Saturday, January 28, 2017

Yesterday


One in 3.64 billion.
 
What’s that, you say? One in 3.64 billion? Is that the chance of being struck by lightning? No, that’s 1 in 280,000. Chance of winning the Powerball? Nope--that's 1 in 292 million. Is it the odds of the Browns winning a Super Bowl in our lifetime. Well, I doubt anyone has dared to even bother to calculate that it's so improbable, but even that certainly has a better than 1 in 3.64 billion chance of occurring.
 
So what is it? Simple. One in 3.64 billion is the chance that you will be killed in a terrorist attack in the United States by a refugee. 

Let me repeat: 1 in 3.64 billion.
 
So much like Dumb and Dumber, I’m sayin’ there’s a chance, but even Mary Swim, Swami, Slippy, Slappy, Samsonite Swanson gave Lloyd Christmas “1 in a million” odds. 1 in 3.64 billion is, of course, considerably lower. You could marry many Mary Swansons before you ever had to face down death from a terrorist attack by a refugee.
 
Yet yesterday happened. By that, I mean that an executive order was signed by our new President which banned refugees from 7 predominately Muslim countries (Sudan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, and Libya), countries where, since September 11, 2001, not one refugee has originated from that has committed a successful terrorist attack. 

Done without warning, many of these refugees were so far along in the process of entering America that they were stopped and detained as they departed the planes that had brought them there, many of whom were then denied entry. These are people that were sponsored by families, churches, synagogues, and mosques to start the process of becoming Americans,.
 
But it’s worse than that--and that's pretty damn bad. Refugees are not the only ones banned. We've also banned individuals who had Visas or passports from these countries, people that had already been living and working here, with valid green cards or permanent resident cards. They cannot re-enter. These are people that have been a part of this country, through official channels, but had left to go on vacation, perhaps, or on business, or to visit family. Now, through no fault of their own, they cannot return. This includes doctors, scientists, janitors, fast food workers, Wal-Mart checkers, university professors, the list is endless. Made your home here for 20 years? Tough break, pal—go grab the seat next to Tom Hanks, you’re not leaving the terminal.
 
This is not OK. This is wrong, this is sick, this is immoral.
 
This is not America.
 
Or maybe it is? Maybe I’ve been wrong about everything that I thought I knew. Sure been feeling that way. See, I’ve always thought we were the land of the free and the home of the brave. We sing songs about it, and light fireworks to such sentiments. But if that is so, may I ask what kind of free people allow people of an entire religion and nationality to be persecuted and denied entry? (It should be noted that at this time, all religions are affected so long as they are coming from the seven countries mentioned above.) Furthermore, what kind of brave people cower in their homes and celebrate on the internet because they’ve averted a 1 in 3.64 billion chance of being killed by one of these refugees?
 
The stereotype on Americans is that we are extremely bad at recognizing irony (though it should be pointed out that it was Alanis Morissette, a Canadian, who is responsible for the non-ironic song Ironic). With that knowledge, let me help everyone out with my next point, an ironic one: this executive order does not make us safer. The 9-11 terrorists didn’t come from Syria, nor Sudan, nor Somalia. They came from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Lebanon, and Egypt. Which does not mean I advocate a ban on refugees and citizens from those countries, either, as that wouldn’t make us safer, either, and would be immoral and wrong as well. But if you’re wondering, perhaps, why we didn’t ban anyone from those nations, you might want to entertain the fact that President Trump has properties and business interests in some or all of those nations. 

"But it does make us safer, because, reasons!"
 
No, it doesn't. Look,  I will not pretend to be a terrorism expert. Sure, there’s a chance we could let in a terrorist with the refugees. It can happen. But by picking on predominately Muslim nations while stating in the order that preference will be given for entry to Christians, Trump has essentially declared war on a religion. In no way does that make us safer. We can no longer claim any moral authority, as shaky as the one we did claim can often be. But now that our intentions have been made clear toward the Muslim religion, those who would be moderate toward the United States will likely not be. Not only that, it is tearing apart families, harming our relationship with allies, and making it harder for us to fight future battles in the real fight against terrorists (for example, those that served as interpreters for us in Iraq were among the first to be barred entry to the country, making such individuals and those like them think twice about helping us ever again).

In short, we have a lot more enemies today than we had yesterday. That does not in any way make us safer.
 
