Monday, February 8, 2016

To be The Man you've got to beat The Man

Did the whole Super Bowl party thing last night, which was a relatively sedate affair. Five couples gathered around the ceremonial wings and beer to watch the game, and there was very little rooting interest in the actual participants. One couple was pulling hard for Denver, and the rest of us (a motley assortment of fans of New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, Washington, New England and ... Arsenal, I think?) were fairly agnostic. Not only were none of our teams playing for the championship, but none of our teams' hated rivals were playing either. (I've spent as many if not more Super Bowls rooting against the Pats, Ravens and Cowboys as I have for the Steelers or Giants, I'm pretty sure.) We were the platonic ideal fans, tuning in because of the spectacle and just hoping for a good game.

Then the Broncos fan left around halftime and we all started openly rooting for the Panthers.

OK, not really, mainly at that point we just wanted to see the game get interesting and maybe Carolina mount an impressive comeback, though obviously that didn't happen. I said during the pre-game, and I said truthfully, that I would not be disappointed with either of the two potential outcomes. I like Peyton Manning and I like the idea of him winning two Super Bowls for two different teams and going out a champ, since everyone (myself included) assumes his retirement announcement will come some time Wednesday morning, if only because the victory parade in Denver isn't until Tuesday afternoon. But I also like Cam Newton and thought the Panthers had a great season and liked the idea of them claiming the trophy just fine as well.

If anything, I was leaning towards rooting for the Panthers because I like my pro sports to be entertaining (if they're not vindicating my personal fandom investment - I'm totally fine with a Giants or Yankees coronation that bores everyone else to tears). Peyton at the end of his career is basically grinding it out, and there's nothing wrong with that per se but I admit I tend to undervalue things like the inherent nobility of stolid work ethic and overvalue razzle-dazzle, especially in the specific, superficial sphere of American athletic events. And of course, I don't always get what I want. Super Bowl 50 was a microcosm of late-stage Peyton Manning, the game manager trusting in his running backs and his defense to methodically do their jobs and not give the game away.

And again, it wasn't a thrilling instant classic but the end result is Peyton's second ring and secure legacy and that's cool. The game was broadcast for free on network tv so I can't say I didn't get my money's worth.

Weirdly enough, even having just articulated that Peyton is an athlete whom I respect without ever really getting stoked about, I'll miss not having him around the NFL in the future. But I suppose time will tell how much longer we'll have him pitching insurance and pizzas and whatnot in our living rooms.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Destroying the Destroyer

This past weekend, during the Great Snow-In of 2016, my wife and I watched the Thor movie from 2011. I had offhandedly mentioned the possibility of renting/streaming Thor: The Dark World, which as I recently mentioned I haven't seen yet, and my wife expressed interest in watching that with me but also wanted to see the original, since she had missed that the first time around. I certainly enjoyed the first Thor enough to be up for a re-watch, and so we settled in for some Asgardian antics on Saturday night, and will get around to the sequel some other weekend (and/or homebound winter weather event).

So she liked the movie and I liked it all over again but I was particularly struck by the first half of the climax. Spoilers for some/recap for others: on Earth, Thor-in-exile confronts the mystic Asgardian artifact the Destroyer, willingly laying down his life to end its rampage, which restores his worthiness and godly birthright. Returned to full strength, Thor defeats the Destroyer (end of first half of climax) then returns to Asgard, confronts and defeats Loki, and blows up the Bifrost in order to save the Frost Giants from Loki's attempted genocide. It's a lot of sturm and drang, appropriately enough! But as I said, my focus here is on the Midgard stuff.

They shot Thor in New Mexico, in one of those synchronicities of plotting and budgeting (I assume): the friends Thor makes on Earth are astrophysicists studying phenomenon in the night sky, so of course they're hanging out in the middle-of-nowhere desert away from light pollution. The showdown between Thor and Sif and the Warriors Three and the Destroyer takes place in a tiny town that looks like it has about five streets, one diner (with big plate windows for bodies to go flying through) and one gas station (to blow up real good from the Destroyer's heat blasts).

I mean of course there's some nasty collateral damage, because it's an action-adventure movie and those sort of visuals (a) raise the narrative stakes with a sense of danger and (b) look totally rad. But what's noteworthy is that when the Destroyer first stomps into town, the other Asgardians go to fight it while Thor helps his new human friends to evacuate the town. Thor does humble, subservient (and, not for nothing, a bit Christlike) things like picking up little kids and putting them in the back of a pickup truck so they can get the heck out of the combat zone. When all the civilians are gone, that's when Thor goes to face the Destroyer and offer his own surrender.

Then he gets his powers back and it's ON. And one thing I really like is that they don't forget to emphasize Thor's powers over storms as god of thunder. He doesn't just punch the Destroyer or smack it with Mjolnir, he actually summons up a tornado by spinning the hammer, and the vortex sucks up the Destroyer so that they are both in midair, with the Destroyer hurling fiery blasts out of its face and Thor swatting them aside until finally he batters the blasts back into the Destroyer's head, overwhelming it and blowing it up.

