My Favorite Americans: Captain Silas Soule

The last couple Independence Days I’ve chosen a person from the country’s past to write about. I’ve previously covered African American intelligence operative Mary Elizabeth Bowser, abolitionist John Brown, and the Chiricahua guerrilla leader Geronimo. This year, I figured I’d write a bit about an obscure personality, but one I’ve admired since running across his name my senior year of high school, Silas Stillman Soule.

Silas_SouleSilas Soule was born in Bath (or Woolwich), Maine in 1838 to an abolitionist cooper, Amasa Soule. At the age of 17 his family moved to the small community of Coal Creek south of the free state oasis of Lawrence, Kansas as part of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. At this time the Kansas Territory was in the midst of a bitter partisan battle for its very soul, with Missouri and the north pouring in pro and anti-slavery settlers respectively to swing the popular vote on the question of whether it would be admitted into the Union as a slave or free state. Kansas swiftly became a battleground, a prelude to the Civil War, with pro and anti slavery neighbors eventually clashing in open guerrilla conflict. This was the same environment in which John Brown and his sons hacked a group of pro slavery settlers to death with swords and the anti-slavery or Jayhawker capitol of Lawrence was actually attacked and burned.

By 1859 Soule and his family had established their home as a stop on the Underground Railroad, and regularly escorted escaped slaves to freedom. John Brown was a regular guest, and became a good friend of the family.

Immortal Ten_edited

The Immortal Ten, Silas Soule 2nd from the right

Twenty pro-slavery Border Ruffians from Missouri crossed into Kansas and overtook a party of thirteen slaves led by anti-slavery man Dr. John Doy headed for Iowa. The slavers were captured and resold and Doy was sentenced to five years in the pen. He was incarcerated at St. Joseph, Missouri.  Abolitionist James B. Abbott put together a group of ten men including Soule to break Doy out. They headed to St. Joseph, where Silas Soule talked his way into the jailhouse, convincing the jailkeeper he had a note for Doy from his wife.

The note said only, “Tonight, twelve o’clock.”

Two of the rescuers arrived with a third, pretending to be bounty hunters who had apprehended a horse thief. They drew their firearms inside and overpowered the guards, breaking out Doy, riding hard for Lawrence.  The rescuers became known as The Immortal Ten.

Following John Brown’s unsuccessful raid on the Harpers Ferry federal armory, Silas Soule disguised himself as a drunk and got into a cell adjoining Brown and two of his men, Albert Hazlett and Aaron Stevens in Charles Town, West Virginia. Hoping to duplicate the earlier success of The Immortal Ten, Soule was authorized as part of a clandestine abolitionist group, The Secret Six to attempt to break the raiders out of jail. Brown and his men famously refused, having decided their executions would do more to galvanize the cause of abolitionism.

In 1860 Silas Soule, his brother William, and a cousin, John Glass, emigrated to Colorado to prospect, but a year later the Civil War broke out, and he enlisted in the 1st Colorado Infantry, fighting the Confederacy at the Battle of Glorieta Pass in New Mexico, rising to the rank of captain and commanding Company D of the 1st Colorado Cavalry.

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Silas front row on the right

In 1864 his regiment was ordered to Sand Creek, Colorado to apprehend dissident Cheyenne leader Black Kettle, who had made his camp with the Arapahoe there. Soule’s commanding officer, Colonel John M. Chivington, a former abolitionist but noted Indian hater (“Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians! … I have come to kill Indians, and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God’s heaven to kill Indians. … Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.”), ordered the regiment to attack Black Kettle’s camp despite the fact that he was flying the Union flag as a sign of peace.

What happened is recorded in Soule’s own words;

 

We arrived at Black Kettle’s and Left Hand’s camp at daylight. Lieut. Wilson with Co.s “C”, “E” & “G” were ordered to in advance to cut off their herd. He made a circle to the rear and formed a line 200 yds. From the village, and opened fire. Poor Old John Smith and Louderbeck ran out with white flags but they paid no attention to them, and they ran back to their tents. I refused to fire and swore that none but a coward would, for by this time hundreds of women and children were coming toward us and getting on their knees for mercy. Anthony shouted, “kill the sons of bitches” Smith and Louderbeck came to our command although I am confident there were 200 shots fired at them, for I heard an officer say that Old Smith and any one who sympathized with the Indians, ought to be killed and now was a good time to do it.

When the Indians found there was no hope for them they went for the Creek and got under the banks and some of the bucks got their bows and a few rifles and defended themselves as well as they could.The massacre lasted six or eight hours, and a good many Indians escaped. I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized. One squaw was wounded and a fellow took a hatchet to finish her, and he cut one arm off, and held the other with one hand and dashed the hatchet through her brain. One squaw with her two children, were on their knees, begging for their lives of a dozen soldiers, within ten feet of them all firing – when one succeeded in hitting the squaw in the thigh, when she took a knife and cut the throats of both children and then killed herself. One Old Squaw hung herself in the lodge – there was not enough room for her to hang and she held up her knees and choked herself to death. Some tried to escape on the Prairie, but most of them were run down by horsemen. I saw two Indians hold one of anothers hands, chased until they were exhausted, when they kneeled down, and clasped each other around the neck and both were shot together. They were all scalped, and as high as half a dozen taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated. You would think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did.

Robert Bent related to the New York Tribune –

I saw one squaw lying on the bank, whose leg had been broken. A soldier came up to her with a drawn sabre. She raised her arm to protect herself; he struck, breaking her arm. She rolled over, and raised her other arm; he struck, breaking that, and then left her with out killing her. I saw one squaw cut open, with an unborn child lying by her side.

The cavalry suffered 15 dead and 50 wounded, apparently mostly due to friendly fire (they had been drinking heavily) and the death toll for the Indians was estimated at 150 to 200, the majority women and children.

In the days following the attack, soldiers were reported as displaying the ears and genitalia of dead Indians in Denver saloons.

When word of the Sand Creek Massacre reached the public’s ear, an official inquiry was made in January of 1865 and Silas Soule volunteered to testify against Chivington in the face of threats to his life from his commanding officer’s various supporters. However, Chivington avoided military prosecution since he had resigned his commission prior to the inquiry, and never suffered any penalty other than having his political aspirations curtailed.

In April, 1865, Soule married Hersa Cobley and was appointed Provost Marshal in Denver.

80 days after his testimony against Chivington he was shot dead in the street by Charles Squier, a former cavalryman in the 2nd Colorado. Though one of Soule’s friends, fellow officer First Lieutenant James Cannon tracked and apprehended Squier in New Mexico, and brought him back to Denver to stand trial, Squier escaped and was never seen again.

We are often taught to celebrate our soldiers as heroes unquestioned for putting their lives on the line at the behest of their country, but how much greater the hero is the one who has the bravery to turn against the tide and refuse an unjust order?

Happy 4th.

Silas-Soule-Marker

 

 

 

Heroes Of Red Hook Kickstarter Is Live

redhook

Golden Goblin Press, whose anthologies Tales Of Cthulhu Invictus and Tales of The Caribbean published my Lovecraftian stories The Unrepeatables and Gods of The Grim Nation respectively, have a brand new book coming out, Heroes of Red Hook – a very worthy project conceived by owner and editor Oscar Rios as a response to the unfortunate racism inherent in HP Lovecraft’s works and co-edited by Brian Sammons.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/golden-goblin-press/heroes-of-red-hook

I’ve approached the Mythos from a non-Anglo Saxon perspective a couple times in the past, with Crawlin’ Chaos Blues and Gods of The Grim Nation, so I jumped at the chance to be a part of a book like this, as did the following writers:

Glynn Owen Barrass

Juliana Quartaroli

Sam Gafford

Cody Goodfellow

Scott R. Jones

Vincent Kovar

Penelope Love

Tom Lynch

William Meikle

Christine Morgan

Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire

Pete Rawlik

Paula R. Stiles

Sam Stone

Tim Waggoner

Mercedes M. Yardley

My entry, Beyond The Black Arcade, is a prequel to my previous Zora Neale Hurston story Gods Of The Grim Nation, and an indirect sequel to Lovecraft’s own The Call of Cthulhu. Zora, gathering folklore on hoodoo for her New York benefactress, submits to the tutelage of a famed New Orleans conjure man, who, as part of her initiation, takes her deep into the bayou to redress a wrong unwittingly perpetrated by Inspector Legrasse’s raid on a backwoods cult of Cthulhu in 1908. They discover an Indian father whose son has been abducted by winged creatures, who have born the boy to a strange, luminescent lake back in the swamp.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

Luke Turner was an old, dark man with a Berber’s face and one blown out eye. I knew he was the genuine article because he was the only one of the five hoodoo doctors I had met to cuss me outright for a tourist rather than bob his head and call me ‘Miz Hurston’ when I floated the promise of recompense their way.

