Don’t look away from the hate, but remember the love too

Today is yet another dark day in American history. In Charlottesville, Virginia there’s a conflict unraveling. This so-called “Unite the Right” protest, a confluence of neo-Nazi, pro-Confederate, and Alt-Right forces, has descended into violence and death.

There are many emotions flowing through the nation at the moment: shock, anger, disappointment. But for many of us, one feeling beats them all. The French have a term for it.

Déjà vu.

We’ve been here before. Many times. We should rightly be disappointed that we’re still dealing with this ridiculousness, but let’s not allow ourselves to believe it is new in any way.

Just last year, 3 people were stabbed at a KKK rally in Anaheim.

I vividly remember the sadness I felt as a teen first reading about the “Greensboro massacre” – on November 3, 1979, five protesters were shot dead and eleven others wounded by a group of Klansmen and neo-Nazis during a “Death to the Klan” rally in Greensboro, North Carolina.


I also remember amazing times when the strength of human compassion overcame the hate.

Like the time when a black woman in a USA shirt put her own body at risk to save a white neo-nazi in a Confederate Flag shirt from attacks by an angry mob outside a Klan rally in my home state of Michigan.


The world is simultaneously a horrible and beautiful place. It always has been. We hope for and strive to create something better…in time. Meanwhile, we alternate between hate and happiness, light and dark, fear and bravery.

Don’t look away from the madness. Don’t ever look away. But don’t forget to look at our better selves too.

It’s the only way to stay sane in the midst of constant insanity.


Good things that happened in 2016

Yes, 2016 has been a rough one. BUT, a lot of good things did happen too, and many of them didn’t make the Facebook rounds. Herein, a brief list of totally awesome happenings this year:

– The Giant Panda and the manatee were removed from the Endangered Species list. Same for Columbian white-tailed deer, green sea turtles in Florida and Mexico, and Humpback whales. Decades of conservation efforts have paid off (still more work to do though).

– New research provided conclusive evidence that the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica is not only no longer growing. It’s actually, finally, starting to close.

– The Ice Bucket challenge paid off and a new ALS-related gene was discovered in part due to funding from the internet challenge

– A new report revealed that the number of tigers in the world has increased for the first time in more than a hundred years

– Worldwide carbon emissions were flat for the third straight year.

– We have an ebola vaccine that may actually be 100% effective. Of the nearly 6,000 people who received the vaccine during trials, all were free of the ebola virus 10 days later. Liberia was officially cleared of Ebola, meaning there are now no known cases of the deadly tropical virus left in West Africa

– Thailand became the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis.

– In 2016, for the first time ever, the amount of money it would take to end poverty dropped below the amount of money spent on foreign aid.

– Italy became the last large Western country to recognise same-sex unions

– Denmark became the first country to no longer define being transgender as a mental illness, and Canada announced a ban on transgender discrimination.

– Costa Rica ran solely on renewable energy for over 100 days. Now it’s aiming for an entire year with no fossil fuels.

– Self-driving vehicles took to the streets in a big way, with Uber allowing the first self-driving car in its fleet and Anheuser-Busch hauled a trailer loaded with beer 120 miles in an autonomous-drive truck, completing what’s believed to be the first commercial shipment by a self-driving vehicle.

– We’re almost done with coal. This year, the Chinese government placed a ban on new coal mines. The United Kingdom agreed to phase out coal by 2025, France said it would get there by 2023.

– Following the end of conflict in Colombia in 2016, all of the war in the world is now limited to an arc that contains less than a sixth of the world’s population

– For the first time ever, the death penalty has become illegal in more than half of the world’s countries.

– Harriet Tubman is going to be on the new $20 bill (eventually).

– Forests are making a comeback. In July, more than 800,000 volunteers in India planted 50 million trees in one day. Norway became the first country in the world to commit to zero deforestation.

Progress never stops.

Robots are takin' the jobs!

Blue-collar workers are doomed. The robots are taking their jobs.

Corporations are moving to automation as soon as they possibly can. Not just because American workers eat into profits, but because ALL workers eat into profits. And everyone, regardless of political affiliation, should be able to see that corporate profit chasing has gotten worse, not better in the past 20 years. It’s not going to change.

