Push the Button

Did you ever see the 2009 movie The Box?

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No, probably not. It didn’t do so hot at the box office, and from what I understand it wasn’t all that great. But the premise is horrifying.

Based on the short story “Button, Button” by Richard Matheson, he of I Am Legend fame, the premise of The Box is simple: Push a button in a box, a stranger you don’t know will die, and you’ll get $1 million. Simple, yet chilling. And it asks a question that lots of good stories plant in the reader’s mind: what would you do?

Well, we actually have a pretty good idea of what people would do. Take a look at the wonderful world of Internet activism.

Crusaders for truth and justice–their version of it, at least–want to utterly destroy their targeted opponents. Doxxing, ruining their livelihood, ruining the livelihoods of their family members, making life difficult for their friends and associates, forcing people to disavow the target as friends or face similar repercussions . . . whatever. It’s just another person on the other side of the screen. You never have to look them in the eye when you stick the knife in their belly.

Push the button. Someone you don’t like dies, after a fashion. Oh well. You didn’t really know them anyway.

It’s vicious, it’s sociopathic, and it’s scary. These are the kind of people who, if given the chance, would laugh as they tortured you to death.

This is a very unwelcome strain in American culture. The personal is political, right? Everything is a political battlefield.

Worse, it seems like you’re not allowed to have any past. Old posts on Facebook or statements on Twitter will be dredged up to be used against you. What if every off-hand, thoughtless comment you might have made many years ago got used against you in your forties because it’s saved forever on the Internet?

(Note: I am aware that I do this too. Because I’m not going to unilaterally disarm myself. Hypocritical? No. Just dealing with the world as it is, not how I wish it would be).

What if you’re marked for personal destruction simply because of who you voted for?

What if you’re not allowed to use a service because of some position you hold?

What if you’re not even welcome to partake in a favorite hobby because those involved in it don’t happen to like your personal beliefs?

It’s pretty hard to argue for civility when those screaming the loudest for it are those the least likely to act it. Like everything, cries for “common ground” and “being civil” are cynical ploys to get the other sucker to lower their guard and take certain tactics off the table.

So what to do?

Continue reading “Push the Button”

Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray

If you want to learn about the migrant crisis in Europe, read The Strange Death of Europe by the British journalist and Spectator contributor Douglas Murray. From its origins in the continent’s post-World War II desire for cheap labor, to the short-sightedness of European leaders as to the effects of such a massive influx to the curious European sense of self-loathing and cultural exhaustion, Murray coolly and convincingly diagnoses Europe’s impending cause of death, what could be done about it, and what will probably happen.

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Douglas K. Murray

Murray writes with a dispassionate, though incisive edge that strikes the perfect balance between the historian, the social critic, and the European aghast at what has been done to his continent. As an American, his analysis explains more of the story than we typically get on this side of the Atlantic.

Yet Murray does that rare thing in a popular history: He straddles the line between being accessible and academic, instructive without revealing too much bias. His preference for a European Europe is clear, yet while pessimistic he never seems hectoring or completely biased.

As a homosexual who is, I am pretty sure an atheist, Murray recognizes, for example, that Western civilization is the most tolerant in the world, and that this tolerance, as well as the other blessings of European culture, stem from the combination of Christianity with the Greco-Roman legacy.

And yet Murray is not unsympathetic to the plight of peoples fleeing their awful countries for a better life in Europe. Far form it. In fact, he’s very understanding of the reasons why people have been flooding into Europe, and he does what few journalists seem to: He talks to migrants.

But he balances this with something most mainstream journalists neglect through unconscious bias or by design: He also takes the legitimate concerns of European citizens seriously as well.

Unlike the elites in most European countries, and these countries’ leaders, Murray discusses the fact that the European nations have a right to exist and control their own borders how they see fit. Instead, European leaders are more concerned with shutting their own citizens up, even if this means lying about them and denying their rights.

Europe has succumbed to America Disease: The belief that their countries, unique among other countries across the globe, belong to the rest of the world just as much, if no more, than to their own citizens. And the majority Europe’s people do not agree with this. So few writers, especially European writers, touch this issue, but not Murray. He is fearless He meticulously cites his sources and provides the evidence for you to do your own follow-up homework. And he does it all without sounding preachy or snarky.

Continue reading “Book Review: The Strange Death of Europe by Douglas Murray”

You Can’t Fool God

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Why bother with religious belief in the modern world? Isn’t it just superstition? Hasn’t it been disproven?

I write a lot of these posts to explore this question, not just for readers, but also for myself. Because modern humans like to think we’re at the top of the food chain and have figured everything out, while simultaneously reducing human existence to being merely just another animal that’s little more than a collection of chemical and electrical impulses that reacts to the material world. This seems contradictory and unsatisfactory to me, which is why I can’t stop thinking about it. 

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You’ve got to answer for everything eventually. Even when you die. I don’t know why, but this never bothered me.

I mean it scares me, which is the point, right? But it doesn’t annoy me. I don’t feel like it’s unfair that I’ll eventually face a final reckoning at the awesome judgment seat of the Lord, when that day finally arrives.

