Will America Reclaim Our System of Checks and Balances?

(I know I just stated in my last post that I want to do less politics, but I really have to get this off my chest.)

Right now, if we are honest, we must acknowledge that we are a Divided States of America.

And, if we are truly honest, we must acknowledge that it is our fault.

Sure, many people absolutely abhor Trump, but it is equally true that many pledge their allegiance to Trump with unwavering commitment. That would be just a point of disagreement if the American system of government was in place. However, the demonstrable truth is our government is not functioning as it was meant to, particularly in terms of our fabled system of checks and balances, and it has aggressively not functioned properly for at least a decade, arguably longer.

Both major parties are to blame.

The Republicans spent at least 30 years building a heavily financed machine to conquer the US government, including super-rich elites including the Koch brothers financing universities that taught and produced lawyers and politicians who reflected their political preferences (see Dark Money for fascinating details). Then, with support from groups including the Federalists, some of those students were groomed and placed in the judicial system and politics in growing numbers. Between these and many more moneyed, committed efforts over the last three decades (at minimum), the Republicans built what we have now, a one-party majority that, rather than working as a checks and balances system between executive, legislative, and judicial, seem to work in concert to serve the preferences of those financing and influencing their careers.

Meanwhile, as best as I can tell, the Democrats went to lunch on the victories of the past that made us a more progressive, global nation. As the Republican machine rose from the ashes of the Nixon resignation, dems became an isolated machine of its own moneyed influencers. The Clinton Presidency drove the Republicans further to the right. But around that time it seemed the idea of bilateral efforts and checks and balances gave way in both parties to the attitude of “our side uber alles.”

If Clinton drove Republicans nuts, Obama made them rabid. See Mitch McConnell promising to make sure our President “gets nothing done” right at the start of Obama’s first term. Clearly, no legislative effort was going to be judged on its merits rather than coming from “the enemy”. And still, Obama had some success.

Under Trump, most of those successes have been dismantled, defunded, or reversed. Because that is what our government has been reduced to; antagonism, revenge, smearing, denial, and spin unchecked. Facts are now harder to share. Our government is significantly different now, from staffing, to function of departments, to protocol dismantling, to controversies, scandals, and questions on almost every front.

No matter which side you are on, it is clear that now more than ever before, this government is about divisive political parties, not a national whole. Sadly, this country is no longer about We The People, this nation is about We The People in Power.

And while the rich have always had the most influence, the effort to create and sustain a long term healthy nation was once the priority for both parties. At our strongest, we knew a strong middle class helped everyone. At our best, we invested well in the education of our young and benefited from it with new ideas in the arts, the sciences, the progression toward a more perfect union.

We have been turning away from that or decades, and we now must seriously question where we are, how we got here, and whether this is truly the country we want any more.

I know I want to live in the America we were always taught about. The America that had as its maitre de the Statue of Liberty encouraging the world to “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore….” Now our doors are much more closed, and those embracing that dream who have not been naturalized, for whatever reason, are hunted, children caged. That’s not the America my conservative father taught me to love.

Similar changes have gone on in economics, the environment, international relations, business dealings, and law enforcement investigations. This should move all of us to reflect on whether the country is moving forward as We The People intend for it to do.

As a result, America face several serious questions. How do we feel about the condition of our government? Is this truly the way we want our country to be governed? Is it really just about immediate economic upsurge for us, or can we consider a longer vision? Without a true system of checks and balances, are we still a republic? Do we still practice democracy?

From at least two sources now, we discover that people working around our current president keep information and take demanded declarations and edicts off his desk. Is that what we want? Reports suggest that our current leader does not want to follow democratic procedures, wants to just give orders, to the point where his own cabinet has allegedly discussed employing the 25th Ammendment. Is this the government we want?

Add to that alleged Russian involvement even now in influencing our thinking through social media and possibly manipulating our voting system. Are we okay with this possibility?

With all of this swirling around us, how can We The People not feel the need to deeply reconsider where we stand and what we want.

i haven’t been impressed with anyone in Washington, DC or local government, but I remain impressed with the American People. In a few short weeks, We The People have an opportunity to exercise our rights and exert our will on all of this. It doesn’t matter what your politics are right now, it matters that you vote. Check right now that you are registered. If, somehow, you have been taken off the voter rolls (yes this is happening in places across the nation), fight to get back on, and vote.

This mid-term election offers an opportunity to reset our system of checks and balances, to reset what our Founding Fathers meant our republic to be. Voting offers us, We The People, an opportunity to say what kind of government we want.