The jobs are going away, and they’re not coming back. I can throw a lot of statistics, studies, and surveys at you, but the best way to put this is probably through three simple statements:

  • US manufacturing jobs are down, but productivity is up significantly. How do you be more productive with fewer people? Automation and increased efficiency.
  • The most common job in 28 US states is truck driver. But most truck driving companies in the country are considering automating their fleets with self-driving trucks. Self-driving vehicles in general threaten 3.4 million freight, taxi, bus, and delivery truck jobs. And the tech is coming faster than people realize.
  • Amazon just announced Amazon Go, an automated convenience store that requires no cashiers at all. This trend had started already with the advent of self-checkout. Fast food restaurants are already introducing automated kiosks. Chances are you’ve already ordered from one. There are now 200,000 of the machines in stores around the world. And that number is expected to reach more than 335,000 by 2020, according to figures from London-based research and consulting group RBR. In 20 years, service and retail jobs will be decimated.

Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty and I’ll explain just how boned blue-collar folks are:

Manufacturing jobs are an endangered species

An old staple of American politics in the Midwest is “bringing back manufacturing jobs.” But this is just lip service. Politicians know those types of jobs aren’t coming back. Employment in manufacturing peaked in the U.S. in June 1979, at almost 19.6 million jobs. The trend line has been trending down ever since and this September that number was down to 12.3 million (these numbers are seasonally adjusted). According to the Census Bureau, the real median household income of an American householder who has completed four years of high school peaked in 1973 at $56,395 in constant 2013 dollars. By 2013, it was down to $40,701. That is a drop of $15,694–or 27.8 percent. Good paying jobs for people without higher education have been leaving for a long time, across both Republican and Democrat Presidential tenures, and it’s not going to change.

But current manufacturing output is 41% higher than it was in 1997 (the last year manufacturing jobs ticked up). Here’s the catch though: about half of the total growth in U.S. manufacturing output since 1997 has been in just one sector – computer and electronics manufacturing.

And most of that work is done by machines doing tasks no human could ever hope to do efficiently. The robots have already taken over manufacturing, and since they never take sick days, vacation, maternity leave, or need lunch breaks, they will always be more cost effective for companies.

The use of robots and other manufacturing efficiencies were responsible for 88 percent of the 7 million factory jobs the US has lost since peak employment in 1979, according to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research.

Millions of people make their living through driving, but that’s about to be done by robots too

Few people realize that truck driving is a huge source of jobs in this country. This image illustrates it nicely:

Truck driver is the most common job in 28 states

Truck driver is the most common job in 28 states

Let me make a couple of key points here:

US truck transport, says freight company Flexport, can double its output for less than half the cost just with partial automation.

That’s just with partial automation! Imagine the profits with 75% automation. That’s the brass ring for companies in the trucking business. But the trucker community still feels like this takeover is a long ways away. The past decade alone should have taught us how amazingly fast technology shifts can occur. Case in point:

A convoy of self-driving trucks drove themselves across Europe in April, and the first driverless delivery in the US dropped off 21,000 cases of Budweiser in Colorado Springs, Colorado this October.

And driverless car projects by tech titans like Google, Apple, and Tesla are going to threaten every driving job from chauffeur to Bus driver.

Service and retail jobs are on the chopping block too

In 2010, the cost of checking in a passenger at the airport was about $3 with a staffed desk, according to a report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation entitled Embracing the Self-Service Economy.

But when customers use electronic terminals to check in? That cost dropped to 14 cents.

With those numbers, moving to a fully automated check-in and boarding process could save the airline industry $1.6 billion a year, the International Air Transport Association says. And as automation becomes better and the technology becomes cheaper, the pure numbers argument is going to get more appealing.

Fast food restaurants are doing it too. As increases in the minimum wage cut into profits, the automation of the food industry just increases at a more rapid pace. This isn’t just limited to fast food. Amazon just announced its first grocery store pilot, Amazon Go. It’s a store where you just walk in, scan your phone, grab all the stuff you want, and walk out. Everything gets calculated and charged automatically through computer vision and sensor systems (ironically these systems were derived from self-driving car systems).

Britt Beamer, president of America’s Research Group, a consumer-behavior research and consulting firm, estimated that Amazon’s cutting-edge technology had the potential to wipe out 75 percent of typical grocery-store staff.

Now at this point, some astute readers will assert that automation doesn’t always equal a decline in jobs. You could bring up the 19th century textile industry, where almost all of the work was automated, yet the number of weavers continued to grow for decades. More automation meant the price of cotton cloth fell, and people used more of it. You could bring up the bank teller profession, which didn’t end up extinct despite fears when the ATM was first introduced. And those are certainly valid examples of how technology can actually enhance and improve human opportunities, but they are very specific and depended a lot on the circumstances of the time.

