for the first time and so immediately fell in love with it that I think I’m the only one who read the comic book series from NOW. 

9) Blood and Roses (Et Mourir de Plaisir)

Barbarella aside, Roger Vadim was a French filmmaker who was probably more successful at marrying beautiful women than he was at making successful movies. But I have a soft spot for Blood and Roses. It’s Vadim’s modern riff on Le Fanu’s Carmilla. The script is a little weak but the locations and Claude Renoir’s (yes, he’s related to that Renoir) stunning cinematography make the film absolutely worth seeing, especially if you like art-house erotic horror. Blood and Roses is clearly an influence on Hammer’s penchant for attractive and buxom vampire women wearing gowns and gliding out of backlit fog. Also, worth mentioning, that the use of roses in the film was a huge inspiration on my unreleased vampire novel Plague Kisses.

8) Only Lovers Left Alive

Going to be honest with you. I have a love/hate relationship with Jim Jarmusch’s films. I mean that literally. I either love them to pieces or absolutely can’t stand them. But I love Only Lover’s Left Alive. It’s a well written and an expertly dialogue-driven film. It’s beautifully shot and the set design is so rich you want to go through all the little things the vampires have accumulated over the years. Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are perfect together. Not to mention the film is surprising both sweet and completely human.

7) Nosferatu, The Vampyre

When F.W. Murnau made the original Nosferatu, he wanted to adapt Dracula but it was still copyrighted and his attempts at changing it couldn’t keep him from being sued and those suits nearly destroyed his film When Werner Herzog made his version, Dracula was in the public domain so he was able to merge all the material together and, I think, makes this a better film. It’s absolutely exquisite to look at, you could mute the sound and simply watch it and be enthralled. Not to mention, Kinski gives one of his best performances. His Dracula is both pathetic and powerful, driven by a deep loneliness and a palpable ache for Lucy Harker.

6) Bram Stoker’s Dracula  

(True story—first time I tried to go see this at the theatre with a friend of mine, we were both carded and they wouldn’t let us in.) I don’t think this film got enough love when it was released. And some of it I get. Coppola directing a horror film seems weird. And I’ve always liked Winona Ryder but I don’t know the she really gave a great performance until Stranger Things. I also really like Keanu Reeves but he’s kind of terrible as Jonathan Harker. But I think the rest of the cast makes up for it: Oldman as Dracula, Hopkins as Van Helsing, Cary Elwes as Holmwood, Richard E Grant as Seward. The costuming by Eiko Ishioka absolutely deserved that Oscar. The film is well-directed and the score is amazing. The strength of the flick, I think, is really it’s pervasive and unrelenting sense of menace and the way to manages to convey the madness of immortality intertwined with insatiable lust in the form of a painful, physical hunger.

5) A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night

Filmed in California, shot in moody black and white, with dialogue in Farsi, this flick has been called “the first Iranian vampire film” and it’s absolutely worth watching. Yes, it’s all style over story, but, man, there’s so much style here it’s almost painful. While I did not care for Ana Lily Amirpour’s follow-up film, she has gone on to direct two of the best episodes of Legion and Castle Rock and I'm hoping we'll see more stuff from her like A Girl.

4) Let The Right One In

Skip the completely unnecessary remake and watch the original if you haven’t already. I love anything that manages to be several things at once. Let The Right One In is both sweet and disturbing, it’s both an unusual romance and a completely bloody horror story. It’s also a meditation on trust and what unconditional love really means.

3) Ganja & Hess

Blacula is probably the most famous blaxploitation vampire film, but Ganja & Hess is by far the better movie. In 1972, two inexperienced producers decided they wanted to make a “black vampire film” so they approached actor, playwright, and novelist Bill Gunn. Gunn was reluctant at first, but agreed and since the producers had no experience making films they gave him near complete creative control and so they ended up with something other than the blaxploitation vampire film they wanted. I love any film that manages to be two things at once, that allows you to experience the film on two different levels. Ganja & Hess does that very well. You can watch it as a vampire movie and there’s some cool stuff here. A lost tribe of African vampires, a mystical dagger. But you can also watch it for the deep subtext because it’s a very political film – Gunn uses vampirism as a metaphor for addiction and confines most of the action to Ganja’s mansion so the entire film becomes really Ganja’s angry awakening to the pains of the black experience in America. (Skip the unnecessary Spike Lee remake, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus)

2) Near Dark  

If you’ve ever played Vampire: The Masquerade and felt like you didn’t really understand the Sabbat, then that’s probably because you’ve never seen Near Dark. The film started out as a revisionist western, but when Katheryn Bigelow couldn’t secure funding for a western, she and her co-writer Eric Red (The Hitcher) re-wrote their script as a vampire film. The film was a complete failure at the box office but, rightly, achieved cult status. The cast is great. There’s some amazing scenes and quotable dialogue. Tons of other vampire films and novels borrowed left and right from this dark vampire/western/road film. (If you crushed on Jenny Wright who played Mae like I did and you’ve never seen I, Madman you should track that one down for a watch)

1) Lost Boys  

I love this film. The cast is good, from the Coreys to Jason Patrick to Kiefer Sutherland giving one of his best performances. The soundtrack is awesome (people love to make fun of the saxophone guy but if you saw this film when it came out and you were young and you didn’t think that shit was cool, you’re a liar). It’s immensely quotable. They do some cool things with vampires (not enough vampires fly). And one of my dream projects is to pitch a Lost Boys TV series to HBO (I have five seasons of that sketched out, if anyone at HBO is reading this).