Doc Turner was an old hand at turning away the curious. He called me names Godmother Mason would blush to hear, and quoted me a rube’s price for tuition. I finally remarked that I wasn’t even sure he was on the level, and if he was truly her nephew, tell me something about Marie Leveau I didn’t already know, before I wasted my good money on another rounder with a deck of marked cards and a pair of writin’ slates.

Pride got the better of him then, and he stopped snarling and got up on his hind legs to howl.

“To know the Queen, you must know Hoodoo.”

“I know Hoodoo,” I lied. I knew some things. I knew about Goofer dust, and Conquerer Root, and I knew the ghosts of convicted murderers wandered blind because of the executioner’s hood.

He laughed lowly.

“You do not, but I will tell you.  God made the world we know with powerful words in six days and then rested. We live still on the seventh, waiting for Him to wake again. How many times the sun chase the moon, and always man look high and deep for them precious words and find none, until Moses. He was taught just ten, and them ten little words was enough to tear a nation out the side of Egypt.  But the Burning Bush would have blasted Moses to soot if he hadn’t been taught by Jethro, who knew the way of the Old One; the way of true Hoodoo.”

“The Old One?”

He leaned forward, and in the hazy light through the window, I saw something glitter on his finger. When he saw my eyes move to it, he covered one hand with the other and held my eyes.

“There was a snake in a hole right under the Lord’s footrest. The snake taught Jethro’s folks down in the deep blue places of the earth, and Jethro taught Moses. It put fire in his mind, clouds in his words; the words of making and unmaking. Lots of men, they can order things around. Moses could make.”

“Is this the snake got us booted from the Garden of Eden?” I asked.

“Not booted,” said Doc Turner with a thin, patient smile. “Freed. What’s a garden to a wildflower lookin’ down from a hill, but a prison?”

“So the Old One taught Moses the words, is the Devil?”

“Some call him Damballah. In the old times, Set. He is the godfather of man. He is Yig. He is my guide.”

“Will Yig guide me too?” I asked.

—————————————

I’m proud of this one and happy to be working with Oscar and Brian again. The story features some references not just to Lovecraft, but to my all-time favorite writer Robert E. Howard as well.

As mentioned, it’s also a return to writing Zora Neale Hurston in the role of a Lovecraftian protagonist. She’s a character I’m fast falling in love with writing, and one of the stretch goals of the kickstarter is a novella-length story featuring her, called King Yeller. In it, Zora is hired by the Federal Theater Project in New York City as a drama coach for up and coming young director Orson Welles’ all-black production of Macbeth. Except Welles, in typical upstart fashion, decides a quarter of the way through rehearsals that the cast will instead enact a production of a very rare and obscure play, The King In Yellow, which has just been provided to him by a mysterious benefactor….

So, if you wanna see the Yeller Sign through Zora’s eyes, be generous to this exciting project. You have till July 25th when the kickstarter ends.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/golden-goblin-press/heroes-of-red-hook

 

Si, Patreon!

Hey all, as you may or may not know, I’ve got a Patreon page where I put up a new exclusive or little seen short story every month. Five bucks a month gets you access to all of them.

I thought I’d drop a list here of everything I’ve released so far.

The Mound Of The Night Panther – A French voyageur learns the secret history of the lost metropolis of Cahokia and his own strange ties to it.

Spearfinger – A Cherokee Light Horse policeman apprehends a fugitive killer on a high mountain who is in reality a shapechanging creature from his people’s distant past.

Their Eyes Afire With Gold – On the last day of Tenochitlan, an ambitious conquistador frees a captive princess from an Aztec temple and follows her to her remote mountain city in the hopes of reward.

*Bigfoot Walsh – A German doctor joins a band of Texas Rangers and their curiously large and hairy scout to stop a series of murder raids being attributed to Comanches, only to find the perpetrators are something entirely different. (first appeared in Welcome To Hell)

*The Muttwhelp – A half-ork attached to an evil army rampaging across the good kingdoms of the land of Wayphar meets his estranged father on a pivotal day in their dark campaign. (first appeared in Blackguards: Blacklist)

*The Crawlin’ Chaos Blues – Two bluesmen travel down to the infamous Robert Johnson crossroads to make a deal with the Devil and call up something far worse. (first published by Damnation Books)

Again, these aren’t currently available anywhere else, so if you’re interested, take a gander.

https://www.patreon.com/EMErdelac

 

Gods Of The Grim Nation in Dread Shadows In Paradise

“Research….is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and they that dwell therein.” – Zora Neale Hurston

usethis
On sale now from Golden Goblin Press is Dread Shadows In Paradise, an anthology of Lovecraftian fiction set in the Caribbean Islands.

Edited by GG Press owner Oscar Rios and Brian M. Sammons, the table of contents is as follows:

  • Jamal by Glynn Owen Barrass
  • With the Storm by Pete Rawlik
  • Crop Over by Tim Waggoner
  • Tradewinds by Sam Gafford
  • The Gold of Roatán by Sam Stone
  • Sugar Rush by William Meikle
  • Hearth of the Immortals by Konstantine Paradias
  • Upon an Altar in the Fields by Lee Clark Zumpe

My contribution, Gods Of The Grim Nation follows real-life author and playwright Zora Neale Hurston early in her career as a anthropologist sent to Haiti to collect Voodoun folklore. When a series of ritual murders plague the interior back country, the local police crack down hard on the Vodoun societies. But Zora, with the aide of an accomplished secret society ritualist, sets out to uncover the true menace at the heart of the crime spree.

Zora Neale Hurston was a writer of the Harlem Renaissance best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. I first encountered her in college, where, reading her aloud in class, I took a delight in her writing style, which attempted to capture the folksy regional dialects of rural Florida African Americans in the 20’s and 30’s.

cult_ottenbergA fiercely independent and outspoken woman, she had worked her way from the small town of Eatonville to college and into the epicenter of the Harlem Renaissance, rubbing elbows with Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman, and yet remaining somewhat apart from their unified view, often to her detriment. Hughes and the other literati thought her cleaving to the rural and sometimes undignified depictions of African Americans denigrating to the race as a whole, and she was often criticized for her libertarian politics. She opposed integration, lamenting a loss of black teachers instructing black students in African cultural traditions, and was a staunch opponent of FDR’s New Deal, fearing always a loss of the personal liberty she strove all her life to maintain.

“If I say a whole system must be upset for me to win, I am saying that I cannot sit in the game, and that safer rules must be made to give me a chance. I repudiate that. If others are in there, deal me a hand and let me see what I can make of it, even though I know some in there are dealing from the bottom and cheating like hell in other ways.”

She learned early in her studies to be a chameleon, ingratiating herself with white patrons enough to get a shiny Chevy automobile to bomb around the South collecting folklore in, and convincing the poor people among whom she moved that the expensive car had been earned through bootlegging so as to assuage their fears that she was some kind of detective.

holstersShe traveled armed through the South in the 30’s, recording spirituals and folktales and recording the lives of sawmill workers and their white bosses, burned through two marriages, did some script work for Paramount Pictures, and earned a Guggenheim Fellowship to study the spiritual practices of Jamaica and Haiti. She produced two books on folklore from this, Tell My Horse and Of Mules And Men.

Proud and plucky, she once said;

 

 

“Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

Despite her colorful career, she ended her life in obscurity, working as a maid and finally expiring in a retirement home. Half of her personal papers were literally saved from the trash fire in the zero hour by a friend.

Zora_Neale_Hurston_NYWTSThis incident of course, leaves her life’s work open for fictional exploration. What after all, were in the papers that didn’t survive? Much of her folklore writing is dismissed by modern scholars as sensational, but what if she was being deliberately distracting? I love writing secret histories, and  Zora’s strong spirit combined with her openness to the spiritual (in New Orleans she underwent initiation ceremonies with more than a few Hoodoo doctors) and her dizzying array of life experiences made her the perfect sort of fighting scholar protagonist in my mind for the story I wanted to tell here, and, it turns out, keep telling. Zora will be appearing in at least two more stories for GG Press, in the forthcoming Heroes of Red Hook anthology, and in a TBD novella.

Here’s an excerpt from Gods Of The Grim Nation. Look for more Zora later. She’s not done with me yet.

——————————–

wordwatch-zombie

The two dozen hounsi gathered in the yard and the dark, skinny mambo priestess, a rural empress regal in her purple headdress and white gown, traced a complex veve of cornmeal in the dirt, the beacon to call down Papa Ghede.  Her assistants laid out an old coat and pants and a high crowned hat which had seen better days at the foot of the cross. The drums began a steady beat, and the sacred calabash rattled.

“For Ghede, we dance the banda,” León explained, his pelvis jerking and swirling mesmerizingly. “Like so.” He smiled.

I felt my stomach heat up as I matched his movements, and wondered if he had taught this dance to Katie Dunham. He was a dark and beautiful man, but there was the silver ring on his finger with the E.F. inscription. He was promised to the goddess Erzulie and was as unavailable as a collared priest. To break that vow was to invite ill fortune. It was a damn shame.

