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The Entitled Rich

               It is still a long way away before the General Election on November 3rd, 2020 and with the large amount of people expressing interest in forming exploratory committees or already running for President, it begs the question, should everybody run for President? And does everybody deserve to be President? There are very few requirements to be President:

               One must be a natural born citizen (at least one parent must be an American citizen).

               One must be at least 35 years of age.

               One must be a resident for 14 years (an exception was given to General Eisenhower because had been fighting World War 2).

               There are no other legal requirements to be President, however to consider running for President or other federally elected offices like Senator or Representative, having recognition and financial wealth (either your own or supporters) are essential. There is no other requirement to be President and so far, every person who has been the President, has had other political office at the federal, state, or local level, except one. I believe it is time to change this. There needs to be a stricter requirement before you can run for public office.

               What kind of requirement should be necessary? One which doesn’t inhibit a person’s right to run for public office. I know, initially this kind of question then answer sounds counter-productive but, hear me out. The American public is severely lacking in knowledge on what exactly the three branches of government does, and I believe many of the elected officials are ignorant in the positions they are elected to, along with the responsibilities and duties of other officials. By tackling the issue of requiring beefed up civic courses on the responsibilities of the Executive, Judicial, and Legislative branches, we can help the people understand what happens in the American government. A more detailed series of courses would be offered to those seeking public office.

               A properly educated electorate (and officials) should be capable then of making better informed decisions, but it is just part of the problem in our current political climate. The lack of a political education has hampered our system of government, but so has the belief that every multi-millionaire and billionaire should run to become President. You may be successful as a business tycoon who lends his name out to any property or make overpriced coffee which tastes like burnt beans on a good day, but it doesn’t mean you will even be a mediocre commander and chief.

               Everybody deserves their fair shot at being elected to public office, and how to improve the situation and success rate of the non-wealthy, into office, is a subject for another day. Improving the quality of civic education is paramount because good majority of the politicians are either ignorant towards their responsibilities or blindly faithful to their party that they don’t care about the crimes and misdemeanors being committed. The Legislative Branch is an equal part of government, it is not subordinate to the Executive or Judicial Branches.

               Is requiring a better understanding of the American political system enough? It may be to help the electorate make better informed decisions on who to vote for, but it won’t end the entitlement certain people feel about running for President. It has become accepted that presumed and actual billionaires have a right to run for President. Outside of being an alleged billionaire, the current occupant only had the legal requirements to fill the office. He lacked political knowledge, has a history of scorning policy, and not knowing diddly squat about anything, except how tooting his own ego.

               Recently, Howard Schultz announced he was seeking to run for President in 2020, outside of making overpriced burnt coffee a supposed luxury, he has nothing but the legal requirements to hold the office. In recent days, Howard Schultz has proven himself beyond clueless on how the average American citizen and family struggles with every day issues like food, healthcare, rent, and student loans. I think everybody has the right to run for office, however, I think the higher up the socioeconomic ladder you are, the less relatable you are to the electorate. The majority of Americans live paycheck to pay check, and a large percentage of them cannot afford an emergency expense of $500. How does a billionaire relate to us? They don’t.

               There is nothing wrong with a rich person holding office, and there are a lot of rich people who genuinely care about the less well off, and donate their time and money, and advocate for legislation which is favorable to the lower and middle-class citizens. However, most politicians who are well off do have skin in the game, they are not affected by the same issues as the working people. They do not understand the difficulty in affording healthcare, car payments, rent or mortgage, student loan payments, the cost of food, let alone the cost of trying to have a vacation. I’m not saying rich people shouldn’t be able to run for office, but I believe if the Representatives, Senators, and Presidents were more like the electorate, this country would probably be in a lot better of a place than it is now.

Thoughts on Higher Education (Part 1)

It feels stupid to reiterate this point, but I’ll say it again. Higher education is important. If you ever truly believe education ends once you graduate high school, technical school, college, graduate school, etc., you are wrong. I am an avid reader and by reading an assortment of books, mostly non-fiction, I am still learning. Reading is paramount because it helps a person by exposing them to new words (increasing vocabulary), new ideas, critical thinking and comprehension, and provides them an imagination.

Education never ends and while some forms of education are relatively free, like the public library (yes, I know my taxes help pay for it, but it is inexpensive). However, the education which provides a significant boost into a career path is not prohibitively expensive. Technical schools are a cheaper alternative and I highly encourage them because for the foreseeable future there will always been a need for electricians, plumbers, maintenance personnel, etc.

