Let’s Talk About Sexual Harassment

Update: Since this post, four more women have come forward to accuse Al Franken of sexually inappropriate conduct.  On December 7th, 2017, Franken announced that he would be stepping down as a senator.

During the past week, you’ve probably seen this image at least once:

 

 

The image was taken during a 2006 U.S.O tour, which then-comedian Al Franken participated in.  The woman in the picture is Leeann Tweeden, who is now the anchor of a morning radio broadcast in Los Angeles.  According to her story, while they were rehearsing a skit which called for a kissing scene, Franken pushed her head against his and basically forced the kiss upon her.  She pushed him away and immediately told him never to do it again.  Later, she says that Franken treated her poorly the rest of the tour and then had this picture taken while she was sleeping.

Franken himself has issued an apology, saying that while he does not remember the skit the same way Leeann does, we should all listen to women’s stories.  He also expressed regret for the photo, saying that looking back on it now he sees it for what it is and is disgusted with himself.  You can read his full statement here.

This, of course, comes after the whirlwind of sexual harassment and assault claims that have been sweeping the nation ever since the Harvey Weinstein scandal first broke out and the “#metoo” movement began trending on the internet.  Now, Franken has been accused by a second person of grabbing her butt during a photo at the state fair in 2010, when he was a first-term senator.  But for my part, I’m going to be focusing mostly on the first incident, as it is the one that has generated the most discussion.

First off, the obvious: no woman should have to feel uncomfortable in their body or uncomfortable telling their story.  Shaming a woman for either of these things is downright despicable.

But with that being said, I’ve noticed something in the past week.  It seems that people are far too willing to lump Senator Franken in with the likes of Roy Moore and Harvey Weinstein.  This strikes me as unfair, because the accusations of what each man did are so different.  Weinstein’s run the gamut from inappropriate touching to actual rape.  And one of Roy Moore’s accusers said that when she was sixteen he offered her a ride home from work, then drove her behind the restaurant where she was a waitress and started groping her.  He even tried to force her head into his crotch.

A lot more serious than kissing someone or touching their breasts or butt, wouldn’t you say?

My point with all this is that I’m worried that it has become too easy to condemn people following an accusation of sexual misconduct.  There was a time when women were blamed for being raped because of the clothes that they wore and the way they acted, which I think most of us can agree is utter bullshit.  But following the “#metoo” movement, it seems like people are all too willing to crucify someone when they’re accused of sexual misdeeds of any kind.

And as for the Franken case, I think it’s important to remember that back then, he was a comedian.  A lot of what comedians do is push the boundaries of what we as a culture consider acceptable.  Another good example of this can be seen in the allegations against actor George Takei, who most will remember as Sulu from the original “Star Trek” show.  Takei denied the allegations, but then people dug up comments he made on Howard Stern’s show where he joked about touching men.  And while it’s easy to look at something like this and immediately cry “he’s a sick pervert”, it’s important to note that Howard Stern is literally known as a “shock jock”, a term describing a radio broadcaster who intentionally uses humor that some people will find offensive.  In that sense, Takei’s comments shouldn’t be taken as indicative of his real personality, but as those of someone playing his part in a joke.

I feel like the Franken allegation is similar.  It’s far too easy to look at it like “he’s a total hypocrite…how dare he pretend to be a champion of women’s rights”.  Now, does it necessarily make what he did okay?  No…of course not.  Taking that picture was a tasteless and stupid thing to do, especially after Leeann made her feelings on the matter clear.  But context is important.  And in that sense, what Franken did was far less damning than what people like Roy Moore have been accused of.  I don’t think he deserves to have his career destroyed over this.  Tweeden herself even accepted Franken’s apology, saying that “people make mistakes”.  She also added that she didn’t necessarily think he needed to resign.  So while it appears she’s moved on from the incident, others are still using it to try and nail Franken to the wall, so to speak.

The best example I can find of this is President Trump himself, who felt compelled to let everyone know his thoughts.  In a tweet, he said “The Al Frankenstein picture is really bad, speaks a thousand words”.  And yet, he has said very little about the accusations against Roy Moore (although yesterday he finally broke his silence on it) or even the accusations against himself.  In fact, most of what he and the White House has said on the matter is comes down to “all the women are lying”.  And I’ve seen some people on Facebook sharing memes condemning Franken when they’ve so readily brushed off any of the allegations against Trump.