León broke from the dance to assist the mambo, laying out a dish of peanuts and dried corn beside the bottle of clairin on the points around the veve. The ceremony became wild and as raucous as any juke party back home, the men and women dancing close, reveling in each other. We were not long turning about the cross, the drums thrumming through the marrow of our bones and guiding our hips as sure as a pair of firm hands, when one of the hounsi, a very large and dignified-looking woman, collapsed, her eyes rolling. The mambo and León knelt by her side to assist the mounting of the god upon his devotee.

Haitians take part in a Voodoo festivalThe woman sat up soon, her previously neutral expression entirely changed to one of shifty-eyed mischievousness.  She smiled and leered at León as he set the patched coat over her rounded shoulders like a supplicant dressing his lord. She flitted her tongue in his ear and whispered things as the mambo crowned her with the hat and pushed a cheap cigar into her mouth and lit it. It was amusing to see the attention the woman was giving León, muttering obscenities to him through her teeth and puffing the cigar like an overbearing boss harassing his pretty secretary.

All around, the figures swayed and chanted, and the woman, now possessed, rose and smoked like a train engine. She snatched the ceremonial coco macaque stick from the mambo and placed it between her legs, thrusting herself provocatively at the other women as the mambo dusted her skin in ghostly white powder.

León came to me, wiping the sweat from his eyes. He was about to say something when abruptly the possessed woman seized his arm and spun him around.

The mambo rushed over, and the possessed woman snarled something at her. She backed away, shaking her head, but the big hounsi was adamant, and the mambo went to the drummers. In a few moments, they abruptly ceased.

The silence was startling in the grove, and the worshipers looked at each other in confusion, but the possessed woman drew herself up and spoke loudly in Creole, her eyes bulging and rolling hideously.

“Listen, horses! Do you hear? Do you hear the coco of the world tearing tonight? Do you feel the birth pains of the world? The Master of Pigs has eaten the last of you without salt and now ZoZo Le Entru Fè Nwa is crowning! No living man or woman can look upon it! The living will be the dead!”

I frowned. The Haitian brand of Creole wasn’t my forte, but what I could make out was troubling to hear.

The possessed woman still had a hold of León, and now she gripped his arm and pulled up his sleeve, bearing his forearm and squinting at a mark there.

“What will you do, ti couleve?” the spirit asked him.

“Guide me, Papa Ghede!” León stammered in naked fright.

The loa smiled through the woman and pushed the coco macaque stick into his hands.

“The Master of Pigs seeks to repay his ba moun with the whole of the world this night. ZoZo has promised to relieve his debt, but it will burn the minds of all who look upon it. It must be pushed back into the dark womb, and the bokor must pay.”

Then, to my surprise, she looked over León’s shoulder directly at me. It was strange to share the gaze of those god-taken eyes. She shoved León aside and lumbered toward me. For a minute I thought I would have to lay her out, but instead she stopped, squatted down, and plucked a rounded stone from the tall grass. She traced a shape on it with her pinky finger. To my amazement, I saw her nail was etching the very rock. When she was finished, she held it out.

“Take it, Lapli Pote. We will have need of a daughter of Chango.”

I narrowed my eyes.  In the firelight, I recognized it as one of the so-called sacred stones, a carved tool of an earlier aboriginal people which Voodooists believed to have been cast down by Chango the thunder god. If a person breathed upon one and the stone sweated, it meant there was a spirit inside. She had scratched a crude star shape into it.

“Watch out! The bourresouse are here!” the mad-eyed woman yelled.

It was then that a shrill whistle blew, and a party of newcomers crashed into the grove from the forest, slashing the clearing with flashlights.

The possessed woman swooned. León caught her, grunting.

“What did he say to you?” León hissed at me, ignoring the advancing men.

“He said the bourresouse are here.”

León whirled as the men reached the tree. There were about fifteen in all, dark men in the uniforms and badges of the Garde d’Haïti.

“All of you are under arrest,” announced the leader, a major, by his insignia. “Sergeant, round them up. We have a wagon waiting for you beyond those trees.”

“On what grounds?” one of the milling devotees called.

“There’s been another murder.”

“This is Fête Ghede!” the mambo protested. “No blood is being shed here.”

The major looked at the mambo, and I saw him toss something amid the paraphernalia. A dagger.

“They’re armed!” he called to his men, and to my surprise, he took out his pistol, shoved it in the mambo’s belly, and pulled the trigger, lifting her off her feet, setting the front of her white dress aflame.


On sale now –

http://www.goldengoblinpress.com/store/#!/Dread-Shadows-in-Paradise-Digital-Format/p/66101661/category=14026709

Published in: on May 17, 2016 at 10:25 am  Leave a Comment  

Don’t Give Us Barrabas

Now at that feast he released unto them one prisoner, whomsoever they desired. And there was one named Barabbas, which lay bound with them …..who had committed murder in the insurrection. And the multitude crying aloud began to desire him to do as he had ever done unto them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Will ye that I release unto you Jesus who is called the Christ?” For he knew that the Sanhedrin had delivered him for envy. But the Sanhedrin moved the people, that he should rather release Barabbas unto them.– Mark 15: 6-11

I grew up Catholic, and in a Catholic household you develop a certain mystic mindset. There is magical thinking not just in the transubstantiation at the heart of the Catholic Mass, but also in the everyday unofficial folk beliefs that orbit the Church’s teachings. You bury a St. Joseph statue in the yard of a house you want to sell. You don’t eat meat on Fridays, and during Easter weekend, you don’t watch TV or listen to the radio from 4pm Friday until Easter morning, to honor the silence of Christ in the tomb. To this day I still quietly and instinctively invoke the mantra to St. Anthony my mother and grandmother taught me whenever I lose something;

Tony Tony look around.
Something lost, must be found.

I grew up believing a great many things from the Bible. I could accept parting seas and pillars of fire, resurrections and ascensions, transfigurations and temptations by the Devil. I accepted the reality of God and miracles with the open readiness of a child’s mind.

But there was one thing from my earliest Scriptural studies I could never really understand.

It was the people’s choice of Barrabas the murderer over Jesus Christ.

In the story of the Passion, Pilate the Roman governor, not wanting to condemn Jesus to death, finds what he believes will be a zero hour out for himself and Jesus in a procedural loophole that allows him to release a prisoner to the Judeans on the feast of Passover. He has Jesus scourged and humiliated and then presents him to the people alongside Barrabas, who is described as a murderer (in later readings I’ve heard him described as an insurrectionist, possibly a cultural hero, but as a kid, I always understood him to be a straight up criminal).

The crowd is given the choice of releasing Barrabas, who it is implied is an unrepentant criminal that will go back to his old ways and Jesus, whose crime to me as a kid, was sort of nebulous, but, doctrinal biases and differences of creed laid aside (I’m not flat out not advocating Christianity over Judaism or vice versa here), can be boiled down to preaching change; a change in the law, a change in the word of God, away from the days of stoning women to love-thy-neighbor and blessed-are-the-meek.

barrabasThe crowd chooses Barrabas.

As a kid, this boggled my mind.

“But why did they want him dead?” I would ask my mother in exasperation. “What did Jesus do?”

He healed the sick and disabled. He brought back the dead. He preached love and togetherness, even to the hated Samaritans and the tax collectors.  He fed the hungry, and encouraged charity to the poor.

The only violent thing he ever did in the Gospel narrative is drive the moneylenders out of the Temple.

Now do you see where this post is going to become political?

Belief in God is irrelevant to this analysis. If you think the Bible is fiction, that’s fine. The most enduring fiction retains relevancy to the current human condition. Shakespeare endures. To Kill A Mockingbird endures. The Bible, like it or not, endures.

So, as Jesus would, take the tale of Barrabas as parable if you will. How does it apply to us now in this moment? What is to be learned here?

Given the choice between Barrabas and Christ, to a child, the decision is clear. One is a good man who teaches nothing but love and togetherness, an end to greed, and whose actions bespeak his heart. The other, a man, good or bad, but not loving, not peaceful. A man whose criminality is perhaps symptomatic of the society he is imprisoned by; a man whose actions are destructive. Entropic maybe, but impotent. No one remember Barrabas except that he was freed over Jesus.

One choice representing the progressive, the good, and the new. One representing the path of love.

The other representing the regressive. The static and self-consuming path of violence.

One old, one new.

There’s a great line in Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ where Willem Dafoe’s Jesus hollers;

“I’m throwing away the law. I have a new law and a new hope.”

“Has God changed his mind about the old law?” his heckler retorts, laughing.

“No. He just thinks our hearts are ready to hold more, that’s all.”

Can we not apply this narrative to the current political situation in this country?

