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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Texas Chainsaw Massacre/ The Hills Have Eyes Remake Double Feature!

Image result for the texas chainsaw massacre 2003 poster

Fresh from Fright Fest we’re resuming our annual In Review series with a special double slasher feature with the remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Hills Have Eyes. Yes. Okay. First off, I understand that reboots and remakes are typical fodder for heated debate. Often, i would agree with the naysayers and who much rather prefer new stories instead of rehashed ones. HOWEVER…sometimes a reboot or remake is just what the doctor ordered, no? Consider Cronenberg’s 1986 The Fly versus Kurt Neumann’s 1958 original staring Vincent Price. Or Don Siegel’s 1956 take on Invasion of the Body Snatchers versus Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version. While these originals were themselves fantastic films, the remakes added to the story for a new generation of moviegoers. Today’s double feature films are not necessarily better films than the originals nor are the above mentioned movies, but they weren’t totally unnecessary. Right? Let me explain myself.  Continue Reading

REPENT…THE END IS NEAR…for the Hybrid Publisher Formally Known as Booktrope

Despite my overzealous title for this article, I am not jumping for joy over the recent news of the downfall of the hybrid indie/small press publisher known as Booktrope. I’m not exactly surprised either. Let me be clear about at least one thing, I’m not going to pretend as if I known all the answers when it comes to the business of publishing books, such a business has existed well before my time on the playing field. I can share only my own experiences and what I’ve seen regarding general popularity in marketing and consensus among a few like-minded writers. After reading a few other articles on this similar subject matter, and also seeing how some were reacting on social media and groups on Facebook, I felt perhaps someone out there somewhere would like to know what I thought of everything. And by everything, I mean not just Booktrope, but also the underlying causality of the fall of Booktrope, AND the even more under-underlying causality, the writer. The best way I can explain my understanding in the failure of both Booktrope and writers is to go about this point for point. Shall we get started?

The fall of Booktrope as a whole is actually best explained by my good friend, Duncan Ralston in his recently published article on Ginger Nuts of Horror. You can find that post here. Basically, to sum, Booktrope created a system with little to no quality control. They wanted to create an enormous backlog. Good. Great. Best thing, really. Except for one thing. Pacing. Backlogs are great, but the faster you create one while paying little heed to the actual quality of books for letting in, well then…we all know now what happens. The system collapses. If you’re an author going to back to indie basics, yes, build that mother-f-ing backlog. But you better make sure each of those works on your catalog are of good quality. Why? Seriously…? If all you publish is shit, and word catches on all your work is shit, who is going to want to buy said shit? No one. Now, is this what happened to Booktrope? In a way. They also over stretched themselves and faltered on to-little-to-late marketing. They also put a lot of assumption into one particular basket…cross-promotion.

Before I dive into this, I know this article is not going to be very popular with many who may or may not read this. What follows is my opinion, and just that.

Since I first started this precarious journey known as publishing, there has been one gleaming/glaring ugly side of it that is more nefarious than any other aspect and failure in most publishing ventures. For whatever reason, even when writers deny feeling as such, they have this preconceived notion that other writers are somehow their competition. They’ll “like” a post like nobodies business, but they’ll hardly ever share anything. Some might comment, “Way to go!” and other such other bullshit. They build websites but never showcase anyone but themselves, they join groups but never respond to any other post but their own, etc. etc. You know what they call such behavior in the adult film industry? I don’t know either, but I assume its the equivalent to what’s known as being a “fluffer,” just enough to get it up but never to bring to culmination. Such individuals I’ve found to be poisonous, cantankerous, and everything wrong with small press, independent, publishing. Such writers get into publishing and they have BIG stars in their eyes and sticks up…(I won’t go there), needless to say, they publish their shitty (or perhaps even decent) book and think they’ve hit the big times, they’ve become the next Stephen King or Ray Bradbury or Sylvia Plath or Kurt Vonnegut or Clive Barker or  J. K. Rowling (yes I mentioned her, I love those Harry Potter books, don’t judge!!) or Neil Gaiman or Maya Angelou or Hunter S. Thompson or Shirley Jackson.

I hate to pop your bubble buddy, but…you’re not the shit, you’re just plain shit. You haven’t hit the big times. You’ve published a book, and yes that is an achieved in and of itself, but its not the end game. You haven’t reached stardom, and you may never will. That doesnt mean you need to stop dreaming. Dreams are wonderful, so long as you keep them in perspective. Cross-promotion is the lifeblood of small press and independent publishing. That other writer beside you in the trenches is not your enemy OR your competition. You are both soldiers on the front line of publishing. I’ve seen this hesitancy toward cross-promotion so much I’ve got shell shock. Not just with those in Booktrope but also in other small presses (of which I will not name for fear of being burned at the stake). And I don’t get it. Do these fluffer writers really believe that if they cross-promote another writer people will start buying the other persons books over their own? Who are you sharing these posts with? Family and friends, right? Do you think YOUR family and friends will stop buying YOUR stuff? No, you big dumb idiot! The point of cross-promotion is to breech the “family and friends” bubble on social media.

And this bring us to the nitty-gritty.

If you’re one of the fluffer variety of writers out there, do you honestly think/believe that other writers are going to want to share your stuff if you are in fact unwilling to share theirs? I’m not going to name names, you are who you are and God willing you’ll know at least that much. I know one (more than one, really) writer in particular who jumps on to these writer/publishing groups I’m in and always asks for people to help share their stuff but yet never NEVER reciprocates. Some call these folks trolls. Me? I call them turds. Cause that’s all they are. Floating nasty little turds. It boggles my mind, it really does. It never fails. I’ll see these fluffers bitching about why their stuff never sells, or sells poorly. Now, this could be for other reasons, such as crapper quality or if you’ve only published one damn book. Mostly, it boils down to breaching outside your family-friend bubble on social media. They’ll moan and complain yet never think it that by maybe helping out other writers and cross-promoting, those other writers will likewise reciprocate, and then maybe by doing such consistently, sells might just pick up.


Well…this article has certainly turned into a sort of vent/therapy session for me. I know many will not agree with what I’ve said. And that’s okay. Were fluffer-writers, non-cross-promoters, the causality for the fall of Booktrope? Not entirely. They sure as shit didn’t help matters. Booktrope as a company should have slowed things down and focused a little more on marketing and quality control. Their recent venture with Hubble-Bubble pulled in some big numbers for sales, or so I’ve heard, but sadly it was a little to late. Much too late. It is my strong opinion that for small presses and independent publishers to thrive, there must be a strong urgency toward cross-promotion. Writers within said spheres need to stop acting as if they’re on their own private island. It takes a community to grow and prosper. Do you know what happens to people on remote islands? No, they don’t lounge in hammocks drinking coconut rum on the beach, they die, miserable and alone.

Know Your Audience

Do you have a clear picture in your mind of someone reading your books? Of who makes up your audience? Can you see them? Are they lounged out on a hot summer day by the deck by a pool, sipping mojitos, or are they cuddled on a plush couch during a cold blizzard covered in Afghan blankets sitting beside a roaring fireplace, or are they urban on-the-go chaps, sitting on a city bus, flipping through a tablet as they commute to work? I think we all have an idea of our readers. I do. Given my genre, I’ve always kinda pictured the demography of my readers to be predominantly male, 20-30 age range, eccentric perhaps. White, non-Hispanic on average. I’m sure you have your own ideal reader. But when fiction faces fact, we often find we’ve got it all wrong. Our audience isn’t who we thought they were. A couple of weeks ago, I did my first book signing with Barnes & Noble, you can find the result of that event here. But, I’ll say it again, I was more than nervous. Not just with meeting strangers, but that my perceived audience would not be in attendance at a nice looking place like B&N. I think my glaring mistake was what lit majors call, a hasty generalization, one of the more common fallacies people make. I’m sure you’ve seen your fair share on social media. As authors, as writers, if we plan on taking over and putting on our marketing hat, we need to know our audience.


