Saturday, May 23, 2015

Game of Thrones as Never Before

Game of Thrones is an exciting, albeit violent, medieval fantasy novel and TV series. The special effects are incredible, the characters interesting as they are disturbing, and the story writers extremely good at getting you to watch the next episode. But behind the stunning visuals is a story that goes largely unseen by the viewers. Whether you are a die-hard fan, or a casual viewer, hopefully in the next few paragraphs I can open your mind to whole new levels of meaning in the epic fantasy Game of Thrones. I will divide my review into three parts, the magic and its meaning, the politics of Thrones, and finally critiques and inconsistencies.

Part 1: The magic and its meaning.

Magic and the medieval era seem to always go hand in hand, but Game of Thrones is almost void of it except for a few elements, the white walkers in the north, and the dragons of Daenerys Targaryen and a few other minor elements.

Magic in literature can almost always be taken as a symbol of insanity. Probably the best example is the beloved children’s series Harry Potter, which is the imaginative re-telling of the trip of a severely abused and neglected boy (Harry) to a mental institution (Hogwarts).

The “White Walkers” are essentially a zombie army in the frozen land of the north. The only people who have seen the White Walkers are the “Night’s Watch” a group of men who through choice, or through force (mostly force) have given up everything, i.e. the company of the opposite sex, the chance to see or have a family, and more, in order to supposedly “protect the kingdom.” Many are there because of incredibly traumatic reasons, such as being abandoned by family or as part of a plea bargain. Like many military situations, abuse, anger, and fighting are rampant.
After making all these sacrifices and living in this near hell, the realization that no real threat existed would be horrific. The wall is ridiculously large, and no one could ever get in, and it is in the middle of a frozen desert. They have to stay on the wall their entire lives with this supposed important job of protecting the Kingdom, yet no protection is needed. The acceptance of that reality would be ridiculously difficult and painful. The desire to have a real enemy and a purpose for your existence would be enormous. Traumatized people are forced into alternate universes where the trauma and pain can, if nothing else, be meaningful.

“The White Walkers” are easily interpreted as nothing more than the creations of severely traumatized soldiers. The parallels to our own world and soldiers should be apparent, where imaginary white walkers are the least of our problems, but the men having the illusions could be.

The dragons follow a similar pattern. Khaleesi (among my favorite characters) is a girl whose only family member, her brother, is a complete sociopath who is happy to have a whole army rape her if it will be beneficial to him. After being told this absolutely horrific thing by her brother, that same brother essentially sells her to be the wife of a borderline rapist who for entertainment at their wedding watches women being raped and men being killed. If trauma exists, this is it. If this were your lot in life, suddenly being the “mother of dragons” who could birth all-powerful dragons that caused men to do whatever you pleased would sound pretty nice, especially since it is men who ruthlessly and harshly disregarded her life. Being able to control men with her family’s emblem, the dragon, would be almost infinitely appealing.

Magic makes movies fun and interesting because we see shadows of our own life traumas and recognize, either consciously or not, realities about our trauma and coping mechanisms.

Part 2: The politics of Thrones and the politics of now.

Most everybody is appalled by Joffrey, the young boy king in the movie. He is brutal, he is mean, and he is a coward, unlikeable in every possible way.  But the people around him, such as his mother and the other kings vying for the throne, are not much better. Basically the show is about a bunch of sociopaths who go around ordering people around and killing whoever gets in their way or for whatever whim they have.  

It is kind of crazy that these characters are even relatable, because they are nothing like you or me.
A testament to the messed up nature of the show (and the world that cheers it on), is that deep down we are cheering for Ned Stark and his family. Ned Stark and his family seem to be the only good guys.

But remember something about Ned Stark. He opens the show by chopping off a head of a man he has barely met and to whom he had only listened to for about 30 minutes of testimony or defense. Chops off his head! To make things worse, he forces his 10 year old son to watch. In what planet is that man a good guy? The political planet.

Ned Stark only seems like a good guy because next to Joffrey and the like he is a saint. Compared to prostitutes we may all seem like chaste virgins, but that does not make it so. Our virtue is not increased by being surrounded by people that lack any. Ned Stark, despite what virtues he may exude is a man who abandons family for power and who kills men without trial in front of children. 

This is the supposed good guy.

The parallels to today are painfully clear.

Ned Stark (and his family), are the “good politicians” The guys who are finally going to “fix the system.” They are loving, they are caring, they are compassionate. They will get rid of the bad guys and restore order, rule in justice, end the war, etc. etc. That may sound far-fetched and ridiculous, but listen to the rhetoric around any politician running for president this coming year: it will sound the same. If you are in team [enter candidates name] that candidate can do no evil. This is what we think. If only Rob Stark (i.e. Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton) gets into power, then the system will be fixed. That is what we tell ourselves every single year. And just like in Game of Thrones, we keep watching hoping “Joffery” will be killed and the murders will stop, but just like in the show the murders, the killings, the rapes, and the brutality never stop. The Ned Starks of the world keep the system going, by keeping us hoping a violent system can in some way become non-violent.
Game of Thrones is not about medieval war, it is about the wars of the post-industrial western world. 
The Game of Thrones is the modern world. The U.S. government has been at war almost non-stop since World War II. It has propped up dictators around the world, set up governments to support their causes, and torn down governments it found them inconvenient. The government today is the real life Game of Thrones, and it is every bit as bloody as the medieval drama. And as much as we would like to exonerate Ned Stark, no man’s (or woman’s) hands are clean.

We like to think our politicians are beyond the brutality of these medieval barbarians, but look at the drone strikes which kill school children and wedding guests. These are the people who will send down bombs on an innocent family gathering, and hardly feel remorse about it.

These are people who will send thousands of men into Iraq to die, and hardly flinch or worry about the validity/necessity of the war.

These are people who prop up dictators in foreign countries and sell weapons to brutal regimes around the world.

These are people who will take a mother from a child simply because they don’t have the proper piece of paper.

These are people who will throw thousands in prison because they don’t agree with the vegetation they keep.

