Vote for America this November!

This is something I originally wrote for Facebook, but I feel it’s relevant to post here as well.

American flag with some grunge effects and lines
Dear Friends and Family,

I do not know whether anyone will care to read this, as I haven’t been using Facebook lately for personal reasons, but my heart is heavily burdened by everything that is going on in the world today, and I am frightened by the future that I and my kids may inherent. I know that for many of you, these words will fall on deaf ears—but my conscience is telling me to speak out.

We have not been so divided in this country since the Civil War. America today is not the land I was born in. I remember an America that valued freedom and equality. I remember an America that cared about truth. More importantly, and this is something I feel gets overlooked in the media, I remember growing up in a country where I knew, with certainty, that we were the good guys. Every other nation looked to us as a shining example of what they could aspire to be. Now I do not tend to get sentimental when it comes to patriotism. I have never valued American lives over foreigners, because I hold equal measures compassion for all humanity. But I did get teary eyed when I visited the Statue of Liberty a few years ago. This had less to do with “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…,” and more to do with what the plaque, and its poem, The New Colossus, was expressing about what America represented. America was going to be different. This nation, built upon a foundation of liberal ideals, was to be the end of kings and tyrants and “rule through power.” Humanity was growing up, leaving behind the primitive mindset of tribalism, in the formation of these United States. The torch of liberty was a beacon for all nations to follow, into a future where rule of law would always prevail, and truth would hold more sway than greed and influence.

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Now I look at what is happening in this great country and compare it to everything I studied in college, and I am both disheartened and afraid. The history of the world is a dark tale, full of wars and oppression and devastation, where mostly evil men reigned, but where occasionally our better natures triumphed. It happened in Athens, Greece, and it happened during the early days of the Roman Republic, and again the torch of democracy was passed down through the ages to a bunch of young political philosophers who had the audacity to form their own government in these United States of America, based on the principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. It was not a perfect union by any means, blacks were still slaves and women could not vote, but they had planted the seeds for utopia. Democracy was and has always been a struggle toward a better world. But just as in Athens and Rome, I feel that the torch of democracy is fading.

We are scarcely a democracy when all of our politicians are bought and paid for; we cannot hope to cling to the illusion that rule of law applies when so many of us look the other way as our constitutional checks and balances are dismantled; we cannot pretend that we live in a land of freedom when a great many minorities are routinely treated with inequality.

I do not doubt that many of you, reading this, will think to yourselves, “Yep, I agree with you, Nick, and that’s why I am a Republican!” More than any time in human history, we are mired by the most powerful tool for propaganda ever conceived: the Internet. So, whatever your political affiliation, you cannot be blamed for believing the wrong things. It is so very difficult in this day and age to separate the truth from the lies. But perhaps the biggest lie we must address is that of “there are two sides to every argument.” Clearly, there are times when one side is wrong. If I were to say to you that 1 + 1 = 3, that would be incorrect, and it would not matter how many people I could find to agree with me. So our goal must always be to seek the truth, wherever that truth leads us, however greatly that truth makes us feel uncomfortable or tears down our illusions. The alternative to not seeking truth, to remaining complacent in a cocoon of lies, is to surrender everything that makes America what it is, and just as in Athens and in Rome, this grand experiment, these two centuries of freedom, will end.

So how do we separate truth from lies? I think there are three ways, that I use, at least:

1) Educate yourself. Don’t learn your history and your science from political pundits or web blogs. I don’t get my information from Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. Visit a bookstore or a library. Knowledge is inoculation from those who would manipulate you. Every tyrant who ever lived, from Hitler to Stalin to Kim Jong Un, worked to curb the flow of information.

2) Listen carefully to what the politicians actually say. Don’t judge them by any other analysis (this is called spin) but specifically by their own words and actions. Soon after the election, one of the liberal leaning sites I used to follow kept posting articles insisting that Trump had raped a thirteen year old girl. Is it possible that this happened? Of course. But, I did not believe there was enough evidence to warrant such an accusation, and I promptly unfollowed the site.

3) Who benefits? Ask yourself this question. Who benefits by stating that Global Warming is a hoax? Or that Obamacare will ruin healthcare? Or that gun control will lead to a repeal of all guns? And when you ask yourself that question, consider who has the most money and influence to disseminate false information. Is it the 98% of scientists who are the deceivers, who really have nothing to gain aside from the grants used to pay for their research, or the billionaire tycoons who rely on fossil fuel revenues to keep them in business? Are we to trust the insurance companies who stand to lose billions by offering health care to those who most need it? Are we to rely on the gun lobby, who represent not gun owners but gun manufacturers, when they tell us that any limit on the SALE of guns will turn America into Nazi Germany?

Perhaps America was not meant to last. But I do not want to live the last days of my life in a fascist state, and we have never leaned so closely to a fascist state before now.

