Stuff I Like: The Fixx

25 10 2017

An ongoing effort to say positive things about things

I’m always mildly surprised to find another fan of The Fixx. I know I shouldn’t be. They are a successful band from a time when success meant a certain amount of crossover appeal. But they occupy such an awkward space; to weird for the mainstream, not weird enough for the underground. I always assume everyone else will find something to dislike about them, which is all kinds of unfair to everyone, especially The Fixx.

I discovered The Fixx when I was 11 or 12, and just beginning to notice current music and how I might relate to it. The infant MTV was not part of our rudimentary cable package, but for some reason WTBS out of Atlanta was, and they showed music videos on a program call Night Trax. One night the voice-only VJ introduced the video for Saved By Zero (from their second album, Reach the Beach) with the words “a strange band called The Fixx.” At that point the video and the song hardly mattered– I knew these were my guys.

Since then they’ve recorded 8 more studio albums, most recently Beautiful Friction in 2012. I just bought it last year. It is everything you could want from an 80s band in the 2010s. It sounds quintessentially Fixx, with subtle veins of electronic oddness, yet it’s up-to-date, relevant, mature and accessible. I recommend it to everyone; mainstream or underground, 80s kid or not.

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Always Punch Nazis

20 09 2017

Always punch Nazis. Deny them access. Take away their signs and their flags. Shut down their platforms. Fire them from their jobs. Expel them from their schools. Punch them hard and fast, as much as you can before they run away. Here’s why.

Nazism is about mass murder, plain and simple. We know it. They know it. No one is arguing about it. There is no nuance in Nazism. There are no layers to their philosophy. There are no useful principles to live by if you ignore the outdated, controversial-by-modern-standards stuff. There are no ambiguous competing translations of Mein Kampf. Nazism leads to just one place: the concentration camp. This is their goal. This is what they willfully embrace. Gas chambers. Bodies of the other reduced to ash and showering the landscape.

Freedom of speech? Yes, it’s sacred. But nobody has license to say anything they want free of consequence. If you lie, commit fraud, commit slander, that fact that you used language to commit a crime does not immunize you. Yes, hate speech is generally understood to be protected by the First Amendment (it may be time to reexamine what constitutes incitement to violence.) Even so, private citizens, private organizations, and private property owners don’t have to stand for hateful, bankrupt, poisonous, actively harmful rhetoric. If the social marketplace rejects your message, that’s not censorship. That’s the consequence of a shitty message.

Want to march for a different immigration policy? Go ahead. Want to change how our economy works? Say your piece. Want to debate the existence and effects of white privilege? We can have a conversation. None of that gains any traction under a swastika flag. Quite the opposite: a Nazi flag erases all other positions and makes your demonstration about homicidal bigotry. Leave that shit in your secret garage shrine (or better yet, wise up and burn it.) Anyone marching with Nazi regalia has chosen a starting point on the wrong side of the single most settled debate in human history. Those who want to re-fight World War II should expect to be met accordingly.

Is punching counter-productive? Does violence only feed the cycle of violence? Ordinarily I would say yes. But Nazi symbols and Nazi speech are an attack, as surely as bullets from a gun are an attack. Nazis marching openly in our streets are a direct attack on American values. They cannot go unchallenged. You don’t have to punch if that’s not your thing. Just be iron-willed in your resistance. In truth they are weak and broken people, and you will intimidate them. Yell at them. Mock them. Stand in their way.  Throw eggs. Throw paint. Use mace. It is justified. Be very clear; these are traitors. These are terrorists. They want to kill you. (Don’t quibble if you’re not Jewish or black or gay. Ethnic cleansing hurts all of us, and it’s plain wrong, and you’ll wind up on their list eventually.)

Some have said that there is a militant right-wing contingent that will launch a second civil war if Trump is impeached. I don’t buy it. Modern day American Nazis have no stomach for a real fight, because they’ve never faced real oppression. Despite being laid off, divorced, and otherwise miserable, they’ve had it easy. They only have rallies and organizations and media platforms now because we’ve let them have those things. And before an unrepentant racist became our president, they were fringe enough to be harmless in the grand scheme of things. But things are different now. They are poised to entrench and expand their role in our public life. We must reject them; unequivocally, eternally, in solidarity.

Always punch Nazis.

 





Stuff I Like: Voltron

2 09 2017

First in an occasional series meant to lighten the mood around here a little bit

Truth be told, I was not a huge fan of Voltron back in 1985. I watched it after school, because I would watch any cartoon with giant robots, but I found it to be overly cutesy and pretty dumb. At 14 I was probably aging out of the target demographic.

However I am a huge fan of the new Voltron on Netflix. This is a smart and stylish update and a pure distillation of everything good about classic mecha anime.

