Trump Wins: Stephen King’s ‘The Dead Zone’ for Real (Editorial)

The Dead Zone Martin Sheen as Greg Stillson

After living in England for over three decades, I returned to a country that was beyond recognition.  January 2014 saw me landing in Las Vegas and starting a new job that would fizzle out in a years time.  I had not been privy to a stateside election in years and already the country was rumbling about 2016.

Leaving Vegas, and winding up in the last resting place of an immigrant camel drover, I found myself surrounded by snowbirds who all seemed to be republican. This did not bother me to any great extent as I had lived in country where the two main parties were mirror images of the Donkey and the Elephant: Labour and Tories.

I favor neither party but instead have always looked to the “runner.” In the UK it was more important to vote for the party. The Prime Minister was sort of an addition to the whole thing.

Donald Trump, this country’s president elect, was, in essence, a television reality star. The orange male equivalent of Kim Kardashian without the sex tape. A loud mouthed goon who was rude, crude and a man who obviously appealed to a large amount of people.

The moment I realized that this man with the ridiculous hair and bullying attitude was being taken serious, I thought of Greg Stillson from Stephen King’s 1979 b00k, The Dead Zone.

Stillson was a buffoon, a joke to the people of the country and yet when the book’s protagonist, poor doomed everyman John Smith,  touched the candidate he saw him starting World War III; with nuclear missiles.

The picture was perfectly formed in my head as I watched small clips of Trump’s rallies. Surely, I thought,  this man will not last long in the final stages, there must be someone more  qualified. Alas the republican party chose this lunatic to be their presidential candidate and once again I thought of King’s madman Stillson.

For those who have not read King’s book, Greg Stillson was mad, not “angry” mad but nutty as a box of frogs mad. He had an anger management problem and some severe wiring problems under his bonnet.

I cannot for the life of me remember what colour his hair was but it is not important. What is important  is that in my mind, from the first televised appearance of Trump, he was, and is, Greg Stillson.

There was no hard hat, or throwing hot dogs to the crowd, but Trump fit the bill of the madman who would bring an apocalyptic end to America like a tailored glove.

This is not the first time that someone has made the connection. Google “The Dead Zone” and Trump’s name comes up. (Sorry, but I cannot for the life of me refer to this man as president.) This entire election has been  surreal and this has been a nightmarish end to a vicious election. One where both sides played the internet like an instrument.

Perhaps this has been on the cards for a long time. I truly do not know. I had taken on another country as my home and never envisioned coming back.  The return home was not planned.

It was odd coming back to the country that spawned me. The whole place was different and PC mentality was making everyone touchy and overly protective.  The racist card was being thrown down everywhere and an entire political party was backing a homophobic, misogynistic reality television star with multiple bankruptcies to his name to run the country.

Now it is over.

Stillson  Trump is in. The man who cannot, apparently afford the good tanning gel, the kind that does not turn your skin orange, is the 45th president of the United States.  He has chosen a vice president who echoes his sentiments exactly in regards to the LGBT community, minorities and immigrants.

History has been made here. The electoral college, not the people they chose Hilary by popular vote, God help them,  have put Trump in charge of the country.

Young people are taking to the streets to protest Trump as president on the same day he was announced the winner of the race. This has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever happened before. (Of course it might have but living in the UK I might have missed it.)

Despite all the Pollyanna’s out there who now say we have to grin and bear it and that we must stick together, I hope you remember that when this once mighty nation has crumbled under one man’s lunacy.

The electing of Trump has been called a “white lash” by Van Jones. With all due respect sir, I disagree. I think this was a “Black lash.” Caused by far too many people who were upset over an eight year time period that the president of the US was a black man.

Before signing off and leaving politics behind for another four years, I would like to point something out. This election was massively influenced by social media. Each side promoted enough vitriol to damage the most secure of egos.

On Facebook alone there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth and a common misconception. Younger members of the American public seem to believe that a president serves eight years. Not so, my dear Millennials. A presidential term is still and always will be, four years.

With two American presidents serving two terms in office, it is easy to see where the confusion started. It is also the sort of ignorance that enabled someone less qualified than your cousin Murray, the city dog catcher, to be elected president.