A few weeks ago I posted about the dangers of a Trump presidency. I don’t feel any different about the dark prospects of such a thing coming true, but I’ve sobered a bit in my fear of him and his supporters.

I’ve paid attention to a lot of polls. I’m no longer afraid that he can win. I think the backlash against him is so strong with the good people of this country that he probably can’t be elected, no matter who he goes up against, Sanders or Clinton. Even his own party is recoiling from the toxicity of his candidacy.

But there is still a very real and very present, and perhaps, more important choice before us.

This electoral race is not really between Trump’s ultimate darkness and ‘whomever.’ Trump has become so blustery and outrageous as to be a carnival sideshow, an analogy born out by his stint in terrible reality television.  To speak against Trump is as big a waste of time as debating Klansmen or neo-Nazis. It’s like picking a fight with a small child. I have faith that the majority of us see him for the clown he is. He’s so obviously bad as to be cartoonish, just an insecure man preying on the same old s.men like him have used to rile people up since the anti-Chinese movements of the 1800’s.

But are their gradations of what is good?

I have evolved my thinking just a bit. I think now that the choice of which candidate defeats Trump is perhaps more important than a lot of people realize. I think it will decide the direction of this nation for decades to come.

Are we a truly progressive people, or are we content to tread water in the swimming pool of a sinking cruise liner?

Will we still let fear rule us and decide our choices?

I don’t mean to suggest that Bernie Sanders is some kind of messianic figure in comparing him to Christ in the story of Barrabas if we take it as parable. But between him and Hillary Clinton, which is the more Christ-like? Which is the more akin to Barrabas?

In one of the televised town hall meetings, I bet, one you didn’t see, Sanders was asked if he believed in God.

This was his answer;

“Every great religion in the world — Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism — essentially comes down to: ‘Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you.’ What I have believed in my whole life — I believed it when I was a 22-year-old kid getting arrested in Chicago fighting segregation — I’ve believed it in my whole life.

That we are in this together — not just, not words. The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is ‘I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about is myself; I need to make another 5 billion dollars.’

But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing. So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child, I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say ‘hey, this whole world is me, I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in.

And I think most people around the world — whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings. And it becomes more and more practical. If we destroy the planet because we don’t deal with climate change. Trust me, we are all in it together… and that is what my spirituality is about.”

The message is pretty clear, isn’t it?

Put aside any visceral reactions to this analogy you may have as a believer or non-believer and look at this rationally.

Bernie’s ideas seem radical. But they’re at least 2,000 years old. Take free college tuition and fair taxation of the rich and universal healthcare and distill them to their roots.

Bernie wants to institute a tax on the currently un-taxed practice of stock speculation on Wall Street. He wants to raise the taxes on the 1% of persons and corporations who have been, if not illegally, than immorally withholding their fair share of contributions to our collective society through offshore tax shelters, yet enjoying its benefits.

It’s all right here.

https://berniesanders.com/issues/how-bernie-pays-for-his-proposals/

He wants to go after those who aren’t paying their taxes, basically. And there’s enough money there to pay for the programs he wants to institute. Billions of dollars. Currently, billionaire hedge fund managers pay a lower tax rate than nurses. Which profession contributes more to society, do you think?

Hoffman-ChristAndTheRichYoungRulerIn the story of Jesus, there is related an encounter between Christ and a rich and wealthy man who asks the rabbi;

“What can I do to inherit the kingdom of Heaven?”

Jesus replies;

“Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.”

This saddens the wealthy man, who goes away, unwilling to give up his riches.

Jesus says;

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

I used to think of this as a condemnation of the wealthy. Perhaps it is. But as in the best parables, it has a double meaning. It’s a lament. Jesus and the rich man are both saddened and disappointed.

Greed has infected the rich man’s life to the point where his material wealth is more important to him than the fate of his eternal soul.

The wealthy man believes enough in Christ to ask his advice, but his own avarice is a kind of slavery he can’t bring himself to self-liberate from, even hearing the secret of his salvation from the proverbial horse’s mouth. In the context of this story, here is a prominent man of means fortunate enough to be alive during this singular moment in time when he can actually ask of his own Creator how best to live his life, and yet he squanders it in favor of retaining his earthly luxury.

mumbaiI have never understood how the fabulously wealthy of Mumbai can look out over the horrendous slums of their city, at the blameless children rooting in the trash of their society and still sleep contended in their towers of glass and steel. I’ve never understood how the Waltons can live with the notion that their multitude workers suffer under the burden of an unsustainable wage. I can’t fathom the minds of men and women who crush their fellow human beings in favor of attaining wealth and security for themselves.

Of course, some of these people are flat out vile. But isn’t it likely that a greater number are imprisoned, as sure as any heroin addict in a gilded cage built by an addiction to wealth hoarding? What’s the difference between that guy with a private skyscraper all to himself in Mumbai and the person trembling in a home stacked to the ceiling with newspapers and cat feces, unable to throw anything out?

On the flip side, there are surely pathetic, hopeless people among the poor. No stereotype comes out of nowhere. There are people who game the system. There are people conditioned to indolence by the very system which fails to help them, unable and unwilling to help themselves because they are without hope for anything better.

But the bulk of humanity does not exist in extremes. We are all of us good and bad. Many of us though, are afraid. It’s understandable. We are fragile creatures ultimately, existing on a pinpoint of existence in a vast and, to our eye, lifeless universe. We live in the moment, and care nothing for what will proceed beyond our time.

All of us are afraid to lose what we have.

Bernie Sanders doesn’t want to take the hard earnings of anyone and give it to the indolent. He wants to level the playing field of his country; give everybody the fair opportunity promised by the American Dream, so that people can proceed with hope that they really can lead better lives.

But the comfortable among us fear that. If there is no one beneath me, how do I measure my success, some might think. More of us probably think, I’m afraid someone will come and take what I have worked for.

It won’t happen. The fabulously wealthy will remain fabulously wealthy, their descendants secure for generations to come. It’s just that a little more of that money they hoard will filter to the rest of the people, to improve our country as a whole. And if you’re not fabulously wealthy, you’ll keep what you have, you just won’t make quite as much.

And to be clear, we’re talking about people earning millions of dollars a year. They’ll be fine.

Everything Sanders proposes is attainable, though it sounds and seems fantastic.

Change always does.

People fear change, though. They want things to remain staid and understandable. That’s just not how life works, though. Resisting the natural progression of change only hurts the resister.  Like the wealthy man in the parable, he loses the opportunity to be more than what he is in favor of his own hoarding. Like a monkey sitting under an apple tree with his hand stuck in a jar holding onto a single apple and refusing to let it go, he doesn’t understand how to let go of that which does not serve him, but forces him to serve it. That’s right out of Kung Fu, so don’t quote me.

What else is there to fear from a Bernie Sanders presidency, besides a decrease in the material?

Some I’ve spoken to fear he can’t deliver on his promises.

It can be done, but as he has said, not by him alone. He is not a messiah. He needs all of us behind him. He needs public involvement in the process. If a Republican senate blocks every positive measure, he needs the people to make them aware it won’t fly.

Watch his rallies, his speeches. Attend one, if you can. He can inspire the people toward this end.  The government only has what power we allow it to have.  Here in Los Angeles, early in his campaign, back in August of last year, he held a rally. My eldest son attended. The venue was at capacity, and fifteen hundred people stood outside in the dark while he spoke. When the event was over, he came out and addressed the people who couldn’t get in. What other candidate in recent memory has ever done something like this? This is why he inspires.

This is a new way of doing things for a lot of people. It’s not enough to elect the guy and sit back and watch him work. A lot of damage has been done to this country for a lot of years.  The checks and balances our political system exists under aren’t the ones we intended. It’s become checkbooks and account balances, and if we’re to move forward, it has to change.

Bernie Sanders represents that change. His movement shouldn’t be crassly and cynically dismissed as a want of the youth for ‘free stuff.’ The system we have now is juvenile and favor based, a Pavlovian black comedy of bell ringing and salivation. What Sanders proposes is a natural maturation, so long stunted by greed.

Our hearts can hold more.

Now, in our parable, any choice other than Sanders, but most especially, I think, Hillary Clinton, is clearly Barrabas.

There is no doubt as to her qualifications from a concrete, technical standpoint. She thrives in our current political system. She is a servant and perhaps an unwitting victim of it.  A capitulant and a glad-hander, opportunistic and subservient to the greed-based culture which currently rules us all. Her morals and ideals are beholden to whatever favor she perceives she can garner for herself and her constituents in any given moment. Bernie Sanders will never see transcripts of the speeches she supposedly gave to various banking concerns for exorbitant fees. I doubt there ever were any speeches, just payouts. A vote for Hillary Clinton is an impotent act, like the work of Barrabas. It’s a vote for another four to eight years of what we already have, perhaps even longer, because a candidate of this caliber will not be allowed to get this close to the highest office in the land in my lifetime.

