Donald Trump In The Big Store

It’s obvious to anyone paying attention that Donald trump does not actually want to be president. I think I have his grift figured out though: the key is his recurring threat to not show up at a debate unless his silly demands are met.

Trump is running a variation on the Big Store con. He gets a bunch of investors to give him money for a sure thing, then it falls apart. He walks away with the money while the marks feel like they were part of something exciting. “Everyone gets exactly what they want.”

The trick to pulling this off in front of the camera though is to orchestrate an out that satisfies all the criteria.Trump has to exit dramatically, while making himself look tough and the GOP like crooks. The last isn’t the hard part.

So he spends months threatening a no-show at his own party, skipping debates unless he gets money, but always showing up. Then, a week before the primary, he follows through and ditches the last debate, counting on low-info voters to assume he’s dropped out. He loses the nomination, cries foul and leaves the party in a huff, announcing that he’s going to run as a 3rd party candidate.

This keeps him in the spotlight, and knocks the feet out from under the GOP. But running as a 3rd party is extra expensive. So Trump sets up a PAC, asks for donations. And gets them by the millions.

Come election day, he of course loses, catastrophically. We all know the elections are rigged against 3rd party candidates. He gives a wowser of a concession speech, pleasing the marks in his crowd, shitting all over the Dems, the GOP and democracy in general. Then he pockets the PAC money, walks away with a couple extra million tax free. He looks like a downtrodden hero to the Trumpettes.

The side effect is that Hillary wins in a landslide, the GOP, who went with Cruz, tank. The Dems even pick up a majority in the Senate.

This also reinforces the conspiracy theory that Trump is a Clinton plant. I doubt that. But the effect is the same as if he is.

Re: The Finale Programme, by Michael Moorcock

Starting in February, Titan Books is reissuing the Cornelius Quartet, as part of their ongoing and much appreciated reprint series of Michael Moorcock’s oeuvre. I got ahold of an ARC for the first book in the series, The Final Programme.

My wife had never seen Casablanca. This struck me as an injustice and so I dutifully sat her down, put int he dvd and teared up when they sang Le Marseilles to drown out the Nazis singing German drinking songs. before we even got to that iconic scene however, my wife in near exasperation exclaimed that she flt like she had seen this movie before, because so much of the dialogue, staging and characters had been referenced, quoted, and parodied in so many other movies and TV shows since 1941.

Reading The Final Programme should have been like that. And judging by the reviews on Goodreads and Amazon, for some people it is.

But it’s a testament to Michael Moorcock’s skill as a writer that this book, written in 1965, first published in 1968 doesn’t feel dated. It has all the hallmarks of the early counterculture that it was a harbinger to, the blithe attitude towards sex and drug use, open homosexuality and bisexuality, the fierce social commentary and  everything else that should, by all rights, make this a screaming artifact of a bygone era. Instead, it’s a rich, fun wild ride, full of brain melting ideas, speeches about eternal recurrence and identity, tossed off like casual banter about the weather, and a sly nod and wink to the reader that yeah, this is all a lark, but a serious lark.

(It’s also possible that I have a soft spot for weirdo counterculture fiction form the 60s, as I’m also a big fan of Illuminatus! and Mumbo Jumbo).

What struck as someone who hasn’t read the Cornelius Quartet before (and not much Moorcock at all), is how influential this series really is. Jerry Cornelius is a direct forefather to Casanova Quinn, bent gender and all. I’m honestly surprised his initials aren’t JC, frankly.

I’m not going to talk about the plot, because it’s fabulous pop art kitsch of the highest order. I want there to be a long lost movie made of it, starring John Philip Law, in full on Danger: Diabolik mode. And telling it in spare synopsis form would make it sound even more ridiculous than summaries usually do.

There’s plenty to be had in the Final Programme, for Moorcock enthusiasts, the references to other works about the Eternal Champion’s exploits. But even if you don’t know about the cosmic battle that [lays out, a hundred time sin different guises and permutations over the course of dozens of the author’s novels, there is still a lot of fun to be had. And really, that’s the adjective that best sums up this book: Michael Moorcock clearly had a blast writing it and now, it’s back for you and I to have fun reading it again, for the first time.

Kudos to Titan Books for bringing out these new editions of fantasy and sci-fi classics by a genuine master of the craft. ( I hope they do The Dancer at the End of Time series next, as that one is a personal favorite).

Special thanks to Chris Young.

Growing Up In Guantanamo Bay

My first professionally published essay, about growing up in Cuba is now up!

There was this story that all of the American kids who lived on GTMO knew—the Cubans didn’t map their minefields. We’d heard it from someone’s brother, who’d heard it from one of the Marines stationed along the fence line, who’d seen it with their own eyes. Prisoners were marched out of a gate on the Cuban side and into the no-man’s land between one country and another until . . . Boom!

Continue reading at The Establishment

The Rebellion Awakes

Spoiler alert: if you haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens yet, where have you been living, under a rock? Because it’s been out for like 3 weeks already.

