Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Academedia: WNTD - Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi

This is literally the last time that I will watch this motion picture in its entirety.  It can't be a blow by blow accounting because my mind wanders too easily as I watch it.  And this second viewing is already two times too many.


- Is this generation redefining heroism to make it more commensurate with a social experience largely governed by virtual engagement?  By clicktavism.  Is the online, screentime generation trying to comfort themselves that not engaging is a form of courageous sacrifice?  By turning his back and letting the universe figure it out on its own, Luke is a hero?  Is a parent that abandones a young child to fend for itself a hero?  Heroism for centuries has gone hand in hand with responsibility.  But this conception of heroism seems to run in the opposite direction: Luke is the hero that runs from the fire rather than risking the self to extinguish it (even though he arguably provided the match).  The idea is less interesting than the generation that would champion it and the cultural and social forces that can lead a person to argue that a thing was in fact the direct opposite of a thing.


- again, people wanting to have it both ways.  There are two problems there.  First, is Luke really just like everyone else - a person who lived an average life and was eventually beaten down by expectation?  Was Gandhi or Nelson Mandela?  No, these were people who, while not perfect, actually spent a lifetime considering good and evil.  The implications of giving people fish vs teaching people to fish. That's not mindless hero worship, that's just the reality of certain people who were in a certain place at a certain time.  It's not just a trope to be subverted.  It's a dynamic that has the potential to play out whenever one person of quality or skill is tested and rises above others.  MLK didn't choose his life - that life chose him. How many such people ended their lives in surrender and isolation?  None of them did and Luke isn't that person either.  Leia, Han, Chewie...everyone that he knows and loves would have to be dead before he could be that person.  He'd have to have literally nothing left worth fighting for.  Luke already faced the greatest test of his life.  He was in a room with Vader and the Emperor with the ultimate temptation...and he won.  He fought in war, watched friends die.  He risked it all and won.  But it's believable that after surviving that, Luke would be beaten down by life?  That losing his students would be some kind of unbearable tragedy breaking his faith in everything?  That would be like surviving Auschwitz, living your life and then committing suicide in your 90s.  The worst part is long past.  Nothing is ever going to be that bad again.

The second problem is:  well, what are they trying to say about heroism?  Is Luke right to abandon the fight or wrong?  Because it seems pretty clear that abandoning the fight didn't help and it seems equally clear that returning to the fight will end up being good.  Either Luke was wrong to turn his back on the galaxy or he was wrong to save the day and be the 'false' hope to millions that the story of "Skywalker standing against the First Order alone" will turn out to be.  So which one is it?  Is he a coward or a false idol?  The movie doesn't seem to know itself but it's trying to do everything in is power to say that he isn't either.  Because whichever one it is, here's the question: why wouldn't a Jedi master, one of the wisest and most responsible people of his generation, not be able to suss that out on his own?  The only way that it could be believable is if he wasn't Luke Skywalker and didn't face any of the things that we've already seen him face or do any of the things that we've already seen him do.

- When in the long history of the world did a human come to the conclusion that a bad thing that happened at the end of a long string of good things meant that we should in fact do nothing at all?  Who was it that failed at teaching a child how to read and in that failing decided not only not to learn how to teach reading, but also prevented the child from learning to read from others and went out of their way to burn every book that they ever saw?  That is literally Luke's philosophy in this story: not just that he was a bad Jedi, or that Kylo was a bad Jedi, but that the Jedi are bad.  That they are so bad that none should ever exist.  That one bad turn or mistake means that absolutely no good is to be had.  Disney would posit that all the good that Skywalker did in his life is either just as significant or vastly insignificant compared to his one decisive mistake: a moment of weakness against his student and nephew and its consequences.  And so instead of trying to do good things that might lead to bad things, or trying to undo bad things that result from good intentions, we should all just go and live in exile.  Someone else will clean up our mess.  That thinking is why there is a hole in the ozone layer.  That thinking will be the doom of our species.  It should not be championed or celebrated in any way.


- there is a way to make someone who runs from a fight into a hero.  If you turn your back on a battle that needn't be fought.  Or you run from one fight to face an even bigger or more important fight.

Luke does neither of these things.

Gideon ultimately has to run to protect his family from himself.  But his cowardice is short term.  Over the long run he is the person who runs in order to build the hero that he himself couldn't be.

Luke explicitly does not do this.

But I guess everyone has their limits.  Apparently, the idea of Luke trivializing Rey's desire to help others even as his own sister and friends were in peril was a bridge too far for Johnson in the deconstruction of the Jedi.  Pity.  They didn't actually go all the way...


- to be clear: 9000 words of exposition for this movie is a little on the high end. people who like this movie only cared about Star Wars as a pop media phenomenon: the people who only care about Star Wars when it is in theaters.  People who don't actually cared about stories: read Star Wars stories, and appreciated Star Wars stories in all of its forms.  It's really that simple.  Machiavelli wrote that true political power was the ability to wield both secular and religious power over people - Moses, who was both the head of the army and the head of the church.  Now we have to appreciate that a lasting media product has to have both popular and informed appeal - it must be accessible to newcomers yet rigourous enough to satisfy long-time fans.  I feel that Marvel has done this well, GOT does this masterfully (especially in light of variance between books and TV) and Star Wars and cinematic Star Trek before it fail at it in pretty manifest ways.