In many fair points of comparison, Thor is essentially Marvel's Superman. (I'm far from the first person to observe this, obvs.) They both have red capes and fly. They're both big guns, superstrong and tough. Neither one is human. The weather control stuff is one of the big differentiations, which is one reason I approved of their inclusion in the Destroyer scene. But notice, if you would, the other narrative function the tornado serves: at that point they're so high above the rooftops that the impressive explosion doesn't do any further property damage to the little desert town. This is the right way to dispatch an enemy, and Thor takes care to do it this way because he is a good guy.

Clearly I am teeing up to yet again take a whack at how Man of Steel fundamentally fails its title character. In my defense, the hype machine for Batman V. Superman has been roaring along lately, and I've been sitting through the trailer while trying to socially enjoy other things (The Force Awakens, the NFL playoffs) which naturally gives rise to people talking about anticipation for the Man of Steel sequel ... and what am I supposed to do, just sit there and smile and nod and not remind people what a garbage fire of cynical dreck Man of Steel was? So the portrayal of the ultimate altruistic omnibenevolent superhero as someone who wouldn't know the right thing to do if it smacked him in the spitcurl, who doesn't spare a thought to innocent bystanders or cataclysmic property damage while he whizzes around trading blows with his antithesis, has been top of mind.

I just never made this explicit connection between the first Thor movie and the new Superman movie before. Thor came out two years before Man of Steel, after all, and plenty of other stuff got processed through my overthink-a-tron in the interval. And I gotta say, even at the time when I first saw Thor, it didn't really leap out at me how Thor was motivated by a desire to preemptively clear the battlefield and move things to an atmospheric level where the fallout on human lives would be minimized. I just took it in stride as The Way These Things Are Done In The Superhero Stories I Was Raised On. It took Man of Steel's obliteration of the rules of engagement to make me consciously aware of it, and now, in retrospect, Thor comes out ... well, if not looking even better, at least proving the point that it's not that hard to get the fundamentals right.

So yeah. Goyer and Snyder can keep on being the worst imaginable custodians of superheroic legacy. There's plenty of other filmmakers out there who actually get it and whose movies I'll happily support.

Friday, January 15, 2016

After you, no no, after you

The other day as I was leaving the Big Gray I encountered just about the perfect storm of social awkwardness. Normally I pride myself on being reasonably familiar with all the little unspoken rules of politely navigating the working world, how to ride on an elevator or occupy a cubicle with a modicum of respect for the comfort and sanity of fellow human beings. But sometimes circumstances conspire.

Specifically, I was a couple of steps away from pushing through the glass front doors of the office building. The doors open outward from the inside. Another person was outside the building, walking toward the doors to come in. Normally, that would lead to me opening the door and holding it open for the other person, at least, because it’s just polite courtesy, but I gauged that I was going to get to the doors about a step before the other person, which would not really leave me enough time to get through and to the far side of the door before the other person arrived. At best I’d be making them wait a beat or two, and at worst I’d be opening the door right into them. Again, this might not be a problem if the doors opened inward, in which case I could grab the handle and pull the door open and step back, allowing the other person to go through, but they don’t.

I tend to hold doors for everybody, just basically transcending any and all notions of chivalry or feminism or whatever in favor of undifferentiated human decency. (Does this make me an SJW? Discuss.) Still, there are always mitigating factors. For example, if someone is following me or converging on the door from the other side with a few seconds lag, I might be more inclined to hold the door a little longer for, say, a woman of my mother’s or grandmothers’ generation( based on what I assume their expectations might be), or for anyone wrangling one or more small children (been there, buddy). A random dude several paces behind me will probably see me cruise through the door and let it fall shut behind me. So it goes. At any rate, the person I was on a threshold-collision course with was a woman, probably within five years of my age. Should that have changed the etiquette calculus? Also she was wearing a walking cast on one foot, although it didn’t seem to be slowing her roll at all. Should that have changed the calculus? Also she was wearing BDUs! Should that have made me more likely to hold the door, because Support The Troops And All That? Or less likely, because she could kill me with her bare hands eleven different ways and she could dang well open a door for herself, too?

As it happened, in the split-second after I rattled through all of those branches of the decision tree, I decided to try to hustle through the door so that I could in fact position myself to hold the door. But as it also happened, the soldier didn’t alter her pace at all, nor break her gait, and we ended up both going through the door more or less at the same time, me against the door as I pushed it open and her squeezing past on the opposite side.

Not sure if I could have handled the situation any differently to achieve a better outcome. And I know in the grand scheme of things this was a fleeting moment of absolutely no consequence. But it did give me a chance to use yet another screencap of a classic Simpsons moment to illustrate to story, so I figured it was worth sharing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Children of Decembrion Rejoice!

I would make a joke about my blog becoming increasingly irrelevant this year, but that would imply that it ever was relevant, so let's simply jump right in, just under the wire, for my traditional annual recapping of highs and lows and glory and praise to the divinity of top ten lists!