It goes both ways too.  I’m sure people who have readily condemned the actions of Republicans have remained strangely mum on accusations against their side of the aisle.  What it comes down to is that we need to take politics out of the equation.  It’s not about Republicans vs. Democrats, Liberals vs. Conservatives.  The real issue here is that people with power and authority have a tendency to abuse it.  And until we deal with the cultural ramifications of that, the situation isn’t going to get better.

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

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Spotlight: “Iron Fist” Season One

Warning: spoilers for season one of “Iron Fist” follow.

…Oh boy……

Ever since “Iron Fist” premiered on Netflix back in March, it’s been panned by many critics.  It’s easily considered the worst of the Marvel Netflix shows and possibly even one of the worst shows on Netflix period.  The reception to it was so bad that Finn Jones, the actor who plays the main character in the show, blamed Donald Trump for the negative perception of the show.  According to him, because of the wide distrust of the president people can’t root for Danny Rand because he’s a white billionaire superhero.

 

This is the appropriate reaction to what you just heard.

 

But I digress.  “Iron Fist” is currently sitting at a 37 on Metacritic and a 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Why?  Were critics just being unfair?  Was the show really made more for the fans like Finn Jones also suggested?  Or was there something else, a reason that the show was so negatively received?

Well, as it turns out, there was a reason.  You see, “Iron Fist” season one is boring.  Like, really boring.  I have to admit that I struggled watching through the entire thing.  That’s not to say that there aren’t good points to the show, but they’re faint pinpricks of light in an otherwise gloomy sea of tedium.

And the problem starts with Danny Rand himself.

Now, to be fair to Finn Jones, I don’t think he’s a bad actor.  He does a serviceable job here.  The main problem is the character.  But before we get into that, we have to give some backstory.  As a kid, Danny Rand was in a plane crash with his parents in the Himalayan mountains and was the only survivor.  After being rescued by a pair of mysterious monks, Danny spends his formative years in a place called K’un-Lun, a mystical monastery that is only accessible every fifteen years.  There he learns martial arts and gains the power of the Iron Fist, turning him into a mystical living weapon.  He returns to New York fifteen years after his supposed death and tries to reclaim the life he once had.

The thing is, Danny Rand is perfect…too perfect.  In fact, he’s so perfect he’s boring.  He spouts off Zen sayings left and right.  He’s in total control of his emotions (at least in the beginning).  And he’s practically unbeatable in a fight.  I mean he walks into the dojo of Colleen Wing (one of the side characters) and almost immediately schools her in martial arts.  It’s ridiculous.  And then later on, any time his company runs into a scandal, he always does the morally righteous thing.  And I mean always.  There’s nothing interesting about his character because there’s no flaws to his character.  At least, not until like three-quarters through the season when the writers suddenly decide that his guilt over the death of his parents clouds his judgement and renders him unable to summon the Iron Fist most of the time.  If this was implemented from the beginning of the season, that would be one thing.  But the way it just shows up later is jarring.

 

The impeccable Danny Rand.

 

Danny Rand reminds me of that stereotypical rich guy who constantly shares pictures of his vacations on Facebook or Instagram.  You know the type: you constantly see them posing in sun-bathed tropical locales or other exotic locations.   And they’re always spouting off life wisdom like they know that’s best for everyone else.

But enough about Danny.  What about all the side charac-

They’re boring.  Just…boring.  Aside from Colleen, the dojo teacher that becomes his love interest, none of the characters really have anything important or interesting going on (except for maybe Joy…I found some of her scenes to be kind of interesting).  I don’t care about the day-to-day business of the Rand corporation.  I don’t care about corporate backstabbing.  And I certainly don’t care about a boring subplot dealing with painkiller addiction.  Seriously, screw that noise.  It’s like the show is caught between being a bad superhero show and a bad soap opera.

And the pacing…oh god the pacing.  It’s so off.  Like I said before, the main problem with “Iron Fist” is that it’s just boring.  I hope you like martial arts poses because I swear that at least sixty percent of this show is people striking martial arts poses and talking about what they’re going to do next instead of, you know, actually doing it.

 

Who cares about plot when you can strike some sick poses brah?