Today we learned that pipe bombs were sent out to Obama, Clinton, CNN headquarters, and to basically everyone Republicans consider their enemies. Now, this isn’t to say I blame any Republican for this, although the never ending stream of vitriol certainly didn’t help dissuade anyone. What I will say is that this reminds me of something my mother used to ask me. “Why is it,” she would say, “that it’s always the good presidents who get killed?” And she was right. Lincoln was shot and killed. Kennedy was shot and killed. My answer to her was, “Well, because they were good, and their political enemies were evil.” When we have an evil president, the moral opposition cannot in good conscience commit an act of evil, even if to stop those who would do harm to society. And this is why we cannot rely on violence to bring about a better world. Sure, there have been exceptions. The Civil War. The two World Wars. But we are not at that point yet. We still have the power to affect change through peaceful measures.

I urge you, BEG you, to GO OUT and VOTE this November. You cannot possibly imagine how much this matters. And I pray that each and every one of you reading this tirade looks into their hearts and asks themselves, “Who are the good guys?” and votes their conscience.

 

Thank You.

It’s time to end race.

If there’s one thing I can agree with the KKK, the white race is going the way of the dodo. According to Neo-Nazi “literature,” white people are like glasses of milk. Add a drop of Hershey’s syrup to the mix, and BAM! you’ve got yourself chocolate people. Now  supposing we could be certain as to who a white person is (according to her medical records, my brown-skinned wife is white) racists should have figured out by now that their entire team is woefully pathetic, in that they can be wiped out by a single drop of impurity. The black race, by contrast, is seemingly indestructible. Consider our first African American president. Technically speaking, Barack Hussein Obama is half-white on his mother’s side, but nobody ever mentions this. One father from Kenya is all it takes to represent an entire race. White-supremacists consider this a negative, but for me, it’s a super power. You can’t un-chocolate your chocolate milk, but you can always make it darker.

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It doesn’t work the other way!

The problem of racism falls under the much larger umbrella of tribalism. It’s the conflict that arises due to people’s differences. You don’t need racism to hate. Religion will do, or sex, or political affiliation. If Naked & Afraid has taught me anything, it’s that survival on the African savannah was tough. For a couple million years, humans fought over limited resources, and those resources could only be gotten by smallish groups, or tribes. So while one guy tended to the fire, his wife was thatching roofs, his son was gathering kindling, and his cousins were out chasing buffalo. This arrangement helped guarantee survival, until, that is, strange-colored people arrived with their weird hair, weird face-paint, and even weirder clothing, to steal your hard-earned dinner. This is where our apprehension for differences comes from. Feelings of racism were, at one point in time, a survival instinct. But we’re not living on African bushland anymore (well, not most of us, anyway). The tribalism that leads to racial strife is the same that leads to religious and political conflict. Our pattern seeking brains are constantly working to determine who is the “us” and who is in the “other” crowd. This is why people in cities tend to be more accepting of different cultures. New Yorkers living and working around Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs can more easily accept foreign-born groups into their tribe. “Hey, we’re all New Yorkers here!” Unfortunately, midwesterners from tumbleweed towns find more in common with white Russian hackers than “Black Lives Matter” protesters.

When you really think about it, we’re all just monkeys. Stupid, stupid monkeys, acting on very primitive programming. Here we are in 2018, with nuclear weapons and the Large Hadron Collider, and yet we’ve still got Flat Earthers and people voting for “In God We Trust” signs to ward off school shooters. The Internet has given the least evolved of us a platform, which is how we ended up with an illiterate president, but also, the constant rage machine directed at “forced diversity,” SJWs, and “identity politics.” Yes, folks, this isn’t your grandfather’s racism, this is Racism 2.0! And hey, how’s that for hypocrisy? Everyone who complains about identity politics never seems to shut up about “the left.” To be fair, not every anti-SJW is a racist or sexist. Sam Harris appears genuinely interested in doing the right thing, and yet he is oblivious to the ways in which a vocal majority can turn otherwise sensible arguments into weapons of hate. According to The Bell Curve author, Charles Murray, black people tend to have, on average, lower IQ scores than white people. This has turned Murray into a villain on the Left, to the point at which he received threats of violence, and is banned from speaking at universities. Free speech aside, I am forced to wonder, did Murray really not think of the consequences of his study? Did he never consider how such a book might empower hate groups the world over?