- Burn the past is a seductive idea.  But what was the past like before it was the past?  Before it had the burden of knowing?  Wouldn't it have been this magical place that people imagine: a place without expectation?  And if it were that place and then became the place of expectation and burden that defined the present, doesn't that mean that to create an "end to the past" will just lead right back to the place that you are trying to escape?  There was once a time before the light side and the dark side.  And that time led to a time where there was light side and dark side.  If the light and dark should disappear, what will be different this time?  What will keep the natural process from proceeding naturally?  People who try to burn the past are the dumbest of all.  They are the ones that don't actually care about freedom and escaping the burdens of the past.  They just want life to be easier.  And they see ignorance as a pancea because ignorance makes many things easier.  For a time.  Not opening your eyes as you ride a bike can make riding very enjoyable.  You don't have to worry about hittiing anyone - everyone else has the responsibility of not hitting you.  It seems like a much easier less stressful type of riding.  Until you ride into something that won't move out of your path: a cliff's edge, a raised curb or a solid wall.  Ignorance is easy until its the hardest thing of all.  The only true way to escape the past - if that isn't anything other than a stupid delusion - is to know what has gone before, see how the terrain of history shifted people's thinking and decisions, read the terrain of the present and try and do something different.  But..that takes work.  And ignorance is so much...It is the quickest and easiest path of all.  And again, if Luke Skywalker can't be depended upon to teach this to one of his students, he would indeed be a failure as a teacher.  But the idea of all people, Luke Skywalker failing as a teacher to teach Kylo one of the most important lessons of his own life: that the past is a teacher rather than a prison, (or that Yoda would have to tell it to Luke in his 60s) runs counter to the character that Disney bought.

- It's fascinating to advocate for letting the past die, as if the past could somehow stop influencing the present.  Maybe if we could all forget.  Is this appeal - manifested in the burning of the Jedi tree and in Rey's lack of parentage and in Kylo's matri- and patricide - some sort of new thread that is meant to become the meta-narrative of this trilogy: a contrast to the redemptive arc of Anakin and the hero's journey of Luke that had gone before?  Or is it the shameless faux-auteur conceit of Disney to *wink-wink* make explicit to audiences that we aren't making Star Wars movies as they have been made and that the previous standards don't apply?  Now they seem daring and edgy as they make the series as appealing as possible to a younger generation of fans.  Problem is:  Star Wars only has fans because of the past - Disney wouldn't have spent a billion dollars just to buy a logo.  The bought a legacy -- yet they don't show any particular interest in the characters that created that legacy, doing all that they can to kill them off as quickly and ignobly as possible.  But at the same time that they are saying that the past must die, they deign to introduce us to the profoundly original tale of a ragtag rebellion fighting against a much larger authoritarian force led by unlikely heroes whose actions are all tied together through the mysterious working of the Force.  Untilled soil if ever there was.  So, in trying to chase two rabbits while saying they are only chasing one, they manage to actually catch neither.  And anyone that actually cares about stories and characters can feel all this as they sit there.  But to everyone else, Star Wars might as well be a music video: a meaningless assemblage of scenes notable only for its ability to stimulate the senses.

- I haven't even mentioned Rey.  Because what is she fighting for?  People that she met yesterday?  To join a fight that she previously didn't even know was happening?  She's this cipher.  Luke is the kid watching the two suns set, 'always looking to the horizon' as Yoda said.  Leia is the politician's child, looking for angles, quiet desperation, fighting smart, keeping up appearances.  Leia was the resistance; Luke wanted to join the resistance. Who is Rey? They are so afraid of boxing themselves in by clarifying what she is that, two movies in, she ends up being nothing at all.

And maybe that's the greatest flaw of these two movies: any effort at deconstructing heroism while at the same time establishing a hero would have to have the most vanilla hero of all.  Otherwise there would be a strong possibility of contradicting yourself, of rehashing old patterns. And what else is Rey but the safest possible hero?  A hero that couldn't possibly be less interesting or more focus-group tested.  How can anyone that says Luke is made more interesting by being made 'imperfect' turn around and be satisfied with Rey?  She's a person without any history, seemingly without any desires or flaws.  Does she want to be normal?  Does she want to be special?  What does she believe in?  All we know about her is that she wants to help. She's pure, effortless, uncomplicated goodness.  Luke was pulled by the desire for more...pushed by the death of his adopted parents.  His flaw was his impetuousness, his urgency, his lack of faith in the possibilities of the Force.  His desire for more - more adventure, more freedom, more power - was the fundamental temptation that could lead him to the dark side.  What is Rey's?  Her lost family?  The need to belong?  There's no proof of that.  People who have a need to belong create a family where ever they can: look for community in anything.  Rey lives on a desert world and doesn't care enough about anyone on that whole planet to even think twice about leaving without so much as a word to anyone - no problem there.  Suddenly she effortlessly controls the forces of nature itself - no problem there.  Suddenly she can wield a lightsaber and beat Luke's best student - no problem there.  She can't be a typical hero so in crafting a character that consciously avoids any aspects of the hero's journey, all that you're left with is someone who is uber-powerful, uber-capable, and can only possibly have problems of her own making. Which makes her desire for training from Luke seem reductive when she has already defeated Kylo and fights him a second time to a draw.  She doesn't need anyone and it couldn't be more clear that she doesn't.

She meets this guy and they are sewn together at the hip - why not?  But as sewn together as they are, it's strictly platonic, comfortably at a distance, as if she was created solely on the basis of passing the Bechdel test.   Oh, am I talking about Kylo or Finn?  Who knows?  Who cares?  No one is going to tell me that Jennie Snyder Urman or Patty Jenkins or Shonda Rhimes or Tina Fey couldn't write a more interesting female lead than Rey. There's just nothing there.

- Two crappy heroes: one uncharacteristically bad and the other uncompromisingly flawless.  You'd think the older more experienced hero would be level-headed and have heroing down and the younger one would be overconfident in the face of effortless skill and have some lessons to learn.  But that would make too much sense so let's try something different.  Why even bother?  Interestingly, what they were trying to do has already been done and better in the relationship between Laura and Wolverine in Logan: the broken down hero and the younger model that still believed.   Disney did not accomplish the feat of turning Luke Skywalker into Old man Logan.  Jesus, even Logan, broken down and slowly dying, was still protecting the Professor.  How did a killing machine like the Wolverine age more gracefully than Luke Skywalker?

