December 6, 2019

Green Frontier

Green Frontier (Frontera Verde) is a Netflix limited-series from Colombia and it’s the metaphysical crime thriller I’ve always wanted:

Helena Poveda, a young Bogotá-based detective, travels deep into the Amazon, on the border between Brazil and Colombia, to investigate a series of bizarre murders. Her investigation leads her into the heart of the jungle where she discovers a mysterious indigenous tribe with an extraordinary secret that they will go to great lengths to protect.

If this sounds remotely in your ballpark, give it a watch, because it’s very good: beautifully shot, well-acted, the pacing is on-point, there are some great twists, it’s topical without being preachy and it’s spiritual but completely approachable.

I really hope Netflix funds something else from these filmmakers.

November 29, 2019

Carnival Row? More like Carnival No.

I know it’s already been renewed for a second season, but unless they change showrunners and get a new writing team that learns from their mistakes, I will be surprised if Carnival Row makes it a third.


This is a show I wanted to like. This is a show I should like. One part fantasy, one part Victorian era murder mystery, one part political allegory should all be up my alley. Plus, Amazon obviously spent a ton of money on it, so everything looks great.

But I didn't.

I pretty much hated it.

Here’s the problems:
* From the trailer and the premise, you think this will be exciting. It’s not. Even though it’s only 8 episodes, the whole thing is a tedious slog that had me watching the clock. Fantasy should always feel otherworldly and fantastical. This show gets too bogged down in the grim and the grime. So the whole thing just feels like depressing work and becomes aching dull.

* Somehow the world-building manages to be both complex and yet underdeveloped. So while you’re getting hit with tons of exposition, you’re also left scratching your head, wondering how does this work? Why is that like this?

* The love story between Philo and Vignette doesn’t work and also makes little sense (a cookie to whoever can explain why he had people tell her had had died during the war). (Also their love scene was one of the worst sex scenes I’ve seen since Showgirls).

* I called Philo’s secret almost immediately.

* No one should be more into the politics/class struggle angle more than me. The problem is none of it is clearly explained or very well developed and it’s just kind of nebulous and there. The racism is given no basis or grounded in anything other a very simplistic and very childish—because they’re different.

* The show tries to pack too much in without developing any of it. Some of the most interesting characters get virtually no time.

* Other than coming from money and having been a model at one time, I do not understand why Cara Delavigne continues to get acting jobs, because she is all around terrible in everything I’ve seen her in.


And this is no different.

* Orlando Bloom is not cut out to be a leading man. He’s just doesn’t have the acting chops or the charisma. He’s a supporting actor at best. And unfortunately, this entire series hangs on him and his character.

* I literally do not care about what happens next.

* The best thing I can say about the show is at least the writers resolved the main plot.

November 25, 2019

Movies for Adults

I watched Witness last night and I haven’t seen the film in forever.

I was struck by how good it was, but I was also struck by several other things. First, how the film could never be made now and if it were, Hollywood would screw it up completely. Second, I was struck by how it manages to effectively be so many things at once—a fish-out of water story, a romance, and also a thriller (a pretty good thriller actually despite all the plot turns being completely familiar). It’s just gorgeous to look at—the opening alone is mesmerizing. It’s well acted (I think it’s Ford’s best acting—seriously watch everything he manages to convey with just expressions in the dancing scene with Kelly McGillis). The showdown at the end is so well done too, and manages a couple of things you don’t see nearly enough in gun battles.

But I was also struck by how it was an adult movie—not an X-rated film or a film with tons of sex—but a movie about adults staring adults (a child may be the witness to the crime in Witness, but he’s not the focus or the main character) where they have to make adult decisions for adult reasons and take into account adult things. I’m talking films where adults, normal feeling and looking adults (man, I miss the days when movie stars weren’t all just ridiculously good looking)—living normal adult lives confront the things we must confront as grown-ups and they do so in a way that feels authentic because their choices matter to them and to others.

I feel like we used to see those kind of movies a lot more. If do we get a grown-up movie now it’s usually specifically geared at someone 65 and older, an obvious attempt at Oscar bait, painfully dull or ridiculously depressing (depressing doesn’t automatically give something meaning any more than gritty does).