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This brings us to the very real important issue of our day: Star Wars. If you haven’t been on YouTube lately, just type “Star Wars” into the search box and prepare for the floodgates of Hell to open! Everyone is entitled to hating works of art, but bullying actresses like Kelly Marie Tran to the point that they quit social media, or calling for the termination of Kathleen Kennedy or Rian Johnson due to their “pro-feminist agenda” is simple absurdity. When the Ghostbusters reboot becomes the most down-voted video IN YOUTUBE HISTORY, you have to wonder, what the fuck is going on? Did these same people not see the equally horrific Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remake? Or any of the vomit-inducing Transformers flicks? I think they did, but then again, Optimus Prime wasn’t turned into a girl robot. Look, I get it. For many of us jaded 40-somethings, these franchises are sacred. We don’t want to grow up. We want to fly on pixie dust and fight pirates forever. Making She-Ra with smaller boobs and a longer skirt forces us to see change, and change reminds us of the inevitability of aging and death. Take it from me, a guy who watched She-Ra religiously in the 80s, and wrote She-Porn in college, I understand the sex appeal. And yet, all of our manly, sexist arguments dissolves to nothing when we recognize that the children of today are currently living their own childhoods, and could care less that the original Ghostbusters were a bunch of dudes, or whether Adora’s boobs make her look like a boy. My eight year old loved the new Ghostbusters, and my thirteen year old can’t wait for Netflix’ She-Ra. Consequently, none of my kin so much as noticed the “SJW agenda” in The Last Jedi. For my girls, Rey was unquestionably the hero, in the same way I never once bothered to ask myself why Luke Skywalker had to be a boy. Love her or hate her, Rose Tico is now a part of Star Wars canon, and while I am sure my kids didn’t think much about her Asian features, I am equally certain that many Asian children were only too happy to (finally) see themselves represented in Star Wars. (Seriously, name ONE Asian character from the original Star Wars. Go ahead. I’ll wait.)

 

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Asian: a new alien race

The anti-SJW crowd have become outraged by all of this “forced diversity,” despite the fact that for nearly a hundred years, every non-white race was forced to sit through the opposite, and every woman was forced to see herself depicted as little more than a damsel in distress. If we need to force ourselves to recognize that other races do, in fact, exist, isn’t that a good thing? How can the supreme white male be so insecure as to want anything less? Again, I can agree with the KKK in that we may lose our whiteness, and white skin can be pretty nice, I suppose. My hero growing up was the Nazi ideal, with his blond hair and blue eyes. Heck, he even wore a German Iron Cross on his chest, and fought lots of colored villains, including a blue Skeletor, a red Beastman, and a green Merman! He never had a black friend until Clamp Champ, who wasn’t introduced until the very last year of the toy’s run. And let’s not forget his perfectly Aryan sister, She-Ra, now a pawn of the SJW-agenda due to her lack of boobage.

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The new She-Ra: Ruining 40-year old virgin’s fantasies.

 

Whiteness isn’t a culture, a heritage, or even a race. It’s nothing more than an aesthetic, and is not worth keeping, not at the expense of countless lives—lives that do, in fact, matter—not when millions can be made to suffer as a result. We need to grow up and accept the inevitable change happening in our world. If women takeover, I say bring it on. For ten-thousand years, men have called the shots. We’ve had a good run, but in many ways managed to screw things up. If the human race is to turn brown, I say, let’s chocolate it up, baby. The only real solution for racism was discovered two-thousand year ago, by Alexander the Great, who forced his Greek soldiers to marry Persian women. Racism is a continuing problem in America, and there’s only one real solution. We need to end race. We need to fuck our way to a better future.

#NeverAgain

I am angry. And I am sad.

Every time we have a mass murder in this country, I feel obligated to do something, to help in some way, if only just to add my voice to the chorus for change. I am deeply troubled, not just by this senseless loss of life, but by the utter callousness of those who insist we can or should do nothing. The NRA and their supporters do not seem to care about the facts. It does not matter one bit that in every country with stricter guns laws, there is a significantly smaller number of gun-related deaths. In this post-truth world, each side finds whatever facts it wants to support its cause. So all we are left with is values. So what does the Pro-Gun lobby value most? Keeping our children safe? Or keeping gun manufacturers in the black? The answer, I think, is obvious.

But I find hope in this new generation, exemplified by the high school students of Parkland, Florida, by outspoken and passionate individuals like Emma Gonzales. Young people have the audacity to believe in a better world, and it is precisely their belief, their naivety, which so often leads them to accomplish what older generations fail to do or lack the will to do. In light of this current administration, these kids have renewed my faith in the future, and in humanity as a whole.

 

It Can Happen Here 3: Orwell’s 1984

 

1984

This can’t be a coincidence 

 

Whoo-boy

 

Rarely do words fail me like this, but after finishing George Orwell’s 1984, I am utterly at a loss for what to say. Nothing I can put into words, other than the words Orwell uses himself, can accurately describe the depth of despair, the hopelessness, the utter nihilism bound in this book. The most tragic ending you can imagine cannot begin to prepare you for the story Orwell has written. Something along the lines of Hamlet might as well be a Disney cartoon. At least Hamlet gets his revenge, and is ultimately vindicated. Nothing of the kind can be said of 1984. In the world of the book, there is no glory, no heroism, and no possibility for happiness. You couldn’t make a heavy metal song about this, because even the darkest metal lyrics contain an element of rebelliousness, a strength fueled by rage and angst. This kind of fuck you to the world is not permitted in Orwell’s universe, because freedom of thought is not permitted. What I once regarded the ultimate expression of nihilism, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, cannot even come close to 1984, because the life of Hester Prynne, however awful, becomes a stepping a stone to a greater future for others. I am also reminded of the absurd controversy over the ending of Mass Effect 3, with its supposed “nihilistic ending,” that somehow ruined the franchise. To these people, I say, you do not know the meaning of nihilism until you’ve read 1984.