Now, let me be clear about one thing. I’m not talking about writing for your audience. You write what your gut tells you, and be honest with your writing. Don’t placate, that’s not what I’m saying here. Don’t write for your audience; write for yourself. Okay? Okay. What I’m getting at here is when we change hats, from author to marketer. Marketing is something I’m still getting my bearings on. And everyone has something to say about marketing. It should go without saying, any one pitching you a “formula” should be suspect. The best thing I can recommend at this point in my writing career is for you to experiment. Especially when it comes to spending some of your hard earned income. Don’t burn $500 bucks on a gimmick. Start slow. Learn. Test. Develop methods. Be scientific about it. And if you’re the kind of lass who has no issue burning $500 bucks, what are you doing here? Go get you a PR or HR or something. And if you’re getting upset because nothing seems to be working, come to find out you’ve only got one book on the market…I’ll need to ask you to leave this page now and go and start writing. I heard a marketing “coach” once use the analogy regarding marketing being the donkey and the book (or product) being the cart, stating, and I’m paraphrasing here, “writers often put the cart before the donkey.” Clever, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think a majority of writers are riding that ugly hay chewing donkey out into town without a cart. My own two cents on that.

Before we chase this rabbit farther down the rabbit hole, let’s get back to the subject at hand, knowing our audience.

Let me step back.

Remember that book signing event I mentioned before? I had thought, at the time, my audience was mostly men, 20-30 age range, white, kinda maybe a little strange, perhaps. Well…I was dead wrong. The majority of folks coming to my table and who actually bought books were women, between, I’d say, 25-35. Gothic, dark dressed weirdos? Nope. Average, modestly dressed. My favorite was this elderly African American woman who came to the table looking for a good scary story. I hope she liked it. What I liked most about her was, not just that she bought both of my books that were at the signing, but her grandmotherly appeal. She was a grandma looking for some dark fiction. A demography I would have never suspected were into my particular brand. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with Facebook ads. These are fun and low risk, well…depending on how much dough you’re sinking into the ad, I should say. Since I am experimenting, my budget isn’t anywhere over $30. But even with that low setting, I’ve seen the numbers, the data is confirming what I noticed at my book signing. More women are reading than men, and not just romance, but dark fiction too.

Recently, I wanted to check and see if Pew Research Center had done any polls and surveys into who was reading more nowadays. And they had. Back in 2013, they did a survey on “Who’s Reading and How.” Basically, summing up in percentages, between male and female, we read more and on what, as in paperback or eBook. Also, they looked farther into who, as in white, black, Hispanic, etc etc. I don’t put too much stock in the “race” demography. My interest is between men and women, and format. Marketing paperbacks is a whole other monster, I think, then marketing eBooks. eBooks are by nature, cheaper, and supposedly more convenient. There are still those dinosaurs, such as myself, who prefer paperback over eBook. But I’m not selling to myself; thus, I need to understand who is more likely to purchase my work.


As you can see, some of these %s are kinda huge, not to sound like Trump or anything. Just look at the jump between men and women. Men are clocking in at 69% and women are at 82%. As the red wigged beast would say, “That’s huge!” I don’t care much for the ethnicity bracket, nor would I know what the difference is in marketing to various ethnic groups. The age though, I think is also important. While 18-29 is a larger %, the next to largest, the 50-64 age range, I find to be interesting. 50-64 is what I’d probably group generationally as “Baby Boomers.” The highest % are of course, millennials. There is some bleeding between groups, obviously, but for a snapshot, not a bad poll to reference when designing a marketing strategy. What’s also interesting to note is the still popular print & over eBooks. And the growing trend for audio books is also something to keep an eye on.

So, what do you guys think? What has your research shown you? What does it tell you? Well, again my post here has nothing to do with what or how you write. This, for me at least, has to do with how I market, or where I should be focusing my marketing towards. Moving forward, I’ll be doing my best, keeping in mind who’s actually buying my books. And how to get my books in their hands easier. Polls, surveys, data, and research are all great avenues to understanding out audience, but I think its also important to remember, these are tools, not gospel. If you’re visiting the blog today, I’d love to hear what you think, either if you’re a reader or a writer or both.


Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of terror. He grew up in the small town of Vinton, Virginia, but in 2001, left home to enlist in the U.S. Army. Following his third tour in Iraq, Thomas moved to Houston, Texas where he now lives with his beautiful bride and amazing daughter. Thomas attended night school, with a focus on creative writing and history. In 2014, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History from UHCL. Thomas blogs at machinemean[dot]org where he reviews movies, books, and other horror related topics.

The Lost Honor of Storytelling?

In the spirit of transparency, as a struggling budding author myself, it is terrifyingly easy to become caught up in the humdrum of marketing when the truest pursuit is in the writing. I’m not here to toot my own horn as a storytelling, for in many ways I too fall short. And I’m not here to harp on other writers and their niche or style or goals or any of that crap. I’m here to talk about the lost of honor of storytelling…or if that honor IS lost?  The question mark is kind of ambiguous, but when one looks to the flood of new books we see a sort of  dilutional hyponatremiahe in the market place. On the other hand, has storytelling kept its honor in the face of saturation? Has storytelling lost its shine, its purpose? Or has it redefined itself? Maybe the answer is obviously both. However, I wonder, even in the evolutionary process, if storytelling has lost sight of depth and meaning and clout to ask uncomfortable questions about society, about ourselves.

Storytelling is an important part in the marketplace of ideas, engaging people emotionally and imaginatively. And the best storytellers are those unabashed to shred some skin, to get up-close and personal to how they feel about the world. This brings me to the origins of horror and camp-fire tales of monsters in the woods and the ole witch on Juniper Hill and so on. I think telling stories is an ingrained attribute in humanity. We have an expressive desire, from paintings of buffalo and deer on cave walls to Otto Dix’s harsh war torn landscape, these are stories come alive, taken from what we see around us. And I’m concerned we’re forgetting how to communicate in that way. And the books that ARE coming out are not being held to that standard. Are we selling products or are we telling stories?

Everyone is on social media nowadays, and I’m not going to rag on that like some old man on a rocking chair sipping whiskey rye and talking about the good ole days. I’m on social media as much as the next nerd. I think its a great way to stay connected while the Information Age flourishes into new generations and new horizons. We have instant access to news around the world and opinions of every shape and form and size. And that’s not the problem. Information; data is good. I think the problem is that we’ve forgotten or never learned how to process all that information, to humanize it, to bring it down a relatable level. And probably even more scary, we’ve forgotten how to listen because we’ve forgotten how to communicate in a way people will WANT to listen. In America alone, within the past several years, we’ve turned politics (our governing systems) into a caricature. The pendulum stances of our two powerhouse political parties have carved a canyon between society, filled with the bones of mutual understanding. Who is to blame? WE ARE! We allow the division to continue, not because we’re not willing to communicate, lots of communication is going on, no, its because we’re not communicating properly, in a way in which both sides would be willing to understand, to be engaged emotionally, spirituality, and humanly. We have sarcastic meme wars instead of emotionally raw book wars.

I honestly believe that the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin did more for the emancipation of slaves than the 600,000 lives lost during the Civil War. And in fact, isn’t that what war boils from, no longer being able to communicate?

Before I clammier down from my soap box, allow we to suggest one of the more important qualities of storytelling: imagination. Without imagination, we’ll lose motivation in forward thinking. What future is there without imagination to see it? Where is passion without imagination? Without imagination, we’ll lose our ability to create hope. And where there is hope there is ultimately an opportunity for transformation and change. Two things that are necessary for us to create a better world for generations to come.


Just some food for thought…

Is Robocop (2014) a political movie?

Robocop, 1987.