And it all just keeps going because we keep believing it is somehow necessary, keep believing that somehow “the good guy” will finally come in and kill Joffery and there will be peace! This is the great fallacy of the human race. The belief that somehow we can destroy violence with violence. It never works. The violence will never stop, the wars will never cease. Just like Game of Thrones, as long as people keep watching, the violence continues, but the moment we turn away, is the moment it disappears and the show will cease to be aired.

Part 3: Critiques, irrationalities/inconsistencies, and economics

Game of Thrones has some compelling and well done story telling. There is a reason I got as far as I did. And as stated at the beginning, visually, aesthetically, etc. the movie is great.
The biggest problem is the show’s plot and premise are so completely irrational and inconsistent that the whole thing gets so utterly ridiculous that it requires too much suspension of the rational mind.
A story can contain magic and dragons and it is okay, as long as the movie is internally consistent. That is fire cannot move in one direction one minute, and a different the next, unless the rule is fire constantly moves (which would be interesting).

First and foremost, Game of Thrones deals with human entities, so there are some basic rules that a storyteller must accept when using humans.

1. Humans do not like/want to die and will do most anything to avoid it. 

2. Humans need food to live

Not too complicated, and pretty indisputable. Sure there are some humans who want to die, but those are a very small fraction of society at any given moment. 

Game of Thrones breaks both of these rules unceasingly. Most of the characters are completely given over to the author’s whims to keep the plot going, without any sort sense of desire to survive, or any ability to get food.  Every level of the society is either irrational or ignored. The peasants and lower-classes are ignored and killed on whims by the other classes without any reference to the essential function they carry out in society. Kings, knights, soldiers all depended heavily on peasants and the lower-classes for everything, sure they could kill a few to make a point, but they were a valuable resource which the kings would not have been able to just slaughter at the drop of a hat.

The soldiers are assumed to have no sense of will or morality whatsoever. This is the stereotype and in many ways the reality of soldiers, but many soldiers do maintain some level of morality, and even more than that, the desire to survive. The show assumes that not only do soldiers have zero regard for the lives of other people (which is semi-believable), they also have zero regard for their own lives (which is not believable).

The ruling class does irrational things right and left because they want to, and because it makes the story last longer. The whole story is the story of the irrational decisions of the ruling class (much like our history books). But what makes this unbelievable (as opposed to the history books) is the rulers often act against their own self-interest in ways that would decrease their wealth or chance of survival.  Sure rulers do a lot of crazy and irrational things, like invading Iraq, but we can look back on that event and realize there was a lot of self-interest driving those decisions (and bloody ruthlessness). What wouldn’t make sense if George Bush had instead decided to invade Uruguay, kill everyone in the country, burn all the resources in the country, have half the army kill themselves, take what was remaining of the army and send them into Indiana where they did the same thing. That would make no sense, but that is about the level of rationality that goes on among the Thrones rulers.

Like so many modern stories, the people who make them have no sense of technology or economics, or just the basic reality that people need food to survive.

People look at the medieval ages as a brutal time, but life expectancy actually took a small bump from Roman times, mostly because there weren’t so many wars. Yes you read that right, less fighting. Sure there were really long wars, but our conception of warfare is nothing like medieval warfare.
In modern (as in post-US Civil War) warfare, wars generally last 2-10 years with frequent fighting and battles. World War I lasted 4 years, with men constantly in the trenches and having battles every few months. By the Korean and Vietnam wars soldiers faced near constant fighting. Compare this to medieval war. In the 100 years’ war, which was at the pinnacle of the medieval times (1337-1453) there was on average less than one battle every two years! A king would call for all the Lords, they would bring the men and they would go fight, for one day, and that would be it for the whole year. If the battle was particularly bloody there would be no battles for multiple years as the kingdoms recouped.

When people write these ridiculous stories they have no idea the crazy amount of resources it takes to go to war. In medieval times these resources were simply not available for large constant warfare. You could not have year-long wars because your soldiers would starve to death. There just was not enough food. This is the same reason that peasants did not go to war, and why you simply did not kill peasants like they were potatoes in a Idaho. Each peasant dead meant less food and resources for you and your army. 

Another thing to note is the size of the battles. From the shows it is difficult to get clear statistics about the demographics of the “seven kingdoms.” To be fair, in Roman times, larger armies and battles were able to be created simply because there was a larger government with a large kingdom. However, in the typical battle in the 100 years’ war there would be 5-10 thousand men on each side going into the battle. The winner would lose a few hundred men; the loser would lose a few thousand men. In other words all of France or England would be able to field one army of approximately 8000 men for one battle for a whole year. That was it. In all of England only 8000 men would be in battle for the whole year. Of those 200-2000 would likely be killed in any given year to war. And that is it. Why? Because they could not afford to go to war more, there was not enough food. One can only steal so much food from a farmer, before the farmer is on the verge of starvation himself; when it gets to this point, threats of violence become meaningless. As the ruler the option is to steal what is left of the food (and the farmer dies of starvation) or kill the farmer, either way this means less food the coming year because there is one less farmer.

It is these fundamental realities about life and economics to which the writers of Thrones are completely oblivious.

A king makes a calculation just like anyone else. Put yourself in their shoes. You are the Lord/King of the north. You control a large area where people pay tribute to you and you get food. What should you do? Take your huge army, lose thousands of men, and go attack the capital? Or a neighboring lordship? Maybe, if you could steal more resources than you would lose through the war, but the reality is that going to war takes a LOT of resources, so one has to be pretty dang confident it is going to work, because it is a huge risk. This is why in medieval times the operations were generally small and calculated. Sure kings made mistakes and were even irrational and lost thousands of men at times on bad decisions, but their decisions were reined in by economic realities. Just this one rational thought makes much of Game of Thrones nonsensical. But unfortunately it does not stop there.

What is the motivation of the soldiers to fight? They are paid, so that keeps them going for the routine task, but when going to war, no amount of money is worth a person’s life (i.e. almost no one would say, “I’ll kill myself if you give me X dollars”) This is what people often don’t understand about war. Soldiers do not fight for love of country, or whatever B.S. propaganda says. Soldiers fight because they take a calculated risk about money and their chance of survival or (as is more often the case)  there are men standing behind them who will kill them if they do not fight.