It is obvious to any person who pays close attention that the established system is attempting to block out Sanders. The media conglomerates in charge of your television news and daily papers are owned by rich persons and corporations who correctly feel that that a Sanders presidency would not be in their best(most profitable) interests.  They give more air time to Trump and Clinton (and donate vast sums to the latter’s campaign), they gloss over Hillary’s inadequacies and go over Sanders with a fine tooth comb looking to spin or exploit the least turn of phrase to her advantage (read the ridiculous story about how Sanders supposedly sided with gun manufacturers over the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre – as if anyone would ever do that and still attempt to run for President).  They dismiss Sanders at every opportunity.  They want this race to be about Clinton and Trump, because this is an event they can control. Everyone knows Trump won’t win. He’s being pumped up as a villain that Clinton must heroically defeat to the relief of everyone. Yes she seems to be a better choice than Trump, but really, her election is a more insidious move to keep things as they are.

A vote for Hillary Clinton is a vote for Barrabas. A vote based on fear of change or else fear of Trump, which is unfounded, as he’s probably not going to win. And let’s consider the latter fear. If you’re afraid Trump is going to win and take away gay marriage and civil liberties and go building walls and pushing nuclear buttons, in every poll anywhere Sanders beats Trump by a wider margin than Clinton. If you truly are afraid of Trump, then Sanders is the safer bet.

We have a singular opportunity in history right now, like the rich man in the parable. We can throw out the old rule of greed and fear and vote in a new era of prosperity for our fellow human beings.  These things being proposed may seem like pipe dreams, but many other nations have them and contrary to what the corporate media tells you, they are not failing because of them.

My best friend lives with his family in Germany. Recently he suffered a back injury. Rather than finding himself out of work and unable to pay for his treatment, his job gave him paid recovery time, and months later he returned to work debt free. He and his children live good lives. They vacation in the countryside, and they want for nothing.

Here in America, my wife and I work forty hours a week. My wife sees our children for an hour at night during the week. We have no savings, we own nothing, and don’t really expect to as we basically shovel money at my wife’s voracious college debt, and at our current rate of payment, we will until we die. We’re facing college tuition for our three children. If we vacation, it means missing payments, which compounds our debt.  We have family to rely on that will keep us from homelessness, but I wonder what our kids’ lives will be like in the future without that safety net. My kids have never had a yard to play in. Never had grass between their toes, or a tree to climb.

And yet, I know there are families much, much worse off than mine.

Why would anyone with a heart vote against the life my friend lives? How could anyone be against free education for children who want to learn, free healthcare for all? Dignity for our elderly? Lay aside your cynicism. Lay aside your fear and the hatred that it engenders, lay aside that part of yourself that says, “Well, that’s tough, but I’m doing fine. Just work harder.”

Understand that the things you rail against in society are only symptoms of the stunted development our country has suffered under due to the constant effort of a greed based power structure, and that they will change, not by building walls, not through clubbing heads and locking people up, but by educating them, taking away their own fear, giving them hope.

These things seem unrealistic, but be honest. They’re not miraculous, are they?

It took me thirty five years to finally understand the reason why anybody would ever choose Barrabas.

For my children. For your children. For the children of people neither of us have ever met.

Please don’t be afraid.

birdie

Published in: on April 11, 2016 at 9:58 am  Comments (1)  

The 5-Foot Assassin

I can’t let today go by without marking the passing of Malik Isaac Taylor, AKA Phife Dawg, The Five Footer of hip hop supergroup A Tribe Called Quest fame.

Hip hop was the equivalent of rock ‘n roll for me as a high schooler. My parents didn’t get it, most of my white friends didn’t like it, it was irreverent, and spoke to me on a personal level for reasons I can’t begin to analyze.

Paramount among my favorite rap groups was A Tribe Called Quest, whose colorful video for Check Tha Rhime altered the way I dressed and what I perceived as cool for the next four to five years of my life.

Tribe became my Beatles. My Rolling Stones. I bought tickets whenever they were in town, picked up their cassettes the day they dropped, and most importantly, just road around all night in my baby blue 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass with the top down feeling the wind in my hair, feeling free and young, listening to their albums over and over.

They had a playful, intelligent, laid back vibe that espoused fun and peace. Perfect summertime listening.

Phife and Q-Tip were as inseparable in my mind as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and to hear Phife is gone is to hear Tribe is gone too, and now, I guess a little portion of my youth (if you wanna get existential and maudlin).

RIP Phife Dawg and the summer of ’92.

Published in: on March 23, 2016 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

DT Moviehouse Review: Chato’s Land

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today, I review the Charles Bronson western Chato’s Land.

Directed by Michael Winner

Screenplay by Gerald Wilson

Tagline: The scream of his victims is the only sound he makes.

chatos-land-movie-poster-1972-1020195511

What It’s About:

When mestizo Apache Pardon Chato (Charles Bronson) is harassed and challenged in a saloon by the racist local sheriff, he turns and kills the lawman, fleeing into the desert. Ex-Confederate Captain Quincy Whitmore (Jack Palance) gathers a posse to track him down, slowly losing control of the situation and the unruly bunch of men under him.

Why I Bought It:

The 70’s is a great era to drag for hidden gems of westerns, and Chato’s Land is among the best. It’s definitely overshadowed in Bronson’s ouvre by his better known work, and is probably mostly forgotten even among his turns in westerns like Once Upon A Time In The West and The Magnificent Seven. John Landis, who worked in some small capacity on the picture, called it by the numbers, but I couldn’t disagree more.

ba99I love the washed out, ugly, pared down look and feel of Chato’s Land. The Almeria (doubling for Arizona) landscape is ugly, beige, alkali-covered and barren. It really looks hellish, crawling with flies and rattlesnakes. The characters who eke out their living in this place are almost uniformly unkempt and ugly, particularly the posse members, who are cast with some fantastic character actors like Little House On The Prairie’s Victor French, Richard Basehart, James Whitmore, and particularly the loathsome Hooker brothers, Ralph Waite (the father on TV’s The Waltons), Richard Jordan, and Psycho’s psychiatrist Simon Oakland, whose patriarchal Jubal is a standout here. The Hookers are horrific villains. Earl is introduced apparently trying to rape his sister while his brother Elias sits by shaking his head and Jubal takes his belt to him. They’re a pack of wild dogs Quincy calls upon in the hunt, but who end up biting him in the end.

3Bronson, when he strips to his breechclout toward the end, looks to be carved out of sandstone, sprung from the land itself. The most significant chunks of his dialogue are spoken in Apache, so it’s a Conan The Barbarian-esque part, with Bronson doing all his acting with his physicality. He still manages to bring a humanism to Chato in the interactions with his son and the gorgeous Sonia Rangan, his wife. Rewatching it though, I wonder at his initial motivation for drinking in the saloon of an apparently notorious racist sheriff (one of the rancher’s sons describes him as a no good hillbilly who got what he asked for later on). It’s apparent the town and its lawman has a reputation, so it feels like Chato intends to kill the man. Why is he in town at all if he has a hacienda with a wife and son in the remote mountains? Why is he making a point of bellying up to the bar? He has a reputation himself as the Mexican tracker in the posse knows him and the horse he rides. One wonders if the movie opens with some kind of climax to an untold story between these two. Maybe Chato and the sheriff had a lot of previous run ins.

At any rate, once Chato guns down the sheriff and rides out of town, the first person anybody runs to is Jack Palance’s Captain Quincy Whitmore, ex-Confederate officer, ex-scout for Tom Jeffords, who famously ran down the Apache guerilla Cochise, and the most able man in town when it comes to organizing a posse.

chatos-land-dvd-4045167266339-4

Palance plays the character pretty much as he’s written, a man eager to relive past glories. The first thing he does when he hears there’s a fugitive killer is go upstairs and don his old Confederate duds. It’s kind of a weird thing to do if you think about it, but it’s a telling character moment. The man sits dreaming of the past. Later, in a dying fever, he curses an enemy commander and several times speaks wistfully about watching tides of gray clad men crashing against lines of bluecoats. He’s never gotten past that part of his life. The character Nye observes that Quincy is ‘chasing down a breed and dreaming of Yankees.’

It seems to be a running theme among the most prominent characters, that they can’t overcome some self-made obstacle in their lives, some obsession or obstinacy which drives them to the inevitable. Quincy must lead men. Jubal must avenge his no good brother. Earl must have a woman. Even Malachie, the most progressive of the bunch must respond to his neighbors’ call, even when he knows it’s probably not right.  The inevitability each of them faces is Chato himself, who is the dead that comes with folly.

chatos-landYet he’s a surprisingly kindly reaper at first, gently urging them all to drop it and let it go. Chato killed the sheriff, but he has no quarrel with them. When they pursue, he spares the Mexican scout, knowing they will use his abilities to follow his track. He leads them in circles, sneaks in and night and spears their waterskins and canteens while they’re sleeping (sparing them again), shoots their horses, tries everything to discourage their pursuit. I think at one point he even discourages a raiding party of Comanche and Kiowa from tangling with them, telling the hostile Indians the posse isn’t worth the trouble. Returning to his hacienda and speaking to his Apache father? Brother-in-law? He even seems reassured that they will have learned their lesson.