I'm not going to waste a second on Poe or Finn: that's just deliberate provocation.  The long and short of it is: Disney can't make Star Wars smart just as George Lucas couldn't make Star Wars human.  Honestly for all the hope talk that goes into the average SW movie, my only hope is Pixar.  If their braintrust could be given a chance - separate from the nonsense of TFA and TLJ - I would pay for that.  But I won't be paying for more of this.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Disney has made Star Wars Too Big Too Fail

"To become a Jedi requires the deepest commitment...the most serious of minds..."

- Yoda

It's okay that the new Star Wars is not for me, just like the new Star Trek before it is not for me.  But the critical appreciation of these movies?  can't we just be honest about this?  Star Wars is too big to fail - we get it.  But why do they have to try to convince us that up is down and down is up?  That a person can become a Jedi with no training, no experience or knowledge of such things whatsoever?  That it's as difficult to move things with your mind as it is to put on a uniform on Halloween?  Why can't they be at peace with the fact that they don't have a meaningful story to tell?  That they are in the business of selling movies and they'll do whatever it takes to sell movies and increase market share & demographic reach?  That Star Wars isn't pop art - it's a product, a commodity?  A business.

Which raises another, more interesting question.  Are there people who loved the trope subversion of Luke saving the Galaxy by the redemptive faith of love rather than cutting Vader's head off AND ALSO love the idea of Old Luke harbouring even a single thought of murdering his own nephew as he slept?  Because, to me, that raises the possibility that a lot of the people who say they love Star Wars are just frontin' because they think its something they have to say.  Vader's last words were 'Tell your sister, you were right.'  There was good inside of him (Vader) and that means there's probably some good left inside of everyone.  That's the lesson of Luke's life.  He might get burned now and again believing it but he'd never stop believing it, certainly not enough to turn his back on everyone he loved - damn sure not enough to turn his back on Ben Solo, his sister's son, his best friend's son.  If someone can easily believe this characterization of Luke - that the person who at 26 threw his lightsaber away and bet his life and the lives of everyone that he cared about on the sliver of good inside his Hitler father didn't become some sort of pacifist holy man who solves every problem with persuasion but instead became the person who at 60 could think murder a solution to his problem - I would question whether they were paying attention to Star Wars in the first place.

It would be like Martin Luther King Jr. getting elected president...and then locking every white person in the country in jail.

But this guy VCI commenting on Kotaku is so wonderfully cynical that I can't bear to write something that has already been written with such bile.  The disappointment that its all a crock of shit by talentless sell-out hacks given that singular directive from corporate to do nothing whatsoever to make it unappealing to a young demographic.


1/03/18 11:51pm
You’re right. The statement “TLG makes TFA more interesting” is a bizarre case of the groupthink going too far. It’s koolaid overdose. TLJ was passable at best and hot garbage at worst. But the zeitgeist is that it is the next Godfather. So in aping that theme we get word salad like “It’s fun if you know that Snoke kind of sucks. “

Uh, no. Part of what made TFA good was the promise and mystery of Snoke. I was not one to spend much time sussing out Snoke’s story but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking forward to finding out more about him in the next movie. He was a very compelling villain due to his obvious power and the intimidation he exuded. Much of that was the mystery and I’m ok keeping it that way, but there was obviously a lot to work with that was left on the creative floor when Kylo kills him with a super simple headfake. To say it’s fun to know he sucks is ingsoc of the highest order. Reading this commentary was like reading “War is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength.”

1/03/18 11:59pm
What I like best is that all those asshats from the OT are shown for what they really are, washed up losers. Han and Leia are failures as a couple. They are failures as parents. Han has to resort to shit he did 40 years ago. Like a CEO going back to flipping burgers. Leia is leading a failed rebellion into the ground, grinding it into death with weak leadership. Luke failed to train even a handful of Jedi and eventually abandoned his sister and best friend in their times of most dire need. What a bunch of sad fucks. TBH why even make a movie about such a pile of losers? Nobody wants heroes amirite? Why bother? They’re all just phony. What makes good movies is failure and shit sandwiches of douchery. That’s good storytelling. When you can take iconic character and turn them into a shell of their former selves with almost no rational explanation? That’s bold, we need more of it. Here are some more I’d like to see explored.

A Back to the Future where Doc sucks at science and Marty is not cool.

A Rocky where Rocky is in a wheel chair and on trial for domestic abuse.

A Terminator where Arnold suffers from Bulemia and has lost like 80 lbs of muscle and testifies against his old lifting buddies.

An Aliens movie where the xenomorphs are all sterile and can’t reproduce. Also, they’ve become docile and people start keeping them as housepets.

I could go on, but you get the point. We want more unprecedented bravery. More subverted expectations. What’s that? You want the Terminator to terminate? LOL What an antiquated boob. A truly original Terminator movie would absolutely ignore any history of terminating. That would be true character growth and show the movie makers are being honest.


1/04/18 12:42am
I like the cut of your jib...