Because it makes sense. There are consequences to everything in life. Why would God be any different?

This seems cruel to some. This is yet another reason why non-believers seem to enjoy non-belief. “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” It’s easier, right?

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In other words, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” “Every man and every woman is a star.” 

Do whatever you want because, ultimately, there are no consequences.

Words cannot describe how terrible a philosophy this is. I know some will throw the “slippery slope” fallacy at me, but I’m not so sure that it’s always a fallacy. Think of it more like the law of unintended consequences: one small transgression that’s “not really a big deal, so stop being such a square” will eventually turn into real, officially sanctioned horrors later on.

I mean, writers at top journalistic publications are trying to normalize, or at least destigmatize, pedophelia, for crying out loud.

But even at a personal and not societal level, the fact remains that you can’t fool God.

This isn’t a commandment or even an informal tenet of Christianity, but it always seemed implicit to me. You can’t fool GodHe is omniscient, and no amount of rationalization is going to make the wrong thing actually be right, even though you can convince yourself and others that it is.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.

Galatians, 6:7

From the little transgression to the big, from what you do to what’s in your heart, God knows. And I am fine with this.  Continue reading “You Can’t Fool God”

Death to Fans

Remember that time Led Zeppelin got a negative fan reaction upon first playing “Stairway to Heaven” in concert, and Jimmy Page cast a satanic hex on them, sacrificing a young virgin live on stage in the hopes that the Lord of Darkness would consume anyone who didn’t support what the band did 100 percent?

Or when Paul McCartney, upon hearing negative fan reaction to the Beatles’ Revolver album, called anyone who didn’t like it a “bloody tosser who lives in mum’s basement and is probably a closet fairy” as he sipped his tea and nibbled on a biscuit laced with LSD.

This also brings to mind John Hughes’ response to people who didn’t like Uncle Buck (yes, these people exist), when he hired actual hitmen to hunt them down and beat them within inches of their life until they posted ads in the newspapers talking about how his movies were the greatest things ever.

And lest we forget the time William Shakespeare famously told a crowd who booed the opening of Hamlet to “kindly fucketh offeth and dieth, thou fouleth Nazi-eths.” But then again, Shakespeare had a massive lisp, so everything he said sounded kind of funny.

(Note: I’m not too sure about all these details, but they probably happened.)

Oh wait, no they didn’t. Because artists from Bach to Rembrandt to Jack Kirby to Prince actually did care about their fans–also known as “the people who pay us money to keep producing our art”–and didn’t piss all over them. Because these people, and many others, for all their quirks, weren’t hate-filled and mentally unstable.

Okay, a lot of them probably were mentally unstable. But they didn’t take it out on their fans! Continue reading “Death to Fans”

Book Review: Praxis by Justin Knight

I’ve always enjoyed the “ordinary people get stuck in a horrific situation and have to survive” trope in stories. Whether it’s a disaster movie, a survival horror video game, or much of Stephen King’s ouevre, there’s something about ordinary people overcoming extraordinary circumstances that’s both entertaining and provides wonderful food for thought:

  • How would I react? What would I do?
  • What skills do I have that would be useful in a situation like this?
  • Would people work together, or turn against each other?
  • Would I have what it takes to make it?

Tales of superhumans with otherworldy abilities are always fun and have their place in my heart. But I equally enjoy seeing if the pre-school teacher or the accountant can survive the monsters that suddenly appeared in their town, or can evade the hostile army that’s invaded their nation.

And then, on the other hand, I also love classic 80s/90s action movies.

Along comes Justin Knight with his novel  Praxis. Described as “blue-collar sci-fi,” Praxis details the experience of warehouse workers from Vancouver, Canada whose company gets the contract to man the recently constructed titular space station.

Justin Knight (artist’s rendition)

Praxis focuses on Mickey Hemmings and his crew as they travel to the Praxis station with their families for a year-long stint. The station orbits Neptune at the farthest reaches of the solar system, and is meant to be a waypoint for intergalactic travel. Unfortunately, a group of hostile alien pirates fleeing justice decide to use the station to make their last stand, and the Earthlings get caught in the crossfire.

First, I love this concept: A varied cast of warehouse workers have to survive an alien invasion on a remote space station millions of miles from Earth. Though I have some plot-related questions that I didn’t see addressed–Why are there no security officers? Why doesn’t anyone have guns?–they didn’t detract from the white-knuckled action . . .

. . . when the action finally arrives.

You see, Praxis is a slow-burner. I have no problem with slow-burners, but I did notice that, according to my Kindle app, the action did not begin until 69 percent of the way through the book.

Now, Knight does something clever with all of this: He really sets the reader up to grow fond of these characters. And the competing narratives (the human’s travels to Praxis and settling in interspersed with our alien pirates being pursued by an alien police force) builds the anticipation.