I’m talking about the movies your parents would rent and you’d read the box and maybe you couldn’t see past the thriller or crime or horror or even science fiction (grown-ups used to have all kinds of films) aspect of it but once you started watching it, you knew this was a grown-up movie and if you watched too, if you stayed focused you’d have a kind of a peak into an adult insight into life, romance, death, the choices we make and the choices that are made for us.

I don’t know if that makes sense but I feel like we need more movies like that.

This isn’t me pulling a Scorsese—frankly, I found his tirade silly and tiresome, especially when he admitted to having never actually watching a Marvel film. I like genre films (Witness is technically a thriller) or just fun movies or escapist movies, those all have their place and those can all still be about something bigger and truer than magic and monsters and powers and aliens. And those can all still be authentically about adults.

September 16, 2019

Russian Folk-Punk

Alone most days in the day job's office.

Now that classes have started, I have to have the door shut or students come in constantly with demands. So I tend to have a lot of music playing in the background while I work.

Today, I'm on a Russian/Soviet Folk-Punk kick. Here's Konstantin Stupin singing a song called "Bushy Tail Fox"

September 13, 2019

Alien Nation

Watched Alien Nation last night.

Haven't seen the film in forever. Except for the makeup, it holds up very well. Such a smart, fun idea with gobs of potential.

Watching it I was thinking, this is something that can be rebooted pretty easily...but then I thought, they'd only screw it up and low and behold turns out I was right.

A quick Google search shows that Fox had a reboot in the works but Disney quashed it. And I'm glad they did, because it was absolutely nothing like the original film. It wasn't a buddy cop movie and it was set in Arkansas.

Jesus Christ, Hollywood is doomed.

September 12, 2019

Dead to Me

Finally got around to watching Dead to Me on Netflix.

It’s beautifully written and well acted black comedy. It’s that right dramatic mix of sweet and sad and funny.

Also, as a grown man over the age of 40, it’s refreshing to watch something with grown women over the age of 40, grown women allowed to be messy and complicated and lonely and angry and authentic and just, you know, be their actual age without having to pretend to be younger or forced to put their career on hold until they can play grandmothers as bit parts.

And the real kicker is, both Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini kill it in their roles.

July 25, 2019

Stranger Things Season Four Thoughts

So after finishing the third season of Stranger Things, I’ve been thinking about Season Four— 

Hopper is the American.

  • Grigori, the Russian Terminator, refers to Hopper repeatedly as "the American."
  • Nameless Soviet scientists enter the room before the explosion. The camera cuts away from Hopper but shows us the scientists going splat.
  • When Joyce and Murray enter the room, the scientist splat is there but the grating where Hopper was standing is clean.
  • Using the song "Heroes," I think, is another clue. That song played in the first season when we thought Will was dead.
  • The last clue comes from the message you can hear if you dial Murray’s phone number (618-625-8313). The answering machine message is for Joyce and says they need to talk because he has news. (I think he’s been trying to track down Hopper). 

Kamchatka as the location of the Soviet base is significant. It’s an isolated peninsula in the Siberian wilderness—but close enough to us, that it was full of listening stations and military bases.

During the Cold War, the area was on such a lock-down that ZERO visitors were allowed there and even the few peasants who lived in the area had to have military clearance. What’s more the area is scientifically important thanks to its wildlife (today it’s the site of a massive nature preserve) and being one of the main sites in the earth’s Ring Of Fire (in 1952 it was the site of a mega-thrust earthquake).

Also if we go back to season one, the first time El encounters a Demogorgon, she’s in the black-watery void spying on a Soviet The show doesn’t give us subtitles but if you look up a translation, it’s all common spy stuff. But I think that’s significant. I don’t think it was an accident that El encountered a Demogorgon.

I think the Soviets already had one. Lastly, if season four jumps forward a year to 1986, especially say Easter time or around Spring Break, there’s probably a direct connection to Chernobyl as well.

Whatever the Soviets are doing exactly will risk the entire world on a big scale—like everything and everyone could die.