And all because we couldn’t stomach 1 in 3.64 billion odds.      
 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

On Listening

Whatever you do, don't let people tell you to "get over it."

Don't let them tell you that the election is over, and it's time to "move on."

When they say you're a "sore loser," don't listen.

Because that's not how this works. We don't elect people, give them the keys to the car, and then step away. It doesn't matter who won, we should never do that, although too often we do. Myself included. It is incumbent that we do exactly the opposite. Never forget: they work for us. And when they don't, it's important that we call them on it and demand better. We don't have to wait until we cast our ballot to do that.

So protest peacefully. Demand more of our free press. Ask them why they aren't covering what you see as important. Contact your representatives, even if it seems like there's not a chance they'll listen. Post stuff on Facebook and Twitter and be willing to lose friends who aren't willing to listen (just make sure you listen to them as well, and perhaps find points of agreement somewhere in the noise).  Donate to causes that can help us fight back right now, like the ACLU.

It's important. All of it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

My Interview with David Atkinson, Part Three

Welcome to part three of my interview with David Atkinson! Part two went terribly, so we scrapped it and decided to start again, and it went much better this time. Thank goodness for that. David is the author of Not Quite So Stories, a new short story collection from Literary Wanderlust that will be published on March 1st. I've read it already and it is terrific. On to the interview!(Part one can be found here.)



Jeremy: If you couldn’t be trapped in a Village Inn, where would you be trapped?

David: For those who have read or seen S.F.W., I'd have to throw a Fun-Stop out there. Nah, not really. If I had a choice, I'd rather not be trapped at all. We're all trapped somewhere though. If there isn't a choice, hopefully it has pancakes, comfy places to sit, and bathrooms.

David's magnificent second book.
Jeremy: Bathrooms are good. In the story “Domestic Ties,” there was an interesting idea put forth that caused me to have deep thoughts. Do you think that forcing residents to house excess prisoners would force all of us to take a deeper dive into the Military-Industrial-Prison complex? Or would we all feel emboldened by the knowledge that we are “doing our part?”

David: This story actually came out of an old SNL skit from the seventies I remembered watching. At least, I remember it being SNL. From my guess, I'm not thinking we'd get much more insight into the authoritarian structures of our society or feel very duty emboldened for very long. Maybe I'm a little cynical, but I think the thing that would happen fastest is a blurring of those lines we draw in society and confusion of the roles interrelated there between. Humans don't appear to handle sustained conceptual shakeup well, me being no different.

Jeremy: As a writer, what is the worst thing you can do?

David: I try not to think about this. People love a challenge (the behavior between the husband and wife in "A Brief Account of the Great Toilet Paper War of 2012" coming to mind) and I'm sure someone would get the urge to try to top anything I came up with. I just don't want to be responsible for spawning something like that. Better to not give anyone any incentive to go further.

Jeremy: Paper, plastic, or should we carry our groceries from our car to our house with our own two hands, the way God intended?

David: Personally, I'm not satisfied with the Biblical inconsistencies between the advocacy of paper in Isaiah, the declaration of holiness of plastic in the Psalms, and the insistence that anyone who doesn't carry their groceries by hand is going to Hell as stated in the apocryphal Book of Maccabees. I think we all have to answer this question for ourselves. If you want to be like Nan in "The Onion She Carried," go for it. I'll try to refrain from judging.


Jeremy: You’ve lived in Nebraska and now live in Colorado. Did you see any validity to the idea that northern Colorado would form a new state with western Nebraska?

David: Like the French hotel owner in "Changes for the Ch√Ęteau," I try to avoid most change if I can because I've barely got a grip on my life now and any kind of change is more to try to handle. Beyond that, I think we should consider the wise words of Grandpa Simpson:
Grampa: [writing a letter] Dear Mr. President, there are too many states these days. Please eliminate three. I am NOT a crackpot.

Jeremy: I think Grampa was on to something. If such a state was formed, the motto would clearly be “Nothing to See Here,” right?

David: Omaha (The Movie) might disagree with that. After all, Carhenge is out by Alliance. One of the central themes running throughout this collection is that there is something to see everywhere, even in northern Colorado and western Nebraska. We just often stop being able to look.
Jeremy: Peyton Manning did a great job directing that film. Moving on, you put forth a strong case for how toilet paper should be placed in the holder in “A Brief Account of the Toilet Paper War of 2012.” Is this an issue you are passionate about?