October 5, 2018

Reflections on the Death of My Dog


I don’t know why I’m writing this now (it's been two or three years). Maybe, because I’ve been in this weird mental place, feeling like there’s something I need to make sense of, but don’t yet understand how to. Maybe, there’s something here that I need to exorcise on some subconscious level. Maybe, it’s simply the desire to help.

When Killer, our 14-year-old pug, first developed mast cell tumors, I thought I would be ready for the grim eventuality. I am not a stranger to death. My brother was killed in a car accident when I was in kindergarten. I lost all my grandparents before high school. My wife lost both her parents during our first two years of marriage. And my father died only a few months previous.

I’m also a Buddhist. You know, like a lot of people, I think Westerns especially, wanting to confront death and wanting to die well when my time comes is part of what drew me to my religion. Right? So I had both experienced death and thought about dying.

A lot. 

I thought this experience meant this would be easier for me to handle. And to some extent, it did help. I think if I’d never experienced the death of any sentient being I loved before Killer died, it would have completely wrecked me. Because there’s this place where intellectual knowledge and real life crash into each other that you cannot prepare for. You can’t. It doesn’t matter how much you read about something. It doesn’t matter how much you think you know about something. Or how certain you are that you will react a particular way in a this one situation.

The truth is when you are there in that moment, what you think you know, that purely intellectual knowledge, goes out the window.

“Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.” —Mark Twain 

 I think there’s something particularly sharp about losing a pet—if you’ve ever had a pet, you know firsthand what they give you: dedicated companionship and lasting affection without any judgment. Your pet doesn’t care how much money you have or what you look like or how cranky your day at work has made you. They’re not swayed by how beautiful or ugly you are, how fat or thin you are, or how fit or unhealthy you are, they just love you. And they’re always there with you in the moment – your pet isn’t thinking about the project they need to finish tomorrow, they’re not stewing over that morning exchange with the jerk receptionist, they’re right there and fully present.

…I remember, it was a Sunday. He was not feeling well that day. It was noticeable in his expression and how he carried himself. In the early afternoon, I accompanied him outside. He walked off the porch into the grass to pee and when he squatted he let out this sound that there’s no way to describe really. I mean I can’t even offer it adjectives.

It was pain.

And I heard that sound and right then I broke in two—one part of me totally calm, scooped him up, carried him inside, gave him to Maria, and called the vet; the other part of me had a break-down… 

If you allow it, if you open yourself up to the experience of having a pet, this creates a deep and intense bond. It can be even deeper when you have your first pet as an adult. A living thing is now your responsibility in a way it never was before, no matter how much your parents tried to prepare you for responsibility. And other than your spouse or significant other, your pet is also the one living being you will see more than anyone else. Does that make sense?

I think this is all ratcheted up another notch if you go through rough times. And Killer was there through rough times. He was there when we were really poor. He was there when we lived in a bad neighborhood and the night was full of sirens and scary people in hoodies gathered in the parking lot and loud voices argued with each other through the walls and the stripper who lived upstairs was fighting with her latest boyfriend. He was there when I walked to work every day. He was there when my wife was alone and constantly sick on high doses of immuno-suppressants to combat the disease that is robbing her of her sight. And he was there beside me at night, when I sat awake in the dim and in the quiet as my thoughts race and raged, trying to outrun fear.

…When it was time, I carried Killer out to the truck. I climbed in, rolled the seat back as far as it would go while still allowing me to reach the pedals, and sat him in my lap. He felt…exhausted, I guess is the best to put it. The drive into Bloomington felt longer than ever has felt before. Sometimes, Killer’s breathing was normal. Sometimes his breathing was the way he breathed when he was sleeping. And sometimes his breathing was so heavy and labored and I remember thinking, he’s going to fucking die here in the car. Holy fuck, he’s going to fucking die here in the fucking car

When that raw and torrential panic subsided a little, the mild calm was enough to allow troublesome thoughts to come creeping in: What do I do if he dies in the car? Do I keep driving to the vet? Do I turn around and go home?... 

When we were ready for another dog, there was never any question about adopting. And there shouldn’t be one for you. The simplest reason to adopt for anyone can be purely economic. The cost of getting a dog from a shelter or even a breed specific rescue is far less than buying a dog from a pet store or a breeder. And every bit of the money spent is going purely for the cost of an animal’s care, not into someone’s pocket as profit. But for us, I think we both felt we owed Killer for the gift of his presence. The easiest way to acknowledge that bond and to repay that debt for those times he had been there for us—even if he wasn’t necessarily cognizant of it—was to adopt a rescue dog. 

…The young vet asked me, if I wanted to be there when he delivered the medicine. I always knew my answer. It was partly selfish—my mind is such that if I left without knowing what Killer went through, it would always wonder, it would always worry, it would always doubt, and eventually the monkey mind would take over and wild thoughts would come and they would all be horrible.

But more than that, it was also the staunch belief that no sentient being should ever die alone. And it was also an obligation. I couldn’t leave him. Look at all he had given me. The friendship. The affection. His presence. I couldn’t repay that by letting him face this transition alone.

“No, I want to stay with him.” 

“Do you want to help me get him on the table?”

“No,” I said, “he stays in my lap. Can you do that? Can this happen here on my lap?”