The movie is something like the anti-Searchers, with Palance standing in as a reluctant Ethan Edwards. He even paraphrases John Wayne’s famous line about the Comanche, adapting it here for the Apache.

“Injun’ll chase something until the chasin’ begins to cost too much, then he’ll drop it. That’s how he thinks. Now he don’t plan on somethin’ comin’ after him no matter what.”

1118full-chato's-land-screenshotWhen Quincy’s posse lucks upon water and discovers Chato’s hideout while he is away wrangling wild horses, the Hooker brothers and some of the other possemen gang rape his wife. Then of course, Chato strips away his ‘white’ clothes and goes First Blood on them, rescuing his wife, running off their horses, torturing and killing Earl, and mercilessly picking them off one at a time in a variety of ingenious ways (my particular favorite being flinging a live rattlesnake into a guy’s face and watching him expire).

Their intractability has led them to their ends, and not even the mildest among them, who deride the acts of the Hooker brothers but who do nothing but stand by hemming and hawing while they are committed, is spared. Quincy swiftly loses control of the Hookers and Jubal wrests leadership of the posse from him in the wake of Earl’s death, forcing them all into the maw of Chato like a mad Ahab, until Malachie and Brady, the two Scotts rebel. But it’s too little too late.

Chato’s Land feels like a pretty brutal movie, even though much of the violence is implied rather than depicted. It’s tame by today’s standards, but it has an adult hard hearted-ness that make it ring true. As a personal note, it was a huge influence on my own feature film Meaner Than Hell.

I find the score kind of forgettable, but there are some noteworthy sound and editing choices. There are a lot of match cuts in the transitions, a zoom of a belt turning into a horizontal fire log burning, and my favorite, the screams of Chato’s wife turning into the keening cries of horses at one point.

Best Dialogue/Line:

“To you this is so much bad land – rock, scrub, desert and then more rock. A hard land that the sun has sucked all the good out of. You can’t farm it and you can’t carve it out and call it your own… so you damn it to hell and it all looks the same. That’s our way. To the breed, now, it’s his land. He don’t expect to give him much and he don’t force it none. And to him, it’s almost human – a living, active thing. And it will give him a good place to make his fight against us.”

Best Scene:

For me, it’s got to be the ending.

Malachie and Brady, the two most reluctant of the posse members, both Scot immigrants, finally turn on Jubal and gun him down.

They immediately turn to the long trek home, short on water. One horse dies on them, but they keep going. Then, at night in camp, a rifle bullet comes out of the dark and leaves Malachie burning on the fire.

The last scene is of Brady, the lone survivor, stumbling on foot through the white, dusty rocks bordering his home, lips cracked and sunburned. He scrambles up an embankment only to find Chato sitting there atop his horse, denying his final escape. He tries to pass, and Chato simply moves left or right, herding him like a wayward steer.

Brady falls back and stumbles into the wasteland as the camera rises into a final, shaky helicopter shot, Chato ushering Brady back into the empty landscape, not lifting a finger to kill him, though his fate is pretty clear.

Would I Buy It Again? Yes

Next In The Queue: Children of The Damned

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 12:15 am  Leave a Comment  

To The Undecideds

Well my last blog post broke my rule about not giving writing advice, so since I’m on a roll, I’m now gonna make the one and only political post you’ll ever read here. Feel free to skip. Next time I’ll be back to talking about movies and comics and hawking books. I swear.

august-landmesser-man-refused-salute-hitler-1936I am an idealist and a fantacist. I make no claims to being a realist. I’ve never voted for a winning president (or governor) in an election.  I’ve also never voted against anybody in my life, only for the person I thought was best suited to the office.  I was told again and again that third party candidates can’t win, and the last election had me pretty convinced. I saw the best man lose over and over, and had just about resolved never to vote again, because I had come to understand that my vote doesn’t count.  That’s just the way of the world, of politics. It’s a two party system, and I swore I’d never vote Republican or Democrat. They have always represented to me two sides of a coin I didn’t care to pocket.  There are differences in policy, in approach, but they ultimately serve the same unchanging system.

Then, last year, breaking yet another of my own rules, I registered as a Democrat.

I think you can guess which candidate convinced me to do that. It wasn’t Hillary Clinton.

But I don’t want to sit here and sling mud at her. My candidate wouldn’t like that.

I’m not gonna sing his praises either (much), or post a bunch of dank memes, or try to convince you of what’s great about him. Go to his website.  Watch his speeches. Seriously, do it. Listen to the man.

Instead, I’m gonna talk about something very important.

This election is going to be won or lost in the next two weeks, when the delegates and superdelegates choose the nomination for the Democratic party. Everybody knows it.

Our country is on the precipice of a very steep drop into a darkness it will be very difficult for us to climb out of should we choose to let ourselves fall. And it is a choice, make no mistake.

Is it our choice? Yours and mine? I really don’t know. I hope it is. I hope the collective will of the people counts for something in this election. Even more than that, I hope it’s a good and just will that animates the majority of us, that idealism and benevolence can prevail against ignorance, greed, and hatred. If it doesn’t, then no, our votes don’t count for anything in the end. Not if they’re misused.

Because make no mistake. The front-running Republican candidate is not a clown to be laughed at. I have never laughed at him. I remember 2004 and the re-election everybody said would never happen in a million years. I remember the bona fide war hero they put up against the draft dodging goof. I remember who won.

Moreover, I have seen the power of celebrity with people. It overruns reason. It whips up passions. It’s infectious. Level heads do not prevail.  The celebrity always wins. Always.  You have to consider all the prior years of entertainment as free campaigning. Name recognition is greater from the get-go.

Combine the influential power of celebrity, the vapid but forceful cult of personality, with bad or selfish intentions, and you have disastrous consequences. It’s happened before elsewhere throughout history. Are we going to let it happen here?

Just as I’m not going to champion my candidate (much), I’m not going to tell you what’s wrong with Donald Trump if he’s yours. If you’re honest with yourself, you know the answer to that in your heart.  Any reason you may have to support a man like that is yours to live with.  Nothing I can say will dissuade you, so I’m not addressing this post to you.

Who I am addressing is the undecided. Those delegates in states whose votes haven’t yet been tallied, those superdelegates who have not yet publicly backed a candidate.

You have a very important decision before you.  Not many people are given the opportunity to make a direct, positive influence on the course of human history. Not many people find themselves with the chance to affect the lives of their fellow human beings for the better.

But you do.

Hillary Clinton will not defeat Donald Trump in a general election for the Presidency of the United States. She can’t win. She’s evasive, unlikable, untrustworthy, and uninspiring.

A hypothetical clash between her and Trump has been thoroughly analyzed elsewhere, but I’ll summarize it here.

She has too much baggage. Too many poor decisions and unpopular stances to be taken to task for. Too much fodder for a juvenile bully like Donald Trump. Trump is a muckraker and he will not hesitate to loudly attack these many years of misdeeds and character defects.  His supporters will froth and cheer him on. Hillary will constantly be on the defensive, making her look weak and ineffectual. The din of Trump’s crowd will drown out anything she says in retort. Eventually, she will go on the attack herself, and the entire thing will devolve into the sort of mudslinging fracas a guy like Trump thrives in.

She can’t win.

In a fight with Bernie Sanders, Trump can’t attack his opponent’s integrity, or poke at his inconsistencies. He can’t dwell on the mundane or resort to ridicule. Bernie is nothing if not consistent. Finding no purchase for his usual tactics, Trump will look like the buffoon he is. He will be forced to address the core issues he has danced vaguely around thus far. Without his trademark sideshow distractions and schoolyard taunts, his woeful inexperience will be more apparent.  Yes, Hillary is more experienced than Bernie. But taking all her perceived character defects into account (rightfully earned or not), it just doesn’t matter in this instance.

I can’t guarantee Bernie Sanders can beat Donald Trump. Ultimately, that decision will define the character of our nation. If the majority of us elect to give in to the basest, most reactionary, most unworthy aspects of our own souls, then America deserves every subsequent disaster that befalls it.

But first, we have to get to that fight.

You have to decide now who’s better suited to face this threat to our integrity. This election is a clash between the summit of the most humane ideals our country is supposed to embody and the lowest, most unscrupulous, barbarous, and inhumane depths to which we unfortunately sometimes fall. There can be no compromise, no middle of the road.  Pandering will not get us past this. Untruths can’t prevail. Moderation will not sustain. Party loyalties won’t serve. It’s all or nothing.