What is not cheap is the path towards a bachelor’s degree. The University of Nebraska at Kearney, where I went, is one of the cheaper public schools in the state. The current tuition cost for two 15-credit hour semesters is just under $6,000. Fees add another $1,500. Want to live on campus? Cough up another $5,000. Like food? Well that will be $4800 dollars. Total billing, around $17,000 a year, for instate and nearby Colorado and Kansas residents. Follow this entire plan for four years you will graduate and begin your career with $68,000 in debt. Yes, there are a plethora of scholarships, Pell Grants, and other financial aid offers, but even with those accounted for, you are most likely to graduate with 30-40 thousand in debt.

You can get a head start at a community college and transferring the credits over, but it doesn’t completely reduce the costs. The problem is, education has become expensive and the current system of paying for higher education is failing the nation (and by extension the world).

America is falling behind in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These four broad fields are not the sole reason to go college, there will always be a need for future educators, political scientists, agriculture, etc. Why exactly we are falling behind is not easy to answer, and one which would require a lot to time to research, write up, then make present it in a comprehensible to the general public, (I do apologize if I’m sounding elitist, I’m trying to get a point across). Today people want an easy answer, a talking point. An issue as big as higher education cannot be broken down into ten-second soundbite. Addressing the issue requires a study, solutions, and the critical thinking skills offered by college (especially English courses and from reading in general) to understand the issue.

At a future time, I may write more about higher education, but I’m focused on the costs right now. The cost of higher education is hurting the nation (and again by extension…the world). I strongly believe every citizen deserves a shot to earn up to a bachelor’s degree, tuition and fees, covered by the government – housing and meals are a different ballgame.

Why is the lack of affordable higher education failing this nation? I believe because without an educated electorate, we get elected officials who have no concept of reality and the world around them. We get elected officials who embrace scare tactics rather than honesty. We get elected officials who appeal to the lowest common denominator and our worse, primal instincts instead of debating the issues which affect us. We get elected officials who instead of caring about all people, only care about themselves and the people who got them elected. Higher education can help people understand why fascism and authoritarianism is bad. It can help people understand that anecdotal evidence (ie. it is snowing outside so global warming/climate change is a myth) is not the way the world really works.

Why is the lack of affordable higher education in America failing the world? Looking outside of the United States, we are a small portion of the world’s population, only about 325 million of the 7.5 billion people. However, the nation is one of the top producers of carbon dioxide, methane, and other toxic chemicals which are spewed into the air and water. A college education with critical thinking (and imagination helped by reading) can help people understand our current ways cannot be sustained. All other nations in the world can move toward a goal but it will no matter if the United States does not partake in the action. By electing foxes to run the henhouse, we have hurt ourselves.

It is my hope if we change the affordability of college education, we can prevent foxes (complete idiots) from getting elected, or at least reduce their number to a point that they have no say on what legislation is proposed and how it is enacted.

Political Reform

               Talking politics and how government work is not sexy, but when you studied political science and write a political thriller, it is kind of necessary to explore.

There tends to be two types of democratic systems of government, the presidential system and parliamentary system, both have their strengths and their weaknesses. There are aspects of both forms of government which are good. From the presidential system, fixed terms allow for in theory a stronger continuity of government, with no official votes of no confidence or immediate or surprising resignations of prime ministers. From the parliamentary system, allowing the chief executive and ministers are held accountable by the legislature, however there are no set terms. There is an additional problem with the parliamentary form of government, is the members who are selected as executive ministers are still responsible for executive and legislative duties.

               In the United States, our system of government was created to have, in theory, three equal branches of government, the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judicial. However, our system of government is at least in the modern era not achieving much. People elected to the House of Representatives are there for 2 years before having to face re-election. In practice, if they are elected in November 2018, they are sworn in January 2019 and by January 2020, they are in an election year. In theory, the 2 years to a term is supposed to allow the electorate to have a say in who represents them but in reality, 90% of incumbents win re-election.

               The Senate is a bit different as senators are elected to 6-year terms, and 1/3 of the seats are up for re-election every 2 years, compared to every 435 seats in the House of Representatives. This sets up in every non-presidential election year a “mid-term” election, which is seen as a referendum on the current presidential administration, generally the President’s party loses some seats in the Legislature.

               It generally takes a year or two for a newly elected lawmaker to get the hang of the way the House and the Senate works. In the House, this means their first term is pretty much spent learning the ropes then facing re-election. A good alternative would be to expand the term of a Representative from 2 to 4 years, but every 2 years one-half of the house would face re-election. This would still preserve the traditional “mid-term” election and referendum of the current political party in power.