Kirk Hamilton
1/03/18 10:59pm
I disagree. I’ve seen the last Jedi a pretty large number of times already and the more I watch it, the less it makes sense. It undoes everything in the Force awakens. TFA was all about finding Luke. Which was pointless. It sets up the mystery of who Rey’s parents are and why the light saber called to her and then none of that meant anything or had bearing on what comes next. They didn’t need to find the map to Luke or keep it from Kylo because Luke was never going to do anything but force phone in a fake appearance. Snoke was built up but then was nothing. They needed to destory Star killer base but then that didn’t even effect TFO. At the beginning of TLJ, TFO acts like they didn’t just have a huge planet sized base destroyed right before the film. And the Rebel victory was for nothing because there’s none of them left. If you ask me, the more I watch it, the more it feels like Rian Johnson didn’t even watch the Force Awakens. Either that or he was just like, hmmmm I need to get rid of all of this. In fact TLJ feels like the moment where Rey hands Luke the lightsaber he lost in Empire on cloud city. The light saber that belonged to his father and has played a part in the history of the Galaxy. And then Luke just throws it over his shoulder as if it has no bearing on the story. And that’s an Allegory for What Rian Johnson had to say about The Force Awakens and the Legacy of the journey to that point. He just wanted to wipe the entire slate clean. It doesn’t fit well because all the events of the previous movies amount to nothing and have little to no bearing on Rey’s Journey. I think in a story the events should form a chain of important events and choices that lead to the ending.


1/03/18 11:03pm
My biggest problem was Luke. He sensed the dark side in Ben and thought about killing him because if he didn’t, he saw that he would destroy everything he loves. He feels guilty about that so he goes into hiding. Then he finds out that Kylo actually is destroying everything he loves. Kylo killed Han and his sister is in danger. This is a guy who never gave up and always risked everything. He never gave up on Vader. But now he would rather hide on an island than help his sister? It just doesn’t make sense to me.


1/04/18 12:27am
Oh, shut up about your chain of events. It’s more interesting when the following events subvert our expectations by being completely disconnected and irrational. Didn’t you get the Disney memo?


1/04/18 12:30am
But isn’t that refreshing!? Ugh. Luke never gave up on Vader when even Yoda and Obi-Wan did. Luke was proven right! In order for this new baby killer Luke to exist, we have to assume he learned nothing from his actions with Vader. No, we have to assume he learned the opposite. That it’s better to kill than to redeem. It’s laughably inconsistent. And the critics are losing their shit because they think it’s growth. Facepalm.


Kirk Hamilton
1/03/18 5:32pm
It’s fun if you know that Snoke kind of sucks.

I loved it when Snoke died, until I realized what a horrible decision for the script that was.


1/04/18 12:08am
I didn’t mind that he died, but how he died was SO hokey and lame. They seem to have no understanding of power curves in these new movies. They just don’t care. Luke had the exact same setup in RotJ. His saber was sitting right next to the Emperor. You think if that move was possible, he wouldn’t have done it? Or perhaps Lucas knew how hokey it was. Instead he force pulled his saber to his hand, ignited it and struck. This gave Vader a chance to intervene in an incredibly powerful scene. Think about this. If Jedi could actually manipulate their saber and ignite it at range, why would they ever fight hand to hand? Why not just force control sabers from a distance? Like so many things in these movies, it makes no sense and just makes the other movies suddenly have plot holes that they didn’t before.


1/04/18 11:53am
I don’t think it would have occurred to Luke honestly. To deceitful. Plus I imagine dueling with any skill via the force would be extremely tiring.


1/04/18 12:34pm
It didn’t matter if it occurred to Luke. The Emperor was ready AF. Snoke was a dupe. Beaten by a dark Jedi who was beaten by a girl with no training. Looking back now, the threat of Snoke was all just perception, with nothing behind it. The audiences were dupes as well. That’s one of the reasons TLJ hurts TFA.

And to your second comment, that force controlling a saber would be extremely tiring, that’s grounded in OT lore, which is burned to the ground with that hollowed out old tree. In Disneys galaxy far far away, a girl with no training can defeat a Skywalker trained from birth with a light saber she’s never used before. A girl with no training can use the jedi mind trick she’s never seen performed before. A young dark jedi can easily defeat a supreme leader with the flick of a saber. In Disneys’ galaxy far far away, there is no rhyme nor reason behind force power. No effort at internal consistency. Instead of a story device that is somewhat mysterious and slowly revealed in stages, it has become a pure and unadulterated deus ex machina playground, to be flipped and flopped this way and that with no attempt at a unified vision. In fact, the more rules we toss out, the more ground breaking we are. And if you have a problem with the stories that inevitably result from that, you’re just a butthurt fanboy.


1/05/18 5:59pm
For a while I tried to convince myself that Snoke knew Kylo would kill/betray him and it was just part of his path further into the dark side. Alas...


1/05/18 6:14pm
There you go trying to find a way to make it good. Don’t bother. I did that with TFA and had actually gotten to a pretty good place, at least, I realized there were lots of potentially cool options that were set up in TFA that any fool could make into a great movie. Annnnnnddddd, they ignored them all.

I mean, they killed Akbar to introduce an unknown general who would go on to set a trap.

I repeat, they killed Akbar to introduce a new general whose one move would be to set a trap.


Can you imagine that scene where Holdo slams the cruiser into the dreadnaught? Just walk with me a sec. Instead of Holdo at the helm in sacrifice (ignore the ability to program the ship), it’s Akbar, wounded from the earlier attack, bleeding profusely, slumped in his chair, fish paws on the console. Then, the cruiser slowly comes about, to face the dreadnaught. Hux (or whoever it was) looks inquisitively at it, “What is this?” Then the helmsman shouts, “It’s a trap”. We see Akbar smile as he hits the button to engage light speed. FUCKING GLORIOUS. The crowd would have been out of their seats, people talking about it for a generation. Nerd jizz on the screen. Instead, it’s only ever mentioned as visually stunning. No real story impact whatsoever. Fucking waste.


Kamil Devonish
“FUCKING GLORIOUS. The crowd would have been out of their seats, people talking about it for a generation. Nerd jizz on the screen.”

And in the 10 sec it took for you to think that up that scene, you’ve proved how much more you give a shit about Star Wars.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

You get what you pay for...(Repost)

(Originally posted August 2014 - Reposted in light of the tragic SWATTING shooting death of a Civilian in Kansas this week...)