Some high points:

  • Pidge is a girl, and her name is Katie.
  • The mice are actually funny.
  • Princess Aurora is heroic and interesting.
  • The steady reveals of characters’ histories and powers is still not exhausted after 3 seasons.

Low points:

  • They still call her Pidge instead of Katie.
  • Hunk is just the funny fat guy.
  • And that’s about it, really.




Republicans Must Act

16 08 2017

antitrumpOn Sunday, I felt it was important to give credit to Republican leaders who, unlike the president, spoke out definitively against the violent white supremacists in Charlottesville.

Not three days later, Trump, as is his wont, has upped the ante. He doubled down on his initial tepid statement, trying to blame “many sides,” which does nothing less than give aid and comfort to nazis in America. (Our president. Please let the full horror of that sink in.)

Now he’s facing even more vocal rebukes from his fellow Republicans. But now it’s not enough. Not by a thousand miles.

Trump has shown, against all common sense, against all common decency, against all the advice of those around him (except presumably for Steve Bannon) that he is without question a white supremacist sympathizer. Whatever else is said by office holders, business leaders, celebrities and community leaders, our home-grown white power terrorists will be empowered and emboldened by Trump’s moral failure.

Heather Heyer is dead. She was killed, and 19 others injured, by a mentally unbalanced neo-nazi in a Dodge Challenger. It’s tragic and sickening, but not surprising. In fact it was inevitable. Trump has been encouraging violence against his detractors since the early days of his campaign, and the Republican establishment had nothing to say about it. They went on to allow his nomination, despite endless red flags regarding his suitability for office, because he was the most likely contender on the Republican side. Which tells you how bankrupt their agenda has become.

What is needed now is a categorical, multi-pronged repudiation of racist violence, from the highest levels of government to all points below. Anything less amounts to tacit agreement with the president’s encouragement of deadly attacks by bigots. Unless our leaders send an unmistakable message, more will die. Congress must act with tangible legislation immediately.

All monuments to Confederate soldiers and leaders must come down.

Those who attack, intimidate, or target minorities out of a misguided notion that they don’t belong in America must be sought out, arrested and prosecuted.

Those who incite racial violence must be prosecuted, their websites permanently shut down.

And our digraceful president, a disgusting taint on our country and our history, must be removed from office with all possible dispatch.





24 Hour Comic, Failure with Advantage

17 07 2017

IMG_4594Last weekend I attempted my 14th 24 hour comic. By all measures, I didn’t finish. I penciled 13 pages, inked 11, and finished only 3 pages with fills and tones. I stopped drawing at 18 hours (2 hours after everyone else at my home 24HC event had gone home, just sayin) and at best I’ve got half a story. So, not 24 pages, not 24 hours, and not a complete comic.

What I do have is close to half a story on paper that I’m really excited about. I’m definitely going to finish it. If it’s not mostly done by October, I’ll finish it on the official 24 Hour Comics Day.

So what happened? And what should I do next? And what good is any of it? I tend to turn everything into a referendum on everything (see the title of my blog). But for real, in the wake of this fruitful failure, I had to examine what my goal is with 24 hour comics, and what that means for my art in general.

I’ve done a lot of 24 hour comics. By the 4th one, I figured out all the tricks necessary to succeed. If you use smaller paper, bigger panels, and favor expression over realism, you can pretty much finish as many pages as you want. So I started adding little wrinkles for myself to keep it challenging. I’ve had what I consider some big successes.

I love me some cartoon logic nonsense, which is what drives most of my 24 hour comics. This time I decided to try for a real story, using a scenario and characters that have been languishing in a bundle of notes since my days with the Eugene Comics Guild (for the handful who might know what that is) as if I’m someday going to turn them into a series of graphic novels. I decided it was time to bring the thing to life. I would just have to find the right kind of minimalist drawing style to finish the story while doing it justice visually.

Well, obviously that didn’t happen. But what’s more important– gaming the system to get to 24 pages, or making a decent piece of art? The latter of course, but the rules of 24 hour comics have served me really well. So, again, what am I doing, and why??

To answer that, I’m making the following assessment of my present and future creative life:

  • I have lots of stories to tell.
  • Comics is my art.
  • I write better than I draw.
  • My drawing will never meet the standards I want it to.
  • I will always draw my own comics. I will most likely never have the resources to hire an artist, and my drawing, being mine, is the most appropriate for my stories.
  • The parts and the whole of each comic will be the best I can make them. The whole of each comic will be the best I can make it, regardless of the faults I perceive in it’s parts.
  • I will always try to get better.
  • I won’t be satisfied with how it looks, but I will create it, complete it, and share it anyway. I can only draw how I draw. I will make my comics, and their imperfection won’t stop me.