Movie Nods
Assuming the series jumps forward a year to 1986 (originally thought either Thanksgiving or Christmas since Mike mentions those times specifically to El when they’re talking about visiting, but thinking it through I'm now leaning more toward Easter/Spring Break), there are some big movies that might point a clue toward some things that might happen.

If Hopper is the America and if there is a rescue mission, I think we’ll see Joyce or maybe Nancy, since she’s the one good with guns, taking on Demogorgon hybrids/other big bad with some big SF weapon. Or maybe even a powerless El in some sort of big robotic suit fighting some huge monster.

Big Trouble in Little China
The Duffers have said Season 4 would involve opening up the Stranger Things universe and we still don’t where the Byers family is moving, maybe they’re heading to Chicago and something will happen with Chinatown.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 
I don’t think it’s that far-fetched to imagine some group of the kids skipping school. Plus, I’d just really like to see Steve signing on a parade float.

The Fly
I think we’ll see some serious nods to Cronenberg’s The Fly. Maybe as a result of other attempts at dimensional travel or something else all-together, or maybe the Soviets are trying to crossbreed humans and Demogorgons? (Maybe this is where Brenner will come back in).

We’ve met 11 and we’ve met 8 (Kali). That leaves 1-7 and 9-10. I think we’ll see more former children from the rainbow room. I could see this being a way to reference Highlander.

If it does jump to 1986 and it doesn’t reference this Oscar-wining 1986 film about Indiana basketball, I will be stunned.

The Labyrinth
If nothing else, I just want Dusty-Bun to sing “Magic Pants” to Suzy-Poo.

Stand by Me
Stand By Me was released in 1986 and it’s a King film. I have a hard time thinking this would NOT inform a fourth season in a big way. Especially since a big part of the film has to do with a group of friends going on an adventure before high school changes everything for them and they drift apart.

July 24, 2019

Punched in the Gut

The last episode of Stranger Things S3 punched me in the gut with the feels and I totally teared up.

Especially Hop's note: "The hurt is good. It means you're out of that cave..."

I'm working on a long ramble about how much I appreciate how the show handles different types of people, but talking with a friend, he and I agreed -- the thing the show does best is empathy.

I mean real empathy. No lecturing. No sitting you down and telling you how you're supposed to feel about something, but SHOWING you real empathy in action.

July 23, 2019

Steve "The Hair" Harrington

When I first started Stranger Things, I would have never believed Steve would be one of my favorite characters...

July 18, 2019

FaceApp Is Not A Russian Plot

So Chuckie Schumer has asked for a probe into FaceApp. Sigh...

I'm actually laughing as I write this because I called it. Literally called it.

FaceApp is not stealing your photos and sending them to Russia. It doesn't ask for any other permissions than any other app that does anything with your photos and/or shares them on social media--that's the only way for something like that to work. (Don't believe me? Look at the terms for every other app you're using.)

The company has been around for a while. FaceApp has been around for a while. The only photos the app actually accesses are the ones you select and it gets uploaded to the cloud.

The user who started this whole allegation on Twitter (that the app was uploading all their photos to their servers--deleted those tweets when he realized he was WRONG).

 A couple of days ago I noticed the first "security concerns news story" from big media. All the stories were structured and written the same--they might as well have been the same piece. Start out by mentioning the terms and conditions (don't mention that they're standard for this sort of thing). Then some security expert (always the head of a big company and always a paid talking head on the news or a corporate speaker) talks about what COULD be done--structured in a way it was easy to miss the could-be's and potentially's.

Twitter is literally full of other tech experts screwing around with the app (some examples here and here and here), finding it does exactly what it says, and all the could be allegations don't actually work.

This struck me as purposeful.

I messaged a buddy and said as much, "I think these stories presage some other move to re-spark the bullshit Russian hackers stealing elections narrative."

And now what do we have? Schumer calling from a probe. Why? I'm sticking to my guns--the Democrats will use ever changing debate requirements to shape their field, chose who they want at the convention with their super-delegates, then go into blue-no-matter-who-mode. And when their unlikable centrist stooge with a shitty voting record with a political career shaped by corporate cash looses and Trump gets a second term, they'll bring this back-- FaceApp and the Russians stole the election for Trump.