So long as the bosses pretend to pay us, we will pretend to work.
- Soviet communism political joke


Something just occurred to me as I was writing a comment on a police investigator's blog:

“You would have to be insane to try and wrestle an edged weapon out of the hands of a deranged suspect if you had a deadly force option.”
Mr. Jewell, I’m not expecting a response. I appreciate your efforts to act as an apologist for the police profession – they clearly do more good than harm. The fact that they do so much good is what makes these perceived lapses so difficult to fathom.
With respect to your statement above, I suppose I myself, and a lot of people who might wonder at such tragedies, have to ask: If the deranged suspect was your wife, or son, or daughter, your father, or mother, would it truly be “insane” to expose oneself to risk, significant and perhaps even mortal, in order to secure a peaceful, non-lethal resolution to the situation. If it were your family standing before you, would you resort to the deadly force option?
This is why most of us don’t think that decision insane. It is because we actually see our loved ones on the other end of police officers’ weapons. We have an expectation that, for our sake, the sake of the public that you police officers swear to protect, a public that included Mr. MacIsaac, that you, too would see a citizen first, and a threat second, and act in a manner that sets you apart from the average citizen. We expect that higher standard of police officers. If some deranged person attacked me and I had a gun in my hand, that gun might go off out of fear. But we expect more of police officers. I guess what we all are wondering, sir, is: should we? Should we expect courage from police officers? No one doubts that it would take courage to close distance on someone with a knife or a bat. No one doubts that it would take courage to risk one’s life to try and control an armed attacker when you have the discretion to kill them. But as a police officer yourself, is that an unfair expectation for us citizens to have of those who swear to serve and protect us?

In light of the shooting of Michael Brown, and Michael MacIsaac, and Sammy Yatim by police in the last year, I wanted to do a little digging as to the prevalence of these things in Canada and the U.S.  I also wanted to get a sense of how dangerous it was to be a Toronto Police Officer vs. a cop elsewhere.  In the 180 year history of the TPS the memorial wall has 40 names.  In the 165 year history of the NYPD, 843 officers have been killed in the line.  Obviously New York has a lot more people historically than Toronto, but this can be made to suggest either that being a Toronto cop isn't fraught with daily mortal danger or that, perhaps it is, and Toronto police take extraordinary steps to keep themselves out of harm's way.  New York is averaging 5 lost cops a year; Toronto is averaging one lost cop every four and a half years.

So is Toronto generally safer?  And if so, do our cops make us safer or simply benefit from that safety? A combination of both?  Or is it a third option?  In the pilot episode of the West Wing, a conservative lobbyist asks Jed Bartlet: "Sir, if anyone can buy pornography on any street corner for 5 dollars, isn't that too high a price to pay for freedom of speech?"  The President responds: "No.  But I do think 5 dollars is too high a price to pay for pornography."

Toronto cops don't die that often.  On the surface, this is good. But policing isn't supposed to be a risk free endeavour.  Is there an argument to be made that they are not putting themselves in harm's way to the degree that some of their counterparts do?  And if they aren't, why?

I believe the answer is that we don't pay police officers enough to buy their courage.

I'm a hypocrite.  I'll be the first to tell people to hold themselves to a high standard.  Every day, I have the opportunity to excel at my job.  But I don't because - they don't pay me enough to excel.  They don't pay me enough to go the extra mile.  There is no incentive to do more than I have to.  This isn't just me - this is a human calculation.

Cops are humans, too.  They are uniquely human.  They have to put up with all the rest of us.  They have to get yelled at, and stand in the hot sun.  They have to drive around in cars looking for something to do.  Then, when they find something to do, chances are they are called into a place where there is danger.  If they are lucky the danger will come from an object rather than a person.

The human condition is uncertainty.  Uncertainty is the nature of policing.

We have this vision of police officers, don't we?  Unflappable in the face of danger.  Eager to be in harm's way, rushing into danger, fighting the good fight.  Kind to children, an example to look up to.  Heroic and precise: they can put a bullet in a man's leg at 50 yards, dust him off, apply a tournaquet and call an ambulance for the dude that just tried to kill him.  In other words, we think of policemen the same way we think about Superman.

Then reality hits us like a screen door in the face.  Policemen aren't Superman.  They are you and me.  With a badge and a gun.

Sure some police officers, like some of us, can display acts of conspicuous gallantry and courage in the face of danger.  But statistically, that percentage should be expected to be low.  Courage is not mankind's defining quality.  If I were to say what was it's defining quality I would say - staying alive, through fighting, fleeing or freezing.  But facing fear is not something that I would say we all excel at.  The world isn't the shape that it is today because the majority of humans do things out of love.

So if police are us, and we are mostly panicky wusses, how can we incentivize police to feel compelled to err on the side of courage?  To risk a little more on behalf of the citizens they swear to protect?  To think about the ramifications of their actions to society for half a second before they think about the personal jeopardy to themselves?

The same way we seem to incentivize everything in our world.  Cash-money.

People are quick to say that for $100,000 a year, we deserve better cops.  Sorry, but this is what we are paying for.  This is what you get from $100,000 a year cops.  You want better cops, tougher cops, braver cops - we need to pay cops more.  Because they obviously don't feel like their cheating society out of anything.  We pay them to deal with unpleasant, unsavory people.  Serve warrants.  Arrest suspects. Drive around and deter crime. Clean up and catalog the mess that comes from heinous violence.

But do we pay them enough to be brave?  To deliberately go into mortal harm?  To err on the side of risking their own lives?  Simple question:  how much would somebody have to pay you in order to do that, to run INTO gunfire?

I know my answer: $500,000.