Is Robocop (2014) a political movie? This is my question that I want you to consider as we discuss certain reoccurring themes throughout the film. For starters, yes I know I’m way behind the curve here for a movie review. What can I say? I missed Robocop in theaters and was only able to finally sit down and watch it over this past weekend. And to my surprise, this was not the 1987 version of Robocop. Sometimes remakes go to far to re-imagine or recreate the nostalgic feel of the original, and while this Robocop has certain 80’s-esk qualities, it is in itself, its own movie. The 1987 Robocop was… put it bluntly a 1970’s grindhouse picture filmed in the 1980’s. Grindhouse (or savage cinema) is all about random acts of violence, but not any ole violence; grindhouse overexposes the audience to violence in order to send a cultural/political message about the time in which the movie was made. In the 1970’s, it was about Vietnam and Watergate and all that mess and disillusionment. The 1987 Robocop was giving a magnificent nod toward the over-consumption, over-consumerism, over-cooperated culture America had entwined herself during the 1980’s with over the top, albeit grotesque, hyper-violence. As film historian William Latham has noted, “seeing a corporation as the ultimate savior and the villain at the same time, where a man becomes a product, gave [Robocop] a special meaning in the 1980’s.” If we boil it down, the message of a grindhouse picture during the 70’s is the same as it is during the 1980’s, which is to say: Does the end justify the means? My question before you today is if Robocop (2014) is still a political movie? We’ve left behind the 20th century, some fourteen years now. Does the same message of justifiable means linger on in the 21st century? Do our ends justify our means? Instead of going through the entire film (which would take a while to digest), we’ll discuss two of the most powerful themes dominate in this new Robo-endeavor.

pat novak

Robocop starts off with Samuel L. Jackson, not a bad way to start a film, playing the part of Pat Novak, a television talk show host (something similar to what you can find on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly Factor) giving a discussion over the use of a unmanned police robots in the United States. His stance is very clear, stating: “Omnicorp law enforcement robots are being used in every country of the world, except our own….why are we [Americans] so robophobic?”  To prove his point, Jackson’s character, Novak, cuts from his monologue to a film crew broadcasting from a Iran-esk country where Omnicorp “peacekeepers” are demonstrating a live-action sweep of a recently pacified neighborhood. Novak’s positive position is juxtaposed with close ups of the neighborhood population whose faces are a combination of fear, resentment, confusion, violation, and anger. As the film crew continues their broadcast, we discover that not everyone has accepted pacification. There is a small group of suicide bombers that are planning to strike back. Their attempt fails, obviously, but just when we’re thinking the end justifies the means, the young son of one of the suicide bombers runs out into the street to join his father carrying a kitchen knife. One of the larger bipedal tank-like drones warns the boy “to drop his weapon.” Out of fear, no doubt, the boy refuses and as the camera pans away, we hear gun fire in the background. Pat Novak will tell you, very bluntly that the ends justify the means, because “those droids just saved my coworker,” but did they? His comment about the safety of the film crew is another juxtaposition, this time against the death of the young boy with the kitchen knife. This scene may have a different ambience for you; for me the message is about our current use of unmanned drones in foreign operations and the current debate on drone use over U.S. soil. The beginning scene here begs the question: does the use of drones to keep soldiers safe a justifiable end to the means of using drones in foreign and domestic operations were the loss of innocence could have been avoided?

Image result for robocop 2014

We cut away from Pat Novak’s lingering lament for our robophobic culture and arrive in a near-future Detroit. Corruption abounds and sets the main catalysts in motion setting up the creation of Robocop. Raymond Sellars’ argument before a legislative committee, that drones do not feel anger or resentment or prejudice, but act according to the limits of the law. And on the other end of the pendulum is Senator Hubert Dreyfuss whose sole purpose throughout the film is to defend the legislation in place that prevents the use of unmanned drones in police duties because, according to Sen. Dreyfuss, machines cannot experience what it is like to kill. They have no feeling toward killing and as such cannot conduct themselves in a manner in which life has value. This back and forth is somewhat of a dual allegorical picture of our current political situation and the “means justifying the ends” question throughout the film.

robocop organic

While all this is contemporary and interesting, it does not compare to the second most powerful scene in Robocop (2014). Ignore Alex Murphy’s  flat superhero-esk character for a moment and focus on his resurrection as Robocop. There is really a lot to chew on here, lots of ethical questions and metaphysical ones to be sure, such as the meaning of free will and the illusion of it and all that jazz, but what I want to look at is the imagery of amputees, especially wartime amputees, that becomes a bigger more meaningful part of the movie. When we get to the “lets put a man in a machine” part we’ve all seen in the trailers and Keaton’s spectacular acting, we open up in one of the research and development/rehabilitation areas within Omnicorp. We know its Omnicorp because of the technicians and doctors and the fancy sign on the door, right? But take all that away and limit this to single image and we get the feeling we’re in an army rehabilitation hospital. This could be a familiar scene at Walter Reed Medical Center or Brooke Army Medical who provide rehabilitation for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation or burns. The “man becoming a product” message William Latham commented on for the 1987 movie is still there, but for me it is not the most dominant message. This also is a major disconnect from the original film. In the 1987 version Alex dies from his wounds and is brought back to life via Omnicorp salvaging his brain and transplanting, along with his face, into a machine. No one knows about the operation until everyone knows about the operation. In the 2014 version, the transformation between man and machine is liken to extreme prosthetics. Alex Murphy did not die, he was saved with the operation. Now, the “saved” part comes under question when his wife (who must sign permission for Omnicorp to do this operation on Alex) asks “what kind of life will he have? You say you can save him, [but] what does that mean?” This, in my opinion, is a very power question, especially when it becomes juxtaposed with the image of the dissembled Murphy. In order for Murphy to face the reality of his situation, Dr. Dennett Norton, with the use of a mirror, begins to take away the robotic parts of Murphy, leaving only his organic self, which is basically only his face, brain, one hand (no arm, just the hand and nerves), and his heart and lungs that are contained in a sac like substance. And at the end, in a very horrific moment, Murphy cries out, “Jesus…there’s nothing left…there’s nothing left of me….”

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935.


The extreme amputation and prosthetic becomes a major issue throughout the remainder of the film. Even the vengeance quest is extremely short compared to the longevity of how Murphy deals with, or badly deals with, his new life as a man with prosthetics. Instead of a vengeance as justifiable means to an end, Murphy is put through the ringer of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world. In many ways, Robocop (2014) becomes one of the first movies to actually question and illuminate PTSD, amputation, post-war family dynamic, legislation, political talk-show mongrels, and corruption. The piecing together of man and machine is a classic horror motif that draws all the way back to Frankenstein (1931) a movie that dealt with similar issues for a different post-war generation. As film historian David Skal has commented on the form of Frankenstein, the symbolization of the monster that represents “displaced, suppressed, and reshaped humans to conform with the machine world. Whale’s film depicted a monster squarely in the grip of this confusion, a pathetic figure caught, as it were, on the barbed wire between humanism and mechanism.” The “pathetic” tug we feel in the new Robocop is Alex’s self image or how he sees himself. After being shown what remains of his organic form, he demands never to be shown himself again, especially not to his wife. This self-loathing in a post-war image is another throwback to an earlier horror monster from another time, consider The Phantom of the Opera (1911), when Gaston Leroux writes, “Look! You want to see! See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!”

Image result for robocop 2014

Assume the credits roll here. What did you think of the movie? Was it political? And most importantly, did the ends justify the means? Answers are never clear-cut. However, movies like Robocop help us deal with the mental processes we continue to struggle with, even though we may never arrive at same agreed upon destination. Its worth pondering and coming to our own conclusions.