 

The President’s New Gun Control Bill or Sandy Hook Re-visited

So the President has submitted for our consideration a new gun control bill. Just looking at the bare essentials being presented via the internet I don’t really see why the NRA has taken the automatic (pun intended) stance of deriding the Presidents bill. In case you’ve missed it the bill sets up banning automatic weapons, limiting magazines to 10 bullets, introduces universal background checks for all firearms buyers and increased scrutiny of mental health patients. Personally I see nothing wrong with the above measures.

Taking an overall look at the measures it looks like the most sensible for a gun culture society. In a nutshell (to me anyway) the bill says to me that psychotic nutcases with a hard-on against anyone cannot easily get access to an automatic weapon with 20 rounds in the magazine and more importantly if the prospective gun owner has a history of mental issues he has no chance to purchase one either. Yet the majority of the population will still be able to purchase fire arms. I do think that semi automatic weapons should be left out of the equation, because that is one step away from banning Mr or Ms Average from owning a handgun.

I expected the NRA to scream like a raped panther and I was not disappointed. In a perfect world the NRA would not necessarily embrace the new bill, but would actually use their powerful lobby to fine-tune it. Unrealistic I know.

I have always firmly believed that the right to bear arms is not open to debate. To open this constitutional right (that is spelt r-i-g-h-t and not p-r-i-v-i-l-e-g-e) to debate leads to the inevitable issue of the common man not having the right to own a firearm to protect his family and property and letting the criminal (who does not follow the law) own whatever weaponry he wants. It could be argued that the new gun control bill will be ignored by the criminal fraternity.

Of course it will. There is a huge black market out there for illegal weapons up for purchase by whoever has the contacts and the money already. The only thing that is a guarantee in all this controversy is that the criminal fraternity will make money out of all this. I have become a more fervent believer in the right to be armed after spending most of my adult life in a country where no one owns handguns and only a few have shotguns. I hasten to add that this is the law-abiding citizenry here, although a “law-abiding” citizen took his “legal” shotgun and killed a lot of people in Wales not too long ago while he drove his taxi cab around a village; the criminal’s are armed and not just with shotguns, automatic weapons and handguns are used when they feel it necessary.

I can also tell you that in a country where guns are illegal the government do not want you as a private citizen to protect yourself. It is far better in the law’s eyes to let yourself be shot, stabbed, robbed, raped or murdered first and then let the overworked wheels of justice grind on and solve the case (or not). In essence it is more or less a law that you as a private citizen can only be classed as a victim, otherwise you can find yourself locked up with the very people you were protecting yourself from.

But let me get off my soap box for minute, I did not really mean to step up there anyway. The thing that brought all this issue to the front of my mind was the reference to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown Connecticut. The current administration is waving the massacre around like a “Remember the Alamo” flag. The very act of surrounding the podium with school children reeks of purposeful emotional blackmail. “Look” it says, “look at what is at stake here. Don’t you want to save your children?”

Emotions are running high.

The very fact that they feel comfortable trotting out the young corpses of the Sandy Hook tragedy says a lot. I am not going to trot out old tired statistics here. I’ve done so in another post. But in a sort of recap, I will point out that fewer people die each day as a result of gun violence than in a car accident. Don’t get me wrong though, the numbers are damned close. But if thinking that reducing the average law-abiding citizen’s access to guns will lower this number, I think you are being too optimistic.

The whole Sandy Hook thing has a touch of unreality to it. Not only because it seems unreal that anyone, madman or not, would shoot little kids; but also the parents reactions to the situation seemed bizarre. One news coverage video on the day of the massacre showed parents who were saying how awful it was and how frightening, etc while they both stood smiling for the cameraman. That in itself is disturbing on a deeper level, but just as disturbing are all the cries of “hoax” and “staged” and the seemingly inevitable conspiracy theorists.

In 1984 a man entered a San Ysidro California MacDonald’s and shot 21 people to death. The killer, 41 year-old James Huberty only stopped after a SWAT sniper took him out. No one suggested there was any staging going on nor did anyone come up with a conspiracy theory.

