Monday, November 18, 2013

Hey, Salvation Army, Go Away!

Well, you can always tell it's that time of year. No, not by all the stores stupid enough to start selling Christmas items before Halloween is even over. No, not by the falling leaves and sudden bone-chilling cold. No, not even by the sudden sale on turkey at your local grocery. All these things are indeed tell-tale signs, but you can really tell it's that time of year by the annoying bell-ringing of the people volunteering with the Salvation Army.

I'll admit, I'm of two minds regarding this irritating annual tradition. As a rule, I favor charity, no matter what the lame, religious pretext might be. But I also can't ignore the fact that the food and clothing given to the poor and needy by the Salvation Army is done with a good degree of coercion and proselytizing, which I can't abide. Can't a person in need get a bowl of soup without a sermon? Is it really charity if a needed winter coat to keep out the chill comes with a scolding or a strong-armed 'request' to attend a church service? Or is the charity merely the worm on the end of the hook, meant simply as a means to bring in another catch?

Yes, Jesus himself purportedly called his disciples, "fishers of men," but I hate that metaphor, anyway. I have a real problem with charity being taken advantage of. Helping the poor should be more than just bait. It shouldn't be the sugar which helps the foul-tasting medicine of religion go down. Charity should be done for charity's sake, not be misused as a mere lure.

And all this is true before we get into the Salvation Army's actual practices of hard-right-wing coercion. They have threatened to close soup kitchens if forced to offer help to poor people who happened to be gay or lesbian. Oh, yes, they did! They'll help the poor, but poor homos can starve, for all they care.

Whatever happened to loving the sinner but hating the sin?

This is not a new phenomenon. The Salvation Army is a very old organization, and in every corner of its long existence, it has oppressed, goaded, and cattle-prodded people into accepting their help only on their terms. When it first began, the Salvation Army actually marched down the street during community parades, with pressed uniforms and polished boots! They actually had military rank within their central structure, with Captains, Commanders, Majors and even Generals. And while this Nazi-esque silliness was (thankfully!) stopped after the horrors of World War II, it bears remembering that this militancy is where the organization got its start. Call me crazy, but in a post-9/11 world, military trappings within religion should not be tolerated!

And let's also remember the Salvation Army's well-earned nickname: the Starvation Army. It earned this nickname for its stern opposition to labor unions over the years. Oh, yes. When striking laborers came to the Salvation Army for help, they were turned down, every time. So much for christian charity!

But what about Christmas? Isn't this a time where we ought to show a little mercy to those who really need it? What's wrong, after all, with some organization ringing a bell in front of stores calling for donations to the poor?

I say, nothing, provided that organization is worthy. The Salvation Army is clearly not. So it's time for it to step aside in favor of some other, better, more noble and less religious organization, one whose secular interests will make sure that more of each dollar goes to those who really need it. Let them give their red kettles and loud bells over to the Red Cross, or People For the United Way, or even directly to local homeless shelters. Let's make sure none of that kettle money goes for political action instead of helping the needy.

Maybe then that bell won't be quite so damned annoying.



Sunday, November 3, 2013

Movie Review: Ender's Game

For once, all the hype was worth it. Ender's Game, based on the book of the same title by Orson Scott Card, is the first major motion picture to be based upon a classic sci fi novel since The Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy, and the first big film of its like to be released since Avatar.

Better than Star Wars? Maybe. Definitely if by Star Wars you mean any film which was released after The Empire Strikes Back. Better than Star Trek? Pick your film, but this one beats most of them hands down, and the ones it doesn't beat, it ties. Better than Avatar? Certainly. Yes, this one preaches a moralistic message at you as well, but unlike James Cameron's film, it doesn't seem preachy about it.

Better than Gravity? Well, Gravity is still the better hard science fiction film. Ender's Game still commits the atrocity of audible explosions in the vacuum of space. But E.G. is the better film of the two, overall. If you loved Gravity, you have no excuse not to see Ender's Game.