With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at

Political Unrest in The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1975

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1975

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead, is the story of a young woman who is scrutinized and harassed by police and tabloid (sleaze) press after she spends the night with a suspected terrorist. Film historian Jack Zipes begs the question regarding the political reality and repression in the Federal Republic of Germany (Bunderrepublik) during the 1970’s using both the film and novelization of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. Zipes first illuminates the reality in which these two depictions are attempting to criticize.  According to Zipes, the reality of the Bunderrepublik of 1972-75 is “on one level the entire history of the student movement or extra-parliamentary opposition [which] provides the subject matter of the novel and film” (Zipes, 75). Basically, the history these two forms of the same story attempt to bring to light depictions of social political attitudes and conditions regarding the late 1960’s and early 1970’s with the SPD uber-conservative government (75). The political situation in Germany seems to be volatile during this period, especially due to the actions of a few militant terrorists, the Baader-Meinhof Group, aka the infamous RAF. Because of the actions of the few, according to Zipes, the conservative forces of the German state and mass media made it appear as if the entirety of the “Left,” the progressive forces of the Bunderrepublik were associated with terrorism. An incredible swing on the American-esk McCarthy pendulum, ushering never-ending witch-hunt bonfires stacked with the stench of 800,000 progresses and reformers who were no longer fit the state’s “legitimate” government program (76).

According to historian Zipes, Heinrich Böll’s writings are concerned with gross human rights violations and origins of violence (77). The novelization of the story, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, for better or worse, urges for the reformation of mass media, of the press, radio, and TV. Considering Zipes interpretation of the novel, a strange dual world emerges where the fictional narrative is more truthful than the non-fictional reports carried out by the corrupted mass media. Though, according to Zipes, Böll does not create a perfect explanation of the “socio-political dynamic of violence in the Bunderrepublik” (78); however, it nevertheless a straightforward participatory revelation of a moralist’s case for political resistance (79). In Volker Schlöndorff’s film adaptation of Böll’s novel, Zipes mentions a more distinguishable focus on a cohesive left movement that was nearly nonexistent in the novel (81). According to Zipes, director Schlöndorff “focuses [his film] on the power relations in the case of Katharina Blum in order to facilitate the viewer’s comprehension of how the police and mass media conspire to victimize private citizens” (81). Basically, where Böll focused on the power in the use of words, Schlöndorff gives greater attention to the unfolding of human drama in the interpersonal relationships of his characters.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1975, victimization scene.

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1975, victimization scene.

While the film itself is a somewhat dull watch, until the very last bits of the movie when Katharinaunshackles her discontent, fellow historian Jack Zipes does an excellent job separating these two renditions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum while they are simultaneously attempting to convey the same story. However, his comment regarding the drama of American, so-called, “good cop, bad cop” motif is somewhat lacking. The American filmic expressions of the late 60’s and early 70’s, depending on the genre you’re talking about, are not vague impressions of the time in which they were made. Consider the gruesome social critiques in the up and coming era of Savage Cinema, especially the word of Wes Craven, in films like: The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes as perfect examples of political unrest in American cinema. Savage Cinema was loud, gruesome, and not the lease bit disturbing, but these films also compelled audiences to question the validity of the times. Last House on the Left, if anything else, begged the question if reactionary violence was a justifiable resolution. The Hills Have Eyes was a critique about repression and violence and repercussion using the most taboo form of expression: cannibalism. And there are many more examples during this era to pick from. Regardless, Zipes makes an interesting case regarding the wild swings on the pendulum during Germany’s political unrest of the 1970’s with the RAF and student base movements. The media, if anything, should keep government (of all walks) in check, not condone extreme reactionism.


Jack Zipes, The Political Dimensions of The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, 1976. 

Montgomery, 1955: the proving grounds of mass noncooperation

To be honest, this is the first review, post, article, paper, i’ve ever written on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’m sure i’ve quoted a few words from famous speeches, i’ve no doubt hash-tagged or paraphrased some portion of the man’s life, but, to date, i’ve never taken the time to really write about him. Its a shame really, in the all to brief 39 years of his life, there is so much to be said, especially during the Civil Rights era, with his involvement spanning (arguably) from 1955-1968. In just thirteen years, a man only really known for as the son of Martin Luther King Sr., would rise of the unequivocal leader of a nonviolent Negro revolution. King was a man not lacking personal accomplishments, some of which included: the peaceful march on Washington, D.C., of 250,000 people to whom he delivered his address, “l Have a Dream,” awarded five honorary degrees, named Man of the Year by Time magazine (1963), and became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (1964). 

A post for nonviolent protest during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955.

A post for nonviolent protest during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1955.

One of the most enduring bits of King’s history, is from his humble beginnings with the Civil Rights Movement, before it was even the Civil Rights Movement. In the “cradle of confederacy,” also known as Montgomery, Alabama, history was brewing. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was, as it seems, a “proving ground” for future nonviolent protests. Was the bus boycott intended to such proposes? No, before the boycott, no one, especially King, expected the magnitude of overwhelming participation from the people. Consider Jim Crow was in full swing, and before Rosa Parks became the Rosa Parks, she had already previously encountered the cruel and humiliating treatment of bus drivers enforcing segregated busing codes.  During one encounter, in 1943, after already paying her fair, the bus driver ordered Mrs Parks to enter the bus from the rear, instead of the front as you would typically enter a bus. Before she was able to climb on board, the driver took off. Or consider when Vernon Johns, a black pastor, “tried to get other blacks to leave a bus in protest after he was forced to give up his seat to a white man, only to have them tell him, ‘You ought to knowed better.'”

The last bit, from Vernon Johns’ testimony, really gives a clear and haunting picture for why King had feared how the bus boycott could be a failure. He feared, along with other local leaders, that the majority had accepted Jim Crow to the point of non protest and cooperation. However, much to his and his wife’s astonishment, on the morning of December 5, 1955, around six o’clock, from the privacy of their kitchen window they watched the first of many buses drive by with only a few white passengers. None of the black population were riding the buses. It was here when the King’s first witnessed unanimous mass noncooperation with the how African Americans were being treated on the buses. After a quick drive around town, King estimated around 99% participation; he had previously assumed (or prayed for, more actually) at least a 60% participation. And what began as a single day of protest, in the wave of mass participation, turned into a year long struggle. On November 13, 1956, “the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal court’s ruling, declaring segregation on buses unconstitutional. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was officially over.”

Montgomery Bus Boycott, photo shows a solitary white passenger, 1955.

Montgomery Bus Boycott, photo shows a solitary white passenger, 1955.

Though, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was small, its impact helped launch of what Roberta Wright called, “a 10-year national struggle for freedom and justice, the Civil Rights Movement, that stimulated others to do the same at home and abroad.” How? Why? Well, in the words of King, “there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by oppression. there comes a time when people get tired of being plunged into the abyss of exploitation and nagging injustice. The story of Montgomery is the story of 50,000 such Negroes who were willing to substitute tired feet for tired souls, and walk the streets of Montgomery until the walls of segregation were finally battered by the forces of justice.”

Martin Luther King Jr., “Stride Toward Freedom,” Beacon Press, 1958.
“Martin Luther King Biographical,” Nobel Peace Prize article, (Accessed on Jan 20, 2014). 
Lisa Cozzens, “The Montgomery Bus Boycott,” (Accessed on Jan 20, 2014). 

From Quack to Frenzy: how wild swings on the pendulum are distorting the arguments over Phil Robertson


Concerning Duck Dynasty, according to Drew Magary, contributor over at GQ and the guy who penned the now infamous interview with patriarch Phil Robertson, : “The Robertsons are immensely likable. They’re funny. They look cool. They’re ‘smarter than they look,’ says sportswriter Mark Schlabach, who co-writes the family’s books. And they are remarkably honest both with one another and with the viewing audience: Phil’s old hell-raising, Si’s traumatic stint in Vietnam, the intervention that the family staged for Jep when he was boozing and doing drugs in college — all of it is out in the open. The more they reveal, the more people feel connected to them.” And all this really confirms that people really do appreciate frank honesty. However, this is not where the interview ends.

If columnist Drew Magary wanted to shock audiences, he most certainly succeeded, but not in the way he may have intended. In reality, the strangest thing to surface from this recent drama fest is how folks, myself included, reacted beginning Wednesday night and working on through Thursday. It seems as if most people are either on one or the other side of the pendulum ,with hardly anyone holding the more obviously rational middle ground. Did grandpa Phil say some rather off-putting things that made absolutely no sense? Absolutely! Here are a few gems for you’re consideration:

  • “All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamist? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.”
  • “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field. … They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ — not a word! … Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
  • “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.”