Too long ago? Okay, how about the 1999 Columbine shooting. Two senior students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot and killed 13 people; 12 of which were fellow students, and injured a further 21 fellow students. This duo of death then committed suicide. The great outcry at the end of all that death and violence was not one of conspiracy, but one of anguish and looking for a reason for the horrible thing that happened.

People interviewed the day of the shootings were in shock. Tears were shed by people who had not lost anyone in the tragedy, but they cried at the very thought of it. Sandy Hook for some reason has fallen into a Twilight Zone event in the public’s eyes. The two parents with their child in the video clip I referenced *But guess what? I cannot find that clip anywhere.* seem to have a problem of deciding whether to be cheerful for the camera or concerned as parents. The whole country seems confused and that concerns me. Apart from the usual, “Let’s blame this on violent video games,” argument; the country has descended into a sort of conspiracy madness.

A madness that implied that the event hadn’t even really occurred; it was staged by the US administration. It was a publicity stunt set up to allow gun control to be legislated. Fingers are being pointed at anything that doesn’t “look right” by some arbitrary standard that seems to change daily. I am not jumping on the conspiracy train here; I’ll walk if it’s alright with you. I will admit that deep down the very timing of Sandy Hook seems wrong and (if I am really honest) pretty damned convenient for a President who is very much for gun control.

Conspiracy has been a watchword or catchphrase of America since Watergate. But I honestly think that someone in the White House is secretly glad that Sandy Hook happened. I do not doubt that someone up there gave a victory fist-pump in the air and went, “Yes! Just what we have been waiting for; a target that will appeal to every single parent out there, Mr President the time is now for our new gun control bill.”

So there you have it, a new gun control bill and a re-visit to Sandy Hook and the horror associated with it. You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t take a walk down that memory lane with you. In the meantime, I will worry about the unreal direction this entire thing is taking and I am hoping that I do not see Rod Serling hanging around. Of course the other thing I’ll be watching for is whether or not there will be a concerted effort to change the Constitution as it is currently in respect to the right to bear arms.

Our right for how long?

Sandy Hook Shootings: the Un-Reality of Violence

Edna Buchanan, crime reporter retired, journalist, author, Pulitzer Prise winner.

In one of the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author Edna Buchanan‘s books she (The Corpse had a Familiar Face, Vice, et al) wrote about a shootout at one of Miami‘s larger shopping malls in the 80’s. “The only people who screamed and ducked for cover were the cops. Everyone else thought that an episode of Miami Vice was being filmed.”

Therein lays the problem with violence in real life versus violence in “reel” life. Despite the bleeding hearts of the world who still scream to the rafters that television and films are too violent and that Mr and Mrs Joe Citizen and their offspring are becoming anesthetized to the effects of violence, I argue that the reverse is true.

Very few directors in this day and age have the cojones to show just how sickening, and let’s face shocking, real violence is. Real violence is painful, bloody, sudden, and sometimes, final. In real life no one is blasted off their feet by being shot or hurled backward (or forward) by the force of the  bullet striking their body. Buckets of blood do not flow when they are stabbed unless the person doing the stabbing has twisted the blade when withdrawing it.

Real violence takes modern men, women and children aback. It throws them off-balance and they do not know how to react. In this modern-day and age of “civilised” society where everyone is given benefit of the doubt and bad guys/gals are dealt with by the legal system, people have become sheep (aka victims) of a great lie.

That someone else will protect you.

My daughter and I were discussing the Sandy Hook shootings. It is not often that we both, Meg and I, share pretty much the same epiphany but this was one of those moments.

Looking at me over her scrambled eggs and toast she said, “It looks like only one person tried to stop the kid from shooting.” I thought about this and while trying to come up with a suitable response, she finished with, “And there is nothing in the news about the shooter except a name, Adam Lanza. No one seems to know anything about him. Don’t you find that odd?”

I do and I don’t.

The world is full of people who have fallen through the cracks of everyday society. Home schooling, the internet, the “new” version of the nuclear family all make insulation an easy lifestyle to maintain. What is odd is that this 20 year-old nut did not have a traceable history (there wasn’t even a photo of the guy in his yearbook) and he doesn’t appear on any social networks either.