For $500,000 a year, I'd be willing to risk my ass.  For $500,000, I'd feel bad if someone called me a coward and said I was overpaid.  If I was expected to be brave, for $500,000 a year, I'd be brave.  Everyone has their number.  But I'm pretty sure that at $100,000/yr levels, most people, including cops, would say, even if only in the back of their minds: psssht, they don't pay me enough for this shit.  They don't pay me enough to feel bad for this guy coming at me with a knife.  They don't pay me enough to risk my ass.  They want the world to be safe.  Well I'm part of the world, I want to be safe too.  Law says if I'm spooked I can shoot, and that's what I'm going to do.

I think that would be the analysis for a lot of sane people, if they were cops.  But we have this expectation of more from them, for reasons I don't entirely comprehend.  They aren't Superman.  They aren't Spartans trained from birth.

Mr. Jewell's response:

James G Jewell
As hard as this is going to be for you to hear the answer is definitely yes, it is to much for you to ask.
No one should have the expectation a Police Officer would unnecessarily risk their lives by using less force than is required for a situation that requires deadly force. Your suggestion makes absolutely no sense and has nothing to do with courage.
Universally accepted Police use of force protocols dictate Police Officers are legally authorized to use a level of force higher than the level of force used against them. That standard has been upheld in our Courts and is the law of the land.
Your suggested approach would drastically increase Law Enforcement deaths and dramatically increase danger to the public.
I understand where you’re coming from but I’m afraid you are way out of touch with reality.
Police Officer’s have to protect themselves so they are able to protect the public.
You clearly see things differently.

Clearly.  Clearly I'm out of touch with reality to suggest that cops be brave.  I couldn't have written a more a propos response than the one coming out of the mind of this 26 year vet.

I notice he didn't answer my question as to deadly force with respect to a loved one.  But honestly, I didn't expect him to.  We all understand that contradiction, to objectify someone when we're afraid and reduce them to simple euphemisms: threat, target, assailant.  Not person.  They can't be a person in that moment, the same way my brother is a person, or a friend is a person.

He took what I was saying as a suggestion of cowardice.  But that wasn't my intention at all.  I was really wondering if he'd wax philosophical about whether a police officer is paid enough to behave the way the public expects them to.  Whether, in the thick of things, there is an calculation that weighs public good  against personal risk to the officer.  To Mr. Jewell it couldn't clearer: the greatest public good IS the safety of the officer.  There is no greater priority.  Because there is no greater priority, anything that puts a cop at risk warrants deadly force. Public faith in the police, protecting the mental ill - all those things are secondary to the safety of police officers. 

I've been wondering for a while about the legality of ordering someone - a senior police officer to a junior police officer - into harm's way.  How do the courts reconcile a person's right to not get themselves killed with a police officer's duty to serve and protect?  If I'm a cop and it's looking a little too hairy for me in there, do I actually have an obligation to run into near certain death?

It's something to think about.  But maybe the problem really doesn't lie with police, maybe it lies with us. Maybe there is no amount of money you could pay someone to expect them to be Superman.  When Officer John came to our school in Grade 1, he couldn't be more proud to say that he'd never fired his gun.  As little kids, we thought how nice and safe we all were.

But as adults, maybe we should ask ourselves: if this cop has never fired his weapon, why should I think that he will know the difference between when exactly he has to and when he doesn't?  How would you know, if you were a cop?  

I'm not sure that I would know.  I'm pretty sure cops don't know.
- Grandpa

Monday, October 16, 2017


I never assume this of myself.  I suspect.  I suppose.  I consider the possibility.  But I never assume this.

Case in point, Sunday at the TPASC.  Shooting basketballs, dribbling, minding my own business.  Little kid walks up to me.  8-11 years old.

"Hey, do you want to play with us?  We don't have a ball."

"Why can't you just get a ball from the desk?"

"The desk wouldn't give us one."

"Why not?"

The kid shrugged.  I was pretty tired, having been there for nearly two hours already.

"Sure kid.  Here you go."

The kid was confused.  "You don't want to play?  Come and play."  The other kids behind him agreed.

I wouldn't get any better playing little kids.  "Nah, go on.  I'll just be over here."  The kids took the ball and started taking turns chucking.

Now you see what happened there.  No of course you missed it, so did I.

I'm sitting there for 10 minutes and the kids haven't even made teams as yet.  There arguing, gossiping, laughing at each missed shot.  And I'm sitting there patiently, like an idiot, watching.  Watching the profound absence of urgency.  Watching the lack of enthusiasm to play, the listlessness.

And above all, watching the absolute absence of skill, both athletic and technical, in playing basketball.

They couldn't do anything.  They couldn't shoot, they couldn't pass.  They couldn't cut, they couldn't defend.  I don't think they knew what a screen was.

Near as I could tell, their understanding of basketball seem to be that the aim was simply to throw the ball in the direction of the net at the first opportunity that presented itself.

I watched for another few minutes at their antics before strolling onto the court.

"Guys, let run threes.  I gotta leave in a few minutes."

They looked surprised, shocked almost at the notion that anyone was paying attention to them or that people play basketball on basketball courts.

The teams were made and I made sure to take the runts of the litter, the ones that got laughed at the most.  The oldest kid was on the other side, a young buck, no more than sixteen.  He was fast.  But that was all he was.

They didn't really have a shot.  I hit the wide open ones given to me, hit the kid with the first step just as a reminder and the rest was just set-up for my teammates.  Our opponents were becoming more and more snippy, more and more critical of one another as the game goes on, as the points started raining down from kids that, to their mind, shouldn't be winning.

My guys weren't good but you don't have to be good when an old man tells you you have a green light.  They knew that they'd get the ball, they knew that they'd get a shot.  That knowledge does a lot for anyone's shooting percentage.

Three games later, the runts were three and 0 and I had to bounce.  I daps them up and tell them good game and make my way out.  The runts are bigging themselves up for their performance; the vanquished are playing it off.