My candidate is not a messiah. He won’t solve these deep divides overnight. I know that. But last night, when he said –

The truth is at some level when you hurt, when your children hurt, I hurt. I hurt. And when my kids hurt, you hurt. And it’s very easy to turn our backs on kids who are hungry, or veterans who are sleeping out on the street, and we can develop a psyche, a psychology which is ‘I don’t have to worry about them; all I’m gonna worry about [is] myself; I need to make another $5 Billion.’

But I believe that what human nature is about is that everybody in this room impacts everybody else in all kinds of ways that we can’t even understand. It’s beyond intellect. It’s a spiritual, emotional thing.

So I believe that when we do the right thing, when we try to treat people with respect and dignity, when we say that that child who is hungry is my child… I think we are more human when we do that, than when we say ‘hey, this whole world , I need more and more, I don’t care about anyone else.’ That’s my religion. That’s what I believe in. And I think most people around the world, whatever their religion, their color — share that belief. That we are in it together as human beings.

The truth of the matter solidified in my mind.

The most important question to be answered in this election cannot be are we more Hillary or more Bernie.

It’s are we Bernie or are we Trump?

Please, for my children, for my daughters and my sons, and for everyone’s, look directly and truthfully into yourselves and do not flinch from the importance of the contention that lies directly before us all. Forget your loyalties if you have them, try to look past the misgivings or doubts you might have, don’t worry about your careers. Remember that policies and economics aside, the American dream is first and foremost a dream.

Don’t let it become a nightmare.

 

Now to the rest of you who are like me, and feel pretty powerless to affect what’s about to happen, if you agree with me, let these people know.

I couldn’t compile a list of every undecided Democratic superdelegate  on Facebook. Some don’t allow public posts, some don’t have profiles at all or I couldn’t confirm their identities, some already have banner pics of themselves smiling beside Hillary Clinton.

But the rest are below.  52 of them, culled from the list of undecideds on Wikipedia.

The first fifteen are from California. When I got to the end of that list, I decided it might be best to find as many as I could, not to limit myself. Tell them who you, the people want to represent you in the 2016 election this November.  I don’t know if this system is rigged against us all or not. I don’t want to believe it is. But this is all I can do.

You know his name. Tell them.

https://govnews.ca.gov/gov39mail/mail.php

https://www.facebook.com/JoeBuscaino/

https://www.facebook.com/RepJimCosta

https://www.facebook.com/RepSusanDavis/

https://www.facebook.com/RepMarkDeSaulnier

https://www.facebook.com/bdoten

https://www.facebook.com/mariaelena.durazo.1

https://www.facebook.com/RepSamFarr/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepBarbaraLee/?fref=nf

https://www.facebook.com/Assemblymemberlow/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepLowenthal/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/NancyPelosi/

https://www.facebook.com/CongressmanEricSwalwell/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepJuanVargas

https://www.facebook.com/keith.umemoto?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/belinda.biafore

https://www.facebook.com/sanfordbishop/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/artie.blanco?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepRobertBrady/?ref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/bob.bragar?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/nerissaforguam/

https://www.facebook.com/oregongovernor/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ray.buckley

https://www.facebook.com/GovernorBullock/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/PDX.laura.calvo

https://www.facebook.com/Representative-Garnet-Coleman-173213409377439/

https://www.facebook.com/leah.daughtry.5?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/RepPeterDeFazio/

https://www.facebook.com/debra.delee.9

https://www.facebook.com/Brandon-Dillon-145520418836519/

https://www.facebook.com/lloyddoggett/

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=4947004&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/OfficeOfTheStateAttorney/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/VoteTulsi/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=681862349&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/gilberto.hinojosa.5?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

https://www.facebook.com/Marcy-Kaptur-6225522279/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/repronkind/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/BellisimaLH?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/marymancini?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100004229267122&fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/BetoORourkeTX16/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/StephanieForChair/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/Kylieoversen/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/renee.pfenning.7?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/repmarkpocan/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/JaxonRavens1?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/laborrichardrayray?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/Virgie-Rollins-294464844076391/?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/CongresswomanSinema/?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

https://www.facebook.com/casey.steinau?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/ann.tornberg?fref=ts

Hey Hilario – Writing and Publishing Advice for Kids

Hey folks, I’ve been remiss in posting here, but like a man purchasing a box of prunes, I vow to be more regular.

I said (well, to myself anyway), that I would probably never write one of these writing advice blog posts. Who am I to give advice anyway? My success is very very modest and I’m a bit of a babe in the woods when it comes to the business end of publishing.

Then, when my daughter Magnolia showed some of the stories I helped her write and get published to her 5th grade class, one of her friends (through her) asked me if I could give him any advice on how to get his own stories out there.

Below is the letter I sent him. Maybe, if you have creatively minded children (God help you) or, if you yourself are just starting out and are a metaphorical child in terms of writing, or, if you stumble through life sort of childlike as I do (again, God help you), maybe you can glean something helpful out of this.

Thanks to my writing and reading buddies on Facebook who helped out by recommending me some kid-friendly weird books back when I wrote this.

Hey Hilario,

Every writer gets started a different way, but they all have one thing in common. They don’t just think about being a writer –they write.  You start by just coming up with ideas and writing them down.  As long as you keep having ideas, you should always be able to keep writing. Writing’s like any muscle. It gets stronger if you exercise it regularly. That means the same as a boxer gets up in the morning and runs a couple miles or hits a bag, if you want to write, you should set aside an hour or two a day just to write, if you want to get better. Stephen King writes four hours a day, every day, at the same time. I write two hours, after my kids go to sleep at night. Some guys get up early and do it. Going to school and having homework and all that, you’ve got to do what you can afford to do, but commit. Try to write every day.

You should also read a lot. If it’s horror you want to write, start out by reading that. Read the guys whose names you’ve heard, and I’ll give you a list at the end here of others. But don’t confine yourself to reading only spec fic (spec fic is speculative fiction or genre fiction – basically science fiction, horror, adventure, superheroes, fantasy, anything that’s a bit weird or out of the ordinary). If you only read that stuff, you’ll miss out on an important part of making a story work, which is making your own story and characters believable. It won’t matter if you can vividly write about a guy’s face melting off or somebody punching through a wall if you can’t get your reader interested in the story in the first place by investing time in filling out the world it takes place in. When you write weird fiction, if you make the normal/boring stuff believable, it makes the cool stuff that much more awesome when it happens. If you write about a bus driver running down zombies in the zombie apocalypse, where’d he get the bus? Was he a regular bus driver when the plague hit? How did he react when zombies started showing up? What’s it like to drive a bus? Did he have a girlfriend, a wife, family? If you’re writing a ghost story, why’s the ghost haunting people? Who were they in life? Do the people in the story believe in ghosts? Why or why not? Think about Spider-Man. Before he becomes Spider-Man, he’s just a kid who’s kinda nerdy, gets picked on in school. Then he gets his powers, and his whole life changes. What makes him put on his mask? How does he deal with being Spider-Man in his off time? Because the kids who picked on him before don’t know he’s Spider-Man. Why doesn’t he tell them? If you don’t have that stuff, it comes across as kinda cartoony (in a Digimon sense, not say, The Last Airbender). No good writer writes in a vacuum, ignoring the world around them. In fact, you should watch and listen to everybody around you. Your whole life, everything and everyone you experience, is research. You never know when some little detail you notice and file away might come up in a story later. And again, you should read everything. Stephen King says you should read a hundred words for every word you write. It really will make you better.

Hand writing a story out on paper is OK to start. Some professional writers still do it, but I think it’s kind of a waste of time. The best thing to do is to type it right into a computer program like MS Word or WordPerfect or something like that. Publishers have guidelines (ways they expect a story to look or be formatted, the same as a paper at school), and most of them will accept stories you send them through email, so you should write your story in a program like that. If you don’t have a computer at your house, you might be able to type your story into a program and save it at the library. You can ask your teacher or the librarian or your parents how to do that.  Writing in a program is a good habit because it will also correct a lot of your spelling and grammar as you go – which is very important. If you send a story to an editor full of spelling errors, they’ll give up before finishing it and throw it out. The basic format for a story submission is, you set the type font to size 12 Times New Roman, indent your paragraphs with a .5 inch margin, and set the entire document to double spacing, which means there’ll be a blank line between every line so the editor can read it easier. This is in submission format – (NOTE: WordPress probably isn’t gonna let this show up correctly. For proper submission format, check here – http://www.shunn.net/format/novel.html

The interior was dim and cluttered, the house of a man with no partner to tend to it. There were stacks of books and newspapers. Antlers and carved wooden masks covered the mantle. A pair of handmade snowshoes hung on the wall, and a harpoon. Hal took off his parka and draped his suit jacket over a chair, the red and gold medal dangling forgotten.

“I’ll make some coffee,” he said, and got busy doing it. “Get that fire going. You think it’s cold now, it’s gonna storm tonight.”