The common soldier is stuck between two enemies: The enemy on the other side that is coming to destroy them, and their commanding officers who will kill them if they desert. Once again people, even most soldiers, care about their lives and will not risk it without some pretty compelling reasons, like getting killed.

This makes lots of the scenes with soldiers completely nonsensical, because the soldiers are treated as people without morals and the will to live.

I have illustrated in generalities why much of the plot line of Game of Thrones is nonsensical, but let's look at some specific examples, starting with the scene where King Joffery has all the bastard sons of the previous King killed.

First problem is that there is no way they could track down those sons. The previous king had sex with prostitutes regularly. These prostitutes had sex with tons of men regularly (they are prostitutes after all). It would be impossible to track down whose sons were whose, so that whole thing is ridiculous. Then to add on some ridiculous crème, a group of three soldiers go and search out this one bastard son, who has joined “the night’s watch.” The leader of “the night’s watch” group threatens them with violence. There are two or three soldiers. What would they do? They would leave and just say they couldn’t find the boy (or even that they found him and killed him, because honestly who is going to know?), that is the way that involves the least violence and risk to their own lives. The fact that they come back and try to fight for some random boy is just absurd. Also in this episode, soldiers literally pull babies from mother’s arms and kill them. I find it extremely difficult to believe that this would not lead to full-scale, all out revolution. People are not easily pushed to revolution, but seeing babies murdered by the king would probably do it if anything did.

The list could go on and on with irrationalities and inconsistencies and plot holes. The general problem is that people consistently act contrary to their own self-interest, which in real life rarely (if ever) happens. People make miscalculations and mistakes, but to consistently do opposite what any rational human being would do makes things real difficult to take seriously.

Ned Stark's wife, at risk of treason, lets Jayme Lannister go, the man who tried to kill her son, because meh, no reason. Then some random guy kills some kids for no good reason, then Rob Stark kills the guy despite knowing he is going to lose half his army. Basically the author decided bad things needed to happen to Rob Stark’s army to keep things interesting, so let’s have everyone in his army go completely insane and irrationally start killing each other.

No family is saved from the irrationality. I do not except people to be moral, in fact all the opposite, people in power rarely are moral, which is one thing the show actually does represent well. But what it does a horrible job of showing is the economic cost of violence. The high cost of violence is what keeps society safe controls how kings and countries act in wars, how long the wars last, and how many men fight etc. To just ignore the economic drivers behind war and assume everything (or even anything) is about sitting on some stupid throne, allegiances, loyalties, and other inconsequential matters is to completely misunderstand the very thing the show is supposed to be about.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Basketball according to various political ideologies.

The refs say everyone will get the same number of points regardless of what happens in the game. All the players just sit on the court and don’t play. The refs go eat at a buffet using the money from the ticket sales to the game. The players starve to death.

The teams are divided by gender. Males have to score three points to earn one, and in the end, regardless of the outcome the girl’s team is declared the winner. All males on the court or elsewhere are put on trial for rape. 

There are no referees and everyone does whatever they want. Mostly the players sit on the court and try to start businesses with Bitcoin and weed. Everyone goes home high or rich. 

Game goes as normal, except all players have to do religious rites every time after scoring, before the game, after the game, and during half time. A group of people sit in the VIP section wearing strange costumes, they are given all the proceeds of the game, the players get nothing, but do it willingly to 'glorify God.'  The guy in the funny costume can choose to change the outcome of the game if he feels 'guided by God.'

1.     A vote of the audience is held to determine the winner of the game. The blue team bribes a few advertising agencies to say a lot of good things about them, as well as to catch a member of the red team breaking the rules. The blue team wins, takes all the profits from the game. The process is repeated for the next game except this time the red team does the bribery and framing. The result is still the same: the players and refs get all the money and the audience gets screwed, no game is really played, and everyone is convinced that next time it will be better.  

Everyone gets angry, refuses to play because they are getting exploited by the capitalist overlords who run the team. They kill them and eat all their food and spend all their money. After all the wealth and food is gone they sit around arguing about how a commune should be run. After a few days they are out of food and starvation sets in. Most die. One wanders off and manages to find a group of anarcho-capitalists who are sitting around drinking champagne, discussing philosophy, and what factory to open next. They give some food and water to the starved wanderer to help him regain his strength and composure. After recovering, he gets angry, stands up and says "You are all violent oppressors! You need to redistribute your goods equally to me." The anarcho-capitalists say "no." To which the anarcho-communist pulls out his gun. .5 seconds later he has 2 grenade launchers, a AK47, and a bazooka, all pointing at him. He is forced to put down his gun. They offer to continue to pay him if he will wash dishes and clean. He reluctantly agrees and spends all his time while working grumbling about the oppression of the proletariat. The anarcho-capitalists start a basketball team and decide to never hire communists.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Slaughterhouse-Five: An Anarchist Review

Title: Slaughterhouse-Five
Author: Kurt Vonnegut
Published: 1969
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) 

The alternate title for the book is A Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death. At The beginning of the book the author claims to be writing a book about the battle of Dresden, a lesser known allied air-strike where more people died than at Hiroshima. A wife of one of the author’s friends is angry he is writing a war book because war books always glorify war. She says they were just children fighting in the war. He agrees to call it A Children’s Crusade. In many ways, modern wars are no different from the children’s crusades of the middle ages.  

In war we send out 18 or 19 year old men, but in many ways they are children, they do not know what they are doing. This sets the tone for the rest of the book which I find to be symbolic of war, even though the actual war is talked about very little.

Most the book is nonsensical. The story is told in a completely non-linear fashion. The first part which talks about the author, but the rest is about an optometrist named Billy Pilgrim. Billy claims to have been abducted by aliens that see in the fourth dimension. They teach him the “true nature” of time. They can all go to any moment at any time. They can look at moments in time like we look at the rocky mountains. This leads to the convoluted story telling. Billy believes this and can somehow jump from moment to moment. He tells about part of his story during the war when he is in Dresden, then he is back in the states before the war, then back in the war, then at another point in the war, then getting married after the war, then when he is old, then when he is in school, and so on. By the end the reader is able to piece together his whole life, but it is like putting a puzzle together.