 

Even the title sequence is boring.  “Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, and “Luke Cage” all had nuance in their title sequences that hinted at certain aspects of their characters or overall themes for the show.  What does “Iron Fist” have?  A silhouette of a man leaving inky trails all over the place as he strikes a bunch of poses.

 

Whoo…it’s so good guys. I’m not even being sarcastic…

 

And speaking of pacing, my god the show has no idea how to build or sustain momentum.  When the show isn’t being dull and full of people talking or striking poses, things seem to happen way too quickly.  For example, the end of the first episode has Danny being drugged by his former friends Joy and Ward Meachum, then being placed in a mental hospital.  And then he breaks out of the mental hospital at the end of the second episode.  Like…what?  This is the kind of stuff you do in the middle of the season, not at the beginning.  Not only that, but the show spends the first four episodes or so dealing with Danny trying to prove his identity.  And there isn’t even a real payoff to it.  The conflict is abruptly resolved and the people trying to keep Danny from getting back into the company are suddenly like “hey Danny we’re your friends again…we can just forget about that whole mental hospital thing right?”

There are so many little things with this show that I could complain about.  A villain becomes a not-villain only to suddenly become a villain again later on in the season.  The characters spend way too much time talking about duty and honor.  The last episode feels like it belongs in an entirely different season.  Certain things just happen without any real explanation (I still don’t understand how Danny suddenly winds up in a freaking penthouse after being kicked out of Colleen’s dojo).  Characters make decisions that don’t make any sense.

It’s a mess.  But if I keep going, this review will go on forever.

In the end, I feel like if the show had been done with a lighthearted tone, things probably would have worked out better.  The silly nature of Danny’s character and all the overemphasized martial arts combat doesn’t really blend well with the show’s dead serious tone.  But even if they did go for a lighter tone, then it just wouldn’t fit with the other shows.  Any way you slice it, “Iron Fist” just fails to deliver.

And yet, it was still Netflix’s most binge-watched drama.  Kinda sad when you think about it, but that’s the power of Marvel.  People will watch it regardless, especially because of how the stories are interconnected.

All I can say is that I hope “The Defenders” was worth it.  Because Marvel has seemed to be in a hurry to get that out the door for the past couple of years, and that has led to a decrease in quality for the Netflix shows.  The second season of “Daredevil” felt disjointed at times, with two major arcing plots that didn’t seem to mesh together well.  The second half of “Luke Cage” season one saw a complicated villain being swapped out for one that had very little depth and whose only motivation is revenge against Cage.  But clearly, “Iron Fist” was hit the worst.  There’s so much unnecessary subplot that could have been left out in favor of focusing on making Danny not suck as a character and giving him an origin story that’s actually enjoyable to watch.  But as it stands, “Iron Fist” season one is only worth watching for the connection to “The Defenders”.

If you watch it on its own hoping for a good standalone story, you’ll most likely end up disappointed.

 

But hey, at least there’s martial arts poses…right?

 

Thanks for reading.  Check back next Wednesday for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here or follow me on Twitter here.

The Power of Nostalgia

We all know nostalgia.  It’s that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when thinking of a time or place from the past.  It’s that pleasant tingling you feel when you remember an old book you read, a movie you watched, or a video game you played.  But how much power does nostalgia actually have?

Let’s get political for a second.  This past election cycle, Donald Trump’s campaign phrase was “make america great again.”  This motto clearly resonated with a decent amount of people, because it won him his party’s nomination and eventually he won the presidency.  Clearly, nostalgia played a factor here, but nostalgia for what?  If I had to hazard a guess, I would say the 1950’s.  That’s the obvious answer, because the ’50s were that blissful age of good ol’ fashioned family values and being American.  Well…if you were straight, Christian, male and white that is.  If you were anything else, your experience in the ’50s was a lot less fun.  Because that’s the thing with nostalgia…it can blind you to the problems of the past.  The older generations tend to look at the ’50s as a Utopian era and long for those times again, but that’s largely due to the fact that advertisers have been drilling that image into their heads for decades.

But nostalgia affects us in smaller ways too.  Like say, when it comes to our entertainment habits.

 

realMyst Masterpiece Edition

 

I’ve gone on record before about my fondness the game Myst.  I really love Myst.  Like…really, REALLY love Myst.  I could go on and on about the game.  And apparently I have, if my blog is any indication.