Even if the entire world were obliterated in a nuclear holocaust, I would greatly prefer it to the future imagined in 1984. Or send me to Westeros on the worst day. In the Hub of All Worlds, board up the door leading to 1984 and let’s never speak of it again. As you may have probably guessed, 1984 is a dystopian novel, the standard by which all other dystopias are judged. Having read Brave New World, The Hunger Games, Cloud Atlas, Never Let Me Go, The Giver, The Man in the High Castle and The Plot Against America, among others, I thought I was ready for this book. I wasn’t. And yet, 1984 is of paramount importance to the literary world, serving as a warning, and a very likely prophecy we must do everything in our power to escape.

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Imagine a world where you are not allowed to think, or to believe, what you want. Imagine a world where your sense of logic, your reason­—sanity itself—is torn down. To resist is to commit thoughtcrime, and thoughtcrime can be anything that contradicts Big Brother, the physical embodiment and face of “the Party.” It isn’t simply a matter of professing allegiance to a particular ideology. There is no real ideology in 1984, only total—not obedience—but agreement with the Party. Obedience is too easy, as it leaves room for hope, and for freedom within one’s own soul. Anyone can be made to obey, while sheltering rebellion in his heart. The black plantation slave could still sing about freedom while imagining a better day for himself or for his children. Under the Party, the Negro would be forced not only to work under the lash, but also to love working under the lash.

Long before the start of the novel, the Party has determined that the only way to maintain total control is to force its people into agreement. To avoid the Thought Police, you must believe, in you heart of hearts, that what you are being told is true. The Party manages this by brainwashing everyone from birth. Every book, film, newspaper, and TV channel is a carefully manufactured work of propaganda. No evidence contradicting the Party is allowed to exist, and when propaganda is the norm, it becomes impossible to separate the truth from the lies. In essence, the lies become true. Even the dictionary is used as a tool of obfuscation, as no words are permitted within the language to allow for seditious thought. In the most disturbing example of the politicization of reality, the main character, Winston Smith, is forced into believing that 2 + 2 = 5. Again, he does not have the luxury to simply state the truth of this claim. He must literally believe it. Winston is also forbidden from having basic human emotions, other than devotion to the Party. No one can love their spouse, or their children, only Big Brother. This might not be so bad if the world were composed of unfeeling robots, or if the Party was in possession of some Borg-like technology, but the price for thoughtcrime is imprisonment and torture. If you are even suspected of guilt, you are made to suffer until you sincerely believe you are in the wrong.

The truly scary thing about 1984 is how plausible it all is. We will likely never be invaded by aliens, or be taken hostage by AI, but the Party feels right around the corner. Orwell paints so complete and convincing a picture, in fact, it all seems inevitable. The technology now exists, from hidden cameras to microphones, to record everything a person does, from your facial expression to the pitch of your voice, to determine what you may be thinking. Modern day computers can make the process even more efficient. We know, thanks in part to Edward Snowden, that the NSA can be watching your every move. Before Orwell, I had never fully appreciated the Right to Privacy. I had always considered, quite erroneously, that if I had nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of, privacy doesn’t matter so much. But when a political party comes into power that criminalizes the things you strongly believe in—being a nudist, an atheist, or LGBTQ+—then privacy is the only way in which you can be protected. Already, we are seeing our right to privacy being eroded. Add to this the dilution of our cherished values, the right to a fair trial and laws against torture, both of which were diminished following the Patriot Act, and 1984 edges closer to reality.

I started this series, It Can Happen Here, as a response to the Trump election. But even after comparing Trump to Hitler, I am hesitant to mention Orwell’s Party in the same breath. There is no greater evil than Big Brother, no more Hellish a place in all of literature than the world of 1984. Mitch McConnell’s wildest imaginings have yet to touch upon such a dystopia. That being said, Orwell has forced me to reevaluate and even to course correct some of my earlier assumptions. The Party is, after all, a government institution, and conservatives have long maintained that the greatest thing to fear is big government. Between the out-of-control capitalist corporatocracy in Cloud Atlas and the Party of 1984, I’ll take the former any day. No doubt, many conservatives turn to Orwell to reaffirm their ideals. But the most pressing question at the moment is whether the current administration resembles the Party in any way. To this I would answer that the parallels are too close for comfort, particularly when it comes to matters of science, history and, to a finer extent, truth itself. Consider how conservatives perpetually strive to rewrite the history books, to omit the atheist assertions of Thomas Jefferson, to refute slavery as the cause of the Civil War, to continually insist that America was founded as a white Christian nation. Consider their opposition to evolution and climate change. In 1984, the very idea of history and science, and of objective reality, has been expunged, politicized to the point of losing all meaning. What is true or not true is based on the dictates of Big Brother, which is how 2 + 2 = 5.

Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes; only in the mind of the Party […] Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth. 

p. 222

While the relative nature of truth may seem absurd, at first, Orwell’s antagonist argues the point with such twisted logic, he almost convinces the reader. After all, how can we be certain that 2 + 2 = 4? Or that George Washington was America’s first president? Or that the year is really 2017? Or that the Earth is round? Everything we know or think we know was taught to us in a school, and public schools are government institutions. The same paranoid sentiments are echoed today by the Flat Earth Society, who accuse teachers of brainwashing children with the “globe theory.” And while we can make simple observations to determine the shape of our planet for ourselves, it is easy to see how everything we believe could turn into a matter of politics, particularly if we are forced into a left or right leaning bubble, wherein lies become omnipresent.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient […] to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies …

p. 191

Considering the book was written in 1949, it is remarkably prescient when looking at how carelessly Trump lies, and how his adherents are expected to deny or to accept objectifiable truths. We have never seen a political movement like this before. It has given rise to anti-intellectualism, anti-science, anti-vaxxers and the Flat Earth Society. At this very moment, the Trump administration is robbing us of our health care, our clean air and water, and every institution established to help the sick and the needy. They threaten anyone who stands beyond their control: the free press, the scientific community, any and all educated “elites” who disagree with them. All the while, those who voted the administration into office stand to lose the most, and yet they are convinced that every action taken by Trump and his cronies is for their own good, that while big government is the enemy, it also, paradoxically, represents their own interests.

All that was required of them [the lower classes] was a primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever it was necessary to make them accept longer working hours or shorter rations.

p. 63

Orwell called this doublethink, holding two contradictory beliefs in your mind simultaneously. So while millions of the poorest Americans will lose their health care, it’s all for the best, because the government says so. In this nation, facts are ceasing to matter. You can no longer argue objective reality because reality has been politicized. Stating that a million people attended Trump’s inauguration, or that hundreds of thousands of voters were bussed-in from other states to vote illegally, is equivalent to two plus two equaling five. Evolution, climate change, even the shape of the Earth is being called into question. And so now I ask you, what year is it? Are we living in 2017? Or are we closer to 1984?

I can think of only three authors whose names have become adjectives: Shakespear(ean), Lovecraft(ian), and Orwell(ian). What greater mark on society can a writer hope to achieve? Without question, Orwell is deserving of his spot on this mantle. His brilliance is effortless, his writing without flaw. But more impressively, his insight into human nature, political philosophy and metaphysics and the interplay between them is without peer. 1984 is a timeless masterpiece. It is a story that, quite frankly, needed to be told. And it is as important today as it ever was, perhaps more so.

****

Trump is a fictional character

donald-trump-election-caricatures-5824634f342d9__700“The Editor-in-Chief will see you now, Mr. Hovah.”

Jay straightened in his chair and got to his feet. He could feel the surge of excitement, tingling his extremities, energizing his limbs. Finally!

The receptionist with the short brown hair and spectacles ushered him through the hall to the editor’s office. In gold leaf lettering, a glass panel read, Jorge Orwell. RealWorld Publishing. It was mid-afternoon, and Jay could see the sun poking through the blinds, striping the back wall with shadows. Jorge was unexpectedly good-looking for a man in his fifties, with a fashion sense straight out of Mad Men. Jay expected a halo of cigarette smoke and a glass of scotch, but there was only his manuscript. The sight of his writing, in the hands of the editor-in-chief, made him feel like he was tightrope walking across the grand canyon.

“Mr. Hovah. Please sit down.”

Jay didn’t feel like sitting, but did so anyway. “Thank you for me seeing me.”

“Yes, well,” he answered, looking over the manuscript once more, to be certain. “Mr. Jay Hovah. Can I call you Jay?”

“Sure.”

“We like your book.”

Jay felt like a trapdoor had dropped from under him. Everything he had planned to say—every prepared answer for every imaginable question—flew from his mind. “Really?”

“This is certainly the kind of work we like to publish here at RealWorld. Tom Clancy. John Grisham. Political stuff. Big sellers. Your book reminds me a lot of the Manchurian Candidate. Have you read that?”

“No sir, I haven’t.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter. We didn’t publish it.” He chuckled softly to himself. “But we do have some issues to work out.”