What we do know is Mom was a gun enthusiast and she regularly took her boys to the shooting range to improve their aim. These trips proved to have fatal consequences for not only the adults and children Adam killed, but for her as well as it appears she was his first victim on the 14th of December 2012.

But my post is not about Adam Lanza so much as it is about the adult’s reaction to him. This skinny social inept – he allegedly had Aspergers syndrome – who, despite his guns, was not physically threatening. This was no Rambo-like warrior. This was an almost anorexic looking kid in combat fatigues who was armed.

*I would just like to point out here that the guns used by Lanza and the one found in his car all belonged to Momma Lanza and not Adam. He tried to unsuccessfully buy a gun and was denied the privilege. The point being that folks that want to use guns to kill don’t have to own them, they just have to have them; legally or illegally. So gun control lobbyist’s just chew on this fact for a while.*

What concerns me is that only one person tried to stop Lanza, the vice principal if I remember correctly, but it doesn’t matter who it was. What matters is it appears that only one individual realised that this was real. Real enough to be acted against and not just reacted to.

I have worked for the last ten years as a prison officer in the United Kingdom. I have seen violence first hand over that time. Nothing lethal, thank God, but pretty gruesome. Prison officers react quickly to threat and to violent action. We have to, it’s part of our job. What is not part of our job is recognising that a threat exists and keeping an eye on it. We try to intervene as quickly as possible to prevent more people getting hurt.

Policemen and women do the same thing, but in the civilian environment and with a lot more lethal results and weapons. The worst “weapon” I’ve seen in action was batteries in a sock that could possibly kill someone and definitely gave someone a concussion.

But the point I am trying to make is that your average person has no “awareness” of threat nor do they have the presence of mind to react assertively in the face of that threat. People now rely too much on having someone else act for them. After all, that’s what the police are for, right?

Wrong.

Police, as they themselves will tell you, are an after the fact organisation. The police will gladly tell you that there is no way in hell (my emphasis not theirs) that they are able to protect everyone. But people want to believe that in this civilised modern world that we live in, the police can and do “protect and serve.”

But we need to face the facts that unless the cops are right there when the threat presents itself, they will not be able to respond quickly enough to save anyone.

I am not saying that the answer lay with more firearms being available to more people or even that folks should start strapping gun belts on before they leave the house.

I am saying that people need to be more aware and less “politically sensitive” to others. The question everyone should be asking is this, “How in the world did this skinny 20 year-old madman get into the school to begin with?” I am not pointing a finger of blame at anyone here. The point is that no one apparently felt that something was wrong until the young man began shooting.

No one, apparently, noticed that this guy did not belong. No one was aware.

I raised my daughter to always be aware of her surroundings. Not only that but to be aware of people who did not “feel” right; that person that you pass on the sidewalk or hallway who is giving off “bad” or “not normal” vibes. The place where bushes or trees are too close to the road or path you are on; a place just perfect to get mugged or worse.

I am not saying be paranoid, but be aware. I’ve lived for over 54 years and a good portion of those I was aware of what was going on around me. I have been in strange cities all over the world and walked alone through a lot of dodgy places and not once have I had something bad happen as a result.

I have been lucky, I know that, but I have also been aware. I would also, I like to think, have tried to stop the young man.

I was trained, along with other prison officers, how to disarm someone with a knife or a gun (although the instructors always went to great pains to explain that no one is faster than a bullet) so that other people, and of course yourself, would not be hurt. I’ve never had to do either and probably never will.

But with modern societies focus on law and order and the breeding of a generation of sheep leads me to believe that the reason that more of these mass shootings (mass murders) are happening more often is because of the lack of response by those being threatened or killed. I am not talking about children here I am talking about responsible adults.

Have we lost the ability to recognise real violence and death? Like the citizenry that Edna Buchanan talks about at the Miami mall shootings, do we view all violence as a film scenario? When we hear a gunshot (providing we even realise a gun has been fired) do we automatically look for the cameras and the film crew?

Have we become so “cowed” by the sight of blood and death that we cannot react to stop the violence? I don’t mean to imply that everyone needs to have a “have-a-go-hero” attitude and be a John McClane. Sandy Hook elementary had heroes, one of which quickly hid her charges in a closet and lied to the gunman about where they were.