The vet nodded. “Okay, what I’m going to do is I’m going to take him into the other room for a minute, just a minute, and I’m going to put a port in his leg to make the injections easier.” … 

There are an estimated 140 million to 180 million pets in the United States. Each year, something like 7.6 million animals are given over to shelters and rescues. 2.7 million animals that end up in shelters will be euthanized. Meanwhile, there are an estimated 10 million puppy mills in operation. Dogs in puppy mills are kept in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions. And since they are bred purely for profit, there is no concern for potential health issues or serious hereditary conditions. What’s the easiest way for you to have a serious impact on all that suffering and unnecessary death?

Simple—adopt a shelter or rescue pet.

I mean, think about that. Really, really think about that. With very little effort, you radically alter another living being’s life forever and contribute to ending future suffering for others. Puppy mills function for profit. Remove the profit, end puppy mills, end puppy mills and reduce suffering. That’s fucking immense if you acknowledge it. Seriously—fucking immense. Don’t dismiss it as hippy-dippy, sappy whatever. You can completely change a life. And you’ll get something out of it besides a loving companion.

And that’s why organizations like Bluegrass Pug Rescue are always in need of your donations, whether that be money, items, or time. 

…When we were alone again. I cried a lot. I remember at one point some other people entered the building for some kind of emergency vet service and I could hear them. And there was a bit there where I was mad. I mean, really fucking angry—like my dog is dying you fucking motherfuckers, why are you even here and talking in normal voices about stupid things?

Thinking about that now—literally right now as I’m writing this—that feels silly to me too. Why do we feel that grief is a private thing? I mean, it’s one of the few things we all do, right? Every single one of us. Different things make us all happy, right? But don’t the same things make us all sad? … 

 Sometimes, I think, the particulars of our culture—as Westerners living under late-stage capitalism—tend to encourage a certain kind of behavior and way of looking at the world that’s contradictory to our innermost natures. I mean, we are wired for kindness and cooperation. Not only has kindness been proven to be contagious but it has also been scientifically documented to improve your own happiness, your heart health, positively impact your aging process, and improve your relationships.

Kindness and the ability to cooperate are how our ancestors survived in a world where everything was bigger, stronger, faster, and wanted to eat us. To deny that is to deny yourself. 

…There in the quiet exam room, in the early morning hours, I chanted the Heart Sutra: gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha... 

Killer moved from my lap to awkwardly pee in the floor.

When he laid back down in my lap, I prayed that in this moment of transition, his consciousness be free from fear and that his rebirth be a pleasant one.

When the vet came in, I whispered to Killer that he was a good boy.

“There are two shots here,” the vet explained. “This first one is a sedative and the second one is the euthanasia drug.”

I nodded.

The young vet delivered the first shot. Killer sighed, almost contently.

The second shot came. And all was still.

The stillness broke near morning. On the drive home, I stopped at the gas station near our house to buy Maria a pack of cigarettes. I sat in the car, considered smoking one, and stared out the window and watched as dawn filled the dark storm clouds like flimsy Chinese lanterns, lightning jigsawed the sky, and then a loud crack of thunder announced the onset of a heavy, heavy rain... 

 “It’s like a cloud in the sky. When the cloud is no longer in the sky, it doesn’t mean the cloud has died. The cloud is continued in other forms like rain or snow or ice. So you can recognize your cloud in her new forms. If you are very fond of a beautiful cloud and if your cloud is no longer there, you should not be sad. Your beloved cloud might have become the rain, calling on you, ‘darling, darling, don’t you see me in my new form?’ And then you will not be stuck with grief and despair. Your beloved one continues always. Meditation helps you recognize her continued presence in new forms. And our nature is the nature of no birth and no death…the nature of a cloud also. A cloud can never die. A cloud can become snow, or hail…or rain. But it is impossible for a cloud to pass from being into non-being. And that is true with your beloved one. She has not died. She is continued in many new forms. And you can look deeply and recognize herself in you and around you.”
-- Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear

October 4, 2018



I thought I’d avoid commenting on the whole Kavanaugh thing … then a person I had forgotten I was friends with because we never speak popped up on my Facebook feed saying some really dumb shit, so here goes…

(Seriously, however you may feel about politics, Me Too, or 'toxic masculinity' if your first response to all this is 'men get assaulted too' or concern about his reputation, then fuck you, fuck you.) 

 When I worked in the Dean’s Office, I wrote the Resource Guide to University and Community Sexual Assault Services. The first half of the book was essentially a FAQ. I tried to think of every question I could think of: What is consent? What is a sexual assault? How can I help a friend who’s been assaulted? What happens if I call the police? What happens if I go to the hospital? And answer them clearly and directly, so victims could get answers and make good decisions.

The second half of this guide was exactly what it sounds like: a list of university and community resources (where you can go, who you can talk to, what they can do for you, what you can expect afterward, what say you have in the process there, and what happens next). This covered everything from the Health Center to the Hospital to the Women’s Shelter to explaining SART (Sexual Assault Response Team) and SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner).

I spent a lot of time working on this. I read the existing university literature. I read literature from the different places. I read reports. I read data. I met with people. I had five different people reviewing it for accuracy. I even spent a tense afternoon arguing for my use of the word “victim” in the opening FAQ section (as the booklet would be read by individuals who either had literally just been assaulted or were trying to figure out how to help their friend who had just been assaulted, I argued it was more import at that moment of reading to convey that “this was not your fault” and what happens next “you have full say over.”)