Part of my love for the game, of course, stems from nostalgia.  Myst was one of my first-ever video games, and it was vastly different from other games I played around that time.  Instead of going on an epic quest to save a princess, I was just wandering around an island all by myself trying to uncover its secrets.  It’s a profoundly atmospheric game, an experience all its own.  That uniqueness, combined with my age when I played it, likely led to my nostalgic memories of it.  In fact, I would consider Myst to be one of my favorite video games of all time, largely due to that nostalgia.  But, even so, I acknowledge that the game was not perfect.

Some of the puzzles could be frustratingly obtuse.  And some of them were more tedious to solve than they needed to be.  For example, on the island there were these pedestals with symbols etched onto them: a snake, a leaf, an anchor, and so on.  Once you activate a certain combination of them, the sunken ship by the dock rises out of the water.  But the problem was that, in the original edition of the game, you couldn’t tell which of these pedestals were on or off unless you got close to them and hovered your mouse over the symbol (red for off, green for on).  It doesn’t sound like much, but if you were the type to just click random things to see what they did, it made solving the puzzle a little more tedious once you knew the answer because then you would have to go around and figure out which ones you accidentally turned on.

And then there was the puzzle with the ship you had to drive through the underground maze.  A clue to understanding that puzzle was actually hidden in a different location, something which the game hadn’t done up to that point.  So basically, if you went to that age, to get the clue for that puzzle you would actually have to solve the puzzle to get back to the island so you could get back to the other area to get the clue.

Yeah…it was a thing…

Despite all that, I would say that Myst stands up fairly well for its age.  I mean, at least it doesn’t require you to grab a toothbrush at the beginning of the game or else you can’t beat it at the end (no joke, there was actually a game like that).  Its puzzles had logic behind them.  The difficulty came from figuring out how the mechanics of each puzzle worked.

But like with the 1050’s, nostalgia in video games can blind us as well.  A lot of older gamers tend to lament how “easy” games are now and how they hold your hand too much.  But the thing a lot of them (including myself) often forget is that older games weren’t always the best designed.  Often, there were tricks you would have to learn in order to even complete the game.  And these were often never truly explained to you, because standards in game design weren’t really finalized yet.  The older Zelda games are guilty of this.  I’m not sure how you were supposed to figure out that certain blocks could be moved to unlock doors in the dungeons, but you had to do it.  And that’s an issue with a lot of old-school games…even the good ones.

A similar thing happens with movies.  People love old movies like Casablanca and Citizen Kane, but would they really stand up on their own nowadays if it wasn’t for nostalgia?  Movies back then had a lot of restrictions because of the way technology was.  Cameras were hard to move and sound was hard to capture, which led to a lot of movies featuring little more than people standing around in a room and talking,  Now, that’s not to say that this can’t work (like in The Maltese Falcon), but a lot of old movies are very static.

 

The Maltese Falcon (1941)

 

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while nostalgia is a nice, warm thing…it does have its drawbacks.  I’m sure you’ve often heard the phrase “rose-colored glasses” to indicate that someone is blind to the bad side of something.  And that can be the case with nostalgia.  We remember these times, places, games, movies, and so on with pleasant feelings, but we often ignore that they had limitations or bad design choices that wouldn’t make sense in the modern era.

It’s okay to be nostalgic about something.  But like with many things in this world, moderation is key.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week!

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Follow me on Twitter over here.

When Debates Became Battles

Welcome to the age of snide comments and memes.

“But wait,” you say, “it’s been that way for a while now.”  Well hold on there.  What if I told you this was a problem?  What if I told you that all those snide comments and memes probably and likely contributed to the political divide we saw on display during this election season?  What if I told you that the memes aren’t what they seem?

 

Why yes Morpheus, do go on.

Why yes Morpheus, do go on.

 

In an age where social media dominates, perhaps it was inevitable that our chosen form of information consumption would come from pictures with white words written on them.  This is the internet age, where being “viral” is everything.  So many are looking for their fifteen minutes of fame.  But ironically, it is usually those who aren’t looking for their time in the spotlight that actually get time in the spotlight.  Because that’s just the weird way the internet works.