And make no mistake, this election will change America, either confirming national approval our current government’s behavior and encouraging more of the same, or firmly rejecting that path and instructing our government to change. This election can shift power from Republican dominant to a more balanced mix of Republican and Democrat. It can also re-elect those who have served for a decade or more, or to elect new leaders.

it is our decision, our right, and yes, our responsibility. If we want America to be ruled by We The People, we are responsible for being The People.

Whatever happens, it is on us.

Posted in #election, #POTUS, #Trump, #voting, #WeThePeople, America, politics, pop culture, writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I’ve Been Away Awhile, Rebuilding

I haven’t posted since mid-summer when I gushed about U2. Been rebuilding. This blog now appears on my new website, http://www.chrisryanwrites.com. Worth a look, if I do say so myself.

Been rebuilding my social media presence, too. Much more Instagram, lot less Facebook. Unfollowed many dozens of political Twitterers, followed writers and creatives instead. A lot less stressful, though still pretty political. These days, politics is inescapable.

But I try.

Which is weird since my latest novel, A Simple Rebellion, is “a dystopian love letter to America.” But it is more about the divisiveness, the our side right or wrong, the where is this all leading us of it all. Again, politics is inescapable.

But I try.

The rebuild concludes with me accepting that I write fast-paced stories with humor and heart, and I am going to continue doing so, as best I can, for as long as I can, for as many of you who want it.

Mixed in under that will be pleas to our better angels, our more reasonably humane sides, pleas that we remember that all of this is based on “We the People.”

See? Politics is inescapable.

But we can try.

Posted in America, Book lovers, fiction, politics, pop culture, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

U2 Uses Mysterious Brush With Death to Defend the Idea of America 

My wife, known here and on my social media as the goddess, has saved my life yet again; she took me to the U2 Innocence and Experience Tour 2018 five times.

Yeah, five concerts, same band, same show.

Five times gave me the gift of studying U2’s show and thinking about their intent. From what I see, U2 delivered a novel, repurposing songs to reflect chapters of their “hero’s journey” (a phrase actually projected during this multi-sensory tour de force), even naming one (“This chapter is called ‘Vertigo’, appropriately,” says Bono, “since it is the time in the story when the band lost its mind”). and what a classic it was.

Amazingly, U2 presents an Irish myth of four lads overcoming all odds to realize a dream, nearly squandering it, and fighting to get it back, earning wisdom along the way. But it is also a Great American Novel about the Idea of America and how we may be killing it via petty infighting and the exact distractions that nearly killed the band, with a climax that shows fellow immigrants calling us all, left and right, Conservative and Liberal to remember what makes the Idea of America worth working together to save.

All in one impressive two-hour show.

And like most classic tales, this story starts en medius res, in the middle of things, namely in an MRI chamber.

“Breathe in. Breathe in,” a voice asks. “Exhale…. thank you.” And then a blast of mechanical doom as a simulated MRI machine slams through the arena, as frightening for us as it must have been for Bono during his mysterious recent “brush with death.”

On an arena-spanning screen we see ominous brain scans. And then the enormous screen rises to reveal Bono alone, quietly lit as one might imagine it would be when one is facing the Pearly Gates and awaiting that crucial meeting with St. Peter. Here he stands in the center of the arena (Madison Square Garden, among others on this tour), a thin band of light gliding over him at intervals a la an MRI, singing “Love is All We Have Left” blissfully, and so very still.

Love, love is all we have left

You argue ’cause you can’t accept

Love is all we have left


A disembodied, angelic falsetto (The Edge, arguably always a voice in Bono’s consciousness) sings
Hey, this is no time not to be alive.


The suggestion of final moments, maybe even an out of body experience, is there. Whether he is speaking personally or metaphorically is a discussion for after the show.

Bono is then consumed by the looming screen, and the band comes to crackling, booming life within it, appearing in flashes of electricity not unlike defibrillator shocks as they perform “The Blackout”. Here the narrative doubles more palpably, simultaneously commenting on Bono’s mysterious near death experience and American current events:
Statues fall, democracy is flat on its back, Jack

We had it all, and what we had is not coming back, Zac

A big mouth says the people, they don’t wanna be free for free

The blackout, is this an extinction event we see


“Lights of Home” follows, with more cryptic allusions to fatality:
I shouldn’t be here ’cause I should be dead

I can see the lights in front of me


That is as straight up as Bono gets, with one exception later on in the song:
I thought my head was harder than ground

I can see the lights in front of me


The chorus suggests his coming back from a near-trip to The Undiscovered Country, but it also serves to suggest a possible “life flashing before his eyes” moment. So many of us have had similar stresses  from the chaotic news cycles of recent times our own spirits have been challenged.