A sick feeling came over him. He expected something like this would happen, that they would want to mess with his work, his baby, what he’d sweated over for ten years. But Jay could only sit and smile, like an idiot waiting for his girlfriend to say ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal.

“Don’t get me wrong, we love the concept. This Trump character, really great stuff, really interesting.”

“So, what’s wrong with it?” Jay managed.

“Nothing too hard to fix, really. We see this a lot with first-time authors. You’re trying to write too many books at once.”

“I don’t—I don’t understand.”

Jorge leaned in his chair, picked up the ring-binder containing Jay’s life work, and dropped it again. “Let me get straight to it. You’re writing a book about a terrible president. Great. But, this Trump character, in one chapter you have him groping women, grabbing them by their, um, private areas, without consent. He’s very crude. Sexist. Reminds me of that book about President Clinton. Have you read that?”

“Not really. No.”

“Well, anyway, the Clinton book sold millions.”

“Are you saying it isn’t original?”

“Nobody in the business cares about what’s original. Have you counted the vampire novels lately?” He waved the idea away. “No, the problem is you’ve given your antagonist too many flaws.”

“Are you saying Trump’s unrealistic?”

“I am saying it beggars credibility. You can have a novel about a sexist president who assaults women, or a racist president who is supported by the KKK and puts white supremacists in his cabinet, or you can have a president in the pocket of the coal industry who cuts environmental regulations . . .”

“I still don’t see—”

Jorge touched his fingers together, and took in a deep breath. “Is there anything good about Trump?”

Jay found that an odd question. He paused for a moment to think, answering finally, “Not really. No.”

“Can’t you see how that’s a problem? You’ve made Trump a narcissist who only talks about himself. A billionaire who cheats his workers and is continually filing for bankruptcy, but is somehow still a billionaire. He has no personality. No charisma. He’s also an idiot. Who’s going to vote for the guy?”

Jay started to feel small, and embarrassed. Whatever elation he had felt coming into the publishing house was turning into despair. Still, he tried to defend what he had spent a decade writing. “Racists. A lot of racists voted for him.”

“But how many racists are there in America? And what about women? Half the country are women. That’s half the vote right there.”

“Oh, well, a lot of women voted for him too, I guess.”

Jorge sighed. “OK. Look at the Clinton book. That president was good looking, charming, spoke eloquently and—here’s the important part—his affair with Monica didn’t happen until after he became president.”

“So what you’re saying is, people shouldn’t find out how bad Trump is until after the election?”

“Well, you could at least leave out some of the details. And give him some good qualities. Make him attractive. Or a clever speaker. A fat guy in his sixties with a bad comb over becomes president? And he tweets insults at celebrities late at night? No way that’s happening in the real world.”

“He’s seventy, actually, and I did leave out the stuff about Russia.”

“Right. That’s another thing I wanted to talk to you about. You’ve written a book about a sexist, racist, idiot, who is secretly working with Russia to subvert the government, and who, somehow, is elected president. Is there anything you’ve left out? Maybe you could make him mean to puppies. Or a cannibal.”

“That’s not a bad idea.”

“Mr. Hovah, I was joking.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“All I am saying is, pick a plot and stick with it. This Trump character, he’s not believable. He’s a a comic book villain, a two-dimensional caricature, every American’s worst fears rolled into one. A believable hero has flaws, things that make them relatable, and for a villain to be believable, you’ve got to do the opposite. Nobody can be all bad.”

“Trump is all bad,” Jay said quietly.

“That’s not good writing.”

“So, does that mean you’re not going to publish my book?”

“Here’s what I am going to do, Mr Hovah. I’ll have some of my interns get in touch with you, after they write up some suggestions, and you can decide whether you want to implement the changes. Sound fair?”

Jay felt a mixture of hope and despair churning in his stomach. Did he really want to cut so much out of his book? Choosing between plot threads was like picking which limbs he’d like to keep. “Thank you, Mr. Orwell. I’ll definitely consider it.” Finding the strength to stand, he started for the door.

“Oh, and one more thing, Mr. Hovah. About the name. Trump. Really?”

Jay felt a tinge of irritation. What was it now?

“Was Victor Von Doom taken? I’m sorry. I don’t mean to sound rude. But, well, the Oxford English Dictionary defines the word trump as to invent a false accusation or excuse. I looked it up just before you came in. It’s a clever play on words, I’ll grant you, but we don’t do that here. At RealWorld, we’re looking for credible, not clever. Consider changing it.” 

