Your source for retro horror movie and book reviews

Posts tagged “America

The Stand: book in review

stand1

And before you ask, yes, this is the complete and uncut edition review. In case you were wondering, because I know you are. When mentioning broadly that I was reading The Stand, it was by far the first question many mentioned, or stated thereof: “Make sure you’re reading the uncut or you’ll have to start all over again.” And they’re right. If one was to read The Stand for the first time or at least the first time in a decade or two, you may want to invest in this behemoth, M-O-O-N, that spells 1,000 plus page journey into the heart of the 1990s psyche. The Stand is as the New York Post commented roughly 25 years ago, “In many ways, this is a book for the 1990’s, when America [was] beginning to see itself less and less in the tall image of Lincoln or even the robust one of Johnny Appleseed and more and more as a dazed behemoth with padded shoulders. Americans seemed delighted but in an odd way humiliated when Vaclav Havel, a tiny man from a small country, entered the great halls of Congress and delivered an uninflated Jeffersonian address. ‘The Stand,’ complete and uncut, is about the padded shoulders and the behemoth and the humiliation.”

I believe, for better or worse, this above 25 year review remains true today as it did then. The Stand is ultimately about humiliation, or perhaps something more, perhaps humility as well and not just the embarrassment of a plagued ego. There is both hope and fear in that notion. Hope that we can still better ourselves. Fear that it’ll take a plague that wipes out 99% of our population to do so.

stand2

The Super Flu, or Captain Trips, within the confines of the book, was the mother of all plagues designed, more or less, to consume the ego of humanity. What could be done within the pages of Stephen King’s masterpiece? Not a damn thing. You died, or you didn’t die. That is all. There were no preparations to be made. No magic cure. No vaccine. No decontamination. The world ended and there was nothing America (as is the focus of the book) could do about it. With all our plans, our designs of purpose and political gain, the world (via The Stand) slipped comfortably into chaos, lashing out at times with cruel attempts to maintain control. I recall reading through the opening chapters and thinking, “Why didn’t the government warn people?” Thinking about it now, what could they say? News was already spreading. Hope seemed like a cheap sale to most, others gladly took it and clung to it. Not to sound to villainous, but these were the best parts of the book, watching people react, both good and bad, in the face of catastrophe. This is more or less the same reason why I enjoy Romero-esk zombie stories as well. Zombies are cool, but what’s even cooler is watching how people react in the face of such cataclysmic odds. What will they do? And in King’s book, after 99% of America’s population dies, what will the survives do? And what I found also interesting in this aspect was discovering the “no man is an island” concept. While this does not speak for everyone, but for the majority, we are a community based life. We are a commutative species that depends upon not just our own wits, but the wits of others too. We crave belonging. We crave companionship. We crave community or as they say “common-unity.”

In King’s epic The Stand, this basic need of common-unity is broken down into three groups. Yes, you heard me, three. The first two are easily recognized. Good, Mother Abigail and her Colorado haven. And the second, Evil, Randell Flagg’s strict Las Vegas commune. The third is not easily recognized, because it remains in the shadow, for a time. This third group are the moderates, the “silent majority,” to quote Nixon. This was the group watching the events between Abigail’s and Flagg’s group unfold. They were the quiet watchers, unsure of which group to follow, or to follow any group at all. Towards the end of the book, we begin to see this silent majority take shape as members from both Good and Evil camps begin to cut tides, searching for their own undiscovered country, their own America. This was, I think, out of concern. Like Frannie and Stu, there is an unsettling feeling watching the Bolder community grow and expand and mutate back into some symbolism of what America had once looked like. But wasn’t the old America, the old ways the same ways in which brought about Captain Trips in the first place? The same despite need for control and the terrifying escalation in which that desire ultimately brings?

stand3

So, in a way, you can say that The Stand is basically about the death of all certainty, for nothing can be for certain, and what life would look like or could look like in the aftermath.