These quotes from the QC interview are just a few of the highlights that have feed the still raging social media frenzy. From a historical perspective, there are a lot of irregularities in Phil’s rationality; however, from a completely humanist perspective, should we really have expected something different? Duck Dynasty, in a nut shell, according to Drew Magary: “[is] a reality sitcom showcasing the semi-scripted high jinks of Phil, his brother ‘Uncle Si,’ his four sons, Alan, Willie, Jase, and Jep, and the perpetually exasperated but always perfectly accessorized Robertson-family ladies—[which] has become the biggest reality-TV hit in the history of cable television, reportedly earning the family… $200,000-an-episode paycheck. It’s a funny, family-friendly show, with ‘skits that we come up with,’ as Phil describes the writing process. They plunder beehives. They blow up beaver dams. And when the Robertson-family ladies go up to a rooftop in a hydraulic lift, you just know that lift will “accidentally” get stuck and strand them.”

And there we have it folks. Duck Dynasty in the end is still just another reality sitcom…and Phil, despite his very seemingly humble and down-to-earth backwoods, swampland way of life, is still just another reality television personality that just so happens to be less horrible or grotesque as Honey-Boo-Boo, Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, or any of the Kardashians. Instead of obese pageant babies, dumb as a box of rocks Jersey folk, or mile-high cleavage, we get long wiry bearded rich poor white stereotypes. We love and laugh at their high jinks because its pretty much what we’d expect how someone from Georgia or Louisiana after winning the lottery would act, complete with “five best-selling books, devotionals somewhere in there, along with Duck Dynasty themed birthday cards, bobblehead dolls, camo apparel (pink camo for the ladies), Cajun-spice seasoning, car fresheners, iPhone games and presumably some sort of camouflage home-pregnancy test.”

See where i’m getting at? No matter how likable Phil is, i’m afraid he’s no more a prophet than Kanye West is. But, a lot of us can still connect with Phil because of his charming transparency and simple good-ole-boy country way of seeing and understanding the world around him, despite that it actually makes zero sense, because lets face it, Hitler used parts of Christian ideology (among other things) to form Nazi ideology, the Jim Crow era is not an era normal people feel nostalgic about, Christianity did exist in Japan during WWII and a lack of Jesus wasn’t exactly what prompted the attack on Pearl Harbor, communism is a political ideology, which is interchangeable with all or any religious belief, and as far as murder goes, well…Christianity has its own timeshare in that blame game…because at bottom level, if we can ignore his ramblings, I believe he’s simply calling attention to the notion that “if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off and everything will turn around.”

So what’s really the problem here? Well, now we got folks like Sarah Palin and Wilson Cruz lobbing mortal rounds at each of their respective camps while real people (us) are taking sides without really reading the entirety of the interview. Arguments are being hashed out that in themselves make as much sense as taking a guy who’s loaded but still eats squirrels seriously. For crying out loud, this isn’t a freedom of speech issue, this is a consequence issue. “And,” to quote another blogger on the topic, “if the only free speech that you support is speech that you agree with, that doesn’t make you a ‘patriot.’ It makes you a hypocrite. And that’s something completely different.” And on same note: let me stress that “Phil was not suspended for his religious beliefs. He was suspended because what he said was completely offensive.” But again, being a very avid supporter of free speech, especially in media, Phil simply just stated his beliefs, not Christian beliefs per-say (let’s face it, even the devil knew how to twist scripture to fit his agenda). The comments he made is what upset execs over at A & E and what eventually got him booted from the show. And after seeing the fire storm that shall forever be known Duck Thursday, Phil attempts to clarify his comments during the interview with GQ, stating:

“I myself am a product of the 60s; I centered my life around sex, drugs and rock and roll until I hit rock bottom and accepted Jesus as my Savior. My mission today is to go forth and tell people about why I follow Christ and also what the bible teaches, and part of that teaching is that women and men are meant to be together. However, I would never treat anyone with disrespect just because they are different from me. We are all created by the Almighty and like Him, I love all of humanity. We would all be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

I do not believe this good-ole country feller really hates anyone and, just how Seth Rogen stated on his Twitter feed, “It’s strange that A&E hired a guy for being a backwoods redneck and then were surprised when he started talking like a backwoods redneck.” However, “there is also nothing surprising or noteworthy about a company suspending an employee because of their personal behavior.” Like it or not, Phil and the duck family are licensed products of A&E, and Phil when being interviewed, not because he in his own right is popular, but because his character on Duck Dynasty is popular, the fallout of the things he said will and did blow back on A&E because Phil is, again lets face it,  a character on one of their shows. See what I mean?

So, in summation, lets avoid the inevitable “us” verses “them” arguments by remembering the following things:

Dearest Liberals, please take a step back and look at the guy who has got you all in a frenzy. The guy was simply stating his beliefs, not the entire Christian world. And, to his benefit, Phil did clarify, even though he was a little bit disrespectful by over generalizing an entire group of people and adding a dangerous revisionist spin on history, that his intention was not to do any harm, but rather to express his love for humanity by stating  how we’d “be better off if we loved God and loved each other.”

Dearest Conservatives, please take a step back and look at the guy who has got you all worked up in a frenzy. This is a simply man stating his beliefs, and while he does use scripture that doesn’t make him a prophet nor does it make him a martyr. This man also works for a company who also has a set of standards, shouldn’t we respect those (A&E’s) beliefs just as much as we respect Phil’s?  PS: lets not pigeon hole any group or people, including Christianity. Not ever Christian agrees with Phil’s comments, so… ipso facto, this isn’t a religious persecution issue insomuch as hating on Westboro isn’t a religious persecution issue.

The Obamulator: is this who we are?

Several months ago, back in May, our Commander and Chief gave a speech regarding our nations national security and the ever convoluted issue of counterterrorism. You can take a gander at his strategy here, if you want or can stand listening to the guy who was all peace and love back in 2008 regurgitate the same masterfully crafted oratory: saying everything and nothing at the same time…basically a speech you’d expect from a career politician who desperately clings to maintaining a positive public image. Thankfully, the dawn approaches where we’ll be thrown back into the another season of elections. Hopefully, those who believed the lies of peace will remember how easily duped we all were. Duped about GITMO, duped about the War on Terror, duped about diplomacy first (looking at the most recent issue with Syria and how Obama was going to explain to the American public why we needed to bomb but then quickly changed his mind after Putin, in the least historic democratic country, during the UN summit, mentioned that magical little word we liberals love to hear: diplomacy), and so many others, including the recent attack against the media.

Actions (for me at least), not promises, define administrations and despite Obama’s best attempts at waving a purple bunny in our face, what we see happening on the news comes in complete conflict with his rhetoric. In countries, such as: Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Libya, and Somalia (being the ones we know about), drones are being used to carry out strikes or the maintaining operational surveillance. I guess if you can make murder sound intellectual enough it can become rational and bearable to read about on a daily basis; especially when it’s got the “government” seal of approval, right? But do we really approve these methods, is this what we’ve become? Murderers in the night? Consider the following political cartoon created by Mark Fiore; it pretty much sums up everything i’ve been feeling. Enjoy!


Attack of the Drones

The Drone program is a relic. Born from the events that occurred after September, 11, 2001, the U.S. Drone Program has allowed the government to monitor, observe, hunt, target, and strike suspected militants under the guise of counterterrorism operations. Since Congress first authorized the Bush administration to use “necessary force against suspected militants,” drone strikes have been conducted in faraway places, such as: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Iraq. However, according to Fox News, C.I.A. director John Brennan (former counter-terrorism advisor to President Obama) claims that “strikes are only used as a last resort against suspects believed to be plotting against America.” Yet, in light of recent media reports regarding drone attacks, just how last resort are they? Are we gaining sufficient intelligence before carrying out strikes, or just enough? The precarious nature of the drone program is, according to Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University Law Professor, “at any time for secret reasons based on secret evidence in a secret process taken by unidentified officials,” the U.S. government “claims the right to kill anyone anywhere on earth at any time.”