I took one last look at them as I went to the showers shaking my head.  Something was up.  Something scratching the back of my mind that I couldn't figure.  What was it though?

I'm a grown up, I thought to myself.

My father taught me to play ball, but he didn't do it because he was my father.  He did it because he was a grown up.  He did it because he had something that I didn't and had it to give.

He did it because he was someone greater than me.

I was greater than those kids.  But not taking that responsibility seriously - not addressing it consciously - those kids will continue sucking at ball.  Is that good for the world?  Me minding my business and allowing - if not outright encouraging - kids bad at basketball to continue being bad at basketball?

Had I taken up the challenge - had I allowed myself the opportunity to look at myself honestly and be generous in my superiority - I could have taught them a thing or two.  They could have appreciated it.  They could have gotten better and taken it more seriously.  They could take ball into their heart and it could make their lives better going forward.

But I didn't do any of that.  I made the assumption that small children should be wholly free to determine their own destiny.  Where would I be if that were true?  If my father didn't assume that he was better at basketball than me, and that he had something worth teaching, would I know basketball at all?  Or would one of the greatest blessings in my life be invisble to me?

I can see that it stems both from my selfish desire not to be bothered reinforced by my genuine respect for people finding their own paths.  I honestly do believe that anyone deserving of help has to first get over themselves enough to ask for it in the first place.

But kids have to be taught.  They have to be.  And that will always require grown-ups acknowledging that kids have to be taught...and then acknowledging that if grown-ups don't do the teaching, no one will.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Here's the thing about Trump...



Whether you consider him to be a politician or a person, the thing about Trump is: he attacks his enemies in such a way that they almost invariably unite against him.  Whereas other people would be content to play enemies off one another, he almost encourages resistance to come at him from all sides.  Who makes enemies of Football and Basketball players in the same weekend?  Who else basically forces the most recognizable people in sports to speak out against them?  Who or what else could unite LeBron, Steph, NFL players and NFL owners uniformly against anything other than say, cancer?

Donald Trump is seemingly driven by one thing and one thing only: saying whatever he thinks will increase his appeal to the person standing in front of him.  Would he have the total conviction of his beliefs to call all football players unpatriotic in a room full of the most popular athletes in the country or to deny the Warriors from coming to the White House before he first realized that they didn't want to come?  He's an opportunist and the thing about him is he's so short-sighted that he doesn't see that the horizon is filling with people who don't particularly agree on anything save for their contempt for him.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Calling makes one Courageous

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player ... But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.
- Kevin Durant

I'm willing to not win it. If I can't build it where I am.
- Damian Lillard


It's difficult I think for most humans to appreciate how both of these statements can be described as courageous.  I think most humans would minimize any equivalency between Kevin Durant joining a super-team and Damian Lillard pledging loyalty to his team as some kind of equivocation.  But this is just trying to make binary things that are not.

Courage is not easy - that much is clear to everyone.  If courage was easy, everyone would be courageous.  What escapes most people most often though is that courage also is not simple.  It isn't a question of doing this and not doing that.  Any meaningful definition of courage would have to include doing something (taking action) under conditions of fear.  But while fear is easy to describe, how simple is it to define?  What fills us with dread and terror is as individual and unique as a person’s fingerprint.  How else could it be in a world where some people look forward to getting their heads bashed in by an opponent in a fighting ring, while others become terrified at the idea of speaking in front of a crowd?

One person’s walk in the park is another person’s greatest test of all.  To someone practiced in not caring about the opinions of others, following your own heart is as natural as breathing.  But to someone who is practiced in deferring to others, that simple act, of doing what you want most, might be the biggest and most challenging decision of an entire lifetime.  They are fighting their own nature, bombarded by thoughts of consequences to come.  This is a very heavy burden - and the doubts that will follow will probably be very heavy.

Kevin Durant was on Bill Simmons and Simmons asked him what he thought of LeBron leaving his team.  And Durant said that at the time he wondered why he'd do that, especially since Cleveland was LeBron's home town.  And Simmons pressed him into whether he thought that it was in poor form, abandoning his supporters like that.  And Durant was adamant, saying why would someone think that LeBron owed more to his community when he'd given so much already?  Who was being selfish: LeBron for making decisions about his own life, or the fans for expecting him to satisfy their expectations?

Simmons kept pressing: "Well, I didn’t like that he did it that way. I just thought it was tacky, especially since he was from Ohio."

"But you don't matter," was Durant's response.  No fan should feel entitled to feeling a certain way about what someone else does or should do with their life.  The notion that Bill Simmons or Charles Barkely or Jim Whatshisface would have made a different, better decision if they had Lebron's memories, pressures, contracts, family, endorsements, doubts, frustrations, insecurities, body, shoe size, commitments, expectations and more is laughable enough.  The idea that someone could have little to no idea of any of those things and still think their opinon of what he should do held some sort of value is simply absurd.  You don't matter - you may be entitled to your opinion, but you have no basis for feeling entitled. Durant just kept saying it, over and over, almost as though he had to hear it as often as possible.  Almost as if he was convincing himself and not Simmons.

To someone trying to convince themselves that the opinions of others should be secondary, making a decision to do something unpopular is the very definition of courage.  But the simple minded, they don't see turmoil, they don't see beneath the surface.  All they see is making a decision that makes your life easier.  To them, you are the winner.  But if it makes your life materially easier and socially or emotionally more difficult, did you really win outright, as they would imagine?  Didn't you actually just break even?

Kevin Durant wanted a change and wanted a better chance at a title.  That was his standard, and by that standard, given the opportunity that presented itself, it was one of the most obvious decisions in the history of decision-making.  When people say that his going to the Warriors was strategically the best decision for the Warriors by eliminating the threat of the Thunder in the West, they're seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is also the best decision for him if he is on the Warriors.  He strengthens himself and weakens an obstacle as well.  That other people don't think that he should have made the mathematically most obvious decision given those standards speaks loudly to how much importance anyone can give to the counsel of strangers.  Because more often than not, without the dimension of aiki - seeing yourself within someone - the counsel of strangers amounts to them telling you not what is best for you but what is best for them.  People who claim to tell you what you need to hear usually use that as a smokescreen to tell you what they want to say.  It isn't about the recipient at all.

Damian Lillard has a different standard - a different outlook.  One might say his youth is coloring his outlook but then again, I'm 36 and I tend towards his line of thinking.  It's all arbitrary.  If Damian Lillard never wins an NBA Championship, does that make him a loser? When out of all the basketball games he's played in his life - one-on-one, elementary, high school, college and pro - he's probably won well over 80% of the challenges he's faced?  How many people on the planet has he lost to one-on-one...20, maybe?  How many games did he play in in his life where he was the highest scorer and far and away the best player on the court?

All that satisfaction and joy that comes from competition, accomplishment and victory in all those smaller battles - do they not add up to that one time that Dirk won a championship?  I really don't know that they don't...and people who have no idea what its like to be one of the 20 best people in the entire world at something have even less of an idea.  But that doesn't stop them from saying that if you didn't win it all, you aren't even worth remembering.

It is important to strive to be the best in all things.  But it is even more important to win on your own terms - meeting your expectations.  Damian Lillard isn't content to win a ring to silence the naysayers.  His standard is higher - to win with the team he built from scratch.  This is all but impossible now.  Which means it probably won't happen.  There is a fear there.  But Steph won with the only team he ever played for.  So did Dirk and Timmy D and Hakeem and Magic and Isiah and Bird.  So with this hope, he walks his path despite this fear.  People see this as loyalty. But this is courage first.

I remember fighting at the dojo and fighting someone much better than me.  One of the senpai was yelling at me to keep my hands up, keep moving - filling my head with all my mistakes.  And I just kept getting hit.  And through the pummeling, I remember hearing Sensei's voice above the din, saying something like "YOU'RE THE ONE GETTING PUNCHED! TRUST YOURSELF!"  And when I finished he said, "No one can take the punch for you.  They won't be taking the beating, and getting the bruises.  The noise from outside won't block a punch. So you have to do the fighting.  If you're going to do the dying, you should do the living, too."

No one else is going to die your death.  Don't let others live your life.

Everyone has different standards.  I’m pretty sure if Kevin Durant never wins a championship he’ll still be happier playing for that team.  I’m pretty sure that if Damian Lillard wins a championship the thing that he’ll hold closest to him was earning it his way.  We all have different conceptions of victory - define victory in different terms.  But it's having a mandate - having a calling - that makes courage obvious.  When you understand what matters most to you, fear gets put in the proper place.

At the ripe age of 36, I feel now that I've found my calling.  I'm going to use that patient ear of mine and listen to the burdens of others and help guide them to a safe place inside of their minds.  I've always had that Stillpoint inside, that place of solace that it seems so few people have nowadays.  It eluded me just for that one period in my life - at university - but I would love to be the comfort to others that I couldn't find for myself.  I would love to offer counsel to others and to help them build the tools to trust in their own counsel.  

And having realized all this, suddenly I feel quite brave.

- Grandpa

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Playing politics

Politics is downstream from culture.
- Andrew Breitbart

I think its time to retire the word politics.  It pains me to say it but the word has too much baggage. It's been made into a dirty word for a dirty mean-spirited thing that makes us into worse and worse people.  We did this, we created this understanding.  And we underestimated the influence that market forces have on access to decision makers and the decisions they make.  But Politics, that word that once represented the triumph of reason over barbarity, the promise of mankind, is now in shambles. Its a shell of its former glory, a cipher that represents now only the base machinations of operatives and professionals that put a premium on winning at all cost over winning in lasting, sustainable ways.

Politics has reduced perhaps the most important social exercise of all - namely the administration, caretaking and shared security of large groups of people - to a high-stakes game.  It infantizes us, rendering those who participate less and less sensible while filling the rest on the periphery with disgust and resentment for the 'system' of games that are played, the nakedly selfish interests of the players and the obvious inequities of the system.  The tragedy is that while politics makes fills us with disgust of the 'system', the 'system' is not separate from us.  It is us.  It is our cities, our provinces, our states, our countries and our world.  It is our community, made up of us, made for us, made by us.  Politics as it stands today, removes this personal investment in these real communities and in its place is fealty to the theoretical, the putative...the ideology of the party, the professional political class, the players in the game that observers are left to root for from the stands.

The well-being of a single human is difficult enough - ask any parent.  And no one would argue that one or two parents trying to decide what was best for a child was some kind of game.  How then could the arguments over what's best for 30 million people, 300 million people end up being full of less substance and more performance?  Be full of more empty promises and less patience for finding the path forward?  It may be an ideal notion that politics should be full of the most serious of people but it shouldn't just be a notion.  Anyone who thinks about it for a second would see why it should be a reality.  But once the human mind moves from wanting what's best for everyone including yourself, to wanting what we want - then it just becomes a matter of building relationships of convenience, relationship solely as a means to an end.  And then the games begin...

Perhaps we can try the word politics again in the future when every human understands this.  But for now, the word is simply too abused, too mistreated, too battered and bruised. Communication. Dialogue. Debate. Convince. Persuade.  All these words speak of something sophisticated, something important, something done while listening to someone else, something done while looking someone in the eye.  Something that is earnest and respectable.

'Politics' does not have that same ring.   At this point, we simply do it because we don't know how to do something else.  Maybe using a different word might help us to escape this losing game.