This is in many ways like war. It doesn’t make sense. After we see destroyed buildings and bits of pieces of information from different survivors and with that a story is pieced together which eventually becomes the narrative thousands of school children will recite on tests. Yet it is not the story of the war. We learn a broad story of events that logically follow one another and culminate in victory for the good guys. The history of America’s wars in most history books read more like a Victorian novel or an epic Greek poem. For the actual soldiers, it doesn’t make sense. There are bombs, explosions, going here and there and they don’t even knowing why. There is a reason tons come back with PTSD and other ailments: they just went through hell, and the worst part about it is that it is senseless hell.  This is the reason the bombing of Dresden is not well known, because it does not fit the narrative. The good-guys don’t just bomb a completely unprotected city for no reason and kill thousands of civilians for no apparent reason. So what do we do, we skip over that. We get Hitler Bad, Hitler attack, Winston Churchill good, Churchill save day, American fighting men save the day, allies win, world saved! Yet this is not the story of war: this is the fantasy of those that don’t want to understand.

In this story Billy talks about visiting space aliens and going through time warps and all this stuff. It is all kind of crazy, but nothing compared to the craziness of sending bombs down on innocent people, but so it goes.

The aliens Billy meets are also very deterministic. There is no ability to change the course of events. Each moment happens because that is just how it is constructed. Billy knows when he is going to die, but he does nothing because that is just how it is. Throughout the book whenever someone dies (which is almost every other paragraph) it is followed by the sentence: So it goes. As if that is just how it is. Of course, to the man in the army this is how life feels, this is how war feels. You cannot choose where you go, or when you leave, or even when you go to the bathroom. It is all controlled by some external and seemingly arbitrary force. Life is completely controlled. You are a mere pawn in some scheme that you are completely incapable of fathoming.

And that is slaughterhouse five. It is not a story about a crazy optometrist who gets abducted by aliens. It is about some children, 18 and 19 year old children, sent on a crusade they didn’t understand. It is about the crazy stories they have to create to make sense of their lives. Billy Pilgrim is not insane for seeing aliens; the world around him is insane that escape to aliens is a better alternative than reality.

The book is definitely worth a read, so read it, or don't: this is the anarchist review: reading without rulers. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Burma, The Book of Mormon, and the Immigration Conundrum

I was raised conservative. My political views have shifted significantly over the past 20 years of my life, but I come from conservative background, and in many ways still identify more with “conservative” than I do “liberal.” However one thing that I have never been able to grasp is the stance of many conservatives against immigration. Even in my truest reddest Republican days, I never could make sense of this position. Open immigration is a free-market idea. Being pro free-trade and anti-immigration is a completely contradictory and hypocritical stance. Recent events have made the stance of conservatives further isolate them from being successful.
            I always hated the term “compassionate conservative” applied to some conservatives because it implies that conservatives are not compassionate, which I do not think is true. However, recent events in Texas and on the border have tested my thesis, so I bet conservatives everywhere to prove that they are indeed compassionate people by their treatment of individuals as individuals regardless of what side of an imaginary line they happened to be born on.

The Current Situation

The most important thing to understand about the current border situation is that the flood of immigrants is almost entirely driven by U.S. foreign and drug policy.

The immigrants are not coming from Mexico; they are coming from Central America. Central America is a place that has been repeatedly destroyed by U.S. foreign policy. There is hardly a country in Central America that has not had the slimy octopus tentacles of U.S. intervention. The U.S. has propped up multiple dictators, helped dispose of democratically elected governments, supported rebels. You name it; the U.S. has done it in Central America. It is no wonder that the place is in complete turmoil. As is obvious now from Iraq, U.S. intervention rarely helps to eliminate violence and increase stability, in fact all the opposite.
The drug war in the United States has forced the militarization of an entire industry to protect itself from the U.S. military and the DEA. This has turned the drug war into a real war with real human casualties. It replaces peaceful voluntary exchange with violence. It does nothing to eliminate or lower drug usage, and it creates violence both here in the U.S. and abroad, particularly in south and Central America.

The U.S. government through foreign intervention and drug policy has turned entire countries into war-zones.  Honduras is one of the most violent and dangerous countries in the world. Central America is loaded with violence, much of which can be directly attributed to U.S. involvement. With this in mind, the idea that we would turn away children fleeing from violence that our government created, is so repulsive and disgusting to me, I do not see how any loving human being could embrace this idea.

The bottom line these are people; real life human beings who happened to be born on the other side of an imaginary line. They have cares, dreams, and hopes. They have been on one of the most treacherous and dangerous journeys imaginable. They are victims of violence sewn by our government, and they arrive at our door step and we are going to say we hate you and get out? Where is our humanity?

In this essay I want to give some examples that will hopefully appeal to conservatives as to why they, more than anyone, should be more open and loving towards immigration and immigrants. There is no excuse for the hate being spread against immigrants.

The Karen people from Burma

            The Karen are an ethnic group from Burma (Myanmar). During World War II they supported the British in Burma, which caused a lot of animosity from the majority ethnic group: the Burmese. In 1949 just after Burma was granted independence, conflict arose. Since 1949, there has been conflict between the Karen people and the Burmese government. It is one of the longest civil wars on the planet.
The Burmese have attempted to carry out a systematic extermination and genocide of the Karen people. Many Karen fled the terror in Burma to neighboring Thailand. Had the Thai government done nothing except to grant these victims free exercise of their rights of life, liberty, and property, this large work force and potential market would have built and helped lift a struggling Thai economy. Besides basic police protection they would have had essentially no burden on the government while benefiting the economy.
Instead the strict immigration policies would not allow the entrance of the persecuted people into Thailand. People in Thailand were so worried about having more job competition that they turned away people who were on the brink of starvation. People who were eating tree bark just to make their hunger pains not be so intense, people who had had their entire villages livelihoods burned to the ground, people who had seen brothers and fathers and cousins tortured in the most horrific of ways. Can you imagine? Oh, but they might take a job, they may want to work to support their family. That of course cannot be. We cannot have people working to support their families here, so send them back, send them back face death and starvation on the other side of this imaginary line.