The band now takes us back to the beginning, to their punk roots, with their breakout song, “I Will Follow”, the first of many musical and spoken references to the driving force in Bono’s life; the loss of his beloved mother, Iris, at age 14. 

In this first hit, he speaks of searching for her, and later he mentions the hurt of her name never being mentioned in the house where he grew up with his widower father. Bono sings about both his mother “Iris” and his home on “Cedarwood Road”. She and a house holding two damaged people, father and son, created the wound that Bono would spend the rest of his life trying to heal through his art:
If the door is open it isn’t theft

You can’t return to where you’ve never left

Blossoms falling from a tree

They cover you and cover me

Symbols clashing, bibles smashing

Paint the world you need to see

And sometimes fear is the only place

That we can call our home

Cedarwood Road


And a heart that is broken

Is a heart that is open

Open, open


Here the band examines its own roots while inviting us to do the same (Bono literally says as much) and also setting the groundwork to have us consider how we define home these days, an uniquely American challenge we are currently struggling with once again. 

Yes, in 2018, Americans are uncomfortable with “the other” all over again. From Native Americans to African slaves to the Irish, Italians, Jews, Japanese, and so many others, each new group to these shores (for the record, Native Americans were here first and Africans were dragged here in chains) were treated as monsters, as suspect, as a threat, as criminals (Sadly, most brown people still are) while the Idea of America beckoned them here with a promise of hope, a chance to become what they dreamed of being. 

The challenge of becoming can be overwhelming whether you an angry Irish youth living in a home shattered by heartbreaking loss or a South American mother and daughter fleeing dangers in their birth country, and an animated flood at the end of “Cedarwood Road” evokes that … And the dark times descend.

“Sunday Bloody Sunday” is played as a solemn dirge confronting the darkness of U2’s youth and calling for justice for the victims as the band members stand spread across the arena, illuminated by their country’s colors and below projected animation of their country and community being torn apart by The Troubles. It is impossible to pay attention to this performance and Larry Mullen Jr.’s drumming leading up to the exploding of three car bombs on the giant screen and not think of the violence visited upon these shores in recent years. School shootings, club shootings, street shootings of African American men, and other evils have plagued us in the time of U2. Troubles, indeed. 

It is almost as if our country is possessed…

 …creating a perfect time for the return of Macphisto.

Following “Sunday Bloody Sunday” an animated cartoon recounts a twist in the band’s heroes’ journey, as they are gifted with talents beyond their dreams, advised not to lose who they are, immediately ignore that advice in favor of material indulgences … And fall from grace, “losing their minds”, according to Bono, to their “Desire”.

Enter MacPhisto, Bono’s demonic incarnation who hasn’t been seen since the Pop Tour of th late ’90’s. It is fitting that Macphiso emerges on the immense screen via a social media filter, relishing how we are tearing each other apart on social media, on the streets, and most definitely in Washington. He delights in how we have succumbed to the illusion that serving the left or the right is more important than defending the Idea of America, howls his surprise at how easily we’ve put children in cages, and seems to have completely possessed Bono and subverted the band…and then the U2 spirit fights its way out, and U2 becoming the truth tellers and America lovers they have always been:

Don’t believe what you hear

Don’t believe what you see

If you just close your eyes

You can feel the enemy…
Broadcast across the dominating screen through a scratchy, sketchy filter, it is as if the conscience of the band is fighting through all the noise of today’s social media trolls and 24-hours news stations’ talking heads. As Larry, Adam Clayton, and The Edge create a sonic maelstrom, Bono defies his Macphisto side despite “the baddass hat” and glammish eye make-up, calmly intoning encouragement to a reeling America:
And I must be an acrobat

To talk like this

And act like that

And you can dream

So dream out loud

And you can find

Your own way out

And you can build

And I can will

And you can call

I can’t wait until

You can stash

And you can seize

Responsibilities

And I can love

And I can love

And I know that the tide is turning ’round

So don’t let the bastards grind you down


U2 has always practiced two traditions; undercutting their sincerity with self-deprecating humor and repurposing their music to make social commentary. They do both here with “Staring at the Sun” which they claim not to remember writing and not to know what it is about while recounting that it was written when Ireland’s Good Friday Peace Accords seemed endangered by a few “willing to go blind” to the importance of progress.

Sound familiar?