Just like most of King’s stories, The Stand was a character infused story driven by situation. His characters are some of the most real personas found within the pages of pop culture. Some I enjoyed more than others. Nick Andros was entertaining to read, though he was a bit naive.  Stu Redman was also a favorite, being a Texan and all.  There was also Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman (for some reason, I always picture Ben Franklin when reading the bits with Glen), and I even liked the more so-called wicked characters, both Harold and Trash were both favorites, though more or less pitied. I was not really a fan of Frannie Goldsmith. I found her to be actually rather annoying in the story. My all time favorite character by far was Mr. Tom Cullen. I’m not sure if that’s an odd character to hang your hat on. Cullen certainly did not play a pivotal role in the opening or even middle acts. Though he is there in the those transitions, his character becomes more important later on in the final stages of King’s apocalyptic play.  And by apocalypse, I mean not the obvious understanding (doom and gloom), but rather, the literal Greek definition, the “unveiling of knowledge,” the lifting of the veil, so-to-speak. In this, Tom Cullen is strangely gifted. His character, at first glance is obvious thin layered, or so he seems. Being a mentally challenged character, we may have a tendency to quickly dismiss him as a simple persona. However, there are layers to Tom, more than meets the eye, as they say. He has a power, and not just in prophesy, but also in faith. Tom has an unadulterated faith in the goodness of people. Child-like, almost. And certainly a quality worth respecting in our adult haggard age.

My Rating: 5/5

tommy1

Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. 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 and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.


Happy Birthday America

For me nothing says America quite like Captain Steve Rogers, aka Captain America. Created during WWII, the Cap was one of the most popular characters of the 40’s. He gave an identity, a face, a model for good verses evil (via The Red Skull). Even in the recent film, The First Avenger took both old and new audiences into the murky depths of the Second World War and showed us the virtue of a true hero. Unfortunately, during the McCarthy era (1950’s) the Cap’s popularity waned. The 50’s proved to be one of the most paranoid decades our country has ever seen, regarding the Second Red Scare, and when hero’s such as Captain American would have been beneficial, we simply didn’t know who we could trust, specially folks representing the government. Fortunately, for us, the Cap was reborn, or defrosted I should say, during the 60’s in the face of Americas largest and bloodiest battlefield, Vietnam. The Cap has remained in circulation ever since with even more dramatic story arches, remaining a figure for good in a world where good and evil are constantly blurred.

Captain America remains one of my favorite Marvel characters, even in the star packed Avengers film. The best line from The First Avenger has to be between the small Rogers and Dr. Erskine. When asked if Rogers wanted to kill Nazis, Steve replied: “I don’t want to kill anyone. I don’t like bullets. I don’t care where their from.” I can’t quite say why this line gets me, except because, perhaps here, Steve hints at the true nature of heroes. Heroes do not seek out violence, but they also don’t back down in the face of danger. Captain America alludes to how, I suspect, many American troops have felt over the past two hundred or so years. Democracy doesn’t seek out fights, but sometimes, in the face of oppression, we gotta do what we gotta do, like knocking out Hitler over 200 times!

With that being said, Happy Birthday America and everyone have a safe and celebratory 4th of July.

image


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.


UPDATE! Chemical Weapons Confirmed in Syria

White House staff have confirmed the use of sarin (a nerve agent) by the Syrian government against rebel forces. According to U.S News report, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel voiced that the use of sarin “violates every convention of warfare.”

The red line has been crossed.

What are we going to do about it?

In a letter addressed to certain U.S Senators, including : John McCain, Bob Corker, Bob Casey, Carl Levin, Lindsey Graham, Kelly Ayotte, Saxby Chambliss, and Bob Menendez, Obama confirmed what many lawmakers speculated: “Our intelligence community does assess with varying degrees of confidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons on a small scale in Syria. “We believe that the Assad regime maintains custody of these weapons and has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people.”

According to U.S. News, French, Israeli and British intelligence services have also reported they have extensive evidence that the Syrian government has increasingly been using chemical weapons.

Business Insider has reported that the Israeli Air Force has already targeted several chemical weapons plants along the Damascus boarder, striking the plants with aerial bombs. The Free Syrian Army (rebel forces) have confirmed the attack.

Obviously, the U.S. Military has the resources necessary for an attack, the question remains though, should we?

The situation is rather precarious. If the U.S. does take action against the Syrian government, Iran could likewise intervene on behalf of Syria. According to Reuters report, the Iranian government has been steadfast in their support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “If America were to attack Syria, Iran along with Syria’s allies will take action, which would amount to a fiasco for America,” Mohammad Ali Assoudi, the deputy for culture and propaganda of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), was quoted as saying.

Can we afford to walk into another Middle East War?

Can we sit idly by as civilians are bombarded with chemical agents?

Is there any action we can do that doesn’t involve military strikes

?