I learned a lot about sexual assault when I wrote that, just like I learned a lot about sexual assault working in the office. So a couple of things – 

Whatever you think you know is probably wrong. Sexual assault is almost nothing like you see on TV or read in most novels. Entertainment seldom portrays rape realistically, seldom structures the story from the survivor’s point of view, and seldom deals with the long aftermath, instead it twists facts, uses rape for a plot twist--an excuse to have someone murder a bunch of other people—or to punish a female character, and presents the whole thing in a cinematic, high-violence way meant for no other reason than to titillate an audience (Game of Thrones is a good example of this with 50+ rape scenes over a mere 5 seasons).

This further muddies the waters of public perception, making an already tough thing to come forward and report (let alone stick) even harder.

False allegations in real life ARE RARE. Extremely, extremely rare.

They seldom occur and when they do, they share a couple of traits:

  • the narrative is extremely involved, dramatic, and lurid 
  • the person making the false allegation usually has a criminal background or a history of mental illness.
I was only ever aware of one false reporting incident – and it fit both criteria: initial statement was involved, detailed, and lurid like a TV show; person making the statement had recently had troublesome behavioral incidents, follow-up statement featured attackers demonstrating supernatural abilities, deeper investigation showed signs of a psychotic break.

What we’ve witnessed in the Kavanugh hearing, I believe, is:
1) true – I believe he’s a rapist,
2) absolutely political (they want this bastard’s appointment because he’s very conservative and would be replacing longtime swing vote Justice Kennedy)
3) Endemic of how the elites look out for each other, because these people don't care anything about you--they're mad this has made it harder for them to just do whatever they want.

September 13, 2018

The Need to Challenge Power

The Harvey Weinstein revelations shown a light on one of Hollywood’s dirty “open secrets” and kicked off a huge barrage of allegations against other stars. The ripples continued far beyond Hollywood to reveal a whole array of predators in business, politics, and in between.

The wary chalked the initial onslaught up to false allegations made by grudge holders and opportunists, even though allegations made through official channels are held to a very high standard making false allegations both exceedingly rare and very harshly punished, very harshly punished. But unless there is something seriously wrong with you, the sheer number of people affected is disturbing and upsetting.

In the aftermath, our conversation has been all about men and masculinity. And I get it. I do. What the #metoo movement has done well is show us how many women have been victimized in some form by men. If you spend any time at all on social media and have women in your friends list, especially women under a certain age, you can’t help but see how many of them are angry, afraid, and distrustful of men. And that needs to be addressed by everyone, including men.

But the conversation I’m not seeing is the conversation about power — and that is the conversation we need to have because that’s the only way to stop the Weinsteins of the world.

We need to talk about power because we’ve allowed ourselves to suffocate under a system of unfettered and unchecked power that has not only produced unprecedented inequality and suffering, but also created an entire class of people who believe they can do whatever they want to whomever they want. Our entire culture now so obsesses over and venerates these figures that as a whole, we’ve traded the future of our society for the false promise of someday sitting at the fancy table. Not to mention voting one into the office of president.

We need to talk about power because Harvey Weinstein knew he could get away with his crimes, he got away with his crimes, and he kept getting away with crimes because he had the power to get away with his crimes. The thing no one seems to have paid attention to is that Weinstein’s crimes were an: “open secret.” Seriously stop and think about that–OPEN SECRET. Consider exactly what that means–OPEN SECRET. Not an open secret among men, but an open secret amongst everyone in Hollywood. That means men, women, straight, gay, black, white, Asian, Latino, pick a type of person it doesn’t matter what you pick because everyone knew what was happening and no one fucking did anything and that's a failing of our society.

And why didn't anyone do anything? Power.

Weinstein pressured, harassed, and assaulted women because women were his thing and that was how he exercised his unchecked power. It could have just as easily been kids (like Jerry Sandusky or ex-Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert). Or men (See Kevin Spacey). Or drugs. Or violence. Or hunting endangered animals (pick any number of rich, privileged assholes). Or humiliation. Or any number of other terrible and degrading things.

Part of this has to do with the very nature of capitalism. Forget whatever narrative you're telling yourself now about crony capitalism or whatever you want to call it, there is only capitalism and this is exactly how it function. It creates an extremely unequal relationship between persons, puts profits over people, and breeds suffering. This is doubly true of late capitalism when corporations have taken over the government like a parasite in order to cannibalizing our entire social safety net. 

And it is a system that let’s predators thrive. It’s easier to prey upon another person if the predator can identify them as something lesser or there is something already one-sided about the relationship that gives a disproportionate amount of control to one party over the other. It’s why serial killers choose the victims they chose. Capitalism needs this power dynamic in order to function. This innate inequality found under capitalism becomes even greater when you dominate the industry your entire city runs on.

Make no mistake, one of the chief reasons why Weinstein’s depravity finally saw the light of day is because his stock fell and he stopped being the Guy.

It is for this exact reason that we saw the flood of accusations that followed — if accusations are finally sticking to the big dog…And this is why you need to understand that if Weinstein were still making the big deals and rolling out the hits, he’d still be assaulting women and no one would be doing anything. (Look how quickly all the allegations against Bryan Singer and Joss Whedon vanished.)

This inequality gets notched up again when the different systems of power bleed together and the checks on that power are stripped away. This is why a head of an industry can freely dominate his company, his town, local politics, federal politics, and international events. It’s why no one blinks anymore when a business CEO who was appointed to a governmental position to regulate and police their own industry, leaves their appointment to return to the very industry they stripped of oversight. It’s why you see journalists who socializing freely with the very people they’re supposed to be objectively covering. It’s why journalists don’t even recuse themselves when their spouse works for the people they’re supposed to be covering. It’s why NBC tried its damnest to bury the Weinstein story. And it’s why Weinstein got away with being a monster for as long as he did.