1. Best Bandwagon Jumped Late Upon: Tatiana Maslany's Emmy-worthiness. So this summer I decided to finally give a look-see to Orphan Black, the Canadian tv series I had heard so many good things about. I made it through all of season one, most of it in a one-week binge, and as of today I still have not begun season two simply because I loved it so much that I truly want to savor it. From the very outset I was blown away by Maslany's ability to inhabit each of the separate clone characters as distinct individuals with their own mannerisms, speech patterns, body language and so on, to the point where it becomes easy to forget that it really is one actress playing all the different parts.

Then the clones started interacting, so convincingly that once again it was hard to remember that all of the interplay and chemistry is an elaborate illusion involving stand-ins and different shots separated in space and time. And finally the story starts twisting into more and more complex knots and Maslany has to not just portray Sarah and Alison and Helena but Alison pretending to be Sarah, which is a different proposition altogether from Helena pretending to be Sarah, and so on. So yes, long after everyone else was all fired up about Maslany being robbed, I too found myself wondering how she has not already won all the awards.

2. Most Ambivalent Ending to a Book Series: Worldwar. Right around the same time I was getting into one science fiction series I was getting out of another, as I finally read the fourth and concluding volume in Harry Turtledove's Worldwar tetralogy (which I've blogged about before, half this blog's lifetime ago).

Striking the Balance was ... fine. It brought the epic saga of aliens attempting to colonize Earth during the 1940's to a conclusion by having the aliens and various world powers sit down and negotiate terms of peace after years of war. Maybe this just shows what a poor student of history I am, but I tend to think of the end of WWII as: Normandy, German retreat, Hitler's suicide, V-E day, island hopping in the Pacific, atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, V-J day, U!S!A! Turtledove's alternate WWII+aliens had atomic weapons deployed by both sides early and often, with the grim realization that continued exchanges would wipe out both sides and leave the planet uninhabitable forcing everyone to the treaty table. I suppose that's realistic, but realism didn't seem to be a major concern throughout the previous installments, so all in all it simply felt anti-climactic and deflating, especially for a series I spent years making my way through. Just now, in double-checking some things via Wikipedia, I found out there is technically more to the story, books written by Turtledove about what happens when the much larger colonization fleet of aliens arrives, expecting to find a world of slaves subjugated by the military fleet and instead finding a fractious peace resulting from a stalemate. I doubt I'll be following up on those books any time soon, but I suppose one never knows.

3. Most Surprisingly Awesome Blockbuster: Mad Max Fury Road. I blogged about this, too, but I was so eager to get into the nitty-gritty of analyzing what the movie had to say and how it went about saying it that I didn't do much of my usual observations of personal context. So before 2015 closes out, I'll take the opportunity to correct that. I went to the movie theater six times this year, which I consider pretty good. I knew back in 2014 that I would make special trips to see Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I was intrigued, as always, by Pixar's offerings, and it turned out that at this point all three of my kids, even the bino, can handle a cinematic outing, so I saw Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur with them. I followed with great interest the pre-, mid-, and post-production news about The End of the Tour, the David Foster Wallace quasi-biopic based on Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself, which I had read; I expected at some point I would rent it but my wife very sweetly surprised me by insisting that we make a date night out of hunting down a suitable arthouse theater that was showing it and catching it on the big screen.

I say all of the above simply to illustrate that at no point did I anticipate that I would go to the movie theater specifically to see a Mad Max sequel. It could not have been further off my radar until a fair bit after it had premiered. And thus it represents the biggest gulf to be crossed between expectations (non-existent) and actual experience (mind-blowingly amazing). And that's always a nice feeling and worth noting.

4. Most Unexpected New Genre (Recurring Theme): Mermaid Horror. Right, I didn't see this one coming, either, and I'm guessing neither did any of you all. Somehow terrifying fishy tales became a leitmotif bookending my year. You might recall that I had a story published in the anthology Twice Upon a Time which came out back in February. One of my fellow contributors, Alethea Konits, wrote a story called "Blood & Water" which was a re-telling of The Little Mermaid with a much more nightmarish edge, and (outside of my own table-of-contents turf) was my favorite story in the whole book.

Then, just this past month, I treated myself to The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2015 anthology, which contained the story "Each to Each" by Seanan McGuire; oddly enough this story was also about mermaids and in its own unique way disturbing and horrifying. If two related things count as a trend, then I fully expect to see a deluge (ehh? ehhhhh???) of mermaid horror coming soon.

5. Best Consumer Decision: Netflix Streaming. Holy frijoles, how did my wife and I sleep on this for so long? Sometime in the last year or so my trusty portable dvd player gave up the ghost, I tried to buy a cheap used one to replace it and found it barely any more functional (because you get what you pay for), and my long-running habit of watching movies on the train ground to a halt. Meanwhile I was writing more, and reading more, so maybe things all worked out for the best, but the fact was that my standing policy of sticking with the analog dvd version of Netflix because I couldn't stream movies on the train was no longer really applicable. So I finally switched to a streaming subscription and both my wife and I have been hooked, mostly on the original tv series programming. Master of None? Loooooved it. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? Still only a few episodes in, but enjoying the heck out of it.