I finally got around to seeing this film over the weekend on a Sunday afternoon, and was rather surprised to find how empty the theater was. Granted, I did that on purpose, since I hate crowds, but I honestly thought I was going to have to deal with crowds anyway. Surely, Ender's Game, the one sci fi novel which ranks in the top five of nearly everyone's favorites list, and possibly #1 of all time, would have a huge drawing on each and every day. Of the great sci fi novels made into films, only Frank Herbert's Dune possibly ranks higher. So Ender's Game should be a guaranteed blockbuster, right?

Well, yes and no. Movie earnings are just not the same as they were when the first Star Wars movie came out, and people were going to see the film over and over again, leaving the turnstiles on the way out only to get right back in line again. In the late 70's, VCR's weren't even invented, waiting for the video to come out was a foreign concept, and the cinema was the only way to experience the thrill and joy of a movie without commercials. Today, people just don't want to spend $10 on a movie if they don't get to take it home with them. Waiting for the video to come out is common practice even for films which are highly anticipated these days, and its just not worth anyone's time to mess about with going to the theaters, unless it's something really mouth-watering.

But that's just my point. Ender's Game is indeed something really mouth-watering. It should have been at least as high-grossing at the box office as The Avengers, which made $207 million in its opening weekend, or Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, which made $483 million worldwide. Certainly it should have totally trounced the beyond-stupid sparkly-vampire film, Twilight: New Moon, which actually made $143 million. Gravity made $53 million.

So where the hell IS everybody? Opening estimates for Ender's Game put its opening weekend totals at only about $30 million, and that jibes with what I saw this Sunday afternoon. Typically, the following weekend will earn half that much, and another half after that. Based on that historical pattern, Lionsgate/Summit films will just barely recoup the $110 million it cost them to make the film before it goes to DVD, if writer/director Gavin Hood is lucky.

I can only assume that too many people are not aware of Ender's Game, or just how awesome a novel it both is and was. Word of mouth really makes a movie work, and people will eventually pass along what a great treat this film is to watch before seeing it themselves a second time. Star Wars opened up with the usual opening-weekend science fiction windfall, but nobody knew what a big hit it was until the film made even more money the following weekend. In the case of Gravity, which made $56 million on its opening weekend, the film went on to make $13 million in this current weekend, less than its opening weekend amount but beating the weekly half-life rule by a considerable margin. I can only hope that Ender's Game beats the trend as well. It certainly deserves to.

I'll admit to being biased because I read the book, and the book goes into great detail about why Ender Wiggin had to be a ten-year-old kid, which is perhaps the plot's weakest point. A child's mind, it is revealed in the film, adapts to new situations better than the mind of an adult does, and this tactical advantage is hammered upon again and again in the book. But in the film, the point is made only once, and then left to be abandoned. I can understand why some critics might be off-put by this. I, myself, when I read the book, found myself visualizing Ender growing up into a sixteen-year-old during his training, and completely forgot about his too-young age later on. Afterwards, I listened to the audio-book version, which featured an interview with Orson Scott Card at the end. He talked about the upcoming film production, and began to again state how important it is for Ender to be only ten, and why. But all his arguments sounded perfectly ridiculous to me! The person who convinced me that Ender Wiggin should not be depicted as a ten-year-old was none other than Card himself! So I can understand if many critics label this movie as being too similar to the film version of Starship Troopers. rates this film as a 62% fresh tomato. Not great, but better than most sci fi films, by far. And those who rated the film poorly all admitted to not having read the book. Big shock.

There may also be a certain anti-Mormon sentiment going on here. Orson Scott Card is indeed a Mormon, and is quite active and open about promoting the unbelievable bat-shit insanity which his faith entails. He has been very vehement about opposing gay marriage and so many gay marriage activists are calling for a boycott of the film. It could also be that people who disapprove of Mormonism in general will not go to see this film anyway, just as many did not go to see Battlefield Earth because they disapproved of Scientology, or boycotted The Golden Compass because its author Philip Pullman is an atheist. But Lionsgate has already issued statements that profits from the film will not be going to Card's estate, and that the plot of the film does not even deal with the subject of gay marriage. Both of these points are absolutely correct, and besides all this, you are hearing a ringing endorsement of this film from The Sacred Cow Wursthaus - a blog which, to be blunt, is no fan of Mormonism whatsoever.