Update 10/4/17: You can read the comic, I’m posting it here. Pages 1-4 are up, and a new one goes up each Wednesday. All pages are inked digitally, and I made some other small changes here and there. Turns out the story is too big for me to finish now, and I have another plan for 24 Hour Comics Day this weekend. But Simane will continue, and Aethernaut will continue.

 





How do we come back from this?

13 07 2017

All branches of our federal government have lost legitimacy. The Supreme Court is not the Roberts Court, it is the Gorsuch Court; defined, for the foreseeable future, by the one stolen seat out of nine. The president is an assclown. And Congress is responsible for tarnishing the court, and complicit in the appalling presidential administration, and a bottomless pit of Republican intransigence.

There are signs that Trump will fall, maybe even get his comeuppance, and maybe the Elephant majority in Congress will go away, and maybe the court will maintain some level of objectivity.*

Yes, it’s still unclear how much of our current situation is actually due to the will of the voters, rather than foreign interference, quirky rules (Electoral College), fake news, and so on.

Yes, at state and local levels, and in the private sector, plenty of sensible grown-up people are still striving to do what’s right.

None of that changes the fact that our country is a joke.

Giving Trump the boot will not change that. We will always be the country that elected President Trump. All scandals that have come before are just salad forks at the dessert course compared to Trump’s endless parade of vulgar atrocities. This is who we are now. I don’t see how we can be anything else before at least a generation of honest, principled leadership… and what are the chances of that?

*I’m fed up with our whole concept of Supreme Court nominations. Justices and judges should be impartial. They should not belong to either party, they should belong to the constitution. Everyone says that’s what they want but a seat on the Supreme Court is just a prize, the grand prize for the party in power.

Not really related, but I’m also fed up with our whole conversation about debates. I hate the post-debate commentary about who won or lost. Debates should not be lost or won, they should illuminate the candidate’s positions on the issues, and their reasoning for arriving at said positions. Winning or losing happens in the election.





Aikido: Powered by Kindness

7 06 2017

Some of what follows may sound childish and fanciful. I realize that. Please bear with me.

I practice Aikido. Sometimes I imagine scenarios in which I am forced to use it. I suspect this goes with the territory for any kind of self-defense training. And I suspect all those imagined scenarios share a similar emotional atmosphere. Namely, the defender is in deadly danger, and acting with controlled desperation to incapacitate the attacker as quickly and as fully as possible. The attacker is at best aggressive and unreasonable, at worst murderous and terrifying, but always contemptible, undeserving of mercy.

Well, I was at practice last night, and for no reason I can discern, it struck me: Aikido is joyful. Aikido is kind. Aikido’s power comes not from the desire to crush your enemies, but the impulse to embrace your friends.

Let me stop here for a second and reiterate the caveat that goes with all decent self-defense training: real life situations are no joke. It is a huge mistake to imagine yourself as the hero of an action movie. Real fights happen fast and do not follow a script. The Portland stabbing is tragic proof. That event has rattled me in a lot of ways, which I might write about in another post.

But for now: in Aikido, we practice blending, throwing, joint locks, and pins. We practice conscientiously, to protect our partners from injury, but often note the opportunities to break a joint, cause excruciating pain, or otherwise incapacitate an attacker who threatens serious harm. In my imaginary scenarios, that’s what happens. I perform a technique forcefully, past the safety threshold, because some asshole is threatening my life and that’s what he gets.

But here’s the thing. In that scenario, I’m scared. I’m angry. I’m tense. And even as I go through the imaginary motions, I know that tension is what sabotages Aikido. In practice, over and over again, I find that staying relaxed and loose makes techniques far more effective. Last night, I noticed the connection between that relaxation and the playfulness of training with friends who I enjoy.

Aikido is really not a self-defense art. It’s really an art of letting the air out of fights. When done expertly, Aikido is extremely powerful, because it reframes the dialog.

So here’s another scenario, every bit as irresponsible and unlikely as the others. What if we could see the attacker as a friend? What if we could recognize his aggression as a symptom of personal distress, however deeply it has perverted his behavior? What if we could understand him as a human being, someone who’s company we would enjoy if circumstances were different? What if we could enter into the confrontation in the spirit of fun, of play, of dance, of friendship? What if we could happily blend with the attack, joyfully redirect the energy, cheerfully move to a place of safety, and kindly put our upset friend in a time out?

I’m not there yet. I most likely never will be. It would take an impeccable warrior to enter a potentially deadly conflict with that kind of relaxation.

But maybe it’s a useful thing to imagine, in preparation for other conflicts. Maybe it’s a helpful approach to personal arguments. Maybe it’s a way to reach across the gulf of our fractured society. There is real power in kindness.