Cormoran Strikes Out

I like the Harry Potter series, but, man, those Cormoran Strike books just sound terrible...

I picked one up at the library book sale yesterday and thumbed through it, reading random bits, and yeah... Also, Cormoran Strike is dumb name for a non-Potterverse character.

July 16, 2019

Stranger Things Observations

Couple of days before Season 3 dropped, I started a rewatch of Stranger Things from the beginning. In no particular order, couple of things struck me about the show in general during this rewatch and starting Season 3:

  1. I love Sheriff Hopper. I really do. I like how human he feels. How honest and real he is. How he’s not perfect--he's struggling with his past--but he tries to be a good man. The fact that he stress eats is such a nice touch (take note crime writers – people deal with stress other ways than the bottle in the desk drawer, it’s not 1950 anymore). And little things like him shaving his beard but keeping his mustache and then seeing him watching Magnum, PI. Those are things so many writers and so many shows miss out on. Those make a character real.
  2. Joyce is one of Winona Ryder’s best performances. And maybe it’s because she was the first actress I ever had a crush on (Lydia in Beetlejuice), but even as a poor and tired single mom—she’s still hot.
  3. I know it’s not shot in Indiana and every now and again I’m like, that’s not Indiana, but, man, sometimes they so perfectly capture the feel of Indiana that I don’t care.
  4. I catch something new every rewatch.
  5. I like how all the adults aren’t just dismissive of the kids. Sooooo tired of that trope. Sooo tired of it.

A couple of other things that really struck me, I see as as writing lessons:

  • ST gives ever character a chance to shine.
  • ST isn’t afraid of giving you other moments. It’s not just scary and tense all the time. It’s not afraid to be funny or sad or sweet or just exciting or just give you something you cheer for or even just more of something you liked (like Lucas's little sister). Too many shows and writers think everything has to be dark and serious and depressing constantly as if that makes it “deep”.
  • ST is amazing at coming up with unlikely character pairings and finding ways for them to connect as people.
  • ST understands what it means for a character to be likable and realistic. Too many shows and too many writers don’t get that. So they create shows and write books and stories full of unlikable people always constantly being horrible to each other and then scratch their heads when people don’t respond.
  • Because ST understands that it means for a character to be likable. We can see a character fuck up and come back from it, like a real human being. It’s why the show is so good at the redemptive character arc.

July 11, 2019

The Last Czars

So The Last Czars on a hot mess.

The studio behind it aimed to create a new genre: what they call "the megadoc.” A high end documentary with taking heads and an action-driven drama. Kind of a good idea, right? Imagine watching a premium cable period drama that cut to people explaining things.

But it just doesn’t work.

It’s weird and it’s jarring and the cuts between scripted actors, talking heads, and real-life footage break your attention. You combine that with random modern phraseology that’ll pop up in the re-enactments and random sexy bits for no good reason and the whole thing becomes kind of weird and off-putting and working against itself—here’s a sex scene with the Czar and his wife aaand--cut to a talking head telling you about poor economic conditions.

You can't have Lenin's tomb BEFORE he's dead.
The show is full of all sorts of little errors and just kind of lazy sloppiness (see the pic on the right for what I'm talking about). Trying to blow through so much important history (important for Russia and the modern world—imagine if there had been no Soviet Union) so quickly with random sexy melodrama reduces a lot of complex figures and movements to cartoony caricature (here's the baaad adviser and here's the good adviser and here's some mean looking Bolsheviks getting drunk) and leaves a lot of stuff out entirely (we never see the Czar’s dreaded secret police in action--instead we get a talking head saying something like "the Czar was effective in breaking up rebellious influences").

Obviously the show isn't particularly kind to the communists, but it gets points for two big things. First, correctly portraying Nicholas as weak-willed, totally ineffective as a ruler, and too out of touch and wrapped-up in his own luxury to take actions that could have prevented the hungry wolves at his door. And secondly, not turning Yakov Yurovsky, the Bolshevik responsible for the execution of the royal family, into a slavering monster.