It would be nice to think that everyone could or would be so quick-witted. But most people when interviewed after the fact all say that the violence and death did not feel real. Sadly due to the cinematic style of violence in the movies real violence, that is still painful and bloody, is not cinematic. It is harder to recognise because it is, compared to its celluloid cousin, quite low-key and not put through a Dolby sound system.

But we must not let ourselves believe the lie that others will protect us and our families. We are just as responsible and more importantly we are probably closer to the violence when it is happening.

I know that gun control will rear its ugly head again and the NRA and the anti-gun crowd will go to battle stations once again. On Twitter some idiot from the UK said, “We outlawed handguns after our school massacre and have had no more mass shootings since.” Besides sounding like a pompous prig, this fine chap also forgot to mention the several victims in Cumbria, Wales (part of the United Kingdom) shot to death in 2010 or injured by a 52 year-old taxi driver who shot innocents with a legal shotgun.

A bit of news for you mate, a shotgun is not a handgun, all right?

The lesson that could be learned is that we need to be not only more aware, but to be more active in trying to stop the violence. I know that before I trained and worked as a prison officer, I always had the attitude that if someone was trying to hurt or kill me or someone around me, I would try to stop them. Failing that? I’d at least have slowed ’em down a bit and given someone else a chance to get away.

I pray that I never have a chance to find out if I really would or could react quickly enough to try. Of course I also pray that people start realizing that they themselves are the first person responsible for stopping the violence and for protecting themselves.

And like the NRA like to say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” True enough, but guns (besides being a damned good deterrent) are made to kill. But if someone wants to kill badly enough, they don’t need a gun. Hell a golf club can be used to kill someone and you’ll need to “get up close and personal” to do it.

Let’s leave the gun issue out of it, shall we? Let’s concentrate on being more aware.

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Win, Lose, or Draw it’s All Over Tomorrow Night

The day before the election. In a few short hours Americans from all over the world will be voting. Polling stations will open and absentee ballots will be counted (remember George Bush). In the wee hours of the morning of the 7th, America and the world will see who the President will be for the next four years.

It’s like watching a genteel boxing match. In one corner you have Mitt Romney with his designer hair and “Hollywood Casting Director” presidential looks. In the other corner, we have the President himself. Barack Obama. Compared to Romney and his seemingly generic presidential lines, Obama looks like everyman.

But looks do not a president make. Romney may look the part, but thus far in his speeches he makes G W Bush look like Socrates. He is also a silver spoon rich kid who grew up to be a rich man. This rich man understands corporate mergers and profit margins.

America does not need someone whose main concern is the money they can get from their employees, sorry constituents.

Barack Obama grew up without a silver spoon and through intelligence, hard work and integrity became the president of the United States of America. He came into the office telling everyone that he would do everything he could to turn the country around. He told us that it would be hard and that it would take a long time.

He did not lie.

There are things that the current President has done that I do not agree with, but, he is still my president (well half of me claims him anyway, the other half loves the Queen) and I think he should be given the time to do what he promised.

I believe he will deliver.

But either way, tomorrow the poll stations will close and a winner will be chosen.

We can only hope that the Electoral College does not pick who they want, especially if it turns out to be Mitt Romney.

There will be those who do not like this brief post and to them I say, “That is okay. We are all entitled to opinions and mine do not have to match yours. I know that I have not “lived” under President Obama, but like the man who could not see the forest because he was too close to the trees, I feel that I can see so much from a distance that perhaps is missed by those living in America.”

However this election falls, we will all have a president to support and follow. Let’s do our best.

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: The Future is Now

I haven’t read a book that scared me this badly since I first picked up Pet Sematary by Stephen King.

You might well ask what it was about this 2008 book that scared me. A book that tells about a world where ‘Big Brother’ has gone crazy. Well, buckle your seatbelts friends and neighbours because I’m going to tell you.

In little brother we meet Marcus Yallow he is a senior at Chavez High School in the San Francisco Mission district. He is seventeen and he has three friends. Daryl, who is his best friend; Van, the only girl in the group and Jolu.