               This is only one alternative to current government. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary universe I created, there is a mixed presidential/parliamentary system. There are three branches of government, the Executive, Legislative and Judicial. The Executive is headed by the President who is elected to a six-year term, the Legislative is divided between a Senate and House of Representatives, but executive responsibility does lie in the domain of the Senate. The Senate advises and consents on the President’s nominations for filling Executive Branch positions and Judicial nominations. In addition, the Senate has a special committee the Senate Executive Committee, whose chairperson is in the Presidential Chain of Succession. There is the Judicial Branch, which really isn’t much changed from how it currently works in the presidential or parliamentary forms of government.

               Another contentious debate in the modern system is the call for term limits, I’m in the middle of the road on this issue. I believe the President is rightfully term-limited at two 4-year terms, though a President can technically serve close to 10 years. If President A were elected and started his term on January 20, 2017, the halfway point would be January 20, 2019. If President A were assassinated on January 21st, 2019, the Vice President would be sworn in and finish out his term – without the term counting against them for term-limits. However, if the President was assassinated before the halfway point of their term, the Vice President would have the rest of the term count against their term-limit.

               Getting back to term limits, for lawmakers it is generally good to have experienced lawmakers, who understand the system and how to craft legislation. It is also good to have young, inexperienced people get elected and bring new or different ideas into the legislative body. This rarely happens under the current political system in the United States since 90% of incumbents are re-elected. The idea is to impose term limits to force change. While I don’t disagree with the need for change, I believe the background of a lawmaker needs to be changed. It currently requires hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to get elected to the House or Senate, there is no real publicly funded election system. If there was, there would be more candidates from less well-off or poor economic backgrounds. I think having a more economic diverse Legislative body would do the nation wonders.

               In the Ordinary universe, all Executive and Legislative positions are capped at a total of 24 years, with Representatives serving 4-years and Senators at 6-years a term. A person can be elected as a Representative for 3 terms, total of 12 years, then decide to run for Senate and serve 2 terms. If the person decides to serve 4 terms as a Representative or 16 years, they can still serve 2 terms as a Senator, they aren’t just kicked out after hitting 24 years, they will serve the remainder of their term but won’t be eligible for re-election. The President is capped at two 6-year terms, and a person can easily serve 24 years as a Representative or Senator before deciding to run for President.

               I know it’s not fully in-depth about how the full political system in modern America needs to be reformed (that would be a very long, time-consuming project) or how the whole political system in my Within the Grasp of Ordinary and sequel novel works. It’s just a small glance at the system and there are parts which are there to be explored – by reading the book(s).

Toxic Nationalism and Patriotism

In the 240-odd years of the Republic of the United States of America, there has never in my opinion been a graver threat than the toxic nationalism and patriotism expressed by Donald Trump and his “America First” mantra. There have been other political parties and movements like the Know Nothings and the 1930s which originally used “America First” as its slogan, but those parties never amounted to anything or achieved much. Trump is a different breed of politician, one which blindly touts a form of toxic nationalism and patriotism which has been widely adopted and brought into by millions of voters.

These types of people do not believe it is okay to question America, where any form of dissent whether it be kneeling during playing of the national anthem, protesting police brutality, or questioning the actions taken by our military, is viewed as unpatriotic. Dissenting about the actions taken by elected officials, the police, and the military is a constitutional right, because if they are not held accountable, then they will abuse their power even more. It is okay to be proud of the country where you are born, however you should never be too blind to see the country you dearly love does harm. It has taken actions and massacred innocent lives in Vietnam. It tortured people in Iraq, Afghanistan, and during the War on Terror. In the same breath, if you cannot acknowledge that America has done some right, there is a problem.

The problem of toxic nationalism and patriotism I believe will continue well into the future. The nationalism of today of being from America, Russia, China, Britain, etc. will most likely morph into a type of planetary origin debate as seen in The Expanse. In the book and television series there is resentment from Earthers towards Mars and Belters (people who live in the Asteroid Belt). The place of origin is a bigger debate because there are also physical differences because of the effects of low gravity – Mars and the spun-up asteroids having 0.3-0.4G compared to Earth’s 1.0G. In the plethora of Star Trek shows, there is little to no nationalism or planetaryism (should really be a word), which I believe an unlikely scenario.

In an ideal world, once humanity leaves this planet and colonizes others, the idea of one nation or its people being superior to others will go into the dustbin of history. However, being realistic I believe nationalism will transform into planetaryism and there will be a whole more galactic level of perceived discrimination. In Within the Grasp of Ordinary, (my novel and series), there are people who have a toxic level of planetaryism where they believe Earth is superior to other planets, and seek to impose a fully Earth-centric government. Other people in the story believe while Earth will always hold a special place in humanity’s heart, Earth cannot treat other planets and their inhabitants as second-class citizens.