A group of Karen refugees eat traditional food in Salt Lake City

The Karen people were forced for many years to straddle the border. When the Burmese military was getting close they would flee to the Thai side, when the Thai police came, they would flee to the Burma side. Needless to say, living conditions were far from ideal and people died. Eventually because of international pressure, refugee camps were set up. These camps granted some (limited) protection from the aggression of the Burmese military, but did not grant the refugees much opportunity. They could not work and chase their dreams, they had to live their entire lives in a few acre area. If they did leave they were outlaws and were constantly at risk of being caught by the Thai police who were notoriously corrupt.
What is one of the saddest parts about the whole situation is that instead of working and contributing to the Thai economy as would have been the case had they been granted entrance, the refugees became a burden on the economy. The Thai government (with the UN) had to feed the refugees, and the refugees with little to no opportunities in the camp were left with no motivation to get an education and succeed. Drug use and other problems became rampant. Hopelessness became epidemic. Of course if anyone was put in a small compound with no opportunity for growth or ever leaving that small area, they would get infected with hopelessness as well.
So not only did the Thai government turn away the victims of violence, they hurt themselves and destroyed even more lives through complete enabling and taking of opportunity from those that did survive. (For more information on Karen refugees and the Karen people see
How is the situation of the Karen people and the Thai government, any different than the United States current immigration “problems”? There is essentially none. The option is clear. We either treat these victims of violence as human beings and let them work and contribute in our economy, or we shun them. We turn them back to their homelands to be killed, or we put them in some sort of refugee camp where they will become dependent on the government, cost the government money, destroy their own lives, and not help anyone else either.
The choice is clear and easy: acceptance and love is the only way.

For LDS readers, Examples from The Book of Mormon.

            A few years back in Utah, the immigration debate exploded. Rarely does the L.D.S. church take a stance on any political issue, but with immigration they did, with not one but multiple press releases. Although not extremely direct the first went against any SB270 Arizona type law and supported compassion and caring in regards to immigration. They then supported a guest worker program that was supported by the Utah legislature. The church referred people to this editorial from the Deseret News when asked about immigration.
            I thought for sure this would lead to Utah becoming a model of compassionate immigration reform. The legislature passed HB116 as a guest worker program focused on getting people here legally, instead of keeping people out. It appeared as if Utah was at least open to a more rational and compassionate approach.
            However, just when everything was going so well, the Republican caucus met and voted for a repeal of HB 116. They even went to so far as to call those that passed it “traitors to Utah”. Many of the caucus also called for a stricter, Arizona-style immigration law. It seemed as if not even the state’s prominent religion was able to curb the vitriol of some conservatives. It was very discouraging. However, based on polls, it appeared that those “hard-liners” were a small vocal minority

I would hope that the U.S. and particularly Utah would be an example of welcoming immigrants with compassion and love. The Book of Mormon has many examples that support the idea of a more open immigration policy.

Case 1: Omni 1: 12-14
            In these versus the people of Nephi are the immigrants (or refugees) escaping aggression from the Lamanites and were probably a good-sized group of people.  They find the land of Zarahemla.  One might think with this huge influx of people from another group that the native inhabitants would be angry. But the Book of Mormon says nothing about rallies and protests because these “immigrants were taking their jobs.” There does not appear to be any anger or animosity from the Mulekites (the people already living in the land of Zarahemla) toward the people of Nephi. In fact it appears to be all the opposite: “There was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla.”

Case 2: Mosiah 24:25 - Mosiah 25
            In this section of the Book of Mormon the people of Zeniff and the people of Alma return to the land of Zarahemla after being away for a couple of generations in the land of the Lamanites. This group was also the victim of violence from the Lamanites, and fled to live with the people of Zarahemla. The groups were also of considerable size and yet once again the Book or Mormon makes no mention of anger or contention about a competitive job market or education possibilities. Rather, just the opposite: “King Mosiah did also receive them with joy.”

Case 3: Alma 27:5-23
            In these versus a group of the Lamanites (bitter enemies of the Nephites at the time) converts to the religion of the Nephites. As this group is now a persecuted group among the Lamanites they decide to seek refuge in the neighboring nation of the Nephites, their former enemies (sounds somewhat familiar to some similar modern situations). Once again this group of people is not turned away with the excuse of not having the proper documentation. They were not subject to all sorts of legal obstacles, or put in tight refugee camps, but rather welcomed as fellow-citizens, given freedom, land, and protection.
            All of these are interesting cases from the Book of Mormon on how immigration was handled, and I feel case enough to support compassion and understanding in the immigration debate.

The New Testament and Final Comments

            Conservatives more than anyone should embrace a more-open immigration policy: it is based in free-markets and free-trade and encourages more freedom. David Brooks quotes a study from the National Opinion Research center that shows that, “Those who express less tolerance toward a variety of minority groups also are more hostile to capitalism.” Capitalism is all about freedom and trust of other people to do what is right. If conservatives claim to be those that support capitalism, freedom, and the “American Dream” they must be willing to grant freedom, capitalism, and the opportunity to live the American Dream to those on the other side of the imaginary line.

            Christ said the second great commandment was to “love they neighbor as thyself.” Neighbor means any human being. Christ even gives an example of someone from a different group and place as being a “neighbor.” There is no asterisk in the verse that says only those of the same nationality. In fact the New Testament does not give much credence at all to nationality. Regardless of the nation they are born in, regardless of what side of the line they were born on they are still people, they are still neighbors, and as such deserve our love and compassion. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Attorney Generals: An adventure of Haysis and Mal

“I am guessing you have seen the news?”

“You know I make a point to avoid the newspapers.”

“Yes, I never understood that.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“How does the person most capable of understanding and interpreting current events not read the newspaper?” Mal looked right at Haysis with her slightly crooked smile begging for some reaction.

“Does a scientist read Scientific American?”

“Well yes, I think so.”