Marvel's Daredevil??? Granted, that one I am watching solo, because it's a bit bloodier than my wife tends to like her entertainment, but man oh man, that is some cinematic bloodshed. If there exists one or more other tv series which look as stylish and striking and just plain good as Daredevil, I need to be informed about them immediately, because that is the kind of television I want to be watching all the time.

6. Most Heartwarming Homecoming: Star Wars. I'm not going to lie, I went into The Force Awakens with some amount of trepidation, fully aware of all the possible ways that the new movies could go wrong and provide something which might be the officially (and superficially) licensed successor to Star Wars but missing something in spirit. I remember back in 1999 sort of knowing there were serious flaws in The Phantom Menace but more or less giving them a pass because it was cool to see Yoda again. Then time passed and more prequels came out and the understanding went by the wayside to be replaced with disappointment (and I say that as a reformed prequel defender, someone who sees merit in Episodes I through III but will always wonder how much better they could have been if only, if only, if only). This time around, I doubted anyone would have the patience to be indulgent and apologist for a letdown.

But I'm happy to report that all of the emotions associated with my actual viewing experience were good ones. Powerful nostalgia, of course, but also good old fashioned excitement and wonder. Plus a surprising amount of wistful sadness, something about seeing a lot of the original cast showing the signs of the implacable passage of time. But all in all it's good to be once again living in a world where Star Wars is (for the moment, at least) almost everyone's favorite thing. And my own offspring are getting into the older movies, too, not to mention recognizing BB-8 on sight. The cockles of my heart are not just warm but positively aflutter.

7. Best new terminology: SJW. If you do not know what Gamergate is, or who the Sad Puppies are, consider yourself lucky, because honestly you're better off without awareness of those particular blights against everyone else's faith in humanity's inherent decency. Still, I like to look for silver linings, and a certain catchphrase deployed online with great frequency in the past year has proven to be that. The long and the short of it is this: within video game and SF/F literature fandoms, there are (and I'm going to have to engage in sweeping generalizations and oversimplifications here to keep this under a few thousand words, so apologies in advance) certain people who view the history of the medium's inclusiveness (or flagrant lack thereof) as perfectly fine and normal and very much if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it. Basically that means privileged straight white dudes who have no problem with games being sexist or misogynistic, or books being whitewashed and culturally conservative, because that's the way it's always been and they want the same comforting thing fed to them over and over again with minimal variation, and also because it reinforces their privilege (which they deny even exists in the first place). These dudes tend to focus on how the golden age of science fiction was about square-jawed WASPs with jetpacks raygunning down hordes of savage alien others, and that's what drew them in at first and what they expect forevermore, and if they don't have their expectations met they tend to be pissed off and vocal about it. They'll say that it's the bold ideas about space travel and exotic technology and weird lifeforms that they love and continue to want, and that any political baggage the arrangement of those ideas carry is incidental, unimportant, and maybe just a reflection of the baggage of certain readers. Meanwhile other people, not coincidentally women and people of color and LGBT identifiers and so forth, may very well have been attracted to the bold ideas at first, but maybe got bored with the same thing over and over, maybe got curious about pushing the envelope, maybe just got sick of never seeing themselves represented in the medium unless it was as evil caricature or subservient sidekick. And some of those people feeling that way became either critics or creators, and made demands or made their own art, which is how things grow and change, of course, and is also how things get better. To the point where major awards for SF/F novels were being given to meditations on the biggest ideas, like personal identity, and not just big ideas, like first contact with gallium-based life. Although they could be, and very often are, about both! It's still all a bit horrifying to the true, old-school fans.

So the conservative - in the literal sense of wanting to stop and/or turn back change - fans vented their spleens at these critics and creators whom they saw as ruining their games and stories, in various online controversies. The conservative fans tend to focus solely on the differences that make things new, ignoring that an award-winning science fiction novel is very much about spaceships and robots and howling that it's too much or all about the inherent artificiality of gender roles. Maybe - maaaaaaybe - that's something that some people need to talk about, somewhere, but the conservative fans in no uncertain terms want all that political garbage kept out of their precious escapist fiction. By their logic, to incorporate such elements into SF/F is putting the cart before the horse in beyond absurd fashion. The critics and creators who disagree with them clearly have their priorities totally out of whack. Those people, they reason, must have a weird monomaniacal obsession to keep picking this fight with the humble fans who just want to keep things the nice way they were. And thus a moniker was born to encompass anyone who tries to introduce non-traditional elements into the formerly happy bubble of SF/F. These zealots for unnecessary change are SJWs: social justice warriors.

That's it. That's the biggest insult the conservative fans could come up with, that's the incendiary rallying cry for their cause. Because obviously anyone who looks at the world today and perceives a lack of social justice is a crazy person. Anybody who thinks attempting to correct the lack of social equality and representation is a thing worth doing is a warmongering monster. Anyone who thinks the games we (including children) play and stories we (including children) tell is the proper venue for this wanton, unnecessary fighting is below the scum of the earth. SJW is synonymous with fool, with loser, with wrong-headed waster of everyone else's time, and anyone whose actions get them tagged an SJW should immediately die of shame.

When I was a little kid I was torn as to whether I'd rather grow up to be a Jedi or a superhero. What those archetypes have in common is that they fight the good fight (like warriors, you might say) on the side of goodness and right (justice, in other words) and for the good of everyone in society. Eventually I realized those weren't really realistic ambitions. But to find out that you can be recognized as a social justice warrior in the real world today? That clicked with me instantly. The fact that it's slung around as a hateful slur by miserable troglodytes? Kind of makes it even better.

8. Biggest Swing and a Miss (by someone else): Five Ghosts. Right, so as long as I've gone political, I might as well weigh in on this disappointment from the past year. I was gifted with the first two volumes of trade paperbacks of the comics series Five Ghosts, which had a premise I thought was fantastic: Fabian Gray is haunted, or passively possessed, by the ghosts of five legends, and he can draw upon their abilities as needed. The interesting metafictional twist is that these ghosts are Merlin, Sherlock Holmes, Robin Hood, Musashi, and Dracula, not so much spirits of real people who died as shades of creations of the imagination that have become deeply embedded in the collective unconscious. Unfortunately, this all winds up falling under the heading (as more and more things seem to for me all the time) of Not Quite What I Expected. The focus is entirely on how Fabian can steal relics like no one else because he can cast spells, deduce weaknesses, use a sword or bow and arrow, and fight like a wild vampire. The ghosts don't show much personality inside Fabian's head, they're just a convenient explanation for how the main character can be such an all-around superlative badass.

And the politics come into play with the fact that the series is a pastiche of classic pulp adventures, including primitive African natives who worship a spider-god, treacherous Orientals, and fainting females who need the white man to save the day. I can barely tolerate that in the old classics under the excuse that people didn't know any better back in the day; in a modern homage I find it entirely off-putting. Ah, well.

9. Biggest Swing and a Miss (by me): New music. Every year, I say I'm going to get back into music and discovering albums or acts that are at least new to me, and every year I run out of time, 2015 being no exception. I didn't even download any new Christmas music this month.

10. 2016 Ambition: Get caught up on the MCU. Since The Lego Batman Movie doesn't come out until early 2017 (allegedly) the movie I'm looking forward to most is probably Captain America: Civil War. I would like to be totally up to speed on the Marvel Cinematic Universe by the time that flick hits the theaters. I've mentioned before how I had fallen behind on my quest to stay current and complete, although I also noted above (item number 5) how I did finally break the seal on Daredevil. So in order to make this pop culture resolution happen, I'll need to:
- watch all of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3 (which I am DVRing)
- watch all of Agent Carter (also to-be-DVRed)
- watch all of Jessica Jones (which, again, at least I finally have Netflix streaming for)
- watch all of Luke Cage (if it gets released any time before May)
- watch Thor: The Dark World and Ant-Man

That is a non-zero investment of time! And it may or may not happen, but as I always say, it's good to have goals.

So that's my brief look back at 2015's entertainments. I do hope that I'm able to check in on the blog more frequently, although that will largely be driven by how often I feel like I have something I really need to say. If nothing else, I'll be here again this time next year rattling off the things that impressed me, underwhelmed me, and generally pushed my buttons throughout 2016.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Holiday traditions

So yesterday afternoon I picked up my kids from daycare, and although it's only a five or ten minute drive home after that, sometimes that can be a seriously fraught interval, replete with tears and screaming and all manner of freakout. But on the occasion in question, the kids were all in good moods, and none of those moods involved, for instance, one of them crooning nonsense at the top of their lungs until the other siblings got their calm massively damaged (aka the little girl's go-to move lately). I think it may have something to do with the approach of Christmas, not so much the whole "better watch out" morality enforcement (we do still have the Elf on the Shelf on patrol for the month, but rarely do we need to draw attention to his powers to inform back to the Fat Man and diminish potential gift hauls) but simply excitement and general holiday season happiness. Which is nice.

Anyway, once we got to our neighborhood the kids were contentedly staring out their windows at the displays of Christmas lights and idly commenting on them. The bino started unobnoxiously singing "Jingle Bells". That, in turn, inspired the little guy to break into a rousing chorus of "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells".

Which was not a song I knew that the little guy knew! I have tried over the years not to betray the fact that my oldest child's relative disinterest in comic books and superheroes is distressing to me, but I'm sure I haven't been entirely successful in hiding something so self-evident. It's weirdly reassuring that he at least knows who Batman and Robin are, enough to find that particular bit of festive doggerel amusing; indeed, he was giggling his fool head off by the time he finished singing. We've come a long way from "Who's Chewbacca?" (and in point of fact he now knows exactly who Chewbacca is since he has seen Star Wars and Empire and, true to form once he gets into something, is now fairly obsessed with Star Wars. But that's a topic for a whole slew of separate posts.)

It also warmed my heart just to know that the dumb playground chants of my childhood are alive and well as part of the modern elementary school oral tradition. When I asked the little guy where he had heard that song, he told me it was one of his friends in his second grade class, and that in fact he had just picked it up from her that very day. Interestingly enough, the lyrics had changed ever so slightly over the intervening thirty-odd years. Rather than ending on "and the Joker got away" the little guy sang "and the Joker learned ballet." I shared this tidbit with my wife just this morning, and we both agreed that this probably reflected the fact that we've gone through quite a cultural shift, particularly in the 21st century. We used to romanticize outlaws and see the idea of a bad guy on the lam as not terribly troubling. However, the Joker is a straight-up psychopathic murder clown, and if he gets away he will surely kill and kill again. But this generation of seven-year-olds is having none of that! He may indulge in a surprising new dance hobby, but he will not escape justice.

(The ol' bliggity-blog isn't quite dead yet, and as you can see, all five members of my family household are still alive as well! Perhaps I will make a New Year's Resolution to put up posts here more frequently and to elaborate on everyone's current status, but for now suffice to say we're all well enough, keeping on keeping on.)

Friday, November 20, 2015

Shit I Chose Not to Post on Facebook This Week

This was a trying week, where the news was depressing and people's reactions to the news ranged from heartening to dispiriting (if they were indifferent) to infuriating (if they were lining up on the same side as lunacy). Many, many times I wanted to post something on Facebook, not that I thought I could change any minds but because sometimes it matters just to stand up and be counted among the opposition. But ultimately I decided that Facebook was not the optinal forum for it, and would just create more drama and lead me to ever more depressing places. Still, my mind kept composing these sick burns and epic trollings, and I had to put them somewhere. And I remembered I have a blog!

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I can't count how many times growing up I heard "the great thing about America is that we don't have a class system, we don't have arbitrary restrictions on what people can do with their lives, or even who gets to be in charge. Anybody can do anything in America. Anybody can grow up to be President!" Then we elected a black man President and half the country lost their goddamn minds.

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You can argue that turning away Syrian refugees is the correct thing to do because it's being done in the name of saving American lives, that despite the intensive vetting process there still might be some lucky terrorist that gets in pretending to be a refugee and later goes on to claim even one American life in an act of terror, and that is unacceptable. You can leave it as unspoken and implicit that this means saving one American life is more important than saving numerous Syrian lives. Just know that if you do, you are ceding the moral high ground. No more "Americans are the good guys". No more "America is the world's moral compass". No more "shining city on the hill", no more "land of the free, home of the brave". Because telling Syrian refugees that we can't take the risk of granting asylum effectively makes America "land of the privileged and closed off, home of the scared shitless."

Oh and P.S. no more "America is a Christian country founded on Christian values." Turning a blind eye to the needy is the exact opposite of Christ's most explicit admonitions. Just FYI.

So by all means, stand up proud and tall and shout from the rooftops that taking care of yourself and taking care of your own is paramount. I can't say that you're wrong. I can't say that feeling that way, thinking that way, and insisting we decide on our national policies that way makes you a terrible human being. I can't even say that I don't understand where you're coming from. I do. But just know that it shows your true colors, and it paints America as a cowardly 900-lb gorilla that can do whatever it wants but chooses not to lift a finger to help the weak and powerless and desperate, because it's just a big dumb self-interested animal after all.

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This a country of 300 million people with a vast multi-faceted system of government aid programs and private charities. I think we can do something to help Syrian refugees and also help homeless veterans or whatever other cause you happen to think is more important. One doesn't cancel the other out.

+++

You know what you sound like? You sound like that asshole who has something massively wrong with his house, like an actual hole in the roof that has a Hefty bag stapled over it but still lets in rain and bugs. And you never do anything about that stupid hole in your roof, you just kind of accept it like "oh well, what can you do". And then someone says, "Hey, can you help me move?" And you're like "What the hell??? I've got problems of my own! Have you seen the hole in my roof???"

Two weeks later your friend will have moved, one way or the other, and you won't have done a damn thing about the hole in your roof. But at least it will still make a nice convenient excuse the next time someone asks you to do something you don't want to do.

+++

The same goddamn people who think it's unpatriotic to criticize America, because America is the greatest and best country in the history of everything ever, are the people saying we have waaaaaay too many problems in America, like homeless vets and children, to be bothered to think about the humanitarian crisis of Syrian refugees. So somehow we all live in the most perfect paragon of democracy and opportunity and freedom and equality in all of human civilization, and every other country in the world should look up to us and fall in line whenever we tell them what to do, except we all live in this horrible barren hellscape which has been ruined by a Kenyan Muslim socialist dictator for the past seven years and requires a serially bunkrupted real estate mogul in a made-in-China trucker cap to "Make America Great Again". Got it.

+++

ISIS attacks Paris.

A certain Republican presidential candidate tweets that it probably happened because France has strict gun laws and only the bad guys were armed. The implication seems to be that such could never happen here, all praise to our sacrosanct Second Amendment.