One of the recurring jokes during the run up to the premier of The Force Awakens was about how Star Wars told the tale of a young man’s journey to Jihad. Luke has all the hallmarks of the nascent terrorist: no family to speak of, isolated, idealistic. He even grew up in a desert, and is converted to a little-understood religion by a bearded radical. This is a funny, because like most jokes, it contains a bit of truth.

In the original Star Wars trilogy, the terrorists are called Rebels, because they have tacit support from a disenfranchised branch of the government, but they use asymmetrical tactics and seek to overthrow a government they see as illegitimate. When we meet Leia, she’s smuggling data hacked by spies and is on a desperate mission to recruit a religious fanatic so well-known for his military prowess, that he is currently living as a hermit under an assumed name.

So why do we root for a ragtag army of rebels led by religious fanatics fighting to rebuild a semi-mythic state? To the Rebellion, the Old Republic is the “shining city on a hill,” that “more civilized time” Obi Wan tells Luke about, filling his head with promises of a past golden age that, thanks to the prequels, we know is bullshit.

One of the (many, many) reasons the Prequel trilogy fails is that the heroes of that story aren’t the underdog radicals, but unwitting agents of the burgeoning Empire. They don’t realize until too late that they’ve been manipulated by a despot into helping him overthrow the established order and install himself as the supreme ruler of a crypto-fascist regime. It’s hard, on an emotional level, to get behind that cause. And we know, going in that this is the end game, because these are prequels and we already know what needs to happen. The Republic must fall and here, Lucus presents us with the agents of that downfall: our hero’s younger selves. Told in reverse, it’s the story of youthful idealism failing to the realpolitik of middle aged compromise. We can understand why this might be a resonant theme for George Lucus, but for the audience at large, it’s a bitter pill to swallow. Despite all the British accents, Star Wars is an American myth and as such, it holds to its heart an unrepentant admiration for the rebel with a just cause.

Part of the the narrative of the founding of the American Republic is that we were and still consider ourselves to be the scrappy underdogs of history. Americans are exceptional because we were the one case when the rebels were the good guys, and so our stories reflect this. We identify with the myth of the righteous rebel because once upon a time, it gave birth to the American dream. That it was, from a certain point of view, as Obi Wan would say, also a bloody insurrection on the part of colonial subjects to the British Empire is one of those implicit truths we prefer to ignore. It doesn’t do well for national moral to admit that we are a country founded by traitors. But they were successful traitors!

Which brings us to The Force Awakens.

Thirty years after what we were led to believe was another instance of successful rebellion in the name of greater freedom from tyranny, we find the galaxy far far away still rent by civil war.

The factions in this version are a bit ill-defined. Obviously the First Order are bad guys, because like all bad guys, they have snappy uniforms and like to recreate Leni Riefenstahl films. But the Resistance is a bit harder to pin down. They aren’t officially part of the New Republic, which gets nuked by the Starkiller. We’d feel bad for them, but we didn’t even know they existed until about five minutes before the sun-gobbling ray gun that’s totally not a Death Star blasts them to space debris.

So the Resistance are The Rebellion: The Next Generation, fighting the good fight against the First Order so the Republic doesn’t have to? I guess? Anyway, it’s never really been clear just what the political structure of this galaxy has been. The Old Republic was a unicameral senate comprised of democratically elected royalty, so, yeah. Vague hand wavy ideas about democracy grafted onto a fairy tale structure that requires a royalist backbone. It’s problematic, to say the least.

You can almost see why some Conservatives root for the Empire. It sweeps away the bureaucratic deadlock of a faux republic full of princes and princesses, which slots neatly between the Tab A of American Rebellion and Slot B of Neocon Imperialism. Plus you know, Darth Vader is pretty cool, as villains go. Better to be ruled by the mechanical iron fist of a strong leader than a committee of girly princesses, am I right?

With his helmet off, he does look a little like Vladimir Putin.

But we had the Rebels and now we have the Resistance, which is very French Underground, and builds on the grafted-on World War II imagery from the original trilogy. It also ties into the romanticized rebel ideal that motivates a lot of American politics today (I’m looking at you, Oregon Militia dickheads).

By making callbacks to the original trilogy, The Force Awakens brings that old school rebellion, DIY ethos into the 21st century. Which is a savvy storytelling decision, as it taps into our cultural mythology, rather than trying to tell a hamfisted political alegory. This in turn reminds us how important the rebel with a cause story is to us. It’s vital and necessary, because democracy is, to a large extent, built on cycles of rebellion.

The devil in the details lies in how the powers-that-be decide to react to that rebellion. Do you try and stomp it out with one Death Star after another? Or do you recognize that gradual change is an inevitable part of human culture and society? Because if there is one thing Star Wars and history both teach us, it’s that if you make gradual change impossible, you make armed rebellion inevitable.

Obviously one makes for good storytelling while the other makes for stable governments and livable planets. I don’t know about you, but I prefer to keep my Nazi analogs in a galaxy far far away.