David: This story actually grew out of a fight my wife and I have about toilet paper. I'm a strict "over the roll" adherent. My wife, on the other hand, frequently runs out a roll and leaves it that way. She's doubtlessly going to be damned in the afterlife, but I proselytize regularly in an effort to save her soul. 

Jeremy: With my last book, someone on Amazon said that they placed it in the recyclable bin. Can Not Quite So Stories be recycled? How is it in a compost pile?

David: The electronic version is highly recyclable. Rearranging the bits, one can form a variety of different digital works. Those ones and zeroes can be reused indefinitely. Of course, this doesn't apply to digital copies in the UK. They've got laws there about that and I think new works can only contain as much as 85% postconsumer recycled bits without having to be labeled as used. On an unrelated note, I think "compost" would have been an acceptable alternative name for email. You know, "com" short for computer or communication network and "post" short for post office or postal service. 

Jeremy: It is truly refreshing to see someone so committed to being green, particularly in the neglected area of digital recycling. Well done. Any last thoughts you’d like to offer? Or if you haven’t thought about your answers before this, perhaps you’d like to try it for this final question?

David: I'm suddenly remembering an old Pogo comic that had a couple politician caricature animals trying to deal with a populace-monitoring computer that kept exploding. One said something to the other and followed that up with: "Don't you think?" The other ignored the first part and responded only to the second by saying: "Every Saturday, need it or not." I'll go with that here, and as a general commentary on this entire book.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Interview with David Atkinson, Part One

Are you getting enough oxygen?
I recently had the opportunity to do something I hope to do more of on this blog--interview a really great writer. David Atkinson will be releasing his book Not Quite So Stories on March 1st via Literay Wanderlust--when I pre-ordered it on Amazon, they inadvertently sent it 3 months early, and I can tell you without hesitation that it is fantastic. 

So it was awesome to be able to talk to him about the book. But rather than go the typical route of "why did you decide to write this book" and so forth (not that there's anything wrong with that), we decided to veer left, with me doing my best Space Ghost impression, while Dave did his best, um, Space Ghost's guest impression. Hopefully you find it entertaining!


Jeremy: Ignoring the fact that you have published two other books, Not Quite So Stories is your first book. What made you feel like a short story collection was the way to go right now?

David: The hypnogerms are the most likely explanation. I never should have eaten those ribs after that Gatlin Brothers concert in Branson. It's either that or the fact that this one is a short story collection. It being what it is, I kind of had to go with that. Trying to con people into thinking it was a novel would probably get me into trouble again. Besides, after doing a novel in story form and a novel, why not complete the circuit? Actually, I started work on the stories in here before the other two books had come together. It only came together and found a home after, so the timing is kind of coincidence. Or…is it? 

Jeremy: There are a number of stories in here—I’m too lazy to count so let’s say 23. Out of those 23, if people could only read 1, which story would that be?

David: "G-Men." That's the first story in the collection, all about the Skydiving Security Administration screening jumpers during freefall to keep us all safe. That's what you mean by "only read 1," right?

Jeremy: Yes, that is correct. Smart idea starting with your favorite story first. I've always thought it was better for a book to start horribly and get better so that by the end, you think you've read something decent, but there could be merits to your approach.

Now obviously the title was influenced by Kipling’s Just So Stories. Any fear of a backlash when people see that there aren’t any stories about how a penguin got its spots?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Fixing The Phantom Menace

Here we are. After a thirty-two year wait, finally, her eon December 17th, 2015, the world will finally be able to watch the sequel to Return of the Jedi. What a glorious day. The last thing anyone needs to do on a day like today is dredge up old wounds and talk about the last Star Wars movie that opened to massive, massive hype following a long break between films. You know, The Phantom Menace
No, nobody wants that.

But let's do it anyway.

Now I am not doing this to take another crap on the prequels. But, they are fresh in my mind, as I geared up for the new film by rewatching all 6. In doing so, I was struck by a surprising thought--The Phantom Menace isn't that bad. No, really. There are far worse movies out there. Believe me.


But it isn't that good, either. Now that I've written a book or two, and made some mistakes along the way, I've discovered a couple of things. One, I am more forgiving when things go wrong. Creating plots and characters that entertain and make sense is hard. Really hard.
Two, when things do go wrong, I like to brainstorm on how these plots and characters could be fixed. I have to do it with my own stories all the time, so it's only natural that the urge would strike me while viewing others. 