“Then they are idiots.” There was an awkward pause where Mal looked around not sure if he was insulting scientists or her for not knowing much about them. “Anyways, why do you ask? What sensational piece of worthless knowledge are the public so curious to know about that they will pay a dollar and waste 15 minutes reading about just so they can sound like experts to their friends?”

The Pier 49 where they were eating suddenly went quiet, and Mal didn’t know what to say with multiple people looking at her companion. The man taking orders was the only one to speak.  “Two slices is all, any drink with that?” The moment ended and people went back to their conversations.

Mal, feeling a bit awkward, leaned over to Haysis and whispered, “perhaps you should talk a bit quieter.” Haysis rolled his eyes.

“They are only a bunch of Goldman Sachs employees. They all know it is true. Look how they watch the sports news, as if it mattered. They talk as if they were talking about something. That one over there thinks he is such a big shot because he got a job at Goldman Sachs. He is going to reach the big time. He is going to have so much money! What a joke.”

“Quiet!” Mal lifted her finger to her mouth. “They may be listening!”

“And? Do you think one of them is cute or something? There is a room filled with men in business attire here, I am sure anyone would gladly take you home, regardless of what we said.”

“Please. Even if I wanted to, most are probably married.”

“So? You think they have standards? I think you are forgetting that they work for Goldman Sachs.”

Mal looked around at the stares of people who were obviously trying to avoid looking but were unable to help it. “Come on, let’s go!” She grabbed Haysis by the sleeve, pulling him up while he anxiously reached for his pizza.

“I was enjoying my pizza, my dear senorita!”

“You were making sure no one could enjoy their pizza.”

“It is not my fault they didn’t find the truth pleasurable.”

They walked down the main street past Sam Weller’s bookstore and out of the financial district of Salt Lake City, Haysis, perturbed and finishing his pizza.

“I was saying the case of the Attorney Generals. John Swallow and Mark Shurtleff were arrested on felony charges.”

“Oh that. Who cares?”

“Who cares? This is one of the biggest stories to come out of the state of Utah this year, and you don’t even care? This means corruption at the highest places in our government, and you don’t even care?”

Haysis simply laughed and kept walking.

“What? I don’t get it. What is the joke your highness?”

Haysis looked around at the intersection. “Hey, I have a bit of sweet tooth (what a silly expression), I’m going to jump into that Judge bakery or whatever it is.” With that he crossed the street, and Mal followed quickly behind.

“Tell me, what is funny about the Attorney general’s case?”

“Besides their names?”

Mal smiled. “Yes, besides their names.”

“Nothing really.”

“Gosh Haysis, I thought you were not so juvenile. Of all the people in the world, I would have expected you to be the one capable of taking something seriously.”

“I can.”

“Okay, then what do you think about the case? Are they guilty? Are you going to try and work on it?”

“Are they guilty?” Haysis made his “please” face. “Are you serious? How long have you known me Mal?”

“A few years why?”

Haysis was distracted by the lady at the food booth. “What would you like?”

“One of those cookies please. Thank you. Here.” He handed the women his card.

“Here you are sir.” Haysis grabbed the card and the cookie.

“Two years. Two years and you ask me if two bureaucrats are guilty? I am beginning to question your value beyond your shapely figure and gorgeous face.”

“That wasn’t a compliment.”

“I know.” They stopped and looked at each other for a moment. Haysis turned and kept walking toward State Street. “Let me tell you something about criminals. Being a criminal is a job for some, a career for many. And just like most careers, there is stratification. There are managers who run one store; there are managers that are CEOs of multi-billion dollar organizations. That is a pretty large spectrum. Crime is the same way. Some criminals steal bikes and televisions and cars. These people are like regular store workers. The smarter and more capable criminals are in charge of organized crime groups, mafia leaders. But do you know what the smartest criminals do? What do the cleverest sociopaths do?” Haysis gave a condescending smile, Mal humored him.


“Sociopaths want to hurt people for their benefit. They steal to put someone else down and them up. But you know, it is not that easy being a criminal. There is a lot of risk, someone could catch you. Someone could shoot you. Sometimes you have to actually see the people you steal from and confront the reality that you are hurting them. That all sucks. There are better ways to go about satisfying your sociopathic urges. You can become a policeman. Then you can control people. Take from people, carry a gun, hurt people at your benefit, and be generally viewed positively by society. But even there is risk, and there is not that much money or prestige in it. The best of the best sociopaths is not going to be a common criminal, they are not going to be a policeman. The best place is controlling the policeman. Politician. Bureaucrat. These are the geniuses and CEOs of the criminal world.”

“Psh. Be serious Haysis.”

“I am being serious. Goodness girl. Wake up. Don’t tell me you are as blind to the world around you as those Goldman Sachs employees. I gave you more credit than that. Look at politicians. They get to control people. They get to control armies and police forces. They get to say who goes to prison and who doesn’t. They can tell people what light bulbs to use and what ones they can’t. They can order the deaths of people and steal from entire populations. However, that is not even the best perk. Oh no. The head of a very successful mafia boss can do most of that. But know what the real perk of being a ‘public servant’ is?”


“Exactly. I am glad you are not completely lost.” Haysis smiled and appreciated Mal’s equally warm response. “Politicians get the praise of people for doing all the evil stuff they want to do. They can control what kind of light bulb people are using and feel like they are ‘helping the world.’ They can send down bombs on all sorts of people in other countries and pass it off as ‘protecting their people.’ They can be involved in wars and still earn Nobel Peace prizes. They can steal from a whole population and never have to individually see the faces of those they are stealing from. It really is a great gig.”

“I’m not sure if I agree with you completely, but I see your point. I’ll have to think about it. But what does this have to do with John Swallow?”

“Aaah! Are you serious? He is a politician, did you miss my talks about politicians?!”
Mal laughed. “Well, in the normal paradigm, is he guilty?”

“I don’t know. I don’t even know what the normal paradigm is. Sure he probably took some campaign contributions he shouldn’t have.  He possibly tampered with evidence. I don’t care. These are political fights. This is like two mafia bosses fighting over who broke the rules. They’re mafia bosses. They make their money from stealing and deceiving and intimidating and blackmail. When the tide of Mafia politics brings accusations against one Mafia member and they find stuff about him, is he guilty for breaking mafia rules? Well probably, but does it matter? They are all breaking rules. They are mafia members for Christ’s sake.”