But all that viral meme-ness has led to a lot of misinformation and false statistics.  For example, you may remember this meme going around a while back:

 

gun-violence-meme

 

It echoes a certain sentiment that pro-gun people have, namely that gun control doesn’t work.  But here’s the problem: the meme is inaccurate.  No matter what metric you use, it seems that it is impossible to put the United States in third place when it comes to murders.  Now, understandably, that makes the second part of the meme much harder to test.  But as Snopes found out, it still doesn’t add up.  Using FBI statistics from 2012, they found that those four cities added together only account for about 7.8 percent of murders in the United States.  So basically, not enough to push the U.S. up from “fourth from the bottom” on this theoretical list of murders.

It might not seem like this meme had all that much impact, considering that it has faded out of view (at least, I haven’t seen it in quite a while).  But in an age when all criticism can be countered by screaming “FAKE NEWS” in all caps on Twitter, things like this are more dangerous than ever.

Memes like these leave no room for debate, nor were they meant to.  They usually come with links to an incredibly biased source or sometimes no links at all.  You’re expected to take them at their word, which is troublesome because so many are filled with biased rhetoric.  They’re not meant to encourage discussion.  They’re meant as a “so there” to discourage any opposing viewpoints.

 

chicago-teen-meme

Memes like this are only ever meant as a self-affirming fist pump, a soothing assurance to a select group of people that their worldview is right and all others are wrong.

 

And misinformation is just as dangerous as ever.  For example, recently an anti-abortion group called “Live Action” released a video that claimed Planned Parenthood was lying about providing access to prenatal care.  Of course, once you actually dig into the story, you’ll find that what Live Action really did was take things out of context so that their viewers would reach the conclusion they wanted them to reach.

That’s exactly what’s so dangerous about the widespread use of memes in political discourse.  It’s very easy for people to click “share” on something that coincides with their views.  It doesn’t matter if the meme is factually inaccurate.  It makes them feel good, so they share it.  And when something like that catches fire on the internet, it becomes nearly impossible to put out.

And in case you think I’m being biased, the left (or liberals, if you prefer) is guilty of this as well.  You might have seen this meme going around during election season:

 

trump-dumbest-voters

 

Ouch.  Yeah, it’s pretty harsh.  Also it’s totally bunk.  There is nothing in People Magazine’s online archive where Trump is quoted as saying anything even close to that.  But still, it was shared and liked by many liberals on Facebook, simply because it fit their mental image of Trump.

If you’re going to criticize someone, criticize them for something they actually did.  And believe me, there’s plenty of things Trump did that are critique worthy.

These days, debates have turned into fights.  They’re no longer about learning, they’re about winning.  They’re no longer about growing as a person, they’re about never admitting you lost.  Instead of trying to understand where someone with an opposing view is coming from, it’s about disparaging them and calling them names.  Why listen to what they’re saying when you can just brush them off as the “regressive left” or the “racist right”?

Bottom line is, we need to be vigilant.  Especially now, in an era where photos and information can be easily manipulated or taken out of context and made to suit specific agendas.  And I get it, it’s hard.  There are even blog sites out there that will make themselves appear to be a news website in an attempt to gain more followers or spread their message.  It’s a metaphorical minefield out there on the internet. and you can never be one hundred percent certain you won’t step right on top of one.  But you can do your part.  Before you click “share” on that buzzy meme, maybe do a little searching on Google to see if the meme’s information is accurate.  If it isn’t, don’t give it the time of day.  Don’t give it its fifteen minutes of fame.  Don’ t give it time in the spotlight.  You’ll be doing us all a favor.

And now, before I go, I leave you with this:

 

willy-wonky-generated-meme

 

Yes, I did that all by myself…using tools I found on the internet.

……

Don’t look at me like that.

 

Thanks for reading!  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

2016: The Year Everybody Loved to Hate

We’re only three days into 2017 and already the narrative has been established: 2016 was an awful crap fest of a year and we’re glad it’s gone.  But was it as bad as we think?  Was there really nothing at all redeeming about the past year?

A lot of the hate surrounding 2016 seems to have a lot to do with how we ended the year on a rather sour note.  The aftermath of the election was still front and center in our minds and the death of Carrie Fisher was and still is weighing on us.  When it comes to 2016 these are the two things everyone seems to be talking about right now: the election and celebrity deaths.  Now, the election was a heated one and there were a lot of celebrities that passed away last year, but I think some good things happened too.