According to the New York Times, last year, the White House had given the C.I.A. and the Pentagon “broader authority to carry out drone strikes in Yemen against terrorists who imperil the United States.” The concern the Obama administration has is that al-Qaeda will “bleed us financially by drawing us into long [and] costly wars.” According to the Obama admin, precision strikes and raids are the most effective means to defeat terrorism.

This is the plan, but is it working?

Consider the testimony of Yemeni activist Farea al-Muslimi, who spoke on Capitol Hill regarding the use of drones in his native country. On April 23, 2013, during the Senates first ever public hearing on the Obama administrations “precision strikes” program, al-Muslimi told the story of when his family’s village was bombed by a U.S. drone strike. “When they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover over their heads, ready to fire missiles at any time,” al-Muslimi says of his fellow Yemenis. “What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant.” The very same village strike al-Muslimi mentions has become a so-called signature of the Obama administration, conducting drone strikes based on patterns of suspicion, instead of actual identification. But don’t take my word for it. Consider another testimony, this time from an actual U.S. drone pilot who flew missions very similar to those described by al-Muslimi. In an interview with NPR, former sensor operator for the U.S. Air Force Predator program Brandon Bryant discusses his experience conducting “precision strikes” overseas from a dimly lit trailer in the Nevada desert. According to NPR, “on [Bryant’s] very first sortie as a pilot, [he] watched from the drone’s camera as American soldiers got blown up in Afghanistan. [And] there was nothing he could do.” This was Bryant’s first experience flying a drone; simply watching. Later in the interview, Bryant laments on his “first shot,” saying that while he was watching an attack between a group of insurgents and U.S. troops, he was ordered to fire on another group of men that had been standing some distance away from the battle. “The missile hits, and after the smoke clears there’s a crater there and you can see body parts from the people. [There had been a] guy that was running from the rear to front, his left leg had been taken off above the knee, and I watched him bleed out,” Bryant told NPR reporters. The group of men that Bryant was ordered to fire on had been armed, but Bryant said he had no idea what their intent was. In Bryant’s own words, “these guys could have been local people that had to protect themselves.”

Considering the recent debates in the U.S. regarding gun advocacy, could you imagine a group of civilians in places like Montana or Texas being targeted simply because they were armed? Luckily, drone strikes are not allowed on U.S. soil…at least for now. According to Medill News Service, by 2015, hundreds of thousands of drones could be buzzing around U.S. airspace thanks to a little law called, FAA Modernization and Reform Act, with its seven page provision known simply as the Drone Act, which passed just last year. These drones, however, will be not be armed, and “bear little resemblance to the war machines making headlines overseas; the drones [that will eventually be] flown in the United States often look more like toys,” toys with technologically advanced cameras that beg the question of Fourth Amendment violations.

But I digress; let us return to the subject of drone strikes overseas.

According to CNN News reports, the percentage of civilian casualties overseas has dropped significantly since 2008, from a whopping 33% to 11% fatality rate. Yet, these new estimates do not translate that drone strikes have lessened; on the contrary, they have bumped up from 67% to 89%. Osama bin Laden himself, in a memo confiscated during the famous Abbottabad compound raid that resulted in the death of the world’s most notorious terrorist, that U.S. drone strikes were having a devastating effect on his (Taliban) organization in Afghanistan.

So, as we tally the testimonies of those who are being most effected from drone strikes, the civilian collateral, and from testimonies from drone pilots, when we weigh them against the final outcome, are drones worth it? Sure, we’re killing off, without warrant, at least 89% of suspected militants, but what about the other 11%? Do we simply write them off as an acceptable loss in war?

In closing, consider another sordid tale regarding a recent drone strike in Yemen. This story involves Sanaa cleric Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber and the night he died. In a small Yemeni village, Ali Jaber preached about the evils of al-Qaida, and according to a Fox News report, “warning residents to stay away from the group’s fighters and their hardline ideology.” The local parishioners feared retaliation from the not far off militants living in the mountain strongholds near the remote eastern village of Khashamir. Even the cleric’s own father wanted him to stop before something bad happened. Eventually, al-Qaida militants, in fact, did call out the brash cleric to a night time meeting, hoping perhaps to intimidate Ali Jaber into silence, or worse. The cleric’s brother-in-law, recounting the events of the fateful night to the Associated Press, said that Ali Jaber “felt he had no [other] choice but to meet them.” The night the cleric died, he had shortly arrived to a car where three militants were waiting. No sooner had the cleric closed his door, four missiles hit the car, followed by a passing (familiar) buzz sound. “We know the buzzing sound of the drones overhead,” reported Faysal bin Ali bin Jaber, the clerics brother-in-law. According to Yemeni security officials, three militants, along with the cleric and a cousin, were among the dead. A strike carried out by an American drone.

Did the officials who gave the order to strike, know that cleric Sheik Salem Ahmed bin Ali Jaber was not a member of al-Qaida? They probably had no clue who the two other men were as they entered the car with the suspected militants; the cleric and his cousin were simply guilty by association. Except we know, through creditable reporting, that the cleric and his cousin were not militants; in fact, the cleric, himself at least, spoke out against Islamic extremism and al-Qaida. But the pilots of the drone didn’t have that information…didn’t need that information to carry out its strike.

Currently, according to the AP, “while the United States acknowledges its drone program in Yemen, it does not confirm individual strikes or release information on how many have been carried out.” Perhaps the time has come for the American public to have those exact numbers of drone strikes we are carrying out overseas. If our policies condone acts of “necessary force” in counter-termism, we should know the costs.

The NRA Comes to Houston

The NRA goes Texas, Houston that is. The 142nd annual NRA national meeting is fused to ignite today, Friday, May 3rd, 2013, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in the heart of downtown, hosting 550 exhibitors and covering over 400,000 square feet with all the trimmings: educational speakers, celebrities of the likes as Glenn Beck, Gov. Rick Perry, the always favorite (yikes) Sarah Palin, Sen. Ted Cruz, special events, wholesome family atmosphere, and protesters. Wait…what? That’s right folks, gun-control groups and other advocates are also planning on attending the rock star event at what has been called “ground zero,” in our nation’s big gun debate- the NRA.  Protestors will gather outside the impromptu gun event, hosting a three day vigil for victims of gun violence.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the NRA plans on educating attendees on such issues as: “a gun-owners’ registry, assaults on the Second Amendment, the necessity of enforcing laws on the books instead of passing new ones, the futility of background checks and other gun-related issues.” The convention comes shortly after a fresh victory for the NRA and gun advocates over President Obama’s failed push on expanded background checks when it flopped by a mere 6 votes of the 60 votes needed to adopt the measure and keeping the bill from going all filibuster in the House.

(Check out this interesting article on the future of filibuster reform.)

Why Houston? Why now? It would seem rather impromptu of the NRA to host a gun convention in the midst of a heated national debate regarding gun control, and the necessary steps to reduce said gun violence so soon after national tragedy. However, for the NRA, Houston seems like the perfect environment to host a gun convention in the hopes to recharge for more expected political struggles as gun control advocates tally their own successes in states around the country. According to Andrew Arulanandam, an NRA spokesman, “the convention will draw the largest crowd in history.” Why is that Andrew? Is it because all us Texans own guns? Just like we all wear ten-gallon cowboy hats and ride horses to work. Stereotypes aside, a majority of Houstonians do own fire arms, according to the Houston Chronicle, for obvious reasons. Texas is still very much a part of the frontier culture. Folks love to hunt ducks “in the wetlands around El Campo and Eagle Lake. [Folks also] hunt deer in the Texas Hill Country. And, yes, many [Texans] keep a gun or two in a closet at home for safety, security and peace of mind.” And some good ole Texans even keep a few guns under their bed. The pathos of the Second Amendment is very much alive in Texas, especially in Houston, and rightly so. But I would also think that our support for the Second Amendment does not preclude support for sensible rules and regulations that are designed to protect the sanctity of human life. Extending background checks for gun purchasers in both online sales and at conventions makes sense. Don’t take my word for it. Check out the resent trends developing on social media sites. According to Pew Research Center, calls for stricter gun control shifted from 30 to 65% in favor, while opposite dropped from 50 to 21%, on Twitter. You can view the complete poll here. These trends on Twitter also match a poll taken recently by Gallup back on April 29, 2013, where a whopping 65% of Americans thought that the Senate should have passed the measure to expand background checks for gun purchases. You can view their report here.