“So you are saying his accusers are just as guilty as he is?”

“Of course, whatever guilty means in this case. There are thousands of rules and completely insane regulations that have nothing to do with reality. If I say I have made a whole bunch of random and likely frequently contradicting rules in my imaginary universe, are you ‘guilty’ for not following them? I guess so if you have agreed to follow them, as Swallow had. Of course the ‘laws’ are so complicated and insane that everyone is breaking them. It is just a matter of searching long and hard enough on any given person. You have probably committed a few felonies and misdemeanors just this week.”

“So should they go to jail?”

“Sure, why not,” Haysis remarked flippantly, “Should mafia boss A put mafia boss B in jail? Yeah why not? I wish mafia boss A would lock himself up while he was at it, but oh well, take what you can get I suppose.”

“Okay. I can tell I am not going to get much of anywhere on this one.”

“No you are not.”

“Fair, let’s get to the library, we are late for the meeting.”

“Oh, there is something I do find very humorous about this case.”


“That one of the ‘crimes’ they are accused of is misuse of public funds. That made me laugh. In other words they are going to jail for being politicians.”

“Ha! Well good point there.”

 “Thank you.” Haysis smiled. “And you look great in that dress.”

“You are still not earning any points. Come on.” Mal led the way into the building. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: An Anarchist Review

Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Published: Dutton  Books, 2012
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5) stars

First off I need to tell you: I am a teenage girl. Not in the anatomical way, but in the “I still believe in the happily ever after prince and princess story.” I guess most people would just call that the naïve way. But this is not regular naivete. I've been through my cynicism and heart break and all that, and have decided sometimes naivete is the best. This brings me to The Fault in Our Stars.

It is curious. The book prides itself on being non-ideal. This is the book about the “real story” not the romance story you see in the movies. This is the book where people have real sicknesses and are not pretty, and die and don’t have the typical happy love story. The irony is that it is the movie with the ideal love story, where the guy and girl love each other despite all obstacles. If we wanted a story that was not ideal we would just go talk to our neighbor or uncle or sister about how their boyfriend/girlfriend hooked up with them and then left/cheated/was not emotionally present. But those stories are cheap, you don’t pay for that. This story became popular because it is not  real, because it is incredible and beautiful in a way few actually experience and in many ways that no one will ever experience.  However, before we get into that, the best aspects of the book are its philosophical and thematic discussions.

The Meta Aspect

The book revolves around another book: An Imperial Affliction.  As it turns out, this is not a real book. We get glimpses of the book that binds Augustus and Hazel together and drives lots of the plot through the quotes that are shared from it and what Hazel tells us about it. Many of the best quotes in the book are actually quotes from An Imperial Affliction. It is a book about a girl with cancer and how she and her family deal with it. What is The Fault in Our Stars about? Well the same thing actually. AIA helps Hazel cope with life in many of the same ways as I am guessing John Green imagined TFIOS would help people understand and cope with life. Interestingly the author of AIA, Peter Van Houten, is not helpful at all to Hazel and Augustus. He doesn’t answer their questions and is a jerk to them. What is John Green trying to tell us? Perhaps that he as the author is not some sort of God or genius or miracle worker, but rather it is the power of fiction, the power of the story that can really help and heal people.

The levels and possible interpretations about the meaning  of the relationship between the real author and the fictional author created by the real author and the fictional book created in the real book that is fictional are virtually endless, and fascinating. The idea of the Author of a book as a character within a book has been explored in the Spanish tradition, but is not that common. AIA is a book within a book that is itself the book that it is in. It is like we are looking at one of those pictures of a guy holding the picture of the picture itself.  It is somewhat mind-bending. And awesome.

The Theme

The best part of the book, and movie, are the philosophical discussions. There is a lot about God and the afterlife, and the meaning or lack thereof of life. But what is the overall theme?

I make the case that the theme is the idea of “oblivion” versus meaning (maybe you disagree, so please, write your argument and send it to me). One of the first things we hear Augustus Waters say is, “I fear oblivion.” To which the protagonist, Hazel Grace replies: “There will come a time, when all of us are dead. All of us. There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you. Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this will have been for naught… If the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows, that's what everyone else does.”

This battle between meaning and senselessness continues throughout the book. These are young cancer patients predicted to die before they reach middle-age, who better to pose the question: Does my suffering mean anything? “Cancer kids are essentially side effects of the relentless mutation that made diversity of life on earth possible,” writes the protagonist, Hazel. She represents the position that it is all random chance, there is no glory or purpose in any of it, and she seems to stubbornly hold to her position, despite spending many afternoons in the “Literal Heart of Jesus” (the room in the church where she meets for her cancer support group). Augustus represents the optimism that there is a “purpose.” He, like many, is filled with the notion that his life should mean something. That when he dies newspapers will mark his passing and thousands of people will morn his death. I once thought this is what everyone wanted in life, because I did and assumed everyone thought the same. I was surprised when I met people who were satisfied with a few close relatives being present. This is likely the the healthier view, and what wins out in The Fault in Our Stars.

Therefore neither Hazel nor Augustus’s view has the day, but rather both. As Augustus laments his lack of notoriety, Hazel responds, “You say you’re not special because the world doesn’t know about you, but that’s an insult to me. I know about you.” He will not be known by thousands like Cleopatra or Aristotle, but will be known by all those that matter, the ones closest to him. His suffering and life meant something. It is put most beautifully by Hazel in Augustus’s “pre-funeral” the funeral Augustus holds for himself before he dies, because he always wanted to attend his own funeral. “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.”* “… There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity.” There love meant something. It meant infinitely much, even if it was only for a short time. And that is the most beautiful aspect and idea in the book.

Book Versus Movie

There is not much difference between the book and the movie. The movie’s plot is a little more succinct, as in some of the details are rearranged and some parts taken out.  I would go so far as to say the movie story line was superior to the book, but of course the book had some added emotion, and extra philosophical discussion. And obviously there is a visual aspect to the movie that is not in the book which tends to favor slightly better-looking people than the average person. Overall the movies follows the book about as closely as you see in a book to movie adaption.