For starters, it was a great year for the domestic box office, making over eleven billion dollars.  That’s the first time in history.  And the year was full of noteworthy movies, the top three grossing being Finding DoryRogue One, and Captain America: Civil War.  Although we might as well just call it “Disney gets richer” because all three of those came out of studios owned by Disney.

But even though Disney ruled the box office it was still a great year for other movies as well.  I personally really enjoyed 10 Cloverfield Lane, the kinda-maybe sequel to the original Cloverfield back in 2008 (although you don’t have to have seen the first one to enjoy it).  It was a smartly paced horror thriller that proved that you never really can trust John Goodman.  And I mean ever.  Right when you think you’ve grown to trust him the movie throws something back at you that casts doubt on the whole situation.  It’s tense, exciting, and never really lets up.  If you’re a fan of horror or even just thrillers in general, I highly recommend it.  Even the debut trailer for the movie was great, capturing that gradual sense of unease as things grow more and more demented.

 

 

I also really enjoyed Arrival, a sci-fi film with a unique take on first contact with aliens.  I already posted a full review of it a few weeks back so I won’t go into so much detail again.  It’s a smart movie that puts the focus squarely on the impact of aliens arriving on Earth.  Their intentions unknown, the governments of the world scramble to assemble teams and figure out what the purpose of their arrival is.  It’s a high concept movie with a decidedly human core to it.

But it wasn’t all rosy in movie land.  As much as I would like to put Rogue One on my “best movies of 2016” list I simply can’t, mainly because it’s lackluster first half was only saved by such an extraordinary second half.  And then there was also Blair Witch, the 17 years later sequel to The Blair Witch Project, which failed to capitalize on any of its interesting elements and instead settled into a boring parade of pointless jump scares and shadow retelling of the events of the first movie.

It was also a great year for alternative energy or “clean energy”, if you prefer.  Solar energy is now the same price or cheaper than fossil fuels in thirty countries around the world.  Not only that, but Tesla managed to power an entire island using solar panels.  Sure the island has only 600 residents, but it’s still an amazing feat.  It shows that the future of energy may finally be arriving.  You may or may not believe in global warming, but I’m sure you can at least agree that fossil fuels will not last us forever.  Regardless of global warming, we have to secure humanity’s future by switching over to renewable energy sources.

And hey, remember Pokemon GO?  It was that mobile game that actually got people to go outside and walk around.  How amazing is that?  A video game actually made people go enjoy the outdoors.  Never mind the media, who apparently tried their best to sour the achievement by reporting all the accidents that occurred with people playing the game (although at least one such report of a highway accident involving the game was false).  The hype around Pokemon GO has certainly died down at this point, but there’s no denying the impact it had on popular culture.

See here’s the thing with 2016: I think most of the bad stuff that happened was at least slightly blown out of proportion by either the news or social media.  There were certainly a lot of high-note celebrity deaths last year, but as Cracked points out pretty much every year is the worst year in celebrity deaths.  And something I didn’t mention before, but in the aftermath of that Dallas shooting in July where five police officers were killed we had this narrative in our heads that the United States had become such a battleground for our forces in blue that they were afraid to even step out the door because they might not come back home.  Never mind the fact that the number of police officers being killed has been, on average, declining for the past few decades.  It just shows you how our perception can be shaped so easily by exaggeration.

 

us-officers-killed-graph

Source: BBC.

 

And when it comes to the election, yes there was a lot of vitriol flowing around, but we have to remember that this has been the culmination of the public frustration that’s been brewing for quite some time.  Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have gotten nearly the amount of attention they did if they had run even just a decade ago (Trump did actually try running for the Reform Party back in 2000, but withdrew before the voting began).  And while Trump’s win greatly upset a lot of people, I don’t think it makes 2016 a terrible year.  If anything, I think it makes 2017 an uncertain year because now he’ll actually be able to start doing things when he takes office on January 20th.  Before, all he could really do was talk (or tweet).  It leaves us with an uncertain future on progressive policies and environmental issues.  I mean, Trump is the guy who once said that wind turbines are killing all the eagles.  No joke.