Which brings me to Episode One. How would I make it better? Can it be fixed? Could it have gone from mediocre to good, maybe even great? We'll never know. besides, my proposed changes probably suck, too. Even if they don't, George Lucas wasn't exactly going to call me up to serve as a script doctor.  I was like a freshman in college.

Nonetheless, here are five changes that I believe very well may have rescued The Phantom Menace from mediocrity. In the interest of fair play, I tried to hue close to what we were presented with. I don't think it'd be realistic to completely change the plot or remove characters. My hypothetical changes should be looked at as adjustments to the nearly-final draft, not the first.


The Voices
The first change I prose is a simple one--change the voices. Every single voice from a non-human character is horrid. The only exceptions would be Darth Maul--his voice isn't great but it works--it's used sparingly regardless--and holdovers from the original films like Jabba the Hutt, C3PO, etc. Those voices were locked in, whether they worked or not (they all do, though).

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Adolf Hitler in Oz

Review of Adolf Hitler in Oz

This might sound kind of funny, but to me, Oz is a real place.

Then again, maybe that doesn't seem so funny to you. Maybe you grew up watching the famous movie as many times as I did. Maybe you read some of the books, or saw some of the belated sequels. Maybe Oz is real to you, too.

So when I heard that Adolf Hitler was coming to Oz, needless to say, I was concerned. After all, we know what he did to Europe. Would Oz fare any better?

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Lady and the Tiger

When great things happen, artists are inspired. So when the epic events that captivated our city some two weeks ago transpired, needless to say, I was very inspired. My first reaction was to compose a poem, as witnessed here. But the urge to document this great event was not satisfied. So I began a new attempt, a short story, one that should stand for all time as a historical record of the fine achievement of one lady who dared to “cross the line” one early morning in November. Tiger Lady, I salute you; may this story in some way do small justice to your triumph.

Furthermore, it will stand as a record of the time I swiftly and completely torpedoed any chance I ever had at having a writing career. I doubt very seriously I will sell another book once this masterpiece is unleashed.
 
Without further ado, as I prepare to bid adieu, allow me to present “The Lady and the Tiger.” I would say, “Enjoy”, but I make it a point to never demand the impossible.

THE LADY AND THE TIGER
Or, A Work of Considerable Importance

By Someone Who is Not Jeremy Morong 

The parking lot was vast. It was long and cold. When cars would zip by on 13th Street, the drivers and passengers inside would speak of what once was: Rosenblatt, the home of cheering throngs who delighted in the exploits of college baseballers. But no more. At this late hour it sat empty, but only temporarily, for it eagerly awaited teems of mini-vans and SUVs that would arrive loaded to bear with eager children and beleaguered parents. They would journey forsooth in search of the big city pleasures found at the world-renowned Omaha Henry Doorly Zoo, the enterprise that had taken over this plot of land, the first phase of their plot for world domination in the field of zoology. A lofty goal, perhaps, but achievable, as it was no mere row of cages like the zoos of yore; this fine facility boasted wild jungles, shark-filled oceans, and a rolling savanna, among other recreations of the natural world.  
The lot was not quite empty, however. One car dared to makes its residence here, idling loudly as it crisscrossed two handicap parking spaces. When the engine quieted, a gentle voice could be heard within. “Dear lady, please wake up.” This was followed by a tender shaking of the woman’s shoulder.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Review of Spectre aka Bond 24

James Bond has returned! This time it's in Spectre, a James Bond movie that functions almost as sort of a greatest hits set of the 23 prior films. Of course, there are plenty of references to the prior films starring Daniel Craig, and this movie does a good job of tying them all together. But the allusions go much deeper than that, with references to older Bonds. Some references are implicit (the skeleton imagery of Live and Let Die, a fight on a train out of From Russia With Love, battles up in the mountains akin to On Her Majesty's Secret Service) , others are more explicit, such as the return of Ernst Blofeld and the ejection seat.  

I enjoyed the film. It's entertaining. It's Bond. There's tons of what makes James Bond James Bond. But the truth is, while greatest hits sets have their place, I've always preferred listening to the original albums, with the songs slotted in their proper place rather than the haphazard running order in which those collections are often assembled. Ultimately, I feel somewhat the same with this film, with the parts never quite reaching a fully satisfying whole. Still, Craig continues to play the part well, and there's enough going on for most to find something to enjoy, and likely a lot more than that.