Over two hundred and forty years ago we fought a war based on the radical notion that we do not need kings or nobles, and now we’ve allowed a new noble class to arise. We’ve allowed immense wealth, power, and, in many cases, political offices to pass along family lines. And we shower these people with adoration as if it was their own hard work that got them born to the right family, all mostly for the hollow promise that someday we may have some immense success of our own, built on the backs of our brothers and sisters. And this is a class that looks out for each other — not you, not me, not us but each other. Weinstein donated big money to the Democrats. You think they were clueless as to the nature of their benefactor? This was an open secret, remember?

Let’s stop for a moment and consider why people don’t do bad things? At the most basic level, there’s the internal, right? I’m talking about that combination of a person’s conscience and the nature/nurture cocktail which produces someone who actively considers right and wrong, considers other people, and whose behavior is naturally checked by feelings of guilt/remorse.

The next level is all consequence. And it’s a big level because not only are there people who have no conscience at all, but, as human beings, we have the ability to rationalize and justify anything. But it is this fear of consequence that keeps a lot of people in check. The consequence can come from a higher power, parents, friends, society, law enforcement, losing some kind of standing, or be purely monetary. In most causes, for most people, it’s some combination of those working together.

But for this class we’ve allowed to arise, there is no consequence from anyone or anywhere. And without consequence these people do whatever they want.

Harvey Weinstein harassed, groped, demeaned, and assaulted women for years and no one did anything because he made the studio gob tons of money, he was in charge of a machine that bestowed money, power, and fame. We cannot use the very structures that allow monsters with no conscience to hold power to reign those monsters in. You cannot use the structures who by their very existence kept these men in positions where they answered to no one and faced no consequences to prevent them from exercising their worst desires. So capitalism will not stop this. The magic angels of the free market will not stop this. Capitalism functions on profit. Profit over people. Profit over morals. Profit over happiness.

You see this time and time again. When a corporation does actually fire one of their long-time predators, the firing comes only out of corporate self interest and only when the cost of keeping that asshole outweighs the amount of profit the monster generates for the company. This is why Bill O’Reilly was able to remain at Fox so long despite the company shelling out millions a year to buy off his victim’s silence.

Have you read the horror stories of the people who worked for Weinstein? If not, you should. Because Weinstein did not make any of this happen on his own. He wasn’t the monster born in our popular consciousness and gritty entertainment, lurking in the bushes, stalking women quietly, and planning a blitzkrieg attack. He wore a suit and worked in a office and had power lunches and forced his assistants to make hotel reservations for his sexual assaults.

One of the seldom talked about reasons there is such push from on-high to keep wages stagnant, health care virtually unaffordable, and college something you’ll be paying off for the rest of your life isn’t because any of those things are unworkable or destroy the economy–it’s because those things keep you quiet, they keep you compliant. They keep you working at a job that treats you like shit. They keep you working for a boss who’s an outright monster. And they're part of a culture that tells you to keep you mouth shut and be thankful you have a job.

If you and I are on equal footing, then there is reason for us to work out our conflicts in ways that benefit us both. Not so in capitalism. The history of the labor in the United States is often downplayed or outright forgotten -- especially as it concerns women. But every right you have as a worker, someone fought for, someone bled for, and someone died for–including the right not to be abused, groped, or assaulted. Those were not given to you out of the kindness of the boss’s heart. They were not brought about by a liberal sprinkling of free market fairy dust. Those were not won by a hastag or a seminar on how to improve administrative practices.

Everyone in Hollywood failed these women but none moreso than SAG-AFTRAOne of the main causes that drew women to labor unions, and even saw the creation of women only labor unions (like the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association in the 1840s), was to make known and specifically enforce a woman’s right to work without being harassed, groped, or assaulted by her supervisor or coworkers. But because of the system we have in place, because of the power we've allowed to be removed from the hands of the people, because of our blind adoration for the wealthy and our corporate paymasters, the monsters do whatever they want.

So, yes, we do need to be talking about masculinity. But the real conversation should be about power, because the only way for us to not fail more women, more children, and more men is to challenge power.

* Originally appeared at Disinformation.com

September 11, 2018

The Soviet Who Saved The World

56 years ago on October 27, 1962, at the tail end of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov prevented nuclear war….

But let’s do a bit of lead-up first because when you understand how we got there, you understand how we got here…

World War I is the breaking point for the long-suffering Russian people. In February and November of 1917, a pair of revolutions removes the Tsar from power and leaves the Bolsheviks in charge of the country. Under Lenin, Russia signs the treaty of Brest-Litovsk to pull out of WWI and then works on setting up a federal government with the aim of reorganizing the empire into a social democracy.

This kicks off the Russian Civil War. On one side is the Red Army (the Bolsheviks), on the other is the White Army (mostly pro-monarchy, pro-capitalist, and supported by an Allied military force that includes troops and munitions from the UK, the US, China, France, and Italy). Caught between the two are the Green Armies (peasants who were tired of being everyone’s victim).

Meanwhile, other parts of the former Russian Empire (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland) break away, form their own sovereign states, and engage in their own internal conflicts.

When the Russian Civil War eventually grinds to a halt, the country is devastated. Millions are dead from purges, fighting, and starvation caused by widespread famine. The economy is crippled. Lenin is near death and Stalin has taken power.