And when these disparate threads collide, they make a big boom. Continue reading “Book Review: Praxis by Justin Knight”

Stay Alive

I really don’t like to be topical, but celebrity suicides make me sad. Any suicide makes me sad. And this isn’t just “Alex hopping on the anti-suicide bandwagon to make himself seem sympathetic.” No, I’ve been banging this drum for a while.

Mental illness is terrible. Depression is terrible. I liken it to a demon (maybe the demon?) getting his hooks into you and poisoning your mind with the sweet song of self-destruction. And it is an alluring message, one that we tend to romanticize in our art.

Whether it’s cultural (I think it partly is) or something else, everybody in America lately has suicide on the mind.

I’ve had my own struggles with this, believe me. But I don’t want to get into my life story here. I want to underscore yet again how this is a silent killer. Many who kill themselves seem outwardly to be fine, to have it all. They don’t always mope around wearing black, talking about how they’re going to do the deed. Often, they seem like regular, stable members of society.

Some depression can be situational, alleviating when the extreme stressors have been removed or overcome. Others are chemical or spiritual or I don’t know. I don’t know why it happens. I don’t know how it happens. All I know is that it’s a terrible thing.

At our cores is a deep yearning for oblivion. Many of us chalk it up to the fall of man in the long ago days when the first humans disobeyed God and were cast out of paradise. Our ultimate ancestors had the free will to decide between the human or divine, and we all know how that turned out because we’re living with the consequences.

Maybe that’s not your style. Maybe you don’t believe in anything save for what you see here in front of you. Maybe you don’t think there’s anything when you die and existence is a waste of time. Even so, something is keeping you from doing the deed. Don’t discount this! Maybe it’s evolution or chemicals or whatever. Don’t let go of it.

Find that one thing that keeps you going. It could be spite, it could be your pet, it could be that thing you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

Turn this depression, this burning passion for self-destruction into fuel.

Talk to people–not necessarily doctors, just people you know and love. If you don’t have anyone, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. They’re great people who care. Trust me.

Go to church and talk to a priest, even if you’re not a Christian. They’re there to listen.

Talk to people you know from on-line. The Internet is a wonderful tool for connection. Use it!

Don’t give in to your existential despair. That’s what the enemy wants you to do. Fuck the devil. Spit in his face. He’s a bastard and nothing he wants for you is any good.

How do I know? I just know. Because only pure evil could convince someone that taking their own life is a good thing.

Stay safe everyone, and stay alive. God bless, and I want the best for you (even if you hate me).

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An Undisciplined Writer

Did you know that Walter B. Gibson, creator of the wildly popular character The Shadow and prolific author of hundreds of stories and novels, one time typed so much his wife was forced to intervene because he broke his damn fingers typing?

Damn.

I learned this on my buddy JimFear138’s most recent podcast, where he talked to another friend of mine, Rawle Nyanzi, about all things genre (and why genre doesn’t really matter these days; check out J.D. Cowan’s recent post about this if you’re interested in the premise).

Anyway, the point is that these guys in the 20s, 30s, and that general era wrote fast. And they produced quality.

This, of course, translates into money. You can see why guys like Nick Cole and Jason Anspach have been so successful with their Galaxy’s Edge series, both with the fans and financially.

Information like this, of course, has the tendency to produce self-reflection, and I realize one vital fact about myself: I am a very undisciplined writer.

Seriously. I don’t really enjoy the actual act of writing. Maybe it’s because I don’t like sitting still for that long. I don’t think it’s necessarily a focus thing, because given the right objective, I can be occupied for hours.

And writing can be like that, when I get into a groove. It’s just that getting into said groove can be a challenge.

This gets me wondering if it’s a free time issue: Free time is so limited, as it is for most of us, that I almost have a checklist of things I’d like to do–work out, read, check some website I’m fond of–before I get to the writing, which can sometimes feel like work. So I’m scheduling writing time–I keep this blog going, after all, I’ve written several novels, and I’m getting others ready for publication–but I can’t shake that I could be doing more with my time.

Is it a balance issue, then? What if I wrote to the exclusion of other things I like to do with my time? I know what would happen: I’;d feel as guilty as I would if I, say, worked out to the exclusion of my writing and other things that interest me.

And then I look to my heroes in writing the way I looked to my heroes in music, and realize I don’t measure up.

For example, when I tried to make a go as a musician, I’d look to my idols like Frank Zappa, Prince,and David Bowie, how ridiculously prolific they were, and get sort of depressed by my own inadequacy.

Likewise, looking at guys like Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the aforementioned Walter B. Gibson, I start to fall into the same trap.

But the important things to remember are that these guys did this for a living, and they weren’t getting paid the big bucks (or having the massive TV/movie deals) the way guys do today. So they had to write to pay the bills.

Me? I’m doing this solely for the love of it . . . for the time being.

Stephen King and Dean Koontz are two super-rich authors I can think of off the top of my head who pumped out tons of books in their heyday, even when they’d already received financial success. I can’t help think of guys like George R. R. Martin, though, who acts as though he actually hates writing.

Enough musing! What to do about it? Here are some things that work for me, both physically and psychologically. I hope they help! Continue reading “An Undisciplined Writer”