The most frustrating thing though is you can see how EITHER a scripted historical melodrama OR an in-depth documentary about the reign of the Last Czar could have been great.

July 3, 2019


If you don’t mind subtitles, I recommend the Russian historical crime-drama Fartsa (go ahead and laugh, it’s a funny name but it's a slang term that developed from the English phrase "for sale") on Netflix.

It's set in the Soviet Union in 1961. It follows four young friends who get involved in “fartsovka” to help their friend who owes a large gambling debt. Farsovka was the secondary black market economy that centered on foreign goods (especially clothes you could sell to stilyagi—think hipster) and the difference in currency exchange rates (the official one versus the black market one).

It’s well acted. Well written. Beautifully shot. Character driven—the friends struggle to deal with normal problems like love and happiness while navigating a criminal underworld. And it gives you a peek into what normal life was like in the Soviet Union. Plus, there’s a lot of fun rock and jazz music you’ve never heard.

July 1, 2019

Sequels to Hoods

If there were a publisher who was interested in follow-ups to Hoods, Hot Rods, and Hellcats (which I still move copies of), there are two other anthologies I have planned in my head.

The first would be crime stories about Teddy Boys (picture 1) and the second would be crime stories about Soviet stilyagi (picture 2). Or maybe I should just get my act together and crowdfund them...

June 27, 2019

No Honorable Frays

I’m no stranger to violence. As I’ve written before, my brother was violently mentally ill. I saw him repeatedly fight with cops until it reached the point where if he were reported jaywalking, four squad cars would arrive, two-men to a car. I saw him fight with my other brother repeatedly; once when my mother tried to break it up, he threw her through the closet doors. I saw him break my father’s nose and ribs with a one-two combination. I saw him strangle our other brother’s friend to the point where his face started changing colors (my mom broke that up to).

I’m not a pacifist. In middle school, a high school kid wouldn’t stop hitting me in the back of the head so I stood up and punched him in the mouth—got kicked off the bus for three days (but the high school kid never bothered me after that). In high school, I got barred from Arby’s when, again, an older kid wouldn’t leave me alone so I pelted him in the face with my philly beef n’ swiss and then tossed him over a table. When Maria and I were on our way to our rehearsal dinner, I nearly got in a fist fight with a crazy dude in the parking lot who was convinced I’d given him the finger. When Maria and I were first married and we were at our absolute poorest, I would occasionally act as security for a girl we knew who worked as an escort and ended up having to yank a frat boy out of the back of a limo once.

I once wrote an article about the little discussed role of violence in the Civil Rights movement.

Even Buddhism encourages you to take action IF your action will prevent greater suffering.

If you’ve met me in real life and if you know me in real life, you might not know these things. You probably have a certain perception of me. My aura of calm has been cultivated. My ability to deal with difficult people in difficult situations comes from experience. I say these things not to brag. I say these things even knowing that I have been fortunate enough to escape the sorts of violent abuse others I know have endured. I say these things knowing that I have never been to war (the military was never for me—I generally don’t do well being told what to do, especially if I don’t respect the person doing the telling). I say these things to hopefully show that I’m speaking from a place of experience and understanding. You can know something intellectually, but it’s entirely different to know something from experience, to know something in your gut.

All too often, most conversations now, I think, are lead by people with no experience, no skin in the game, and, frankly, who I don’t think really care but are more interested in what they can get out of it or how it makes them look.

Violence is sometimes necessary. War is sometimes necessary. But to borrow a line from Steve Earle: "There are no honorable frays to join, only mean death dealt out in dibs and dabs, Or horror unleashed from across oceans."

Violence and war come with a price. A very very high price. The problem is these men sending our troops off to war are the type of men who never pay that price. The problem is these men who’ve set our disastrous foreign policy, who’ve gleefully and proudly pursued nonstop warfare (I barely remember a time when we were not at war somewhere, do you?) have been sending our troops around the globe to die to make a bunch of rich men richer.