The textile industry in the 19th century had not reached anything near market saturation and the technology wasn’t advanced enough as it is today. Once those factors changed, textile jobs evaporated (steam and water powered looms needed people, electronic systems didn’t need nearly as many). ATMs actually DID reduce the average number of bank tellers per urban branch (from 21 to 13), but bank deregulation in the 90s and the cheaper cost of running a branch with fewer humans meant banks could increase the number of branch offices. As a result, demand for bank tellers increased. But now that the banks have reached market saturation, the situation is changing. According to the Labor Department, employment of tellers is projected to decline 8% over the next decade. The number of bank branches is now declining rather than increasing “because of industry consolidation and technological change”, including things like mobile banking. Technology eventually wins, every time.

Okay, so the jobs are going to be gone, but the people aren’t going anywhere (in fact, with a rising population we’re quickly getting MORE working age adults). And while we can shift some of them to other professions (some of which would involve building and maintaining the very automation systems in question), we can’t retrain everybody. A 35-year-old steel worker today is not very likely to shift careers and become a computer engineer in 20 years. So how do we keep these guys eating, housed, and comfortable with no decent paying work for them to do?

That is going to be the major economic question we have to answer in the near future. It’s not about limiting immigration, or outsourcing, or free trade. Cheaper labor done by other groups, if anything, has just helped to slow down the takeover by the machines. But even that isn’t enough to stop the inevitable decimation of unskilled and low-skilled labor in industrial nations.

Will the solution be a huge higher education push to educate the public for premium jobs that can’t be automated? Will it be implementation of Universal Basic Income? Or, ironically, free trade agreements that allow American workers to become a migratory class hopping from country to country to grab work where they can? To some degree this is already happening with UK citizens in the EU with “free movement of workers” rules allowing them to move around freely in Europe. But the Brexit vote threatens that, which is part of why 18-24 year olds, according to a YouGov poll, voted 75% to stay in the EU – their employment future is at stake.

The answers won’t come easy, and the facts are hard to deny. But our workforce can adapt. We’ve done it every time technology shook things up. But the first step is accurately assessing the issue, and blaming regulations or immigrants or free trade helps no one but the politicians trying to win elections.


The 1828 election was nastier than anything you’ve ever seen.

People often think that the American political arena today is nastier and more irrational than it has ever been. This is not true. Once the Founding Fathers left the picture, practically all our elections have always been dirty, irrational, full of blatant lies, and in general batshit crazy.

I’ve previously talked about the 2004 election which used gay marriage as a wedge issue to re-elect an unpopular President leading an unpopular war, and the 1968 election where we had a pro-segregation racist win a bunch of states in the Deep South and Bobby Kennedy got fatally shot on the night he won the California primary. Today I’m gonna go waaaaay back and talk about the insane in the membrane tactics of the 1828 election.

This particular election is often noted in history as the first dirty campaign. Most of the previous 10 elections were pretty straightforward and involved mythical Founding Father heroes: Washington, Jefferson, Madison, etc. The exception was the 1824 election when John Q. Adams, son of our 2nd President John Adams, won against Andrew Jackson, founder of the Democratic Party. The 1824 election by itself was batshit crazy because although Jackson got more electoral votes, NEITHER candidate actually won the necessary number of electoral votes. So the decision of who would be President went to the House of Representatives (this is how the rules are laid out in the 12th amendment), and they picked John Q. Adams. The main reason this happened was that Henry Clay, who came in fourth place in that election, was Speaker of the House and he hated Jackson so he formed a coalition to make sure Adams would win even though Jackson had the higher electoral number.

Henry Clay became Adams’ Secretary of State shortly after.

Let me stop for a second to really drive this point home: Jackson WON the popular vote 43% to 30%. He had 15 MORE Electoral Votes. And the House picked Adams.

This dirty dealing came to be known as the “Corrupt Bargain” by Jackson supporters, and the brutal campaign for 1828 practically began before Adams even took office.

But in 1828, we had an EPIC rematch.