Besides toxic nationalism/planetaryism, patriotism is another problem, especially if people believe if one form of patriotism is superior to other displays of patriotism. There are different displays of patriotism but it is paramount not to forget that dissent is patriotic. Wanting one’s country to be better, to not torture people, to display respect towards all human beings regardless of their origin, is patriotic. What is not patriotic is trying to deny other’s their rights to be equal, to live how they want to live, to judge people by the color of skin, their place of origin, their name, their choice of religion or lack thereof.

Toxic nationalism and patriotism is a problem and one we must be better at understanding and addressing.

Netflix and Amazon

How many network or cable television shows have you watched recently? Within the past month, it has been two shows, Shooter and The Blacklist. I haven’t watched television shows on their regularly scheduled nights for about two years, the last show being The Walking Dead Season 6, which I always watched with my brother and his wife. To me there is no longer “must watch television” aired on the network and cable television shows. In addition, the week-long break between episodes is daunting because I will forget key moments or main/sub-plotlines. I would rather binge watch content on Netflix or Amazon.

Amazon, Netflix, and Hulu (though I hate their commercials and refuse to pay more for none) have in the past few years changed the ballgame. The content created by these three will only get more expansive and consumed by more people. Growing up I always wanted anything I wrote to become a movie but as an adult in this age of streaming, I would rather my work become a series on Netflix or Amazon. Watching the deals Netflix and Amazon (and the money they are willing to spend) to pick up projects is amazing, they are not beholden to the almighty Nielsen rating and are willing to give experimental projects like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, and Amazon’s rumored Lord of the Rings television series.

Outside of loads of money, Netflix and Amazon appear to allow content creators to follow their storyline with minimal oversight or intervention. One of my favorite book series is The Expanse and when I started watching the television series by the same name, I was completely disappointed to learn one of the main characters in book four dies in the first season. I am aware sometimes changes are needed for example, translating a book from a first-person narrative is difficult in television and movies. There are other reasons like in The Man in the High Castle series, there is a resistance movement which is not featured in the book at all. However, based off what we know about resistance and insurgency movements now compared to when the book was written, adding a resistance movement makes complete sense.

There are some changes which make sense and others which are mind boggling but any author wants to see their work faithfully adapted. Writing and having what is written produced into first movies then television came around as a dominant force in the 1950s and 1960s, is a give and take game. There will always be authors who have the rights to their work sold and the story made into a movie or television show, and the story will be changed to fit the needs of the delivering medium. However, there has never been a better time to be an author. Netflix and Amazon have made themselves into forces to be reckoned with and ones which will not go away. In 2017, Netflix spent upwards of 6 billion dollars in acquiring and producing television shows. In 2018, that number increased to 7 billion dollars and will only grow from there.

Though there are a few series which are cancelled before completion Everything Begins with Z and Marco Polo come to mind, series come to end at a natural ending point, which offers maximum closure to the audience. I always imagine what Firefly could have become if it was not prematurely cancelled. Another odd example is The Expanse which like a few other shows has been cancelled by a network or cable channel and found life on a streaming service. Now if only the streaming services would pick-up Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe and offer a more concrete ending.

When it is all said and done, if my work is ever offered the silver screen adaption or network or cable series, I would politely decline it. Traditional television series are beholden to the almighty dollar which is primarily earned by key advertising demographics, and a risky show is unlikely to aired during primetime. Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu have shown less traditional shows like The Man in the High Castle, House of Cards, Handmaiden’s Tale, and the series of Marvel comic book heroes works. There is a show for everybody on the streaming services that caters to their tastes and there will only be more content to suit people’s expanding tastes.

Father’s Day

There is no perfect father, there are only imperfect fathers trying to be their best. What makes a person a good father is open to people’s interpretation and social norms of the time. I was born in 1986 and both my parents worked, my dad worked two jobs, his civilian job and as Captain in the Army Reserve. I remember my dad working evenings and my younger brother and I, along with our mother, bringing ice cream to him. As young kids we didn’t know the difference between active and reserve Army, and when dad went away for annual training it felt like forever. I vaguely remember bits and pieces of conversations dad had during the 1991 Gulf War. He never got deployed but having that possibility, that feeling of him going away for whose know how long, felt heavy.

My relationship with my father since then has been amicable but strained, we do not see eye to eye on politics (myself being a moderate to progressive, him being conservative). I believe because of his past in the military and the way his step-father is, he was taught to be in control and follow a patriarchal-dominated viewpoint. Years after my parents divorced and I was living on my own, I was digging through my notebooks and stumbled across a journal of his. In the writings I saw how he struggled to come to terms with the divorce but also attempted to manipulate religion to try and not get divorced.

Why am I sharing this? Part of it is because it helps bring additional context to what I’ve written. I grew up in a generation between Star Wars, the Episode 4, 5 and 6 had already been released but Episode 1, 2 and 3 didn’t start coming in 1999 when I was 13 years old. I was always intrigued by the father-son dynamic of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker and the mystery around it. I would have preferred the backstory of Anakin becoming Vader to be shrouded in mystery because the prequel trilogy sucks and is filled with plot holes and contradictions.

In my teenage years I started what would become Within the Grasp of Ordinary, which really did not explore a father-son dynamic. However, as an adult when I returned to the story’s universe, much had changed and I felt comfortable incorporating and exploring the father-son dynamic and presenting some what ifs in my own life. I’ve always wondered what if my father went active Army instead of Army Reserves – would my parents still have divorced – most probably given the current divorce rate in the military is higher than the civilian population.

There are different father-son relationships than Philip (mostly based off me) and his father Thomas, there is the relationship of Tristan and his recently deceased father. Lastly there is Nathan and his father David who is running to become the next President. By including father-son dynamics, the story morphed away from “pure” science fiction to a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment.

Though my father and my relationship is strained, he did play an active part in the story (he is more than a character and influencer), he lent me the Babylon 5 DVDs I bought him years prior. He discussed other elements of science fiction and his thoughts on futuristic political environments, planetary colonization, etc. I ended up sharing a copy with him and after he read a few chapters, he asked if he was the “bad guy”.

I answered along the lines that it depends on whose perspective the question is asked from as every character interprets their actions and the actions of others differently.

 

More than Science Fiction

What do you think of when somebody says science fiction? Do you instantly think of ships in space, space battles, far away planets and all that jazz? I once had the privilege to attend a hand-selected workshop with an award-winning author from Kansas who has written numerous short stories and non-fiction work.  The author requested a longer submission, approximately 10,000 words, give or take a little if there would be an unnatural ending point. I combed through what I had written and corrected obvious mistakes and submitted the work. A total of three other students were selected in this process, all of whom I remain good friends and in touch with.

After two weeks, the author from Kansas arrived on campus and we had our one on one sit downs. My first friend, an older non-traditional student, ended up taking over two hours in her meeting, and would have been longer had the Department Chair who organized this and selected us not intervened. I was up next and went in and immediately was red with fury but bit my tongue. The guest of honor admitted he did not like science fiction and wasn’t really drawn into a first-person narrative. When submitting the work, I described it as a coming of age, political thriller set in a science fiction environment. I tried to steer the conversation towards thoughts on character development, the story so far and didn’t get much except he didn’t trust the narration of the characters (which is one of the points of first person narration).

I politely endured the hour-long one-on-one because I thought I would gain insight but instead mostly heard him talk down science fiction and say it needed to be more grounded. There is one positive from this awful experience, I changed the prologue’s narration from one character, Philip, to his mother.

Science fiction lets writers explore contemporary issues in a different setting. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactic is more than about the last vestiges of humanity of trying to find Earth, it was a critique of the post-9/11 world and insurgencies where the supposed enemy looks and acts like us. Star Trek the Original Series is more than exploring new worlds and civilizations, it is about bringing together humanity (a mixed cast and other ground-breaking norms for the time).

If the award-winning author took time to read my submission without prejudging it, he would have seen the prologue and first three chapters are about family strife. Philip’s father is away at Mars and in command of bringing an end to a rebellion / insurgency movement (based upon my coming of age of Iraq). Nathan’s father, a Senator is running for President. Tristan, Philip’s best friend, has recently lost his father in a boating accident, which has also scared Nathan and Philip.

The science fiction environment allows for a more open story, one which is unconstrained by traditional environments. Imagine trying to write a story about the effects of not combating climate change in set in the 1970s. Very few people know about climate change in this environment. Or a more current, every day topic, writing about a corrupt, criminal chief executive in the current environment of the second decade of the 21st century.

Why does science fiction explore the past in a futuristic setting? I believe it because there will always be timeless issues which need to be explored and discussed – dysfunctional families, the rise and fall of politicians, independence movements, terrorist organizations, insurgencies, the desire to explore new worlds and star systems, espionage and grappling with right and wrong.