 

It Could Happen Here: A Review of The Man in the High Castle

I’ve already been a victim of hate speech. This wasn’t your normal troll variety flaming. This guy got eerily personal, digging deep into my life to attack my lifestyle, my beliefs, my career, and most disturbingly, the person I chose to marry. Sadly, he concluded I should leave the country. People like him have never understood what America is and what it stands for. But to understand America, you have to look no further than its founding document, The Declaration of Independence:

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

 

You won’t find “white Protestant Christian” mentioned anywhere in our founding document, but you will see it in Jefferson Davis’ traitorous Articles of the Confederacy. Our constitution specifically states that ALL MEN are created equal, and that they have a right to Life, Liberty, and Happiness. This is what it means to be an American. This is our founding ideal. If these ideals are threatened or abolished, if people of color or those of differing religions are cowed by an institution of fear, then the U.S.A. ceases to be. We won’t need to leave America because America will have left us. Honestly, it amazes me how these trumps claim to be patriots. These same folk insisted our first black president must be a Muslim terrorist dictator, born in Kenya. They want to kick us out to make America what it isn’t. To them I say, Go back to Germany!

In The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagines the allies losing to the axis powers during World War II. In this sobering alternate history, America is no more. The land is still there, as are its people, but its founding principles have been abolished. Nazism is law and the ideals of aryan superiority. Jews are forced to change their names, to better hide their identities, and blacks, Indians and handicapped people veer close to extinction, and it’s all due to the ramblings of a paranoid, narcissistic strongman.

Now I didn’t plan to be sitting here writing this review as this nightmarish scenario edges closer to reality. But life can have a sense of irony. In all honesty, I picked up The Man in the High Castle because of the Amazon show, and because Philip K. Dick is among the greats of the Sci-Fi genre. His novels adapted to screen include Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (Bladerunner), We Can Remember It For You Wholesale (Total Recall), Super Toys Last All Summer Long (A.I.), and The Minority Report. Bad titles aside, Dick is known for his mind-bending concepts, deeply couched in philosophy. In Bladerunner and A.I., he challenges our notions of consciousness and sentience, and our ethical intuitions with regards to synthetic life. In The Minority Report, he imagines a totalitarian world where a prescient police force can stop and punish a crime before it happens. Stop and frisk? But The Man in the High Castle deals not with some far flung future, but post-America circa the 1960s.

It isn’t difficult to imagine this happening, and it can be argued that, by the slightest tweak of events, our world might appear totally alien to us. Consider what would have happened had the German scientists behind the V2 rocket made the atomic bomb? A single nuke, dropped on New York City, and we might all be shouting, “Sieg Heil!”

Looking at the story of the human race, you come to see repeating patterns and the same foolish mistakes being made again and again. The Roman Republic collapsed due, in part, to xenophobia. Julius Caesar was charged with protecting against northern incursions, acting preemptively and genocidally in the name of Rome. Shortly after his military campaign, he declared himself emperor, but was assassinated, stabbed by sixty senators on the senate floor. The political factions dividing the Republic went to war, and when the dust settled, democracy was no more. A similar thing happened in Germany after the first Great War. Hitler was elected chancellor, owing to his impassioned rhetoric regarding German exceptionalism and a pure Arian race. He was viewed as an outsider and a strong man, someone who spoke his mind and could get things done. He blamed all of the nation’s problems on immigrants, particularly the Jews, but those with disabilities as well. It is impossible to talk about these events and not think of Trump. To a student of history, the parallels are all too clear, too frightening. This is why a book like The Man in the High Castle matters.

Alternate histories show us a startling picture of what could have been, shaking us out of our complacency, helping us to recognize the invaluable lessons of the past, lessons we too quickly forget. Dick offers a startling reminder of a world we fought so hard and sacrificed so much to escape, a world where every man, woman and child are judged not by their character, but by their race and nationality. The picture he paints is often haunting. There is no cooperation in his Nazi world. No NATO. World leaders show courtesy to one another so far as they prepare for the next war. In this hellish setting, the only remaining powers are Japan and Germany, with America divided between them. Nuclear devastation is a forgone conclusion, because the Nazis do not want peace, only to conquer, to prove their superiority. Humanity be damned.

All that being said, it’s unfortunate The Man in the High Castle isn’t a better book. Philip K Dick is a rare genius, but his genius too often gets the better of him. His book diverges into wild philosophical tangents that have little bearing on the plot. While his characters run the gamut from an antiques salesman to a Nazi undercover assassin to a Japanese diplomat, they all lose themselves in thought. Dick has a lot to say about the human condition, the nature of suffering, the psychology of cruelty and the politics of race. It’s far too much to condense, and it’s an admirable literary endeavor. I, for one, look for meaning in every story, but here the story seems to take a back seat to whatever meaning the author is trying to convey. Given the subject matter, it’s a shame he couldn’t have been more focused. He only hints at the axis victory and how it played out, and we learn just as little about the bomb dropped on Washington or the global genocides perpetuated by the Third Reich. Dick does, however, give considerable detail regarding the manufacture and selling of antiques.

As I neared the final pages, I anticipated some great reveal, something akin to Life of Pi. In a meta-fictional twist, The Man in the High Castle involves a fictional account of the allies winning the war. A lot of mystery surrounds this book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, and its author, but the payoff just left me confused and wanting more.

I have a need to understand how the very worst of things can happen, and whether they can ever truly happen here in America. So I picked up Philip Roth’s 2004 novel, The Plot Against America, wherein a Nazi ascends to the White House. Look for that review soon!

The Death of Truth

This is something I have been thinking about for quite some time now. I originally planned to write a (more lengthy) post about this, and I probably will someday, but after this past election, wherein Americans voted for a Fascist, I felt compelled to express my concerns.

It is a dangerous time for civilization when truth no longer matters, when the difference between fact and fiction becomes a matter of political preference, when science can be challenged by ideology. Truth matters. Facts matter. With climate change, the destruction of the environment, the mass extinction of species, Islamic terrorism, and nuclear proliferation, facts matter now more than ever. We are living in a unique time in history, a time when we have the power to destroy all life on Earth, including our own. We are caught in a race between ignorance and knowledge, and a growing anti-intellectualism that threatens our very existence. Without truth, we cannot make the  necessary decisions to steer clear of the apocalypse. This is not hyperbole. This is not some sandwich-board doomsday prophesying that has yet to come to pass. No. We are witnessing the results of our ignorance on a daily basis.

When we elect, as leader of the free world, someone who rejects the findings of science, who does not understand the dangers of nuclear war, who appoints a climate change denier as head of the EPA, and another who denies evolution as secretary of education, when we accept these things, we reject reality. And how did we get to this point? It happened when journalism became entertainment, when history and science textbooks gave way to political subjectivity, when the Internet became a haven for those seeking refuge from reality and a confirmation of their biases. This has happened before. It happened in Athens and in Rome; it happened to the Aztecs and the Islamic Empire. No civilization has ever endured the loss of truth. Ours won’t either.

Trump: How Do I Explain This to My Daughters?

I was really looking forward to tonight. I was excited to sit down with my family, with my wife and two girls, to watch the first woman in history become president of the United States. “This will be something you can tell your grandchildren,” I said to them. “That you were there. That you remember.” But when Clinton lost Ohio, and then Florida, my twelve year old could see it on my face. I was devastated. Heartbroken. She started to cry.

How could such a human being rise to the highest office in the land? How is it possible that so many Americans could side with a racist, a sex offender, a conman and an ignoramus? How can so many people be so oblivious to history, that they do not see the parallels between Trump and every fascist/dictator who has ever lived?

This is a man who makes fun of handicapped people on TV, who cheats his employees and bankrupts small business owners, who brags about sexual assault. This is a man who jokes about murdering his political opponent, and threatens to jail her during a debate as angry mobs chant “lock her up” while hanging her in effigy. This is someone who stated, “We have nuclear weapons, why can’t we use them?” This is a man who wants to stop immigration because of religion, and deport millions of working families based on race, because according to him, they are either terrorists, murderers or rapists. Shades of Hitler cannot be denied here, no matter how cliche the comparison has become. Any one of his statements should have disqualified him. I would have been shocked had he won even a quarter of the votes he did. If a fourth of every American chose a Fascist to represent them, I would have been frightened to leave my front door. But no. Hillary didn’t win in a landslide, as expected. She lost the election.

The president is supposed to represent the best of us. The best of what it means to be an American. The most compassionate, the most intelligent, the most ethical. Is this really the best we can do? Is this really the man parents want their children waking up to? What are we teaching our kids by electing such a person? That if you have money and influence, decency doesn’t matter? How do we teach our kids that bullying is wrong, racism is wrong, sexism is wrong, if the president represents all of these things and more? How do we teach them that knowledge and education have value when the president thinks global warming is a hoax? How do we teach them the value of honesty when the president lies at every turn and sets up fake schools to steal money from prospective students?

Today, I am sickened. I am sickened with disillusionment, because America is not what we thought it was. This nation was not built on tolerance and freedom, but on bloodshed and tribalism. Our history is written in the blood of the Negro, on the unmarked graves of the American Indian. The classic 1915 film, Birth of a Nation, tells the history of the United States and that of the Ku Klux Klan in tandem, painting its “white knights” as heroes. In many ways, the Civil War still goes on. The seeds of hate are planted too deep to be washed away. The Obama presidency taught us all too well, stirring age old hatreds from our nation’s roots. Like rats, white supremacists emerged from their hiding places, but this time they came with masks so that the more tolerant among us would not recognize them. I always knew such evil existed, and evil is its true name, but I never knew to what extent and to what depth, before tonight.

This election was never about politics. Had Romney won in ’12, I would not have felt this way. No. This was about love vs. hate, knowledge vs. ignorance, deceit vs. truth, freedom vs. tyranny. I want my children to believe they live in a better world than this one. A world where no sensible human being would ever vote for a hate monger and an idiot. How do I explain to them what happened tonight? That America is broken. America is lost.