Building on the drama of “Acrobat”, the comparably calm “Staring at the Sun” is paired with footage from one of America’s most recent low moments, Charlottesville. Scenes of white supremacists with tiki torches give way to KKK demonstrations with angry whit people clearly screaming”White Power!” The scenes grow more violent as Bono stretches out the last line about being “willing to go blind” and the grabs a bullhorn painted to evoke the American flag. He points to the images and bellows:

“THIS IS NOT AMERICA! WHERE IS AMERICA? I NEED AMERICA!”

A familiar beat arrives like the calvary, and the entire arena leaps to its feet.

In a dramatic cut to the opening chords of the next song, the klan and neo-nazis are replaced by the Reverand Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.

The arena erupts, faith and hope saved from the nightmare grind of modern history. MLK merges with modern protests marches, and the band’s message is clear: America can be its own savior if we wake up to who we truly are and defend the Idea of America.

The remainder of the show celebrates “American Soul” and our beautiful potential as a “City of Blinding Lights”. Bono gently insists that “there is no Us vs. Them, there is only US” (the word evoking our country’s name, of course), and reminds us we are “One”.

It does not escape us what those lyrics say. Yes, they evoke an attempted reconciliation between hurt lovers, but in the context of this show, they also can be reread as a desperately needed conversation between the disparate, warring sides of our America:
Is it getting better, or do you feel the same?

Will it make it easier on you, now you got someone to blame?

You say one love, one life, when it’s one need in the night.

One love, we get to share it

Leaves you baby if you don’t care for it.


Did I disappoint you or leave a bad taste in your mouth?

You act like you never had love and you want me to go without.

Well, it’s too late tonight to drag the past out into the light.

We’re one, but we’re not the same.

We get to carry each other, carry each other… one


Have you come here for forgiveness,

Have you come to raise the dead

Have you come here to play Jesus to the lepers in your head

Did I ask too much, more than a lot

You gave me nothing, now it’s all I got.

We’re one, but we’re not the same.

Well, we hurt each other, then we do it again.


You say love is a temple, love a higher law

Love is a temple, love the higher law.

You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl

And I can’t be holding on to what you got, when all you got is hurt.


One love, one blood, one life, you got to do what you should.

One life with each other: sisters, brothers.

One life, but we’re not the same.

We get to carry each other, carry each other.

One, one. 



The final two songs serve as reminders performed to give us strength and return us home renewed and perhaps reborn into the innocent belief that the potential for love inside each of us can save the Idea of America. We are told that “Love is Stronger Than Anything in its Way” and that ” There is a Light”:


A And if the terrors of the night

Come creeping into your days

And the world comes stealing children from your room

Guard your innocence 

From hallucination

And know that darkness always gathers around the light

If there is a light

We can’t always see

If there is a world

We can’t always be

If there is a dark

Now we shouldn’t doubt

And there is a light

Don’t let it go out

Hmm

When the wind screams and shouts

And the sea is a dragon’s tail

And the ship that stole your heart away

Sets sail

When all you’ve left is leaving

And all you got is grieving

And all you know is needing

If there is a light

We can’t always see

If there is a world

We can’t always be

If there is a dark

Now we shouldn’t doubt

And there is a light

Don’t let it go out

‘Cause this is a song

A song for someone

Someone like me

I know the world is done

But you don’t have to be

I’ve got a question for the child in you before it leaves

Are you tough enough to be kind?

Do you know your heart has its own mind?

Darkness gathers around the lights

Hold on

Hold on

There is a light

We can’t always see

If there is a world

We can’t always be

If there is a dark

That we shouldn’t doubt

And there is a light

Don’t let it go out

And this is a song

A song for someone

This is a song

A song for someone

Someone like me

Someone like me

Someone like me


Bono actually lifts a light -a bare light bulb hanging from an electrical wire like he had in  to light his childhood bedroom- from a model of that childhood home. He releases it and lets shine out to the audience even as he disappears amongst us, his journey through experience to a more informed innocence complete, ours just begun.

Let’s go….

Posted in America, Music, politics, pop culture, Spirituality, U2, U2 Innocence and Experience Tour 2018, writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Writing podcast – new episode

I do a podcast with Blackjack creator Alex Simmons about writing and related topics. This episode is about finding the time to write even when your schedule is exhausting.

I hope this is helpful.

https://wp.me/p2yHYd-iE

Posted in # thrillers, #adventure, Book lovers, digital publishing, ebook publishing, fiction, film, independent publishing, pop culture, Pulp fiction, self-publishing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do the Accusations Against Junot Díaz Negate His Work or Prove the Extent of His Trauma?