Marcus and his friends are hackers. Not by choice but by necessity.

The world has turned into a police state. CCTV (closed circuit television) cameras are everywhere. Chavez High School has cameras in the hallways that recognise each student’s gait. The students books have tracking devices in them so the school can monitor their movements. The laptops they are required to use are monitored and censored by the school as well.

These are just three of the many government approved tracking systems used not only on students but the whole country’s population.

Marcus and his friends play an on-line Japanese ARG (Alternate Reality Game) called Harajuku Fun Madness. A combination of computer play and ‘real life’ exercises, these games are wildly popular. Marcus talks his friends into ditching school to get a head start on the real life portion of the game. They can ditch school because they have ‘hacked’ the school security system and can ‘fool’ it.

They all meet at ‘the tenderloin’ a rough section of San Francisco.  Using wifinders they have tracked down their clue and it’s in an Asian Massage Parlour. Marcus and his friends bump into another group of ARG players and are in the middle of an argument  about who was there first, when an explosion rocks the tenderloin area.

The city emergency sirens go off and the populace are told to take shelter in the BART stations. *BART  (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is a public transport system like the underground (UK) or subway (US)*

As Marcus and his friends get just inside the BART, they decide to take their chances up ‘top-side’ because of the sheer numbers of people in the shelter already. They fight their way back up to the street level only to find that Daryl has been stabbed.

Marcus waves down a passing government vehicle and he and his friends are arrested and taken into custody, not by the police, but by Homeland Security. They have bags put over their heads and are handcuffed. Taken to an undisclosed area, they are tortured and interrogated. Homeland Security wants them to confess to being the terrorists who planted the bombs.

Marcus and his friends are held and ‘interrogated’ for six days. All of them are released except for Daryl. Marcus is told that if he ever tells anyone about what was done to him and his friends  he will disappear forever.

Once Marcus gets over the initial terror of his captivity and interrogation he gets angry. He is certain that Daryl is dead or worse. He decides to start a war with Homeland Security and enlists the aid of other students. Soon they have formed a ‘revolutionary’ group  known as the XNETTERS by the underground and Cal Queda by the press.

In an instant, the government starts taking away people’s rights and freedoms in the name of protecting the country from terrorism. The agents of Homeland Security are now in charge of teaching the youth of the country and the first thing they teach is that the constitution is not really a Bill of Rights at all. They maintain that the rights are more  suggestive in nature and open to interpretation and removal at the government’s discretion.

This book grabbed hold of me before I had gotten through the first chapter. I stopped and put it down and thought about all the CCTV’s there were in the world. I then thought about the information that anyone can glean from your credit card usage.

I could go on, but, I’m sure you get the point. Everything we do now is computerised and easily monitored. In the book, when government security pump up their surveillance on everyone in the San Francisco area and use the BART passes to monitor everyone’s movements, the vast majority of the population are okay with it.

Exactly how it would be in real life and almost was earlier this year. In the book, the government immediately start a rigid cyber-security program that mimics China and Syria. Sound familiar?

Does the name SOPA mean anything to you? How about PIPA? Use the acronym of your choice, but they all mean the same thing…Cyber-security. The government has been, and still is, desperate to control the internet. Not just in the U S borders, but across the world.

The last presidential administration ruled by fear. It appears that our current administration has learned a thing or two from the last president elect. Get the people worried enough about terrorist threats within the country’s borders and you can write your own ticket.

Luckily, we, the people, won the SOPA fight, but the powers that be still want that cyber-control. The current administration is still waving the cyber-terrorism flag around like nobody’s business.

If you want to see what living in the United States would be like under a government that controls everyone and takes away rights and freedom. Read this book.

Or you could just read the newspaper or magazine of your choice. You could read a few internet blogs, magazines and newspapers, but you’d better hurry.  If the government have their way, that kind of internet won’t be around much longer.

And that is what scared me about the book. In Doctorow’s world the technology is a little more advanced, but not a lot. What is exactly the same though, in both his world and our real one, is the government’s answer to the terrorist problem. The taking away of rights and freedom in the name of national security.

It all sounds a little too real to me.