As Major-General Smedley Butler (one of the most decorated Marines in US history, a man who served in military actions and wars they don’t talk about in history class) wrote:

“How many of these war millionaires shouldered a rifle? How many of them dug a trench? How many of them knew what it meant to go hungry in a rat-infested dug-out? How many of them spent sleepless, frightened nights, ducking shells and shrapnel and machine gun bullets? How many of them parried a bayonet thrust of an enemy? How many of them were wounded or killed in battle?"

Dwight Eisenhower presided over the single largest land invasion in history. What did he do when he took office? Believing the military should be small, quick, and mobile, believing you can maintain security without bankrupting the country, he slashed the the military budget he inherited from Truman.

Our current military budget is $700 billion. The estimated cost of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Pakistan? $5.6 trillion. That's right, trillion with a tee. All while most people I know barely make it from paycheck to paycheck, and then only if nothing unplanned happens and they manage to stay healthy.

We can and we should do better.

As Eisenhower said:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

There is one, count her one candidate, opposing our current policy of endless warfare. And that’s Tulsi Gabbard, a combat vet. If you watched her put the clueless Tim Ryan in his place last night, you saw that she knows what she’s talking about. She's where your loyalty should lie. And let's make sure she makes it to the rest of the debates.

June 18, 2019

Two Terms

So I’m gonna make an election prediction that probably isn’t going to go over very well (and it’s one I’ve been saying in private for a while to the people I can legitimately talk politics with). And that’s okay, I’m used to it. All the other election predictions I’ve made, despite coming true, haven’t gone over well either.

First, since nuance is basically dead and everyone seems to act like you’re the enemy if you don’t agree with them 100%, let me say something. I don’t like Trump. I’m not a Trump supporter. Didn’t vote for Trump last time. (Didn't vote for Hillary either). And I won’t vote for him this time.

But—Trump will have two terms.

Two terms.

For real.

Prepare yourself if you don’t like the man, because he will have two terms.

The Democrats learned nothing during the last election. Nothing. They’ve shown this time and time again. The people who like Trump, still like Trump. The people who hate Trump still hate Trump. And most of the liberal Democratic base still doesn’t understand him or his appeal. 

Here’s what I think will happen: the Dems will use constantly shifting debate requirements to keep the candidates they don’t like jumping through hoops as they whittle down the field to try to knock out people like Bernie and Tulsi. All while engaging in the same sort of smear campaign they used last election. (They’ve already done this and it will continue, only moreso.)

If there is a clear front-runner going into the convention, it’s going to be some centrist, middle-of-the-road, business as usual candidate. Probably Joe Biden.

If there is not a clear front-runner going into the convention, then the Dems will use their super-delegates to pick their candidate of choice—probably Joe Biden. The Dems will then go into Blue No Matter Who mode, urging people to ignore actual policy and actual stances on issues because blue=good and red=baaaad. Bernie will resume lapdog status.

If it’s Biden (and it’s probably going to be Biden, I'm serious--it's probably going to be Biden), Obama will stump for him. And then, like last election, it will be the usual response to criticism you see from Dems and their firmest supporters—name calling and insults.

Trump meanwhile will continue to be Trump and he’ll do what he do. And he’ll win. Especially against Creepy Uncle Joe.

And because we’ve been convinced the Presidency is the end-all-be-all of everything, no one will really be paying much attention to anything else (like the 33 Senate seats and the 435 seats in the House that are up for grabs).

June 7, 2019

Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Ashley 0

The Miley Cyrus episode of Black Mirror is better than the stupid review from critics:

“Cutsey?” “Cartoonish?” “A mediocre disillusioned-pop-star story fused with a mediocre awkward teen story.”

Hmmm…that almost sounds like, gee, I don’t know? Like a live-action Disney channel show?

Or, golly, I don’t know, maybe a really bad direct-to-dvd Disney channel live-action movie designed to milk tween’s parents of money?

You know, like something that someone like Miley Cyrus would have done when she was a prisoner of Hannah Montana and her father’s control?