Stalin begins a program of forced, rapid industrialization to kickstart the economy and muscle the backward country into the 20th Century. He reverses the “World Communism" doctrine Lenin and Trotsky supported (for communism to succeed you need global revolution, otherwise capitalist forces will crush you) to institute his socialism-in-one country policy, and then keeps his head down until WWII.

Obviously, this does not sit well with the capitalist interests in the West...

Push forward to WWII. The United States and the Soviet Union emerge from World War II as two dominant but ideologically-opposed superpowers. Harry S. Truman gives us the first of many budgets dominated by massive military spending, all to maintain our prestige on the world stage and “protect" the Western powers from the global threat of Communism.

In 1947, Truman signs the National Security Act into law and creates the CIA. The agency is flush with cash, given virtually free reign, and tasked to begun the culture war that still influences your perception about actual leftwing believes and policies. Over the following years, the agency engages in everything from mind control experiments, to deposing foreign governments, (see Guatemala in 1954, Haiti in 1959, Brasil in 1964, Uruguay in 1969, Bolivia in 1971, Chile in 1973, Argentina in 1976, El Salvador in 1980, Panamá in 1989, and Peru in 1990), to influencing public opinion on art, and pretty much every other dumbshit idea they could fund -- all while not caring about mass murder as long as it’s the enemy being killed

Japan controls the Korean Peninsula from 1910 until the last days of WWII. The Soviet Union, per their agreement with the US, declares war against Japan in ‘45. Their forces liberate Korea north of the 38th parallel, while US forces liberate south of the parallel. This results in two separate governments, each believing they are the legitimate government and each supported by foreign superpowers.

This blows up in 1950 when North Korea invades the South, kicking off a conflict between the two halves that quickly brings international intervention: the US and a coalition of UN forces side with South Korea, the Soviet Union and Communist China ally with the North. The brutal conflict lasts for three years before ending in a bitter stalemate. It also has another effect -- reframing the Vietnamese battle against French colonial forces into a Cold War struggle that eventually pulls the US into the Vietnam War.

As the Korean War is ending, the Cuban revolution is getting started. This conflict lasts from 1953 through 1959. As soon as Cuba falls, the United States is determined to oust Castro and his communists from power. America is against communist and its spread, so the thought of a communist country that close to a national border is inconceivable.

So, near the end of his presidency, Eisenhower has the CIA draft a plan to oust Castro. When Kennedy later signs off on it, the CIA recruits, trains, and sponsors a group of Cuban exiles named Brigade 2506.

On April 17, 1961, Brigade 2506 invades Cuba. They fail spectacularly. Once it’s clear to the world that this is a US-backed operation, Castro takes personal command of Cuban Forces, Kennedy buckles and changes his mind about air support, and Brigade 2506 is completely routed in barely 3 days.

But the United States isn’t done with Cuba and Castro knows it. In 1975, the Church Commission substantiates 8 assassination attempts on Fidel Castro occurring between 1960-1965. Fabian Escalante, the man responsible for protecting Fidel, estimates the total attempts and schemes–from Eisenhower through Clinton–at 638. After the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Fidel asks Cuba’s trade partner the Soviet Union to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter future invasion plans.

Krushchev agrees to Castro’s request only after the US places Jupiter ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy. At this time the Soviet Union lacks rocketry capable of carrying a nuclear warhead from their territory to the US. Placing missiles in Cuba means the Soviets won’t have to rely on submarines and bombers to deliver a strike in the event of nuclear war.

Krushchev greenlights the Operation: Andyr to place missiles, bombers, and mechanized infantry on Cuba.

The mission doesn’t remain secret for long. The US has flown U-2 spy planes over Cuba since the failed Bay of Pigs invasion and quickly detects the Soviets. Washington calls an emergency meeting. The Joint Chiefs want nothing short of a full-scale invasion of the island, Kennedy doesn’t, and they argue over several alternate options before agreeing on a naval blockade of the island. And the world holds its breath for next two weeks…

On October 27, while Kennedy and Khrushchev work to reach an agreement two things happen: a U-2 spy plane flown by Rudolf Anderson is shot down over Cuba, and the USS Beale spots an unidentified submarine.

When the Navy ship begins dropping practice depth charges as warning to encourage the sub to surface, Captain Valentin Savitsky is convinced World War III has started. His sub has been dispatched as part of a flotilla to protect Soviet transports to Cuba. One of the Beale's blasts knocked the air conditioning out, sending temperatures over 100 degrees.

Ten more US ships quickly join the Beale.

Panicking since his sub has received no contact from Moscow for days. Savitsky believes a first strike is called for. He orders the ten kiloton nuclear torpedo (in terms of power, just shy of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) to be readied and aimed at the USS Randolf, the carrier leading US forces. The protocol for firing that weapon requires the Captain and the Political Officer to both agree.

And they do.

However, thankfully, in this one particular instance Vasili Arkhipov gets a vote.

Arkhiprov is described as modest, soft-spoken, and amazingly calm in a crisis.  He is already considered a Soviet hero, having distinguished himself the year previous during the K-19 sub incident -- when the rushed-to-production nuclear sub developed a leak in its coolant system, the entire crew was irradiated and only the quick thinking of the engineering crew, who managed to improvise a new coolant system, prevented nuclear meltdown and a global catastrophe. 

On the sub, Arkhipov has been acting as Savitysky's second-in-command; however, in terms of the entire Soviet Operation, he commands the flotilla. And his vote is no.