Uncowed, France announces they will accept 30,000 Syrian refugees.

No ISIS attacks on U.S. soil.

Republicans vote in lock-step to pause U.S. admittance of Syrian refugees by needlessly complicating the existing vetting process, because of the slight risk of a terrorist getting through.

Soooo ... moratorium forever on the "cheese-eating surrender monkeys" jokes about France, right?

+++

Politician logic, post-Newtown: Look, occasional domestic terrors like the slaughter of a couple dozen six year olds in an American elementary school is simply the price we have to pay for living in a civilized, enlightened society that is forever dedicated to upholding the basic right of all people to own as much of the latest most technologically advanced personal murder tools as they like. Stricter gun control laws are not the answer! If we enacted them, they would only constrain the law-abiding citizens who have the greatest right to personal arsenals in their basement. Criminals would by definition ignore the laws and nothing would be accomplished. It's complicated, but basically there's nothing we can or should do.

Politician logic, post-Paris: The hypothetical possibility of the death of even one American on American soil at the hands of a jihadist terrorist is utterly unacceptable. Refugee control IS the answer! We MUST alter our already strict refugee vetting process which takes 18 to 24 months and make it even more rigid to the point where it effectively strangles refugee inflow to nil. Only that will stop terrorists, who were exclusively planning on using our legal methods of entering the country, from broaching our shores, and thus guarantee the safety of our own citizens. We have no other choice but to take this action. Please hold your applause, we're only doing our jobs.

+++

Future President Trump,

On more than one occasion a Christian has murdered an abortion doctor for religious reasons. Since the actions of individual extremists effectively taint entire faiths and all their millions of adherents, can we please issue ID cards to all American Christians for monitoring against threats of violence? Thanks!

+++

Rep. [Redacted],

I am writing to let you know that in voting in favor of H R 4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, you have failed to represent my will as your constituent, and failed a very basic test of decency. Your vote saddens and sickens me. You have aligned yourself with the panicked pandering that we desperately need our leadership to resist. Syrian refugees are not our enemy, ISIS and other terrorists are our enemy, and by confusing and conflating the two you have made a bad situation worse. We are in no danger from people who want to come to America for a better life, we are in danger from people who hate our way of life. The American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act goes one step further to ensuring not American safety in the short term, but that many more people will hate us in the long term.

You are on the wrong side of history, and you are on the wrong side of humanity. I look forward to doing everything in my power to work against your re-election next year.

(NB: I actually did send this letter to my representative in Congress, and also seriously considered copying it to Facebook.)

+++ We are never going to beat the terrorists by sinking to their level. We can only beat them by actually being better than them. I know a lot of people find it compelling to repeat "violence is the only thing these brutes understand." That may be true. It probably is, I believe it, too.

I'm not some hippy-dippy idiot. I'm not saying that if we meet a horde of violent, desperate zealots who have nothing to lose and offer them hugs and flowers, we're going to melt their hearts and get the whole world to sing in harmony and share a Coke. I think war is terrible - and find it troubling that the same people who think one civilian dying at the hands of an ISIS terrorist is flatly impossible to contemplate, also think sending our ground troops of young men and women to face ISIS where some percentage of them will surely be killed is so unexceptional as to pass without comment - but for the sake of argument let's say I'm already convinced that we're already at war with ISIS, they started it, and we need to finish it in the conventional manner. Fine. Engaging on the battlefield, blowing up their oil fields, drawing the ISIS fighters back to Syria to defend their front rather than letting them run around attacking domestic targets worldwide, those are viable tactics. That's how we win short-term. I've seen shock and awe, I know that it works, short-term

But winning long-term matters, too, yes? Arguably matters more? Guys, we JUST FUCKING WENT THROUGH THIS like ten or twelve years ago. There's winning the shoot-em-up, and then there's winning hearts and minds. Last time we succeeded at the first and utterly fucking pooched it at the second, and it wasn't because we weren't even thinking about "hearts and minds". That phrase got bandied about a lot.

"Bombing the shit out of ISIS" can't be our entire strategy. Supporting and encouraging everyone else who ideologically opposes ISIS has to be part of it, too. It's actually crucial. That means welcoming those running as fast as they can away from ISIS. Those people are caught in the middle, with ISIS on one said saying "submit to brutal subjugation or be killed" and the U.S. on the other side saying ... well at the moment we're saying "drop dead for all we care". We SHOULD be saying "come, be part of our pluralistic and inclusive society. It's not just 'join ISIS or die'. There's a third choice, which is live free among us." Every military victory we rack up will be meaningless if we're simultaneously pushing people who don't want to die into ISIS's waiting arms.

I know it's viscerally satisfying to focus on the "blow 'em up good" stuff. But I also think how glorious it would be to defeat ISIS by building a better, inclusive, enlightened world that marginalizes them completely because they refuse to engage with it. And when they are sitting amidst the smoking ruins, abandoned and forsaken and defeated, they'll say to themselves, "We used violence and they used violence, how did they defeat us? I don't understand, I don't understand." Because they'll still be blind to that other half of our efforts. THAT will be satisfying. Difficult and uncomfortable, maybe even counter-intuitive for some. But worth it.