So, what do all these trends in polls really tell us? Well, for starters, all this talk about the 90% is bull. Yes, percentages in favor of expanding background checks are higher than those against the measure, but let’s be real about it and avoid inflating the numbers, because to be honest, it would take an act of God to get nine out of ten Americans to agree on anything, especially on something as heated as gun control. Secondly, these polls verses the actually vote in congress shows us that something very wrong is going on in Washington…or maybe something very right. What could be going wrong? Well, if 65% of Americans wanted this bill to go through and it failed, as it did, then the people’s voice is no longer effectually being represented in Washington. According to Senator Pat Toomey, “In the end it [the background check bill] didn’t pass because we’re so politicized. There were some on my side [Republicans] who did not want to be seen helping the president do something he wanted to get done, just because the president wanted to do it.” Also, there could be something wrong in the way bills are passed through the Senate. At first glance, the 54 YEA’s trumps the 46 NAY’s right? Nope. A bill requires, for some reason, 60 total votes to go into effect. To some, this 60 vote thing may make sense, but to me, I am at a loss. A majority vote is a majority vote, plain and simple. The one thing that could be right in all this is that in representing our “voice,” our elected officials also understand the dangers inherent in giving into mob mentality. As it seems, we simple folk get all worked up in larger crowds, but when you single us out, we’re rather reasonable. Consider Brown v. Board of Education and how long it took for the “mob” to realize how wrong segregation was. For our elected representatives, walking the tight-rope between listening to their constituents voices and avoiding worked up crazed mobs, seems rather precarious. Perhaps we ought to give our officials some benefit of the doubt, and simply ask them questions instead a seeking the tallest tree to noose them up in.

While gun-control advocates scrabble to seek a new path after the “shameful day for Washington,” gun advocates, such as the NRA, will likewise continue to promote the “stand and fight” methodology to remain steadfast in what outgoing NRA president David Keene told NBC News, “was a victory in a battle, but the war continues.”

Today, the NRA celebrates their big win in Houston, but opponents are also in the works, launching, according to NBC News, “a coordinated effort ahead of the 2014 midterm elections,” to advocate that folks like the NRA may not be as concerned about the rights of gun owners than they are about the rights of the gun industry itself. In an interview with Ladd Everitt, the spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, “I think the NRA leadership is wildly out of step with their own members on the issue of expanding background checks.” If that’s the case, perhaps the upcoming national elections in 2016 may prove for Republicans to be difficult in keeping seats in Washington. Obviously, each side of the debate claims the other to be fervently wrong. But where do most Americans fall? Time will tell in the above mentioned coming elections in mid-2014 and in 2016.

In the meantime, lets address some fundamental fallacies in the raging arguments from both perspectives:

  1. Guns are not a living entity. They cannot walk down the street, on their own, and fire into a crowd. Gun control advocates are aware of this. They are not attacking responsible gun owners. If you are a responsible gun owner, you are already going to pass a background check. Background checks are looking for folks with a history of violence. If you are a violent person, perhaps you should take a yoga class and forgo purchasing that sweet glistening AR-15.
  2. Not all gun advocates are back-water anti-government crazies.  While a majority does support background checks, they also believe that gun-control shouldn’t be the only measure taken in avoiding tragic events such as Sandy Hook.
  3. Gun control advocates are not trying to take away our Second Amendment Rights. Only a few extreme left are; they are the minority voice, just like the minority crazy anti-government folks. So, the argument about drunk drivers and sales of alcohol thing is a bit over-the-top. Obviously, the government has already tried the “no alcohol thing,” and it didn’t really work out in the end. Instead, just like how most gun control advocates are trying to do, they promoted greater public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, increased judicial punishment, and established a drinking age. Beer is a controlled substance; shouldn’t guns be just as controlled? You don’t see government kicking in your doors looking for a delicious New Belgium 1554, do you? Then you won’t see government kicking in your doors looks for your licensed hand gun.
  4. Gun control will create a gun registry. News flash folks, we currently already have a gun registry, of sorts, and a sucky one at that! The current, twenty plus year old system, simply tracks make/model/and serial numbers through a basic record of sale. Why not change? I think most gun advocates fear this policy the most because of a basic fear of “big brother,” which I totally understand. I don’t care so much for being watched on video cameras, but yet, they somehow help catch criminals. So, lets think about what this registry will actually do, which is, help law enforcement,  our brothers and sister that help keep our streets safe, to be better equipped in tracking fire arms that tend to make their way illegally into the hands of violent offenders.

As it seems, we’re sadly pitted against extreme either-or arguments, while most of us tend to take a rather moderate position on the subject. Most of us enjoy our right to gun ownership. Most of us also understand the need to control the very thing we have a right to own. Just as we have a right to drink, we are also responsible about it, or should be. Shouldn’t we also be responsible about gun control, without having to be so extreme about it? Only time will tell in where the great debate on gun control takes us, so for now, Houston, enjoy the convention.

The End is Near…for Texas Death Penalty

On April 29, 2013, the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a public hearing on House Bill (HB) 1703 , which calls for the repeal of the death penalty in Texas. State Representative Jessica Farrar (District 148 – Houston), the author of HB 1703, along with State Representatives Alma Allen (District 131 – Houston) and Lon Burnam (District 90 – Fort Worth) are optimistic in their now fourth attempt in pushing an anti-death penalty bill through the Texas Capitol. In an interview with TCADP (Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, a grassroots organization), Rep. Farrar said:

“National momentum clearly has shifted in the direction of abolition. This spring, Maryland became the sixth state in six years to abandon the death penalty and legislators in Delaware are poised to do likewise. Elected officials in at least 16 other states are considering repeal legislation this year. This hearing provides members of the Texas House of Representatives with the opportunity to hear diverse perspectives on the death penalty and engage in open dialogue about the flaws and failures of our state’s capital punishment system.”

First introduced back in 2007, House Bill (HB) 1703 strikes death penalty as a sentencing option from all relevant sections of the Texas Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure, replacing it with a life in prison without possibility of parole. According to the TCADP, late on the night of April 29th, “the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee considered testimony on House Bill 1703” from not only the authors of the bill, but also the testimonies of residents of Texas who have been effected by the death penalty in some way. These testimonies include: Anthony Graves, who had spent 12 years on death row for a crime he would later be exonerated of, and also from murder victim family members, religious leaders, and from family members of those who have been executed, such as Keith Brooks, whose father was Charlie Brooks, the first person executed in Texas by lethal injection back in 1982. Obviously, the discussion between legislators and the above testimonies were rather emotional, all in the hopes of bringing about, as Rep. Farris herself said, “serious discussion and re-evaluation of capital punishment in Texas. See HB 819 for her complete position statement.

The bill is currently pending in committee.

Texas is scheduled to carry out three executions in May: Carroll Parr, Jeffery Williams, and Robert Pruett.

Jessica Farrar, along with a few other Houston Democrats, are pushing to appeal the death penalty in Texas for good. But will they succeed? It would seem rather unlikely, considering that the state of Texas has a notorious reputation for having the majority of the countries death penalty sentences. According to author Brent Newton, in his article Capital Punishment: Texas Could Learn a Lot from Florida, a part of why death penalties are so high in Texas, is because, “Texas’ appellate judges are elected to office and hence serve according to the pleasure of the public. Not surprisingly, they require a record of toughness on criminals in order to win re-election.” Another contributor, according to Newton, is that Texas doesn’t have a good public defender system. In the end, incompetent court-appointed lawyers take on capital murder cases that they are likely to have zero experience. And when the condemned attempt to appeal, proving shotty lawyering is harder to prove than their original case of innocence. According to the Office of District Attorney for Harris County, Texas, Mike Anderson, “the affirmance rate, that is the rate of convictions being upheld, over the last five years has been in excess of 95%. Stated somewhat differently that means less than 5% of the defendants appealing their convictions are successful.”