Arkipov correctly argues the charges are a signal to rise and identify, not an aggressive act of war. He insists there are too many unknowns to assume the two nations are now in direct military conflict. Savitsky isn’t convinced but Arkhipov refuses to change his vote.

If the Russian sub had fired and vaporized an aircraft carrier, it would have triggered an immediate response from the other US ships and activated the Single Integrated Operational Plan.

When Eisenhower took office in 1953, he inherited Truman’s massive military budget. Ike believed such expenditures were wasteful and cut Truman's budget by $5 billion. He thought it was possible to reduce the number of conventional forces but still maintain military prestige while protecting the country and its allies. However, he did support the doctrine of massive retaliation (even though the Soviets did not have second strike capabilities in the 1950s) as a deterrent.

The US Military’s plan for a nuclear response called for a sickening orgy of godlike destruction that would have dropped a combined 7, 847 megatons of nuclear weapons on the Soviet Union, China, and all Soviet-allied states.

To put that into perspective, the two bombs the US dropped on Japan at the end of WWII had a combined explosive power of 35 kilotons.

Let that sink in for a minute.

35 kilotons versus 7,847 megatons.

Our massive strike would have triggered a response from the Soviet Union and its allies. Luckily for the entire world, Arkhipov was on board the B-59 that day 56 years ago and held his ground. Even as temperatures continued to rise in the damaged sub and US ships continued dropping charges, he didn’t budge.

Savitsky finally agreed with his commander. The B-59 rose to the surface, identified itself, and charted a course back to the Soviet Union. The Americans, meanwhile, didn’t know the B-59 was carrying a nuke until decades later.

Now, we find ourselves in a sickeningly familiar world. We’re allowed ourselves to be ruled by a group of elites who kneel at the feet of corporate masters while leading us all over the globe into war after unending war all for the sake of profit. The propaganda machine rolls ever onward, resurrecting old enemies to direct focus away from real domestic issues and the malfeasance of both parties. Terrible foreign policy again threatens to push us again toward global conflict.

So the question is, do we finally challenge these entrenched and self-serving systems of power or do we continue on, same as always, hoping the next time we’re standing at the brink of global destruction that there is an man as calm and as sensible as Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov to save us.

* Originally appeared at Disinformation.com

September 10, 2018

The Great Beast and the Buddhist

The man who taught Aleister Crowley magic was the same man who helped bring Buddhism to the west, yet you’ve probably never heard of Charles Henry Allan Bennett.

Allan Bennett was born in London in 1872. Bennett’s father was a civil engineer and passed away when he was still a child. His father’s death and Bennett’s severe asthma meant that Allan grew up both sickly and in severe poverty.

Despite his impoverished upbringing, Bennett was educated at Hollesley College and trained as an analytical chemist. Unfortunately, his poor health made it difficult for him to keep steady work.

Bennett was raised a Roman Catholic by his widowed mother, but rejected the faith at a young age. In 1890, when he was around 18 years old, Bennett experienced, what he would later describe as, shivadarshana, a yogic term for a deep trance state where the individual experiences the destruction of the universe and achieves union with the god Shiva. Shivadarshana is one of the stages of samadhi (meditative consciousness), which you’ve probably heard more frequently referred to as right concentration, the final step on the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. (An easier way to parse this experience for those interested in Western mysticism would be “crossing the Abyss”) This incident, which we know little about in terms of details other than what he related to Crowley, had an immense impact on Bennett.

Trying to understand this experience is probably what lead him to join The Theosophical Society in 1893 and undoubtedly what helped send him on the path toward becoming a Buddhist monk.

Whether she was a charlatan or not, the impact of Helena Blavatsky’s Western Occult cocktail served with an Eastern mysticism chaser cannot be stated enough. Not only did her work introduce Eastern ideas to a wide Western audience, but among indigenous peoples it sparked a revival in their own religions. Buddhism was dead for hundreds of years in India until 1891. And Mohandas Gandhi was quite vocal about how it wasn’t until he was introduced to Theosophy while living in London, that he ever thought about practicing Hinduism, let alone questioning what the Christian Missionaries had told him: that his religion was nothing other than superstitious nonsense.

In 1894, Bennett joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. While he never had the same impact on the group as some of its members, he was well known for his supreme concentration, his knack for practical ceremonial magic, and his specially constructed wand whose parts could be changed as needed for different workings.

Along with George Cecil Jones, Bennett was one of Crowley’s first magical teachers. When Crowley initially met Bennett, Allan was living in a dilapidated tenement slum south of the Thames. The living conditions were so terrible that Crowley promptly invited him to room with him at 67/69 Chancery Lane.

Allan’s impact on Crowley was deep and profound. While roommates, Bennett introduced him to the use of mind-altering drugs to induce altered states of consciousness. The Beast would expand on Bennett and S.L. Mathers’s work on the Hermetic Qabalah for his own Liber 777. And Crowley’s seldom discussed concept of Magical Memory comes directly from Bennett’s later writings aimed specifically for Buddhists.

Other than his first mountaineering instructor, Bennett is the only significant person in Crowley’s life that he did not later attack or defame in either public or private writings. Crowley had only positive things to say about Allan, even within his private diaries, calling him “a tremendous spiritual force” and “the noblest and gentlest soul that I have ever known.” He described Bennett’s mind as “pure, piercing, and profound.” Despite being written five years after their last meeting, he dedicated his poem “UT” to Bennett. And, perhaps most telling of all, Crowley would later say that in all his years of studying magic and the occult Bennett was the rarest of breeds -- a man who wasn’t interested in gathering power but in finding enlightenment.