Friday, September 25, 2015

New York, New York

One of the (many) casualties of putting this blog on the back burner, as I've devoted more and more time to writing original/marketable/publishable fiction, has been my traditional commentary on Major League Baseball and the attendant tribalism in my house. In fact I haven't mentioned baseball at all this season, not the AL East in specific or any other element in any context. Partly that's due to not very many posts at all about anything, and partly it's due to the fairly subdued intake of baseball around our homestead this time around. We didn't make any ballpark pilgrimages this year, which is just the way it goes; some years we do, some years we don't. The Orioles are having an up-and-down season, sitting at exactly .500 as of today. The Yankees seem to be suffering something of a post-Jeter hangover, also up-and-down which makes it feel like they're doing worse than they are. They're the first wild card in the AL, and pretty safe in that spot. And they're not that far behind the Blue Jays, who are on top of the AL East, but they cannot close the gap. So no crazy win streaks, or players on hitting streaks or vying for batting titles or rookies of the year or whatever, nothing generating buzz and excitement. Nothing to blog about, in other words.

I can't even get into a full-throated frenzy about the Red Sox being dead last and their fans enduring a miserable losing campaign. They've already been eliminated from the post-season and any day now (granted, there's only like ten games left) it's going to reach the point where it will be mathematically impossible for them to have a winning season even if they run the table. Sure, it's always a source of mean-spirited comfort to watch a hated rival suffer, but even I wouldn't characterize it as a spectacular flame-out in Boston, just mediocre under-performing.

I don't think anyone seriously expects the Yankees to make it very far in the post-season, so I am tempering my expectations accordingly. If I can't have my beloved Bronx Bombers winning the World Series, I can at least take solace in the fact that we might get some different teams besides the usual suspects in the mix. At this point it's not only possible but reasonable to envision a championship best-of-seven between Kansas City and Pittsburgh. And that right there kind of sums up my approach to sports in a nutshell: I'm far less interested in the minutiae of sabermetrics but I get super-geeked if I can say "Royals versus Pirates? How appropo!"

Anyway, in years past I've usually dedicated at least one post to celebrating the annual overlap of baseball season with football season but this hasn't been a great year for that, either. The Giants opened the season 0-and-2, both games in which they were leading as late as the fourth quarter and then proceeded to choke the potential W away. (Coincidentally there were two different series between the Yankees and Blue Jays during that same early September span, which could have been epic sweeps that completely flipped the script in the battle for the AL East pennant, but instead the Yankees lost 3 out of 4 followed by losing 2 out of 3, none of which bodes well.) A terribly inauspicious way to welcome the return of fall, but so it goes.

Last night the Giants hosted the Thursday Night Football game, which (along with MNF obvs.) is one of the few ways I can count on Giants games being nationally televised so that I can watch them. The other circumstances which allow me to follow my boys in blue is are the two games a year when New York plays Washington. So of course, last night's game was against Washington, because we wouldn't want to max out the possibilities or anything. I was dreading the game going in, understandably I think, because no one wants to see their team go 0-and-3, on a day where the next day at work it will be the only thing people will be talking about in response to "see the game last night?", and then have to wait ten days for any chance at eradicating the goose egg. The fact that it was a game against Washington just added numerous layers to the turmoil:

- They are a division rival.
- They spent the entire off-season and pre-season embroiled in a quarterback controversy and shouldn't be very good this year.
- Nonetheless going into last night Washington was 1-and-1, and given the Giants' struggles it was far from a gimme.
- I live in the Washington market and am surrounded by their "fans" so, re: people talking at work the next day, it really would have been unavoidable.
- I put scare quotes around "fans" because Washington fans are the worst, rabid bandwagoners when things go their way and apocalyptic tantrum-throwers when they don't.
- You may notice I keep referring to the team as Washington and not by their nickname, because their team name is a racial slur and I just avoid using it. I feel like this issue has lost some of the heat it had last year, but I'm happy to keep fanning the flames. The name is offensive and should be changed. And because the owner sticks to his guuuuuuuuuuns and refuses to kowtow to political correctness and employs all kinds of sleazy tactics like paying people off to act as Native American representatives who swear it's fine for the team to keep its name, because tradition Murica guuuuuuuuns &c. ... it just makes the Washington franchise come across as deplorable all around.

So yeah, there's rooting against the Red Sox and wanting to beat them because they are my team's rivals. Then there's rooting against the Eagles and wanting my team to beat them because of the rivalry and also the fact that their fans are jerks who pelt Santa with batteries. AND THEN there's rooting against Washington and wanting my team to destroy them because they are rivals, their fans are jerks, their owner is an ass-clown and their logo is totally racist.

And the Giants won! And, more or less simultaneously a time zone away, the Yankees also won and picked up a half a game on the Jays. So that particular harmonic convergence, unlikely to be repeated, strikes me as an apt time to check "blog about football and baseball" off my to-do list. Done and done.