Hey, Miley Cyrus is in this episode playing someone who...WAIT A MINUTE! That couldn’t have been, I don’t know, maybe part of the point of the episode could it? Naw…

June 5, 2019

Outlander on Netflix

The first two seasons of Outlander are now available on Netflix in the US.

If you haven't watched it, check it's so much better than it has any right to be. There's romance, there's drama, there's fighting and battle scenes, there's fascinating historical stuff, and there's time travel. It's well acted and beautifully shot.

May 28, 2019

March 18, 2019

To Challenge The Warfare State

Smedley Butler fought in a whole host of military actions and wars. Most of them you’ve probably never of: Philippines, China, Haiti, Central America and the Caribbean during the Banana Wars, and France in World War I. When he retired from the US Marine Corps, he retired with the highest possible rank then awarded. At the time of his death, he was the most decorated Marine in history. To this day, he remains one of 19 men to receive the Medal of Honor twice, one of three to be awarded both the Marine Corps Brevet Medal and the Medal of Honor, and the only Marine to be awarded the Brevet Medal and two Medals of Honor, all for separate actions.

His men called him Old Gimlet Eye after he contracted a tropical fever that left his eyes bloodshot while fighting in Honduras. His tattoo was legendary (an eagle, globe, and anchor piece that started at the bottom of his throat and ended at his waist). At the bequest of the mayor of Philadelphia, President Calvin Coolidge awarded Butler special leave from the Corps in order to help clean up the notoriously corrupt city. His manner was non-sense and brusque.

You undoubtedly have a particular image of this man in your mind. Odds are: your image is wrong. Butler became an activist, socialist, and author of the anti-war classic War is A Racket (1935).

“I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

You are probably far more familiar with Eisenhower than Butler. But there are some things you may not know about the last general to hold the office of the president. When the United States emerged from WWII as a super power, President Truman gave us the first of many bloated military budgets: $71.5 billion dollars. This unheard of amount was all because of a report called NSC-68. Written by a cadre of confirmed cold warriors, this report convinced the Truman that the United States needed the ability to fight multiple land wars all at the same time. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because the two Generals who masterminded this scheme resigned when Eisenhower tossed their plan out the window but were recommissioned by JFK’s Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara).

When Eisenhower took office, the first thing he did was help negotiate an armistice to the Korean War. Then what did the General who oversaw the single largest land invasion in history do? He started slashing the military budget. Eisenhower believed a massive military force was not only completely unnecessary but the money spent to maintain such a massive force was spent at a great detriment to the well-being of the entire country. Eisenhower believed a modern military needed to be small, quick, and mobile, able to respond quickly in concert with his theory of massive retaliation using ballistic missiles.

Early in his presidency, following the death of Stalin, Eisenhower gave his Chance for Peace speech (this is where he uttered the famous “humanity hanging from a cross of iron” line), in which he explained:

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.”

During his eight years in office, the entire time facing attacks from the Democrats for “weakening the country,” Eisenhower entirely reorganized the military and slashed the Pentagon’s budget by 30%.

In his final address to the American people as president, Eisenhower warned us us of the dangers of the military-industrial complex:

“Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But now we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense; we have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security more than the net income of all United States corporations.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

We have not listened to either of these two men.

The US has engaged in a disastrous foreign policy for decades. We’ve overthrown countless governments. We’ve sent our troops around the globe to die to make a bunch of rich men richer. We’ve yet to meet a target we don’t want to drone strike. We’ve destabilized the globe and birthed countless terrorist organizations. I barely remember a time when the US was not at war. The final cost of the Iraq/Afghanistan conflict is estimated to be nearly $7 billion. We have a military budget of $700 billion. All while most people I know barely make it from paycheck to paycheck, and then only if nothing unplanned happens and they manage to stay healthy. All while we face the existential threat of climate change.

There is only one Democratic candidate challenging the war-machine. There is only one Democratic candidate challenging the warfare state. And that’s Tulsi Gabbard (no surprise she’s served in a war-zone). If you know what’s good for us, you’ll take a minute right now, and send her a donation – even it’s only $1-5 – to ensure that she can set foot on that debate stage. 
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