Junot Díaz, who, in a recent issue of the New Yorker, wrote openly for the first time about the ongoing effects of his being raped twice when he was eight, has now been reportedly accused by women of sexual aggression.

What makes this different from other, equally valid, #metoo reports is that, for his entire celebrated career, Diaz has written about sex abuse and an ongoing inability to maintain “normal” sexual behavior. He’s also written about substance abuse derived from self-medicating to bury past sexual trauma.

So it seems his creative career is based on the kind of behavior he’s being accused of doing.

So do these accusations confirm that the devastating effects of sexual abuse continue to spread like a cancer, which is essentially the message of Diaz’s entire writing career, or do his actions negate his work, even if that work is about his decades of suffering and shame and habitual abuse of others due to his rape?

This is a particularly cruel question about the source of creativity.

Here is a writer celebrated for bravely writing with evolving clarity about the struggle to overcome abuse and cultural macho expectations, and psychological need to compensate for both, and while being celebrated for documenting that struggle, his ongoing battle with it has reportedly done significant damage to others.

The cycle continues, as it has for generations, or more correctly, throughout human history.

How do we break the cycle, heal the suffering, progress as a race?

I don’t know.

Should Díaz get a pass because he wrote about abuse and fessed up about mistreating women while he was still mistreating women? The obvious answer is no, but then what did we celebrate? Why did we honor his writing as brave and healing and culturally significant and as shedding light on the ongoing effects of sexual abuse?

Here’s a person who was published with much fanfare for writing about still struggling with those rapes and their cataclysmic impact on his life; is he now going to get ostracized for still succumbing to what he wrote about and condemned himself for and struggle with in his writing as we cheered?

The victims of his unwanted advances are right, of course. One hundred percent. But it is worth noting that Diaz’s entire writing life documented his struggle to overcome sexual abuse, and to stop sexually abusing others as part of his often losing battle with his trauma.

Unlike others revealed as sex offenders, Díaz never hid what he was, in fact, he became famous for writing about it, not in a bragging, “grab them by the *****” way, but as in “what the hell is wrong with me?”

My point here is that sexual abuse is painful for all its victims, and often spreads like a disease, making the victim an offender, and while no one should get a pass, dealing with sex abuse is, by its nature, complicated and painful and unique to each victim. This doesn’t seem exactly like The cases of Weinstein or Cosby; Diaz made his career examining his problems.

In that context, bookstore reps saying they will no longer carry his books seems hypocritical; did they not know what they were selling all these years?

I would ask the same question of colleges who are considering severing ties with Diaz; what exactly got you interested in having him teach at your institutions if not his writing about sexual abuse?

And yet, abuse was inflicted. Women were hurt. Attention must be paid.

So what is the proper response when a public victim and offender keeps offending after fame? And what part does that battle between victimization and cultural expectation to “be a man” (meaning a lover of women) Diaz consistently wrote about play in all this? And how do we square worshipping the successful writer with condemning the experiences said writer succeeded by writing about?

I don’t know.

Can we benefit from art that examines the wounds in our culture while condemning the artist for still living with those wounds?

I don’t know.

Where is the line drawn for Junior Diaz, and in turn, for our whole broken, victimized, overcompensating, angry, confused society?

I don’t know.

But I think we all need to have a long, thoughtful, respectful discussion ….

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/04/16/the-silence-the-legacy-of-childhood-trauma

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2018/05/04/books/junot-diaz-accusations.amp.html

Posted in America, Book lovers, pop culture, sexual abuse, teaching, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

We discuss the NYT’s “Black Artist, Black Panther”

https://anchor.fm/alex-simmons6/episodes/Tell-The-Damn-Story-UNPLUGGED-Billy-Graham-Art–the-Black-Panther–Pt-1-e1616o

Posted in #reading, America, Black Panther, comics, Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, pop culture, super-heroes, writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What are you doing during this snow day? Read!

While I am grateful that those who read this blog come from all over, my information on where the majority live suggests that most will experience some part of today’s serious snow storm. In hopes of helping you through your snow day (or your Wednesday no matter where you are), I am offering you a pile of my ebooks FOR FREE today only.  Go to https://www.amazon.com/Christopher-Ryan/e/B007GKW7GM/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_12?qid=1520426754&sr=1-12 and pick up any or all of these:


Added fun! Also available is the rarely seen St. Patrick’s Day Mallory and Gunner story, also free as an ebook! 

Go get yours now, and enjoy the snow day. 

Posted in # thrillers, #adventure, #reading, America, Book lovers, digital publishing, ebook publishing, fiction, Free books, independent publishing, politics, pop culture, Pulp fiction, self-publishing, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment