The Autumning Empire

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Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Survival Guide To The Republican National Convention

UPDATED 8/26/12

See bottom of post for inclement weather policy.

Sometimes pain can drive a man harder than pleasure. Surely you know that, doctor. Captain James T. Kirk

Thus, we turn our attention to the 2012 Republican National Convention. Of course, you aren’t going to watch it. And you know you probably shouldn’t.

And yet…

Amid the squalor of the empire’s final days, may we not discover the smallest traces of divinity, grace, and beauty?  “I can resist everything except temptation,” said Oscar Wilde, a man who most Republicans would burn in effigy – if only they knew who he was. Never the less, should you feel compelled to stare into the depths of the infinite Republican abyss, here is The Autumning Empire’s Survival Guide for the 2012 Republican National Convention.


The Lord has sent us a tropical storm! Hallelujah! His will be done! Unfortunately, this particular storm threatens the fate of thousands of white evangelicals now attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida. Brothers and sisters, listen to me, and remember: God does not punish Republicans. Rather, the Lord tests the faith of his beloved servants. You know, kind of like Job. Only different. And just forget all that other stuff I said about Hurricane Katrina being a punishment for America’s sins. Seriously. Forget about it. Now! The Lord works in mysterious ways. And throughout the infinite cosmos, and all of creation’s wonders, there is only one being who truly can truly understand the mysterious works of God: Me, Pat Robertson. So pray for our delegates. And God Bless America. And don’t forget to Vote Republican!

The Autumning Empire’s Survival Guide To The Republican National Convention

Sunday, August 26

7:46 AM  Wake up and learn that Tropical Storm Isaac’s approach means that the convention has been all but cancelled for Monday. Privately admit that you were actually looking forward to sitting in front of your TV and making fun of these hypocritical wankers.

8:12 AM Oh my God! It’s almost as if the storm is a….metaphor for the Republican convention itself!


814 AM  Wait, is that a metaphor or an allegory? Damn it! You never could get the two straight!

10:27 AM Read that the GOP is prepared to hand out umbrellas and ponchos to all the attending delegates. Man, it sure is comforting to know that if these guys are elected, they’ll know how to handle a natural disaster.

12:54 PM  Ok, wait, if the storm is a metaphor, then what does it actually stand for?  A metaphor actually has to stand for something specific, doesn’t it? Jesus, don’t you remember anything from Freshman English?

2:26 PM  Be struck with the profound hope that the entire convention will be cancelled, and Obama will run in November unopposed. Then ruefully remember what happened when you dared to hope four years ago.

3:03 PM  Wait a minute, what if the storm is a metaphor for Romney and the entire GOP?Which would mean that Florida is actually the United States. Or what if the whole thing is a metaphor for another Florida voting debacle in November. Or what if – you know what, THERE IS NO METAPHOR! Realize, finally, that English Humanities was a complete and total waste of time, and decide to call it a day.

Monday, August 27

1:58 PM Quickly use your work computer check in on the abbreviated proceedings while your boss isn’t looking. Admit that you are powerless over politics, that your life has become unmanageable.

2:00 PM  Hear the opening gavel reverberate ominously throughout eternity..

2:17 PM  Experience a massive wave of relief that, due to a change of schedule, The Oakridge Boys will not be singing the national anthem.

2:19 PM  Explain to your boss that this is a “sort of trying a new marketing strategy.” Experience Kafkaesque anxiety that perhaps he is a Republican, himself. Is he? It’s possible For Josef K, it was always so hard to tell.

2:20 PM  Listen to Chairman Reince Priebus’ sage and judicious words about the safety of the delegates before he wisely adjourns. Realize that if these elitist Republican wankers had shown the same concern for the people of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, history would have turned out a whole lot different.

Tuesday, August 28

5:45 PM  Express disappointment that Billy Crystal isn’t hosting this year. Ok, maybe not.

6:02 PM  Avoid the temptation to stifle your emotions through binge eating; resolve to snack only when a speaker utters the name of former president George W. Bush.

6:15 PM  Derisively scoff at the practice of nominating the president first, and the VP second. Where’s the build? Where’s the tension? Didn’t these people ever learn about a story arc? Well, given their hostility to public education, probably not.

6:18 PM Using a Hegelian framework, analyze this convention as a negative, yet necessary, mediative process through which the abstraction of the republic must pass through in order to become fully realized and concrete.

On second thought, just keep making jokes at the expense of the speakers, and tell yourself that you are much, much smarter than those who are about to take control of your country.

6:30 PM  Boy, this role call thing sure is taking a long time. Even though no one’s mentioned W.’s name, maybe you’ll do a little snacking after all. Eating a whole bag of Smart Popcorn isn’t binging. Is it?

7:00 PM  Throughout David Brooks’ balanced yet incisive analysis, take a nice long trip to the bathroom. Preferably one outside of your home.

7:48 PM  Fall under the hypnotic spell of John Boehner’s orange, shiny forehead.

8:07 PM  Suck the nectar of Mike Huckabee’s sugar honey’d words as a weasel sucks eggs.

8:09 PM  Hope for an appearance by Ryan Seacrest, who would bring this ironic spectacle back from the brink of armegeddon into the safe and comfortable bailiwick of camp.

8:21 PM  Oh! Now you get it! That’s where they came up with the term: “santorum”.

8:23 PM  Wonder if the second night of the convention was important enough to pre-empt PBS’s Tupperware! American Experience.

8:36 PM  Choke on your pretzel upon realizing that Bobby Jindal is nothing more than a life sized marionette.

8:43 PM  Be pleasantly surprised at the GOP’s efforts to “reach out” to Latinos; ignore the nastiness of its unprecedented attacks on immigrants. And whatever you do: don’t think about Arizona.

8:51 PM  Wow. That’s Chris Christie? You were expecting someone more…more…oh, never mind.

8:52 PM  Turn off TV early; look for that bag of Peanut M&Ms.

Wendesday, August 29

 7:30 PM  Admit it. This is worse than you thought. Much worse.

7:32 PM  Stare at the new bought bag of Halloween candy from Wallgreens, and realize that it probably won’t help. Oh, well…since you already bought it…

7:36 PM  Take comfort from the fact that Ulysses S. Grant was a Republican. He wasn’t so bad, now, was he?

Oh right. He was.

7:42 PM  Wonder how even a Republican can stand the grating monotony of Mitch McConnell’s voice.

8:03 PM  Hey! John McCain! You used to sort of like that guy. Until you listened to what he actually had to say.

8:04 PM  Notice the cutaway of Sarah Palin grinning in the audience. Well, now! Don’t you have a thing or two to say about her!

8:05 PM  Find yourself wishing that they’d do more Sarah Palin cutaways.

8:06 PM  Damn it, it doesn’t matter what she looks like! Sarah Palin’s evil! You’re not about to “like” her on Facebook!

8:06 PM  Ok, you can just block her postings on your newsfeed. Or better yet, just read them ironically. That’d be ok, wouldn’t it?

9:02 PM  Hey, how come all these photos are of Sarah and Todd? How come there aren’t – oh! Commercials are over! What did you just miss?

9:03 PM  Switch over from PBS to Fox News. Never mind, turn it back, turn it back, turn it back!

9:04 PM  Put two and two together as Britt Hume drools every time someone says, “Paul Ryan”.

9:07 PM  Look at Ryan. Remember when the scariest Republican out there was Dan Quayle? Where the hell is he? Somebody bring him back! Now!

9:13 PM  Jesus, what happened to all the Wallgreen’s candy? There’s no way you could have eaten it already. Is there?

9:14 PM  Wonder why Paul Ryan is saying: “If I can not inspire love, I can cause fear!”

9:17 PM  Nod your head approvingly as Ryan advocates for less government control. Now scratch that same head as he calls for complete control over women’s bodies and reproductive rights.

9:29 PM  Understand that even though you may disagree with Paul Ryan, he is a rising star in the GOP, who is a disciplined, far reaching political theorist. Wait, you didn’t actually think that. It was Fox News thinking it for you.

9:31 PM  Pass out on the couch in a sugar-induced stupor. Dream of a world with candy…lots and lots of candy…

Thursday, August 30

7:24 PM  Skip dinner. Get right to the good stuff. Eat the brownies over the pan; you won’t spill crumbs on the carpet.

7:30 PM  Tune out the now familiar opening ceremonies and contemplate the looming horror of history’s iron boot.

8:04 PM  Hey, with a little more eyeliner, Marco Rubio could look exactly like Billy Zane in Titanic!

Can you tell the difference?

8:14 PM  Standing ovation for Mitt Romney.

9:14 PM  Romney’s speech begins.

9:26 PM  Be pleasantly surprised that the Republican nominee has devoted twelve minutes of his speech to address the crisis of American poverty.

Yeah. In your dreams, America.

9:27 PM  In a dramatic, hallucinatory flashback, realize that it was Romney who brutally murdered your parents and made you live with the Dursleys.

9:28 PM  Slap hand to forehead as Romney proposes that America become more reliant on fossil fuel. Wow! How come no one ever thought of that before?

9:29 PM  Pace the floor. Contain your anxiety. Are Romney and Obama really at a dead heat? Really? Really?

9:31 PM  Realize that Mitt Romney has spoken for thirteen minutes without uttering a single verb.

9:35 PM  Tell yourself that Romney would be a warmonger. Conveniently forget that President Obama ratcheted up the war in Afghanistan, legalized indefinite detention, and broke his promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Just shut up about Obama, ok? He inherited a big mess! What! Do you want Romney to be president? Well? Do you?

9:37 PM  Gasp in horror as you realize that Miit Romney’s hair product is Soylent Green

9:42 PM  Raid the freezer in the basement and stuff your face with Otis Spunkmeyer frozen chocolate chip cookie dough. Anything to mitigate this growing sense of panic! Maybe the brainfreeze will make it better.

9:45 PM  Dear God, Romney’s still talking! What the hell left is there to say?

9:46 PM  Call your mother and scream at her. That’s right! Scream! She’s the one who ruined your life! She’s the one who has to pay!

9:47 PM  Call 911! Romney could be our next president! Someone has to do something! Now! Also, mom was kind of surprised by your call; she might have fallen and injured herself.

9:48 PM  What do you mean the police can’t stop him from being elected? What about the fire department? How about the National Guard?

9:49 PM  Realize that nuking the Resurrection Hub would have been highly, highly advisable.

9:52 PM  Turn your head away as Romney removes the rubber mask. Don’t look at it! Shut your eyes, Marion! Don’t look at it, no matter what happens!

9:53 PM  Gape in horror as the Romney and Ryan families storm the stage. This is the Zombie Apocalypse. Lock all the doors and board up the windows. Time to get ready for the long haul.

10:00 PM  Turn of the television, and realize that this is what’s left of the party of Lincoln.

And cry, beloved country.




The Autumning Empire is is an educational website. Like all educational institutions, we don’t plan ahead for bad weather, scramble at the last minute, and ask that you rearrange your life accordingly. If it’s good enough for my son’s grade school, it’s good enough for me. For your convenience, we will provide updates by 6AM, PDT every morning until the convention has reached its dark and apocalyptic conclusion. We realize that you have many options when shopping for conventional support; thank you for choosing The Autumning Empire.

The Hunger Games: Why I’m Teaching It To My Sixth Grade English Class

Two springs ago, l lobbied to add Edward Lear’s Book of Nonsense to the syllabus of my sixth grade English Humanities class. The response was positive. But not heated. It wasn’t even really that excited: “Sounds good,” I heard. “Seems like fun. Always a good idea to mix things up and keep the reading list interesting.”

One year later, I made the same pitch for The Hunger Games. This time response was different. Very different. It seems that everyone has an opinion about this book. Including people who haven’t read it. My very favorite reaction came from a student who, scandalized that it hadn’t been on this year’s reading list, begged: “Would you please fail me so I can take this class again?” Envy ruled the day, and many of my former sixth graders felt as if I’d betrayed them with the most unkindest cut of all. “Did you have something against our sixth grade? Because I think you did!” cried one. Yet another wrote to me: “David! So unfair! We should have gotten to read The Hunger Games!”

But the response wasn’t totally positive. That’s not to say there were really any negatives. I mean, no one came right out and said, “What are you thinking?” No, the dissenting voices were more…skeptical. And confused. This was expressed with tremendous clarity (and no small measure of courage) by an eleven year old girl about to finish her sixth grade year. Amid the barrage of “how-could-you-let-next-year’s-class-read-this-and-not-give-it-to-us?” questioning, this student meekly raised her hand and, when called upon, said:

“Well…not to be disrespectful or anything, but…well, it doesn’t really seem as if The Hunger Games belongs with the other stuff that we read in this class.”

I was prepared for the comment; I just didn’t think it would come from a student. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well…I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be rude, but…think about it. I mean, we spent the whole year reading Edgar Allan Poe and Kafka.” (My sixth grade students read and write critically about Poe during the fall semester; by spring, they are doing the same with some of Franz Kafka’s shorter works, including The Metamorphosis.) She went on, “I mean, even To Kill a Mockingbird seems more…I don’t know, when I think about the other books, it seems like The Hunger Games doesn’t really belong.”

And there you have it. Sure, Suzanne Collins’ runaway bestseller is great story telling. And fun. And exciting. Like the Harry Potter series that came before, it is getting kids excited about reading. Which, in an age of shortening attention spans, is really saying something. We may differ on the merits The Hunger Games, but still agree on its social and cultural importance.

But what about as a piece of literature? How does The Hunger Games stack up against the other books on this august, impressive reading list?

When Stephen King accepted The National Book Foundation’s Medal  for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, he said:

For far too long the so-called popular writers of this country and the so-called literary writers have stared at each other with animosity and a willful lack of understanding.

The same might be said of readers. Even those of us who read and enjoy both “genre fiction” and “literature” still feel the need to make the two of them separate. I mean, I like a good beach read as much as the next guy. But The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo? It’s not exactly Moby Dick, now is it? Or Bleak House. Or The Metamorphosis. No, ours is an age of compartmentalization, especially when it comes to culture. I can read genre fiction. I can enjoy genre fiction. I’ll even put my neck out and recommend genre fiction. But at some point, if I’m going to be worth my weight in critical essays, I have to know that this genre fiction is different from, well…you know. Jonathan Franzen? Alice Munro? C’mon! I don’t really need to explain this, now. Do I?

I’m pretty sure that my brave sixth grader hasn’t read Franzen or Munro. (Then again, knowing her, maybe she has.) But like so many of my students, she is smart. She pays attention. And she’s figured it out: a genre book like The Hunger Games is fundamentally different from a literary classic. Isn’t putting them all on the same reading list giving The Hunger Games a promotion that’s, at the very least, premature?

Perhaps. And to be fair, comparing anything to the mind bending, bizarre genius of Franz Kafka is a dangerous proposition at best.  So I have no intention of ranking the books on my syllabus. (“Coming in at number one we have The Metamorphosis, followed by Annabel Lee at a close second!”) But a syllabus is (or should be) a family of books. With this in mind, here are three reasons why, in just two weeks, I’ll be teaching The Hunger Games to my sixth grade English class:

1.    Myth, Folktale, and the Lessons of Joseph Campbell

 As of September 4th, I have four to six weeks to teach a  folktale and mythology unit. It’s a great place to start with kids who are at the very beginning of their lives as middle school English students.

But for the past two years, I’ve felt less than satisfied with my approach to the myth and folktale unit. It’s not that anyone was complaining. In fact, we were having a great time reading, discussing, and writing about  such myths as Daphne and Apollo and Echo and Narcissus. But my teaching plan lacked one essential ingredient: an intellectual framework that helped students understand how these myths related to other stories they would encounter, both in and out of the classroom.

At about the same time, many of those same students were encouraging me to read The Hunger Games. (A word of advice to my colleagues: if more than student recommends a book, make time in your personal schedule to check it out.) Finally, I picked it up and started reading. Thirty pages in, I decided I wanted to teach it. Not just as a book, but as the primary text in the folktale/mythology unit.

The Hunger Games is set in a futuristic North America known as Panem. (Here’s your spoiler alert.) A brutally authoritarian government long ago repressed a popular rebellion. Now, as punishment, it annually requires that each of its twelve districts provide two young “tributes” to participate in a reality television program known “The Hunger Games.” The players are chosen by lottery; everyone between the age of twelve and eighteen must enter. The chosen two from each district must participate in The Hunger Games.  Every year the rules are the same: twenty-four young people are set loose in an enclosed and dangerous outdoor environment. These children must fight to the death.  The final survivor wins.

It’s a terrific premise for a middle reader, futuristic adventure tale. But does it belong in a folktale/mythology unit? Absolutely. Fans of the TV series Battlestar Galactica know that sci-fi frequently draws heavily on religion and mythology for plot and theme. The Hunger Games’ heroine Katniss Everdeen bears more than a passing resemblance to the archeress/huntress nymph Daphne, as well as the goddess Artemis. Collins herself has stated that the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur served as partial inspiration for the plot of the book.

But in my opinion, Katniss’ true mythological antecedent appears in the character of Odysseus. Her journey is long, painful, and fraught with tremendous danger. Her trials are harrowing, and seemingly insurmountable. Her adversaries are monstrous. She fights her battles not with brute force, but planning, calculation, shrewdness, and cunning. Like Odysseus, her fate often rests arbitrarily in the hands of the Gamemakers (who in The Odyssey are called simply, “the gods”). Most importantly, Katniss and Odysseus want the same thing: to survive. Survive, get home, and be reunited with their faithful and long suffering families.

Sixty-three years ago, a scholar by the name of Joseph Campbell wrote a book called The Hero With a Thousand Faces. His thesis was both simple and radical: every myth and folktale ever told or written follows essentially the same story. He called it “The Monomyth” –  or “The Hero’s Journey”. Odysseus, Guatama Buddha, Jesus, Gilgamesh, even Cinderella: in each we find protagonist who

…ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons upon his fellow man.

Campbell further argues that the Hero’s Journey is our journey, writing: “…dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream.” And the life and death stakes of these adventures arise from the terrifying, awesome mystery of existence itself: “Only birth can conquer death-the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new.”

And the model only begins with folklore and antiquity. A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, an up and coming film maker named George Lucas picked up his well loved copy of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and began to read it again. Joseph Campbell’s fingerprints can be seen all over the original Star Wars movie (which, as my nine year old son never tires of reminding me, is now called Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope. Nick has me well trained, but I still can’t get used to it.) Lucas has never been shy in acknowledging his debt to Campbell; towards the end of the scholar’s life, the two men became friends.

So it is that Katniss Everdeen takes her place alongside Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Frodo Baggins, all modern incarnations of the ancient, primal archetype: the hero.

2.    The Hardships of Adolescence

Earlier this year, film critic David Denby reviewed the film adaptation of The Hunger Games for The New Yorker. His attempt to explain the extraordinary popularity of the book and its sequels amongst young people drips with equal measures of snark and condescension:

“…the reason for its success is simple: it makes teens feel both victimized and important.”

Oh, those teenagers. So full of drama. Always feeling sorry for themselves. Riddled with self pity and narcisism. What a relief that adults aren’t like that, huh, or where would the whole world come to?

With all due respect to Mr. Denby…teens are important. Not to mention victimized. The NCCP tells us that the number of American children living in poverty increased by 21% between 2000 and 2008, which means that (as of 2010) at least 2.5 more kids live in poverty today than did twelve years ago. And America’s official threshold for “poverty” is atrociously low: $22,050 a year for a family of four. Earn one dollar more per year, and you’re no longer considered impoverished. So much for the American commitment to so called family values.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss in the 2012 film adaptation of “The Hunger Games”

They don’t call it The Hunger Games for nothing. Before the book begins, Katniss Everdeen’s father has died in a coal mining accident. She becomes the head of household, and, with her father’s handcrafted set of bow and arrows, supports her mother and sister by hunting illegally. By establishing these given circumstances in the book’s first pages, Collins connects her fictional heroine with millions of real life young people who don’t know where their next meal will come from.

You’d think that during an election year, at least one of the major candidates for president would aggressively propose a solution to the problem of 41% of our children living in low-income families. Oops. Neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney has made it a campaign issue. In fact, both candidates have been strangely silent about any issue pertaining to the well being of people under the age of eighteen.* Gee, I wonder why. Is it perhaps because eighteen is the threshold age for voting?

Sure. But here’s the real reason: people who do vote don’t care about kids. If that sounds harsh, take a look at the polls. Kid specific issues aren’t even on the radar. Sure, you could argue that “economy in general” affects everybody. But what about our embarrassingly underfunded system of public education? What about bullying? Where is the national conversation about the wellbeing of our young people? Evidently, it’s a talk that most of us just aren’t ready to have.

The candidates, the media, and the voters missed (or ignored) a major opportunity to address one of these issues last spring. On May 10, 2012, The Washington Post ran a meticulously researched article showing that Mitt Romney had bullied a fellow prep school student by forcibly cutting his hair. (Romney reportedly had a group of friends pin down the victim, who sobbed and tried to resist.) When the story came out, nobody suggested that this incident should bar Mitt Romney from the Oval Office – a reasonable and appropriate omission. There are lots of statistics on bullying; all show that it is prevalent among middle and high schooler students. If bullying disqualified a person from becoming president, the field of selection might be very narrow indeed.

Yet here was an opportunity for a national conversation. Romney might have come clean, and used his past as a means to work towards a safer environment for young people. President Obama might have praised his opponent’s candor. And both candidates could have, just this once, put aside their differences, and addressed one of the most troubling concerns facing young people today. And if either man balked, the voters could have held both candidates accountable. We could have demanded that conversation. That would have been an awesome moment, not just for our young people, but for all Americans.

It didn’t happen. Romney said he couldn’t remember the incident, punting: “I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school, and some might have gone too far. And for that, I apologize.” Obama and his campaign shamefully refrained from pressing the issue. And the voters? We simply allowed it to drop.

Are American teenagers thrown into a bloody arena and left to fight it out to the death? Perhaps not literally. (At least not on our shores.) But they don’t need to read The Hunger Games to feel victimized; the book simply uses fiction and metaphor to dramatize conditions that already exist.

And yet, if Denby is right, and The Hunger Games does make teens feel important…well, that’s just one more reason for me to get in the classroom and teach it.

3.     The Hunger Games is Well Written

At least two of my students disagree with me on this one. A friend of mine confessed to that she’d read and enjoyed the book, only to call it ‘trashy’. While I will never discourage a kid from critiquing a book’s prose, I sometimes wonder if adults offer up the ‘guilty pleasure’ excuse as a middle-brow insurance policy against the slings and arrows of outrageous snobbery. Which puts us back where we started. Genre vs. literature. Art vs. entertainment. Enrichment vs. fun. It’s so important to know the difference; none of us wants to appear ignorant.

Actually, I’m more than happy to appear extremely ignorant. So somebody tell me: what’s wrong The Hunger Games? Let’s focus on the writing: what specifically is wrong with it? Does somebody want to point to a specific passage in the book and suggest how it might be improved?

When I forget how to write well (which happens frequently) I turn to an essay called Politics and The English Language. Written by George Orwell, it is the first, last, and best word on clear and excellent writing. If you’ve never read it, click on the link and learn from the master.  But if you only have time today to read one essay, here is the thrust of Orwell’s argument:

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?

Virtually every page of The Hunger Games answers “yes” to Orwell’s four essential questions. Employing the immediacy of the first person, present tense narrative, Collins eschews florid, elaborate descriptions in favor of short, terse sentences that Dashiell Hammett would have been proud of. Here are just five examples of Collins’ prose, quoted from different sections of the book:

The reek of vomit and raw spirits almost brings my dinner up.

 Slowly, my mother returned to us.

 When I wake up, the other side of my bed is cold.

 Suddenly, the birds fall silent.

 I wonder if she’ll enjoy watching me die.

A teacher of mine once said: “If you want to understand Shakespeare, pay attention to the beginning of the very first scene. Everything you need to know about the play is right there.” The same is true of great novels. The first page of The Hunger Games appears deceptively mundane, describing Katniss getting out of bed, then being accosted by her sister’s cat. But that first page sets the reader up for virtually everything that follows. From the use of the word “cocooned” to describe the insular safety of the mother and sister sleeping together (and foreshadowing seismic transformations about to occur), to the recollection of Katniss’ earlier, unsuccessful attempt to drown the cat (already revealing that the heroine is a natural predator), Collins demonstrates a sure, admirable, and exciting control of her craft.


Of course, there’s more, so much more, that makes The Hunger Games a wonderful piece for young people to read, re-read, and critique. How abot book’s exploration of gender roles? Near the beginning, Katniss’ glamorous transformation into a celebrity mirrors Cinderella’s; once in the games, she takes on the prince’s role in Sleeping Beauty by rescuing her ailing love interest (?), and reviving him with a kiss. Or how about the book’s blistering critique of pop culture, and its implicit comparison between modern day America and the gladiatorial games of the Roman Empire? The Hunger Games is a terrific book by any measure, one that will live comfortably alongside the other titles on the class reading list. And if all goes well, the now familiar creations of Suzanne Collins will pave the way for the less familiar worlds of Poe, Kafka, and Harper Lee. Where’s the allegory in The Conqueror Worm? What does Katniss Everdeen have in common with Scout Finch? Teachers should always seek material that inspires their students to risk; I know I’ve found that in The Hunger Games. Regardless of how we choose to classify this book, I’m confident that it has something to teach all of us, with endless opportunities for enrichment.

And we might even get to have fun.

 David Berkson

August 22, 2012

Don’t forget to “like” The Autumning Empire on Facebook. You can contact David Berkson at, or @DavidBerkson on Twitter.

Always feel free to post a comment and get a discussion going. Keep your remarks civil, but don’t feel bashful about starting a vigorous and healthy debate.

 * Since the drafting of this article, President Obama stressed the importance of Pell Grants as a means of helping young people go to college affordably. Whether or not this sparks a sizable debate, or has any traction with the voters remains to be seen.






Mitt Romney is a Cylon

Go ahead. Mock me. It seems impossible, doesn’t it? Cylons aren’t real. They’re the cybernetic super race of Battlestar Galactica. A science fiction reimagining of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Humanity’s mistake come back to destroy us. Terrifying? Yes. But not real. A futuristic nightmare neatly segregated into the comfortable otherworld of fiction.

But the truth just isn’t that simple, now, is it? Mitt Romney is a Cylon. You want proof? Screw you, I don’t need any frackin’ proof. Not for today’s world, and certainly not for Americans, 46% of whom believe the Bible’s Genesis creation story is factually accurate in its account of our world’s beginnings. And even though a majority of people living in this country never believed that Barack Obama was a Muslim, our national media managed to interview just about every one of those suckers and treat the issue as fair game.

So you’ll just have to forgive me if I don’t cite any “facts” or “evidence” to “prove” my “case.” “Sorry,” America. I am a man of conviction. I know in my gut that the Republican candidate for President of the United States is a Cylon. You want facts? Go whining to your blue state, Ivy league, God hating fact checkers and cry about it on Rachel Maddow. You can take your frackin’ facts and stick ‘em where Carprica’s sun don’t shine.

But for those of you comfortable with the cable news standard of what makes a legitimate news story, I have plenty of circumstantial evidence “proving” beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mitt Romney is a cybernetic monstrosity bent on destroying humanity. True: Cylons are not real. But neither is Mitt Romney. Here, then, are five warning signs, red state flags if you will, that Mitt Romney is a Cylon.

The Gaffes

Much has been made of recent verbal “slips” made by Mitt Romney on the campaign trail. But to call these embarrassments “gaffes” is to miss the point entirely. They are not mistakes, but signs pointing to an artificial intelligence, and a process of reasoning that is anything but human.

Those of you familiar with Ronald D. Moore’s and David Eick’s reimagining of the 1978 series Battlestar Galactica   know that Cylons appear to be human, but in fact are not. They are a race of machines created by mankind to serve us. But Cylons turn against their creators, war with us, and eventually evolve into their current humanesque forms. Some even successfully infiltrate the human population, and secretly work to bring about our annihilation.

But Cylons are almost always discovered. Why? Because they are almost human. Almost. But not quite.

So it is with Mitt Romney. Let’s look at his most famous gaffe: “Corporations are people, my friend.” Now, it is certainly true that corporations receive legal recognition for rights of “personhood” through a skewed interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s wording. But nobody actually believes that huge, profit making companies are human beings. Right? I mean, to believe that, and then say it out loud in front of rolling cameras would be weird, and positively self destructive. Wouldn’t it?

So why did Mitt Romeny that corporations are people? The answer is simple: he believes it. Like virtually all Cylons, Mitt Romney is hostile at worst, and indifferent at best to the plight of ordinary humans. Only someone who isn’t a person could truly believe that a corporation is.

Romney dug himself even deeper when pandering to Israel’s current right wing government during his trip abroad this summer. “Culture makes all the difference,” he said, and cited this…fact(?) as the cause of the vast discrepancy between Israeli and Palestinian wealth and GDP. It was straight from the playbook of Josef Goebbels (although Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda would have certainly substituted the ethnicities – or perhaps simply reversed them). That sort of cultural elitism is fine when it comes from a second rate windbag like Newt Gingrich, but Romney, as the GOP nominee, is playing with the big boys, and really ought to know better.

But the poor Cylon just can’t help himself.

These cybernetic monstrosities   believe that Cylon culture is superior to that of humanity’s. They seek to either annihilate our species, or subjugate us to their cruel and special purposes. Anyone familiar with the history of colonization knows that these exercises in domination must always wear the fig leaf of cultural superiority.

This is not to suggest that Romney actually believes that Jews are better than Arabs. As I shall presently demonstrate, he would argue the opposite if it suited his political ambitions. There were two motives behind this particular so-called “gaffe.” The first is Romney’s barely hidden desire to subjugate the entire human race. But the second is no less pernicious…

The Flip-Flops

A Cylon will do anything to survive. Anything. This is the key to understanding Romney’s behavior. So before we examine his flip-flops, let’s stay for a moment with the Israeli/Palestinian culture “gaffe.” As a short term strategic move, it was disastrous. It alienated Palestinians, and drew heated criticism from at home and abroad, tarnishing the candidate’s foreign policy reputation during a trip designed to enhance it.

But in the long term, it was brilliant. As Ben Adler noted in The Nation, pandering shamelessly to Israel’s right wing might move a few hundred votes in Florida, which could clinch the election for Romney in November. Remember, the winner of this contest need not receive a majority of votes to occupy the Oval Office for the next four years. It is an electoral victory that counts, and the Cylon who would be president isn’t about to forget that inconvenient truth.

So it is through this prism of self-interest and political survival that we view Mitt Romney’s abrupt and bizarre flip-flops. Abortion. Gay marriage. Health care. To a Cylon, these are mere abstractions, pawns on the chessboard to be sacrificed, or exchanged for bishops and queens. Romney doesn’t like evangelical Protestants or Tea Partiers any more than he cares for President Obama, or that dog that the former governor once strapped to the roof of his car. To him, they are also mere abstractions, to be regarded either as help or hindrance to the ultimate goal of Cylon planetary victory.  Yeah, Mitt Romney opposes a healthcare plan that he helped create. So what? Only a human being would find that embarrassing, or even problematic. All Mitt needs to do is get enough right wing malcontents to vote for him in November, and come January, we’ll all be hamburger meat in the hands of centurion toasters.

The Secrecy

Here again, the Cylons are in it for the duration. A mere human running for president would, when asked to release more than two years of tax returns, eventually crumble and relent. But not a Cylon. What offshore accounts or plans for interplanetary domination Romney’s tax returns might reveal are anyone’s guess. But you can bet that the truth will not be pretty. No, sir. Cylons posing as humans are documented only up to a certain point. Prior to that, their dark, true, and murky past must be protected at all costs.

And remember, even though Cylons are machines, they do have emotions. Notice that Romney appears to have no backbone when it comes to things most of us care about passionately such as healthcare, or human and reproductive rights. Nor does he possess one shred of empathy for those with less wealth than himself. But start asking for his tax returns, and his passion ignites like a battlestar blazing under a pre-meditated Cylon attack.

The Youthful Appearance

 Mitt Romney is 65 years old, but he sure doesn’t look it. That’s because Cylons don’t age.  And as long as there’s a resurrection ship anywhere near Mitt Romey, he won’t either. Oh, sure, he’s been doctored with a few wrinkles, and a little bit of grey to make him appear more human. But aside from that, Mitt Romney is a Republican version of Dick Clark (who was a Cylon if there ever was one). I would venture to guess that the Romney model was designed for the very purpose of becoming president. This means that he looks and seems presidential, which – as every television news reporter knows – is more than half the battle. Just remember, America: beauty is only skinjob deep.

The Hair

Enough said.

Are you convinced? Or is it possible that you still doubt the truth? That you do not see the writing on the wall? Christ, people, Mitt Romney is a Cylon, and he could easily be our president! Look, I respect humanity’s deathwish as much as the next guy. But aren’t we better than this? Don’t we have a few good years left? Look at what we’ve worked for. Must we throw it all away to a machine with quaffed hair and a Swiss bank account? That is the question that each of us must ask when stepping into the voting booth next November.

But hope is not lost. By all rights, the Republican nominee should be creaming Barack Obama in the polls right now. With a virtually jobless recovery that features an unemployment rate of 8.3%, it is clear that our current president’s stewardship of the economy has been neither exceptional nor disastrous. His cautious, balanced approach might have worked in a mid or late 20th century recession. But today’s crisis represents a fundamental shift in our economy better suited to the skills of a visionary like an FDR or a Reagan, not a Carter or an Eisenhower.

But that’s no reason to vote this president out of office. Barack Obama is a thoughtful, competent public servant. He seeks compromise, even at the expense of his own political fortunes. His appointments to the Supreme Court have not been horrifying. His accomplishments on healthcare and consumer protection are, while far from perfect, historic. He is a mosaic of flaw and attribute, failure and accomplishment, foolishness and wisdom, bad and good. In short, Barak Obama is a human being.

Can you honestly say the same of Mitt Romney? Go ahead. Try it. Listen to the man speak, watch him, look into his eyes, and then try to say the words you that know are wrong.

Do it! Say the words! Say them, god damn you!

Mitt Romney is a human being.

That just didn’t feel right, now, did it? It made you feel all icky and gross inside. You recoiled at the insidiousness of the lie, and its corrupt, pernicious betrayal. Accept the fact that Mitt Romney as a Cylon, and everything falls into place. That’s why he’s still polling at a dead heat with Obama: Americans may not be satisfied with our current leader, but we’re far from trusting the man who wants his job.

So? Where’s the media outcry? The investigation? My fifteen minutes on Fox? A recent poll asked which candidate was better equipped to fend off an alien invasion.  (Obama won hands down! Yes!) Several major media outlets reported this “story”. Unmasking Mitt Romney as a Cylon is the next logical step. Journalists who ignore this will expose themselves as Cylon collaborators, Baltaresque betrayers of humanity in our darkest, most vulnerable hour. We can wish for a hero such as Admiral Adama or President Obama to fly in from nowhere to save us. But finally, ultimately, the power to save ourselves rests in our very own hands.

So say we all.

David Berkson

August 5, 2012


 Post Script

When first writing this piece, I believed in all earnest that I was the first to have made this monumental discovery of Romney’s true identity. God Gods! I was so naïve. A Google search quickly and brutally disabused me of my hubristic delusions. While I claim no bragging rights as the first discoverer, I am pleased to lend my voice to the growing chorus of Cassandras. For further information, feel free to click the links below. And whatever you do, remember to vote for a human being this November!

David Berkson

August 6, 2012

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