But first, let me tell you a little about Andrew Jackson because…woooo, child. He was a character. Jackson was a warrior, to the bone. He was a courier in the Revolutionary War at age thirteen. When he was taken prisoner by the Redcoats, a British officer demanded that young Mr. Jackson polish his boots. I imagine that Andrew, in the language of the time, said something along the lines of “kiss my pale white ass” (maybe a bit of revisionist history here but let’s go with it). The officer slashed young Andrew across the face, and he wore that scar proudly for the rest of his life.

As an adult, Jackson was a famed general and politician. But many people thought that Jackson was, quite frankly, an asshole. He had a famous temper and was quick to draw a gun. In 1806 he KILLED a man in a duel for insulting his wife and accusing him of cheating on a horse race. Dude was straight up gangsta.

But that’s also why a lot of politicians didn’t like him. Thus, his odd “loss” in the 1824 election even though he won by every reasonable metric. Even back then, “likeability” mattered.

But Jackson would not be stopped. He ran with a vengeance in 1828 against the then incumbent Adams. But Adams supporters bet that since Jackson was skilled but famously unpleasant, they could pretty much say anything about him and get away with it. So they did.

First, they attacked his wife.

See, waaaaay back in like 1789, Jackson met the love of his life, Rachel Donelson Robards. There was only one problem: Rachel was already married. She was separated from her husband Lewis due to what she claimed was essentially domestic abuse. Rachel ran off to live with her mother, and by the time Lewis found her she was dating Andrew. Lewis applied for divorce in 1790, claiming that Rachel had committed adultery with Andrew. Andrew and Rachel ran off and got married in 1791.

There was only one problem: due to some weird lazy ass paperwork filing, the divorce wasn’t finalized until 1793. So, under the law, Andrew Jackson was married to another man’s wife.

Andrew and Rachel found out about this and re-said their vows in 1794, and that was the end of the story for THREE GODDAMN DECADES until the 1828 election when Jackson’s political opponents decided to dredge this shit up. They labeled Jackson’s poor wife as an adulteress and a bigamist.

That alone would have been dirty as hell. But the Adams camp didn’t stop there. They next went after Jackson’s long-dead mother.

This is an actual, verbatim, quote from a pro-Adams newspaper, the Cincinnati Gazette:

“General Jackson’s mother was a COMMON PROSTITUTE brought to this country by the British soldiers! She afterward married a MULATTO MAN, with whom she had several children, of which number General JACKSON IS ONE!!!”

Yes, exclamation points and caps and everything. That is not a Facebook post. That is not a YouTube comment. That is not a tweet. That is not from InfoWars or Breitbart. That is an actual quote from a publication printed almost 200 years ago.

A newspaper called Andrew Jackson’s dead mother a whore.

Of course, Jackson and his supporters fought back with their own claims. Some of them said that President John Q. Adams had lived in sin with his wife before they got married, and that she was born out of wedlock. It was bad, man. Really bad.

Long story made slightly shorter: Jackson won in 1828. And this time it was a landslide. But the cost was high. His wife Rachel died just weeks after the election. The doctors said it was a heart attack, but Jackson blamed Adams and his crew for putting her through a nightmare. When Jackson arrived in Washington, D.C. to claim his new position, he refused to meet outgoing President Adams. Adams had left town anyway, which was probably a good thing because Jackson probably would have shot him had he seen him.

So, before you think an election has gotten crazy and out of hand, ask yourself this: has anyone accused anyone’s mother of being a whore?

Side-note: I’m sending a treatment to Lin-Manuel Miranda for an Andrew Jackson play because Hamilton ain’t got nothin’ on this.


We all look past what others focus on

Sunday thoughts again. No analysis, just pondering. This time, what’s on my mind is the concept of “I’m willing to look past that.”

I think one of the most interesting traits you can learn about a person is what they’re willing to look past as long as the subject in question fulfills other needs.

No area exemplifies this more in today’s world than our politics. Trump voters who are not extremists (and there are many) were willing to look past his prejudice (“He’s Mexican!”), his pandering to the extremists, his thin skin, and his complete lack of actual political experience. Those voters looked past all that to achieve some other personal goal. For some it was simply a protest vote, for others it was a “We need SOMETHING different” vote, and for many it was simply not caring because they didn’t fit in one of the groups targeted by Trump’s rhetoric.

But, regardless of the exact reason, they were willing to look past the worst of him.

This was true for Hillary voters too, and I think it’s important for Democrats to understand this and come to terms with it. As someone who once had Top Secret clearance, I knew Hillary’s email scandals were going to grind a lot of gears within governmental circles and make her vulnerable to attacks, both fair and otherwise. We can’t deny the truth: she screwed up and should have known better.

But I was willing to look past it.

I knew that Bill Clinton’s “coincidental” meeting with Attorney General Lynch was bad optics at best, and complete corrupt cronyism at worst. I was willing to look past it. I knew that Hillary’s campaign slogan, “I’m with Her”, was characteristic of the unbridled ambition and hubris of the Clinton machine and her inability to connect with the needs and desires of the people she supposedly wanted to serve. I knew Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” comment was insensitive, and un-Presidential. I remembered Hillary’s infuriating (to me) support for the Iraq War and her insufficient explanations for it. I was willing to look past all that.

I knew that people who knew her, and endorsed her publicly, despised her privately (just read those leaked emails, Colin Powell’s in particular). I still filled in her bubble on the ballot. I did not do it with the glee and confidence I felt when I voted for Obama in 2008. Instead, I felt I’d made the responsible choice, albeit an imperfect one.

But disappointing Democrat turnout on Election Day showed that millions of Obama voters couldn’t bring themselves to vote for Hillary, and while I am disappointed in them for putting principles over practicality, I can’t fault their reasons for feeling that way. I just wish, perhaps selfishly, that they could have compromised in the same way we all do every day.

Human beings are complex, and no one is perfect. We are all criminals and liars. If you’ve ever fibbed on your taxes, or bought an illegal drug, or driven too fast, or pirated a movie, or gotten behind the wheel when you knew you’d probably had a bit too much to drink, you have consciously broken the law. If you’ve ever believed something about a person simply because of a group they’re in, you are guilty of prejudice. None of us is innocent.

The people closest to us are flawed too. Your parents may have cringe-worthy views, but you still love them. Your spouse or your kids or your best friend may have that one really bad trait or done that really bad thing that truly tested your relationship. You may despise the people who run the place where you work, but you still show up to work and put money in their pockets. You look past it. You choose the lens you want to view a person through, and everything else falls out of focus.

In my mind, the biggest factor in this election was this: generally speaking, one group could look past a lot of shit, and one group couldn’t. I can’t say that one is better than the other, or smarter than the other, or more righteous. I can only say that one group’s willingness to look the other way won them the day. Only time will tell if putting party, or politics, over principle was a good move for them.

But it’s also important to keep in mind that we just had an election with the two most hated candidates in history. As we navigate this latest fork in our path and try to keep the heavy wheels of progress moving forward, our collective challenge as Americans may be to demand more of our representatives, so that we can all see our future clearly without blurring the parts we want to ignore.

1968 Election

2016 ain’t got nothin’ on 1968

To all my friends who are stressing about this election:

Our country has been through worse in relatively recent times.

I know it seems like the gates to hell are opening and the barbarians are storming the castle. I know it seems like our institutions, and even our fellow citizens, have failed us. I know it seems like ignorance and fear are winning out.

But the key word in all that is “seems”.

History has many lessons to teach us, and it is often said that the affairs of humankind are cyclical. If you think this is the worst election ever, or if you think our politics have never been so divisive, or if you think things have never looked so bleak, allow me to point out a very important bit of history: the 1968 Presidential election.

The vast majority of people reading this (myself included) were not alive during the election of ’68, and the few who were alive were too young to really understand the politics involved. But let’s go back and reflect on how BATSHIT CRAZY that election was, and I’m sure you’ll see that 2016 pales in comparison.

’68 was a tumultuous time in US and world history. A brief summary of events.

The War:

The US was embroiled in the Vietnam War, a bloody, incredibly unpopular, extremely expensive military movement that served as a dark cloud over everything going on domestically in the US.

Keep in mind that the US Military draft was still in effect. If you were a young man, you had to worry about getting pulled into this awful conflict against your will. During this year, the Johnson administration called for a ceiling of 549,500 American soldiers in Vietnam. Let me put that in perspective: The most troops we ever had in Iraq in 2003 was around 145,000.

The War was so unpopular that the Democrat party was fracturing. Lyndon Johnson, President at the time, announced in March that he would not run for re-election. This was on MARCH 31, just over 7 months out from the freaking election. The race for President got way more interesting (in other words, chaos).

The Candidates:

LBJ stepped out because people were tired of the damn war, but also because he worried he might actually die in office if he won (ironically he did die just 2 days after his 2nd elected term would have ended). His departure opened the door for other Democrats to step up. Two heavy hitters emerged from the fracturing party: LBJ’s Vice-President, Hubert Humphrey and John F. Kennedy’s brother, Attorney General/Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Humphrey was in the lead early but a decisive Kennedy win in the California primary made the race much closer.

On the Republican side you had Richard Nixon, who used the Civil Rights strife to run on a “law and order” platform (sound familiar?)

And, running as an Independent, Alabama Governor George C. Wallace. He LITERALLY ran on a racist platform. In his 1963 Inaugural Address as Governor he said that he stood for “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace wanted to pull out of Vietnam within 90 days of taking office and said foreign aid was money “poured down a rat hole” and demanded that European and Asian allies pay more for their defense.

Wallace chose a former general as his VP running mate, and here’s an awesome quote from him regarding NUCLEAR WEAPONS: “I think most military men think it’s just another weapon in the arsenal… I think there are many times when it would be most efficient to use nuclear weapons. … I don’t believe the world would end if we exploded a nuclear weapon.”

Sound familiar? I mean, the similarities to Trump stuff are uncanny, right? But wait…there’s more. A crapton more.

The Civil Rights movement:

It wasn’t just the War that influenced the election, it was the huge Civil Rights movement, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black citizens were fighting for their right to vote, fighting to end segregation, fighting to have a fair place in American life in general. And it was causing a huge rift in the nation, particularly between the North and the South. This was also the point that racist Southern Democrats left the party (George Wallace himself was a Democrat before he went Indie).

If you think Black Lives Matter is a big deal, it doesn’t even hold a candle to what was going on in ’68.

Europe was batshit crazy in ’68 too:

In March of ’68 in Czechoslovakia (yes, that used to be a country), Antonin Novotny, a communist of the Stalinist variety, resigns the Czech presidency, setting off a crisis as a reformer takes over and the Soviet Union (and its allies) try to stop it. There are rumblings of war, and then there’s actual war. The Soviets and their allies send 200,000 troops to end the “Prague Spring”.

In France, student and worker revolts lead to chaos in the country. As many as ELEVEN MILLION workers go on strike. People seriously wonder if the country is about to head to civil war.

Everybody gets shot:

In April, Martin Luther King is assassinated: one of the most pivotal points of American History.

In June, Andy Warhol is shot (but lives) by Valerie Solanis, a struggling actress, and writer (who was also batshit crazy).

TWO DAYS LATER, Robert F. Kennedy is shot while doing press for his California victory. He dies.

Let that sink in: one of the leading Democrat candidates, the hope of millions of people, who just won the primary of the largest state in the country, killed just five months before the election.

The effect was particularly crushing for African Americans. Their two greatest champions were both violently killed in rapid succession. Tensions ran high.

Democrat turmoil continues (and there were still issues with police):

The Progressive Left looked about ready to split wide open. The Democratic National Convention was in Chicago that year. On that Monday night, demonstrations and anti-war protests were widespread, but generally peaceful. The next two days, however, brought increasing tension and violence to the situation.

By most accounts, on Wednesday evening Chicago police took action against crowds of demonstrators without provocation. The police beat some marchers unconscious and sent at least 100 to emergency rooms while arresting 175.

The Election:

Yes, America voted for Nixon that year. But keep in mind that he wasn’t that particularly scary at the time, and with the unpopularity of the war, Democrats were not looked upon fondly, and reasonable people weren’t going to vote for Wallace so that left Nixon as the only option. Some people even speculated that outgoing President Johnson actually preferred Nixon over his Democrat challenger (who was Johnson’s own VP, though the two did have disagreements about the war). It was only later that Nixon proved to be batshit crazy.

The bigger takeaway from that election was this: racist ass, crazy ass George Wallace only won 13.5% of the popular vote in a time that was pretty racist and pretty crazy overall. Now, to be fair, he did win five states (all in the Deep South), and proved that racist tactics could get votes – but not ENOUGH votes. He couldn’t even win all of the South (Wallace even lost South Carolina). And it’s been 50 years since we’ve had someone run on a platform as openly racist as his and get all the way to Election Day (hello Mr. Trump).

If 1968 showed us anything, it was this: a lot of good things can happen after a short period of unadulterated shit. The year after ’68, we put human beings on the moon and had Woodstock, starting the weird cultural revolution of the 70s. We had the excess of the 80s, the irreverent, colorful 90s, the technology boom of the 2000s. We’ve had our first black President and probably almost had our first woman President too. Europe settled down, communism turned out to be nothing to worry about, the Soviet Union fell apart and the Cold War ended. We still have much to do, but we’ve accomplished a lot too.

So guys, really. REALLY. Calm your nerves a bit. This year is bad, yes, but it isn’t THAT bad. Don’t let one odd year distract you from the more important work of making progress.

Ramsey Isler - Video Blog 2
Screenshot of Video blog #1

Ramsey Isler Video Blog #1

It was recently my birthday! And, as I look back upon my life, I realize I don’t have a lot of videos of myself. Also, I wanted to find a multimedia to connect with my readers/fans. To kill two birds with one stone, I decided to start video blogging, and here’s the first episode!

Watch the second video in the series here Ramsey Isler Video Blog #2 – Write with your heart open, edit with your heart closed

Clockworkers and Ghosts of ARCADIA covers

Birthday Sale! Get two of my novels cheap

It’s the weekend before my birthday (thirty-something). Instead of clamoring for gifts, I want to spread the love to you, my wonderful reader. So two of my books are on Kindle Countdown sale. That means the longer you wait, the more it’ll cost. So get in there now!

Clockworkers is starting at 99 cents on Kindle. Click here to get it in your hot little hands.

Ghosts of ARCADIA is starting at 99 cents on Kindle too! Click here to snatch it up.

Cartel Land Poster

“Cartel Land” review. Oscar documentary series

Mexico is a hot political topic in the US these days. Illegal immigration and the drug trade are always the forces behind the conversation. Cartel Land provides us an inside look at the border conflict from the perspective of two very different vigilante groups fighting against the drug cartels that have had a huge role in creating this mess.

On one side of the border, we have an American “militia” group fighting to enforce laws that the government seemingly can’t or won’t enforce themselves. The film examines this side of the story primarily through the perspective of one man, Tim “Nailer” Foley. He and his cronies fit the stereotype of the anti-Mexican movement; angry, white, Fox News watching, gun toting men out to do their patriotic duty. But Foley is characterized as more than that; he’s also a dedicated father and a child abuse survivor who feels compelled to do the right thing even if it means risking his own life.

On the other side, in Mexico, we have Dr. Jose Manuel Mireles. He’s the leader of the Autodefensas; a paramilitary group that strives to fight the cartels by any means necessary. They are fighting for their people, their country, and their right to live in peace.

Two sides, fighting for the same thing, but never the twain shall meet.

Although the film does try to give both sides equal footing, most of the real action happens in Mexico with the Autodefensas. Their story starts out heroically; Dr. Mireles and his forces flush out cartel forces from a small town, storming in and being welcomed as liberators. Dr. Mireles is known far and wide and regarded as a hero and an icon. Things turn pretty dark from there.

After a suspicious event takes Dr. Mireles out of the picture for a while, the leadership of the Autodefensas passes to his #2 guy (known as ‘Papa Smurf’). Under his leadership, the Autodefensas adopt very questionable strong-arm tactics and start to resemble the very bad guys they’re supposedly working against.

This is also where the action in the film really kicks up. The brave cameramen capturing the footage get all up in the mix, running through the ramshackle streets of Mexican towns while gunfire peppers the air. Cartel thugs are caught, roughed up, and sometimes “disappeared”. But it’s not always clear that the victims of this violence are actually guilty of anything.

Mixed with this action are stories of the poor Mexican citizens caught up in this drug war. Through close-up interviews, we hear tale after tale of family members killed, mutilated, kidnapped, and raped. Cartel Land does a fantastic job of humanizing the injustices suffered by ordinary innocent people caught up in the drug trade. They are poor and they are helpless and they just want peace from horrors most people can’t even imagine. Is it any wonder that they’d try to escape any way they can?

There’s a classic line in Nolan’s The Dark Knight script (another story about a vigilante): “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” That is the perfect way to describe what we see documented in this film. The environment that our protagonists work in is toxic, permeating everything from local law enforcement to prisons to politics. They are up against insurmountable odds. And, at the end of the day, they are human. Who can stare into the heart of darkness every day and never lose faith?

Cartel Land provides more questions than answers. How did we get to this point? How can we ever fix it? Who can we ever trust to handle it? For this film, where everyone who thought they had the answers falls far short, the questions prove more enlightening.

You can watch Cartel Land on Netflix. Read my other reviews of Oscar nominated films: Amy, What Happened, Miss Simone, and Winter on Fire