The Departure From Reality

Every book has to obey by its own rules. A book can have any sort of crazy laws and physics and creatures, but it has to obey those established rules. Gravity can’t pull people up in the first chapter and down in the second chapter (unless of course the established rule is gravity is always changing, which would be an interesting concept for a book). This book chose our own world, the world we all know. In particular young cancer patients in Indiana, so the rules are set. John Green, the author, obviously knows what he is talking about; he lives in Indiana, and has spent lots of time working with kids who have cancer. So he gets it all right, with one flaw, one over-sight, one breach of reality.

The book (and particularly the movie) panders to teenage girls. This departure from reality explains my infatuation with the book, and likely the story’s success. Many movies pander to men by having girls who are incredibly gorgeous (and don’t know that they are) fall in love with the shy, awkward guy. This is of course the fantasy of thousands (if not millions) of men, and the key to the success of these stories. This book is simply the reverse. Here is a guy who is “hot” and athletic. He was a successful basketball player and has an excellent physique. Girls love him. He is happy and outgoing, charismatic charming, and did I mention, hot? Yet despite all this he falls in love with a girl of average (at best) looks who does not play sports or go to pool parties or wear sexy clothes. He loves her because of her intellect and personality. The guy is 17 years old. Pretty standard right? Sorry to burst your proverbial love bubbles my dear fellow teenage girls: But there is no such thing as an Augustus Waters. Hot guys know they are hot, and hot teenage guys who are good at sports are generally as into beauty as they themselves are beautiful. So despite the fact that you may have read Dickens, Hemingway, Voltaire, and all the other intellectual books, it still will not help you get the basketball captain with perfect muscles and face. There may be some exceptions, and maybe it has something to do with having cancer (though Augustus says in the book that cancer patients are just as vain, silly, and irrational as the rest of us), but I don’t think there are many high-school aged Augustus Waters out there, however I would like to think so. (To be completely honest, I don’t think there are many Hazel Grace’s out there either, but I keep hoping, and when I do find her, I plan on being her Augustus Waters, albeit minus the muscles and good-looks.)

That said, this ripple in reality, does not detract from the overall awesomeness of the book. This may be because I am a teenage girl, or it may be because it actually is a great book that most anyone with a heart will enjoy.

Have fun reading! Or don’t. This is the Anarchist Review: reading without rulers.

*A small note on the mathematics of set theory and Hazel Grace. Mathematically there are indeed infinities that are bigger than others. However, Hazel’s examples are bad ones. She chose infinities that are the same size. There are only two types of infinities, countable and uncountable. I actually think John Green knows the difference and the error, but chose to leave it in because it sounds better. Really she should have said something like: the natural numbers 1,2, 3, etc. go on forever and are infinite, but are smaller than the infinite number of real numbers between 0 and 1, but that is a tad complicated so instead Green just used between 0 and 1 and between 0 and 2, which is easier to grasp. However, in that strange twist of mathematical craziness, there are actually the same number of numbers between 0 and 1 as there are between 0 and 2. I know, weird. Math is not a tame lion. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Politics is not for you

After having been involved in politics for years I have come to the conclusion that politics is not for me.

Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading.

I fell in love with politics before high school, when I was younger than 15. For 10 years I talked about politics, thought about politics, and wrote about politics.

There were the inevitable setbacks. 2000, 2004, 2008 were all pretty depressing, along with every other year. But 2012 brought a new hope. Like a young boy raised by his uncle in a distant planet, this man could perhaps bring balance to the insanity around us.

I wrote blogs. I told my friends. I went to rallies. I put stickers on my car. I even hoisted the man above my shoulders as he crowd-surfed at a rally in Salt Lake City. It was our time. Victory was ours.

Then it fell apart. Election night came and went, and not only had we not won, we had not even garnered a fraction of what we had hoped.

I was completely and utterly distraught. What had it all been for? I even thought for a moment that I should let it all go, and give up on ever changing the political situation and just let the whole government go to hell in a hand basket made of federal reserve notes.

I went to my father with the frustration. It was one of those moments that we all have, when life slowed down, the air draws in, the movement of every leaf and door seems more poignant and memorable.

Here you may be expecting that my father told me: “You selfish kid. Politics is not for you, it is for everyone else. It is not about making yourself happy, it is about concern yourself with the success and happiness of others!”

Well guess what? He did not say that. He said something about how politicians only do what millionaire campaign contributors want them to do and vented his own frustration with the system and gave little hope it would ever change.

And guess what? He was right! Nothing will ever change! Before you think I am being sarcastic or cynical, let’s look at reality.

Just recently Northwestern and Princeton universities carried out a study to figure out how much the opinions of the general populace had on federal government policy. What was the result? None! Our opinions have essentially zero effect on what happens in government. Now, before I overstate, let me add a caveat. If you happen to be the CEO of a large corporation, or the head of a large Union, or run a hedge fund, then yes, you do have a say in government. In that case, your millions of dollars of donations actually do affect policy. But a 10$ donation to Republicrat A or Third-Party B? It does nothing. Sorry to be blunt, but your vote for Obama, or Romney, or Johnson, or whoever, does nothing.

You have zero effect on federal politics, so stop pretending like you do. Wake up! Politics is not for you! Unless you are prepared to donate a million dollars, you are like the football fan watching ESPN and thinking that the louder you scream the more points your team will score. Sorry, but no go.

Is there any hope of change and progress? Of course! But it won’t come through politics.

You change the world by how you treat your neighbor and friends and family, not by throwing name in a box. We end hunger by donating ten dollars to feed someone who is hungry, not by donating ten greenbacks to a narcissistic politician who claims he cares about the poor. I don’t know how to make this more clear: but we fix the problems we see in the world by fixing the problems we see in the world, not be using more guns and violence (i.e. government), nor by giving money to some idiot to use guns and violence (i.e. campaign contributions).

If you want to help the world, if you want to make people’s lives better, then for goodness sake go do it and stop wasting your time on politics as if you were going to change something.

You won’t, because politics is not for you.