But despite all my defenses of 2016, I still don’t think it was a great year.  Hell, I’m not even sure if I would necessarily call it a “good” year, just an average one.  But it certainly wasn’t the doomsday terrible good-for-nothing year that many of us seem to have in our minds.  If anything, instead of focusing on the bad parts of 2016, we should be focusing on fighting to make sure 2017 is a good year and goes where we want it to.  The past can inform us, but it can also bind us and steer us away from the things that matter.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  But before I go, I do want to say one thing.  I made a resolution during New Year’s that I haven’t shared with anyone else yet, so this is the first time I’m speaking of it period (aren’t you lucky).  My resolution is that I will write a short story each month this year, so twelve in total.  And on the final Wednesday of each month, instead of a normal blog post I will be posting the story for that month for you all to read.  It’s another way to help me keep writing (I have been working on a full-length book, but working on that all the time really takes its toll after a while so I’ve wanted new projects for a while).  Please, do leave feedback on the stories and tell me what you think.

Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

A Post-Election Message

So the dust has finally settled.  The people have spoken and a new president has been chosen for the United States.

Am I happy with the results?  No, I’m not.  I don’t like Trump and I think some of his more extreme ideas could be damaging to our country.  I’m disappointed with the results of the election.  But it happened.  Now the question is what to do moving forward.  And to that end, I wanted to send a simple message out on this day after election day.

Be kind to each other.

Whether you’re a conservative or a liberal, republican or democrat, just be nice to each other.  So much hate and nasty comments have been thrown around this election.  Not only that, but there was a lot of doom-saying going on.  If you were a Trump supporter, Hillary was going to start World War 3.  If you were a Hillary supporter, Trump was a fascist and would destroy democracy.  There seemed to be very little middle or common ground in this election, and that worries me.  I’m worried that people won’t listen to each other or compromise on anything.  I’m worried people will give up on politics more than they already have.  I think part of the reason Trump won was because people in my generation are so convinced that their votes don’t matter that they just didn’t vote.

I saw something like that happen with Bernie Sanders supporters after he lost the primary.  Now let me be clear, I supported Bernie a lot and I really wish he would have been nominated.  But just because he lost that nomination didn’t mean that his ideas or his cause were lost.  It’s the same thing now.  We can all still work together to find compromises and make sure that people get what they want.  We don’t need mindless hatred.  We need to come together.  We need unity.

After all, aren’t we all sick of those bombastic negative political ads?  Most of us, even those who didn’t vote, are probably breathing a big sigh of relief that those are over with.  And I can echo that sentiment.  Here in northern Minnesota, the 8th district congressional race was one of the most heavily advertised in the entire country (if not the most).  It felt like I couldn’t go a single commercial break at work without seeing an ad for either Rick Nolan or Stewart Mills.

And those ads were ridiculous right?  One ad would come on and it would be like “Rick Nolan is a hero for the working class.  He fights for jobs here in the Iron Range.  Miners love Rick Nolan.  Rick Nolan is the best thing ever.”  And then a minute later another ad would come on and be like “Rick Nolan is the worst thing ever.  He hates the working class and kills jobs on the Iron Range.  Miners hate him.  Don’t vote for Rick Nolan.”

Honestly I’m disappointed.  They should have gone all out and made an ad that just said “Rick Nolan.  He’s pretty much the Antichrist.  And you wouldn’t vote for the Antichrist, would you?”

This election seems to have nailed us into two separate camps that aren’t allowed contact with each other.  If you were a liberal, you hated conservatives.  And if you were a conservative, you hated liberals.  But the thing is, they’re just opposite sides of the same coin, two ways of looking at the same world.  Instead of pretending that they are separate and incompatible, shouldn’t we be trying to find some middle ground?  Shouldn’t we be looking for the ways we connect instead of the ways we don’t?  I may not like Donald Trump, but I’ve tried to understand why people would support him.  And I understand it in a way.  People are sick of the same old nonsense.  They’re sick of politicians constantly bickering, never getting anything done, and paying more attention to their special interests than their constituents.  I don’t think Trump is the answer to that issue, but I can somewhat understand the frustration people feel and why that would drive them to vote for him.

And then you hear about stuff like those shootings at a California polling place last night and it makes you wonder.  Is this really how far we’ve gone?  Is this really how much we hate each other?  Are we really so divided that we’re willing to shoot each other over who’s voting for who?  I don’t know.  But I do know one thing: there is more that binds us than separates us, and we would do well to remember that.  It sounds like something from a feel-good movie, but I truly believe it.  The whole reason society has succeeded thus far is because we as human beings are capable of working together.  Once all this election stuff leaves our system, I think we would all do well to remember that.  Because if we work together, we can make the world a better place for ourselves and for future generations of humans.

Because that is what we are in the end.  Despite our differences, we are all human.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Political Confrontation: Do the Presidential Debates Actually Matter?

So just this week, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump had their very first televised debate.  And as expected, it was a very watched event.  According to CNN, the debate averaged around 80 million viewers over the twelve television channels that aired it.  And these were the Nielsen ratings, which only take into account people who watch traditional television at home.  There were many people who watched the debates at coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and even colleges.  There were also people who watched the debate online via streams on Youtube and the like.  So it’s very likely the debate viewership was much, MUCH higher than 80 million.

It was a record-breaking event, that’s for sure.  Twitter even called it their “most tweeted” debate ever.  But there’s one question that isn’t really asked: do presidential debates even matter?

According to this article, debates are an important source of new information for voters, information they can presumably use when making their decision on who to vote for.  The article also says that debates can “determine which candidates can tap the ever-widening pipeline of money in politics – from small donors kicking in a few dollars to wealthy elites deciding which future president, or super PAC, is the best bet for their millions.”  Yet it also says that the debate format feels outdated in a lot of ways, considering it has changed very little from its debut in the 1960’s.  It hasn’t taken advantage of the digital age, of the new ways that people gather and consume information.

But it is this line near the very end that stuck out to me:

“The report also recommends inviting third-party candidates and getting rid of live audiences, which too often are packed with donors and partisan supporters whose reactions – raucous applause or derisive boos – can make or break a campaign.”

Is that really true?  Can the reactions of these “stacked” audiences actually effect the outcome of a campaign?  Can the debate itself even effect the outcome?  It is true that debates are heavily favored by pundits and commentators because it gives them fodder to talk about in the days following.  But the actual lasting impact of these debates is at best questionable.

Here’s another article I found that takes a look at the findings of political scientists.  And they aren’t favorable to the actual impact of debates.  The article talks about the well-known “gaffes” during political debates, such as George H. W. Bush checking his watch and Al Gore sighing.  While these were widely talked about in the days following the debates, the statistics seem to say that they had little to no impact in the polls.  If anything, the debates only nudged a candidate closer to victory than they already were, usually by a scant 1-3 points.  They could have an impact in an extremely close election, but the article seems to suggest that it isn’t very likely.

So why is this?  Why do the debates not seem to matter?  While they are a great source of new information, it doesn’t seem like this information changes any minds.  People tend to go into the debates with their minds already made up, particularly due to the fact that the debates occur so late in the political season.  Take this most recent debate as an example.  It is only the first between the two major prospective candidates and election day is less than two months away.  So people have already set their minds to hating one or the other or even both of the candidates.  And it isn’t likely that one candidate’s performance in a debate is going to change their mind at this point.

That isn’t to say that it never happens.  I remember I had a friend back in 2008 during the McCain/Obama election season who was initially a McCain supporter.  He actually changed his mind after watching one of the debates (the vice-presidential one I believe) and found that he liked what the other side was saying more.  So it is possible that the new information can sway a voter’s mind, but the actual movement these voters make up is usually so slim as to be inconsequential.  As I said, most people already have their minds made up and aren’t likely to change them this late in the game.

Now the question becomes one of why do these debates exist at all?  Well, more than anything, they seem to provide commentators and pundits with talking points.  In the days after a debate, they’ll break down everything the candidates do or say, fact-check their statements, and weigh in with their opinions on who won and who lost.  Then, with their fifteen minutes of fame up, they probably collect their check and disappear out the door, biding their time until the next big political event.

And for the television stations, the answer is obvious.  Debates equal ratings.  Ratings equal money.  And money makes the world go round.  So by translation, debates equal money which equals the station making a profit.  So I imagine this is why they hype up the debates so much.  They want to attract more people to watch their particular station so that their ratings spike and they make more cash.  Because the television business is just that, a business.

So in the end, debates seem to be less about providing people with useful information and more about giving the “talking heads” something to talk about.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

You can like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.