Mathers, however, eventually tired of Bennett and the two had a falling out over “orientalism.” In 1900, Allan traveled to Sri Lanka, hoping the change in climate would alleviate his many health problems. There he found employment with the Solicitor General, a man named P. Ramanathan, as a tutor for his sons. Boring enough on the surface. However, to occultists the Honorable Ramanthan was better known as Shri Parananda, a Shavite yogi and the author of commentaries on the life of Christ, which put forth the notion that Jesus was in fact a composite figure created from several different people, including a Hindu holy man whose yogic aphorisms were attributed to Jesus.

Crowley visited his friend in 1901 and received instruction in yoga. Later, that same year, Bennett joined a local Buddhist Sangha (unsurprising that this should happen there–the Buddhist revival that began in India in 1891 was lead by a Sri Lankan named Anagarika Dharmapala) before making his way to the city of Sittwe (then called Akyab) in Burma. There, in the monastery of Lamma Syadow Kyoung, he took the monastic vows and the Dharma name Ananda Metteyya.

Officially, Bennett is considered to be the second Englishman to be ordained as a Buddhist Monk of the Theravada tradition. George Douglas, who was ordained in 1899 or 1900, was widely considered to have been the first. There are conflicting accounts as to Douglas’s fate, some reports allege he died a mere 6 months after his ordination and others that he relocated to Sri Lanka where he lived quietly.

Most research now points to an Irish migrant worker named Laurence Carroll as the first westerner to be ordained. Though he later squabbled with Bennett in the press, Dhammaloka (Carroll’s Dharma name) is mostly forgotten today. Instead of spreading the Dharma, Dhammaloka focused most of his time and energy on attacking Christianity, Western and colonial influence in Burma (this would see him convicted of sedition), and being a harsh proponent of the Vinaya (the monastic rules handed down by the Buddha).

Bennett meanwhile, with the help of some wealthy Burmese Buddhists, began working to bring Buddhism west. He founded the Buddhasasana Samagam, the International Buddhist Society, sometime around 1902, began editing and publishing Buddhism: An Illustrated Review in 1903, then founded The Buddhist Society of Great Britain and Ireland in 1908. Until near the end of his life, he divided his time between Burma and London working to spread Buddhism in the UK as much as his health and the generosity of his benefactors would allow.

Unfortunately, the climate of Burma did not improve Bennett’s severe asthma. By 1908, he was suffering new health conditions endemic to the tropics. Finally, in 1914, he traveled to England for the last time. While there he met with his sister and hoped to travel with her to California but was denied a VISA due to the start of World War I. Stranded in England, Bennett found it impossible to keep his monastic vows due to the practicalities of modern life in London, so he had no choice but disrobe. He managed to continue teaching and lecturing on Buddhism until his death in 1923.

Why then does Bennett remain such an obscure figure? I think there are a couple of reasons. While I’ve heard Bennett described as mysterious, I don’t think that’s true. In this modern age, most of us, with very little effort, generate a lot of info that’s easy to find. You want to know what your high school girlfriend had for lunch last Wednesday? No problem. That’s not true for those who lived in the past. Unless the person was well-known or intentionally sought out the lime-light (like Crowley), the further back in time you go, the more difficult it becomes to find any information. This becomes twice as hard with someone like Bennett who spent most of his life poor and with little possessions.

While I do think Bennett has gotten lost in Aleister Crowley’s long and black shadow, I suspect it’s mostly due to how Buddhism has been presented to make it more palpable to Westerners drunk on the illusion of their superior intellect and who, despite claims otherwise, have never been able to fully escape the tyranny of a monotheistic worldview -- even as they take others to task over their faith. These changes make Buddhism more acceptable to Westerns and also, as capitalism is our civic religion, make the Dharma easier to monetize. 

Walk into your local bookstore and look at the section on Eastern religions. Odds are it’s mostly Buddhist books and odds are those books are about mindfulness, how to be happy, and other self-help topics. But good luck finding anything else. In the West, Buddhism has been purposefully portrayed as a slurry of relaxation techniques and proto-psychological therapy with a mix of philosophy and self-help. 

This is, I think, quite clear from a quick search of the magazine for Western Buddhists. There is only one article on Allan Bennett at Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. It presents Bennett as the answer to a trivia question. It glosses over Theosophy (never mind there would have been no 20th century Buddhist revival without it), The Golden Dawn, and Crowley in a single sentence. Though Bennett wrote about things like the role of devotion and the miraculous in Buddhism and carefully described meditative techniques for plumbing past lives, the sole article frames Allan’s motivations as the sort of things that would send you or I to the gym and to see a therapist.

This is Buddhism in the West. There can be no mention of anything that might make it feel like a religion. Buddhist cosmology and eschatology are only good for anime. Tulpas and the Diamond Vehicle are acceptable only in the context of Twin Peaks' muddy mysticism. And we like the Dalai Lama as long as he’s a leader in exile who irks China, reminds us to be kind, and never mentions that his role as head of a theocratic government in exile is based on controlled powers of reincarnation.

And thus poor Allan's Bennett's dangerous journey around the world to search for enlightenment in the face of a great suffering, instead becomes the story of how sickly Allan Bennett made the dangerous journey around the world just to, you know, be happier and healthier...So, don’t forget your mindfulness t-shirt on the way out. And we do accept credit cards.

* originally appeared at Disinformation.com
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