See the difference? (Nope, me neither. Sorry! Check the link)

There are a lot of markets that will buy short stories. Some of them don’t take work from writers under the age of eighteen.  This is usually for legal reasons, taxes, payment, that kind of thing. Magnolia was able to publish her first story where she did because I co-wrote it. It was entirely her idea, but I wrote it out and let her have the pay. The second story was all hers. I had her tell it to me, suggested changes, but it was her. Sometimes there are calls for short stories from kids. You just have to keep an eye out for them. Magnolia’s third story is for an all-kids horror book.

The site I use to look for places to sell my work is called Ralan.com. Just type it into Google and it’ll pop up.

When you go there you’ll see, on the page, links for Pro , Semipro,   Pay,  Token,  Anthos, Books,    Under1K/Poetry/Audio,  Humor/Greeting Cards,   Contests.

Pro, Semipro, Pay, and Token are levels of reimbursement – the money you can get for your story. Pro rates begin at 5 cents a word and can go as high a 25 cents a word, which is pretty good. That means if you write a 2000 word story, you can make $100.  It’s good money if you can get it. It also teaches you to pay more attention to description and detail when you write. The more you write, the more you get paid. I got $600 for a Star Wars story. But the first story I ever sold, I sold to a small magazine in England for $28.  That’s a token payment.  Semipro is usually about three cents a word, which still isn’t bad. But a token payment is a one-time payment of anywhere from $5-$30.  Some places will offer to publish your story for what they call exposure, or royalty only. You should never send a story to these places, unless it’s for charity or something, because basically you’re giving your story away. Your story can only make you as much money as you believe it can. A writer should be paid what he’s worth. Nobody asks a plumber to come and fix their toilet for free, promising them they’ll tell all their friends how good the work was and maybe next time the plumber will get a paying job. Never give your work away.

Anthos means anthologies. That means the editor is putting out a book of short stories, not a magazine.

Books means the editor is looking for full length novels. That’s 60,000-150,000 words and up (10,000-49,000 words is usually considered a novella or a short novel).

Under1K – Under 1,000 words. Sometimes people call this flash fiction. Really short stories. 2,000-9,000K (I don’t know why they use a K. As an adult I should, but I don’t.) is a short story.

Poetry is just what it sounds like. Editors looking for poems.

Audio means somebody is looking to buy stories for audiobooks or for a podcast (kind of an internet radio show where somebody reads a story out loud).

Humor/Greeting Cards – yeah like those funny Hallmark cards at Target.

Contests – You submit your story, it’s judged, you win a prize. Just like an essay contest at school. Sometimes you get money for these. I personally never pay to enter one, but it’s fine to do so.

So basically, if you click on any of those headings on Ralan, it’ll take you to a list of editors looking for that type of writing. Somebody’s always looking for something. And check back often, because the listings change every week.

So here are some pretty good horror authors and stories/books you might read. They should all be at the library. A couple of them you can even find their stories online for free.

Short stories:

Edgar Allen Poe – The Premature Burial

Robert E. Howard – The Horror From The Mound, Pigeons From Hell, The Black Stone

Ambrose Bierce – The Man And The Snake

H.P. Lovecraft – The Call of Cthulhu, At The Mountains Of Madness

Richard Connell – The Most Dangerous Game

Shirley Jackson – The Lottery

Henry James – The Turn Of The Screw

Novels:

Stephen King – Cycle Of The Werewolf

Clive Barker – The Thief Of Always

Roald Dahl – The Witches

Ray Bradbury – Something Wicked This Way Comes

Neil Gaiman – Coraline

Well, good luck! Write the stories you like reading. If you have any questions, just ask me through Magnolia.

Keep writing!

Ed Erdelac

Published in: on February 11, 2016 at 8:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Happy 110th Birthday, Robert E. Howard

4PalmTreeI’ve been enamored with Robert E. Howard’s writing since seeing his name in the credits of Conan The Barbarian and hunting down as many of the Frazetta and Vallejo illustrated paperbacks of his work as I could find in the local used bookstore.

His works have set my imagination racing from the time I was twelve or so.

I blogged a while back about the three pop culture items I would waste money on to mark my career milestones as a writer, and the first tier was the Father’s Sword famously forged in the opening of the John Milius movie to the hammering strains of Basil Poledoruis’s monumental score. 

As many of you who follow this must know, I sold my first major professional rate novel, Andersonville, to Random House’s Hydra imprint a couple years ago, and it was published last year, putting me, for a time, ahead of Stephen King in the horror category on Amazon. Yep, I was King for a day.

I really wanted to mark this achievement with my first really foolish purchase of the big old Father’s Sword Windlass put out, but we were in a shaky financial state in Chateau du Erdelac around that time, and my better judgment won out.

I was supremely surprised then, this past Christmas, when one of my two gifts came in a weighty oblong box. My wife and eldest son had gone ahead and chipped in for the sword. On top of that, my uncle, who has always sort of poked fun at my writing aspirations and been pretty blunt in his critiques of my work (he’s not really a fan of ‘weird’ writing), carved a sturdy, rich wood plaque to hang it from and marked the date on the back.

No pics yet, as I haven’t had the time to hang it yet. I’ll post it here when I do. But it was a great gesture.

Anyway, whenever my creativity or enthusiasm wanes, I return to the well that Howard sank. This year, it was partially inspired by the re-reading of the Conan series authors Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward did over on Jones’ blog. 

As ever, I have no new praise to heap upon Howard. Every year here at Delirium Tremens, I let the master’s words speak for him.

This year, on the occasion of his birthday and perhaps in celebration of my ‘taking up the sword,’ I present my favorite passages from the King Conan tale The Scarlet Citadel. Conan has been unseated from his throne of Aquilonia by his enemies and a plotting wizard, replaced by a despotic prince and locked away in a dungeon of horrors presumed dead by his subjects and the rest of the world.

In his absence his kingdom wavers at the brink of chaos….
Jayem_Wilcox_-_The_Scarlet_CitadelWhile Athemides pleaded with Trocero, the mob still raved in the city with helpless fury. Under the great tower beside the royal palace the people swirled and milled, screaming their hate at Arpello, who stood on the turrets and laughed down at them while his archers ranged the parapets, bolts drawn and fingers on the triggers of their arbalests.

The prince of Pellia was a broad-built man of medium height, with a dark stern face. He was an intriguer, but he was also a fighter. Under his silken jupon with its gilt-braided skirts and jagged sleeves, glimmered burnished steel. His long black hair was curled and scented, and bound back with a cloth- of-silver band, but at his hip hung a broadsword the jeweled hilt of which was worn with battles and campaigns.

“Fools! Howl as you will! Conan is dead and Arpello is king!”

What if all Aquilonia were leagued against him? He had men enough to hold the mighty walls until Strabonus came up. But Aquilonia was divided against itself. Already the barons were girding themselves each to seize his neighbor’s treasure. Arpello had only the helpless mob to deal with. Strabonus would carve through the loose lines of the warring barons as a galley-ram through foam, and until his coming, Arpello had only to hold the royal capital.

“Fools! Arpello is king!”

The sun was rising over the eastern towers. Out of the crimson dawn came a flying speck that grew to a bat, then to an eagle. Then all who saw screamed in amazement, for over the walls of Tamar swooped a shape such as men knew only in half-forgotten legends, and from between its titan-wings sprang a human form as it roared over the great tower. Then with a deafening thunder of wings it was gone, and the folk blinked, wondering if they dreamed. But on the turret stood a wild barbaric figure, half naked, blood-stained, brandishing a great sword. And from the multitude rose a roar that rocked the towers, “The king! It is the king!”

Arpello stood transfixed; then with a cry he drew and leaped at Conan. With a lion-like roar the Cimmerian parried the whistling blade, then dropping his own sword, gripped the prince and heaved him high above his head by crotch and neck.

“Take your plots to hell with you!” he roared, and like a sack of salt, he hurled the prince of Pellia far out, to fall through empty space for a hundred and fifty feet. The people gave back as the body came hurtling down, to smash on the marble pave, spattering blood and brains, and lie crushed in its splintered armor, like a mangled beetle.

The archers on the tower shrank back, their nerve broken. They fled, and the beleaguered councilmen sallied from the palace and hewed into them with joyous abandon. Pellian knights and men-at-arms sought safety in the streets, and the crowd tore them to pieces. In the streets the fighting milled and eddied, plumed helmets and steel caps tossed among the tousled heads and then vanished; swords hacked madly in a heaving forest of pikes, and over all rose the roar of the mob, shouts of acclaim mingling with screams of blood-lust and howls of agony. And high above all, the naked figure of the king rocked and swayed on the dizzy battlements, mighty arms brandished, roaring with gargantuan laughter that mocked all mobs and princes, even himself.

Arnold_King_Conan

Published in: on January 22, 2016 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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