In other words, go see this film! In fact, let's have gay couples get married while watching it, just to piss Orson Scott Card off! I see no reason why Ender's Game should be boycotted due to Mormonism after the success of Battlestar Galactica's reboot, since that plot line also came from Mormon writers.

Well, if the success of this film gives Card a bigger spotlight to preach his Mormonism, I say, good! Let him expose this stupid-ass shit for the lie it undoubtedly is! Only childhood brainwashing into such a ridiculous faith could train such an otherwise brilliant mind to be so stupid when it comes to his own personal beliefs. You know, I doubt even Ender Wiggin would be a Mormon.

But still a good film. Go see it!



Friday, November 1, 2013

Dear Republicans: You're Done

Dear Republicans,

You're done fighting Obamacare. No, I'm not giving you an order. No, I'm not trying to get you to quit. I'm merely stating an empirical fact. It's over, you're done, there's nothing more you can do.

You see, there comes a point when fighting the surgeon does more harm to the patient than letting the surgeon work, even if that surgeon is incompetent. Wrestling with the surgeon's hands after the patient has been opened up on the table is the worst thing which can possibly be done, and that really should go without saying, but apparently it needs to be said, and you need to overcome your prejudices long enough to hear it.

The government shutdown was disastrous to both sides, but yourselves more so. When two men are hanging onto the steering wheel of a moving car, fighting for control over which direction it will go, and the car is headed towards a large tree, it becomes obvious that one of the two must let go or else the car will be smashed. You were forced to let go this time, but the wheels are still screeching as a result. You've managed to convince some people that wrestling with the steering wheel was the right thing to do, and that it's the fault of the other guy for not letting go, but there is only one person who can be the driver, and that's Barack Obama. That's why he's called the president - he's the one at the wheel. And blaming the driver when the passenger reaches over and tries to force the wheel off-course is just plain silly. Deep down, I think you know this.

Am I saying you're merely a passenger? Well, yes, I am. And for five years you've done nothing more but be the whiney kid who shouts, "I wanna drive! I wanna drive!" during the entire trip. Knock it off! You tried to grab the wheel away from the president once. You can never do so again. We might not avoid the crash next time.

Yes, the Obamacare website is having problems. But the reason for this is that his administration asked for billions to fund the website, and you decided to allot zero dollars for the project. You begrudgingly agreed to a little bit of funding, but that left a few people with picks and shovels the task of moving a mountain. Did it work? Well, for a little while, things certainly have been floundering, but now here comes Google, Red Hat, Bing and other private companies to the rescue, undermining your attempt - yet again- to cure the disease by killing the patient. Thank heavens for them. Bad news for you.

It means Obamacare will go forward no matter what, and the website will eventually work. And now, after implementation, and several months of people growing to like it, you're done.

Surveys have recently shown that if the facts of Obamacare are laid out, but the people being questioned are told that it is a plan put forth by John Boehner and the Republican leadership, that even die-hard Republicans approve. That means that the objection to Obamacare is  not based on rationality - it is based on partisanship. The biggest give-away to corporate insurance companies in history, which is ultimately what health care reform is, is not socialism. How about that?

So now what? Now that you cannot fight Obamacare any more, what's left to do? The best you can hope for in the 2014 mid-terms is to maintain the status-quo, in spite of all your gerrymandering. How can you deal with 2016 and the inevitability of Hillary, and another eight to sixteen years of democratic control in the White House?

If I may offer a humble suggestion, you have only one choice: Spend your time and energies repairing your brand-name instead of attacking the other guy's. Because the latter didn't work, and the former is really the only option left to any sane person.