Brett Ligon, the district attorney for Montgomery County, according to an interview conducted by KUHF (Houston public radio) reporter Carrie Feibel, says that he supports the death penalty, but does not a champion it, stating that:

“In the sense that if it’s on the books and it continues to be within the framework of sentencing guidelines, then it will be used in its appropriate form. If it is no longer on the books you won’t hear me or many other prosecutors jumping up and down, defending the integrity and honor and the pedigree of the death penalty in Texas. When you’re talking about end-of-life decisions, in the medical field, criminal field, wherever they are – I certainly don’t have any problem with somebody raising it to a debate.”

District Attorney Ligon doesn’t believe Representative Farrar’s bill has a snow balls chance of passing legislation, but he welcomes the debate. And he should, because, just as he stated himself above, contemplating someone’s life requires some measure of prudence. Eye for an eye shouldn’t cut it in a justice motivated society. In the end, do death penalty verdicts ever resolve anything for victims of those who are being executed?

Consider the resent death sentence of Richard Cobb, who was put to death by lethal injection on April 25th, 2013, in Huntsville, Texas, for his part in the abduction and slaying of convenience store clerk Kenneth Vandever, and the abduction and rape of two women.  According to Huffington Post, Cobbs’ last words were without remorse:

“Life is death, death is life. I hope that someday this absurdity that humanity has come to will come to an end. Life is too short. I hope anyone that has negative energy towards me will resolve that. Life is too short to harbor feelings of hatred and anger. That’s it, warden.”

Except that wasn’t really all Cobb’s had left to say. Just as the lethal injection was being administered, Cobb twisted his head back, staring at Huntsville warden James Jones, and said, “Wow! That is great. That is awesome! Thank you, warden! Thank you (expletive) warden!” Cobbs’ head fell back toward his pillow where he remained motionless for some fifteen-minutes. A physician entered the death chamber and declared Richard Cobbs’ time of death at 6:27pm. According to U.S. News report, the father, stepmother, and stepbrother of Kenneth Vandever, and also Nikki Daniels, one of the women abducted and raped and survived, were all among the witnesses viewing Cobbs’ final moments. “I thought he was going to be remorseful, I thought he was going to be apologetic, [I] was hoping that he was going to address me. I saw the same evil person I saw 11 years ago… [His punishment] was far too easy,” Nikki Daniels said to reporters after the execution.

It’s difficult to hear and read these kinds of reports without feeling some sense of vindictiveness toward the assailants. We crave justice for those afflicted. But do we get that justice; do we get the relief we really need from death penalty sentences? In light of these recent events, perhaps Representative Farrar does have a chance to ridding the death penalty from Texas, once and for all, in favor of life without parole, allowing inmates to contemplate their own actions during the duration of their sentence.

Mo’ Gitmo, Mo’ Problems

Remember back on January 23, 2009, when Obama made one of the boldest moves a newly signed in President has ever made; a presidential order for the closure of the detention facility at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, affectionately known to the public as Gitmo(almost sounds like Gizmo, the furry cuddly creature from those Gremlin flicks), symbolically closing out the old Bush Administration, who had been herding detainees suspected of terrorism or ties to terrorism since its establishment in January 2002?  Well, if you forgot, you’ll remember soon enough, as new reports make their way to your living room. Since Obama’s closure declaration, the notorious facility has naggingly remained open. But wait…I thought President Obama gave a presidential order to close Gitmo? Why is Gitmo still open? What happened? And why did we suddenly forget about this place?

Here is what was originally mandated, straight from a White House memorandum:

“By the authority vested in me as President and as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, including the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40, 115 Stat. 224), and in order to facilitate the closure of detention facilities at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, I hereby direct that the following actions be taken as expeditiously as possible with respect to the facility known as the Thomson Correctional Center (TCC) in Thomson, Illinois.”

 Basically, the President wanted to close Gitmo and move the facility to Thomson, Illinois. Here is the full memorandum from December 15, 2009 (almost a full year later):

So what happened? Did the memo get lost in transition? According to ABC News, and those who still remember watching a bit of Obama’s campaign for presidency way back when and can recall some of the promises he made, if he were elected, that “[he] vowed so many times that he would shutter the prison he [personally] called a recruitment tool for terrorists.” Yet here we are, just over 100 days on Obama’s second term as President and only now has the name Gitmo resurfaced enough to garner public attention. Didn’t Obama also get a Nobel Peace Prize…and in his speech said something like, “I believe the United States of America must remain a standard bearer in the conduct of war. That is what makes us different from those whom we fight. That is a source of our strength.” You can check out Obama’s full speech here: Yet Gitmo has remained opened, despite harsh rhetoric.

So, what happened? Basically and simply, according to ABC News and Obama’s own press conference this past Tuesday on, April 30, 2013, that he had “run into plenty of opposition in Congress.” More to the point, Obama is saying that lawmakers had passed a bill preventing any federal money to be spent in transferring Gitmo detainees to the United States. The legislator were fundamentally saying, “We don’t want them here!” According to Gallup Poll conducted back in June 2009, “Americans [were] especially resistant to closing the prison and transferring the terrorism suspects to prisons in their own states — only 23% favor this, while 74% are opposed.” Senator John Thune, a Republican of South Dakota, is quoted in the New York Times, saying:

 “The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods. The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their back yard, either.”

Are they really going to be walking the streets John… not likely, but yet, even some of the Democrats, at the time, voted against the measure to move Gitmo to the states, including Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the very state Obama had originally planned to move the facility. In 2009, according to the New York Times, “lawmakers in both parties [had]criticized [Obama] for not providing a more detailed plan for what will be done with the [then] 240 detainees currently held in the prison.” Basically, Obama is blaming congressional opposition, even opposition in his own party; while on the other hand, the very same oppositional voices are blaming Obama for not having a more detailed plan. To be sure, closing Gitmo seemed to be one of the boldest moves a newly elected president could make; perhaps too bold. Not that Obama was wrong. Here is a bit of his speech yesterday during Tuesday’s news conference:

“I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep us safe. It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed.”

So, now that we know, to an extent,  why it was put on the back burner. Why all the sudden interest of late? Didn’t we purposely forget about this place? Well, it seems that a majority of the detainees are on a hunger strike. According to Huffington Post, the number of strikers has reached 100 this past Saturday out of the remaining 186 prisoners. The hunger strike first began two week ago after an April 13th raid, which forced detainees living in a communal facility into individual cells. Twenty of the detainees are being force-fed (which hurts like hell by the way, with the big tube going up your nose and down the throat…); five are in the hospital. According to MSNBC, events which led to the April 13th raid have worsened living conditions for the prisoners. Ranjana Natarajan, an attorney who represents one of the detainees, told MSNBC that:

“They moved with relative freedom and used the communal outdoor space for group activities including soccer. Now their cells are locked for most of the day and their physical activity is strictly regulated. Guards are intentionally interfering with detainees’ sleep by offering recreational time and showers in the middle of the night.”

On Tuesday, during the press conference, Obama alluded to the problem of indefinite detention, stating that:

 “The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it is contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”

Kenneth Wainstein, a former top national security official at the Justice Department during the Bush administration, is quoted by the New York Times, saying:

“The situation is not sustainable. There are strong, principled arguments on both sides, but all of us across the spectrum have to acknowledge that this is far from an ideal situation and we need an exit strategy.”

Do we have an exit strategy? Should we have an exit strategy? According to Gitmo’s Muslim advisor, despite now being force fed (which is against international medical regulations), at least one detainee will die before the hunger strike ends. The question is then; will we allow it to go that far? Do we still dread having a super-max here in the states?