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.
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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.

 





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.

 





What It Will Take

27 05 2017

Among anti-Trumpers, the question that always comes up after every fresh egregious breach of common decency is, what’s it going to take? What will it take for Trump supporters to change their minds? We thought the pussy-grabbing tape would do it. We thought mocking the disabled guy would do it. We thought attacking the parents of a dead veteran would do it. We thought the heartless health care bill would do it. We think maybe each new revelation regarding Russia might do it.

Well, they won’t. Attacking Trump will never work, no matter how righteous the attack may be. The whole reason they support him in the first place is because they feel under attack.

To change Trump supporters into Trump opponents, we need someone or something else for them to support. Some voice that can answer their grievance of being forced out of the national conversation, while offering alternatives to Trump’s cruel, impossible, and just plain dumb policies.

I realize I’m speaking in gross generalizations here. There are lots of different people who support Trump for lots of different reasons. But when looking for an anti-Trump strategy, or just a coping mechanism, we’re mostly framing the questions all wrong.

We need to get past the personal revulsion, the despair, the denial. That’s a tall order, because those things are justified, but we gotta do it. Because everything Trump does and says comes from Trump, not from anyone else. We need to recognize that we are a pluralistic country. We need to be able to disagree with our fellows without succumbing to hatred, even if it seems like the other side won’t. We need to refrain from making assumptions about others, and develop a positive message that includes everybody.
I know a lot of people on the left are sick of taking the high road. I know that people much less privileged than me have been struggling to do just this for generations. I don’t for a second believe that outright bigotry should go unanswered. I don’t know how to do it, what I’m asking for. I don’t know what it looks like. I can’t get into details without going down a million rabbit holes of caveats. I just know it’s the only thing that will work.

Here’s a bit more in the way of concrete specifics from Matt Taibbi.





My Unsolicited Dissertation on The Matrix, Part 4

19 05 2017

The Matrix Trilogy: Truth

“There is no spoon.”

Several years ago I started writing these long winded posts about The Matrix trilogy, because I like the movies a lot, and I’ve always felt they don’t get enough credit for the challenging questions they raise. My plan was to write four posts, one for each of four words that recur significantly in the movies’ clipped dialog, and which reflect the primary themes of each movie: Belief (The Matrix), Choice (The Matrix Reloaded), Purpose (The Matrix Revolutions) and Truth (the trilogy as a whole).

But after I got through recapping the films and analyzing the first three themes, I found I had nothing much to say about Truth. I tried a few times, but never got very far, and after awhile I quit trying.

That was in 2011. We are living in a different world now.

In the films, there is the Real World, the Truth; and there is the Matrix, a virtual reality, a fiction, an utterly convincing illusion. We human beings have always had our convincing illusions, but they have never been more powerful than they are today. We know this because different segments of the population live according to different, and incompatible, realities. Climate change, vaccines, gun violence, police violence, immigrants, gender, health care, the EU, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton — people in different camps have polar opposite views of these things. Presumably only one viewpoint can line up with objective Truth. The other viewpoint must be a fiction. But for those who believe, it is true. The illusion on one side is just as much a guiding principle as the truth is on the other side. Whether it’s objectively true or fictional, the preferred belief is perceived and experienced as fact. We are embedded in our chosen realities as fully as any coppertop in the Matrix.

I’m not going to get into which of our competing realities is the most real. I’m just here to lay down the long-not-awaited conclusion to my unsolicited dissertation. I’m going to try to find the role and the meaning of Truth in the Matrix trilogy. You can decide how much bearing it has on real life.

In my post about The Matrix: Revolutions, I concluded that belief, choice, and purpose are intertwined. Each theme is a lens looking at the same thing: the exercise of free will. Humans make choices, informed by belief (itself a choice), according to and in search of purpose. The words “belief,” “choice,” and “purpose” crop up in all three films, but each occurs with emphatic weight and frequency in only one. The word “truth” has more or less equal emphasis throughout the trilogy. Truth exists separately from free will. One hopes and assumes that one’s Beliefs, Choices, and Purpose align with the Truth, but it is not necessarily the case.

As Morpheus says to Neo when he is first acclimating to the Real World, “What is real? How do you define ‘real’? If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain.” Our senses are all we have to go on. If they can be manipulated — if we can’t trust them — then we can never be certain of what’s real. But second-guessing our senses is useless. There is no external frame of reference we can access. We have no choice but to accept what we sense and do our best.

Cipher embraces the concept of sensory reality. He is fed up with the misery of the Real World, and conspires with the Machines to betray his comrades in exchange for the chance to re-enter the Matrix. He knows his actions will cause his crew to die and humanity to remain in bondage. he also knows that once the Machines wipe his memory, nothing outside of the Matrix will be real anymore — not in any sense that will matter in his daily virtual life. His plan fails, but he raises a crucial question. Is there any meaningful difference between personal truth and objective Truth?

“Yes” is the strongly implicated answer. The Machines and their virtual slave engine are clearly the bad guys. The Resistance are clearly wiser and more powerful then the sleepers still plugged into the Matrix. But as we learn in The Matrix Reloaded, Truth is elusive, and illusions come in layers. The Resistance believe they know what’s true and what isn’t, because they’ve broken out of one imprisoning fiction. However, larger illusions still grip Morpheus, Neo and the others. The revelation that The One is another control mechanism create by the Machines almost shatters Morpheus. Discovering that he can hack into machines from the Real World, wirelessly, puts Neo in a coma. The Resistance may have peeled back one very powerful illusion, but can they claim to know the Truth any more than those still victimized by the Matrix?

The Matrix Reloaded ends with Neo breaking a cycle of control — the Machines’ narrative of the One — that has been in place for generations. The Matrix Revolutions deals with the fallout of breaking that cycle. The humans are more enlightened than they ever have been since the Machines took over. They finally have some leverage on the Machines. Neo and Trinity fight their way to the Mainframe, and Neo is able to negotiate for peace. To reach that point, Neo and the others had to break through layers of deception. But Truth is not invalidated just because more illusions remain. It is true that the Matrix is a lie, and a prison. Everyone in the Resistance has to absorb that truth before they can have any notion of resisting. Misconceptions about the One don’t change the relationship between the Matrix and the Real World.

Pure Truth may be unattainable, ever receding like a mirage (how’s that for irony?). Still, there is value in piercing each illusion, even if another one waits beyond it. New discoveries and baffling new questions arise in all the sciences, but only through the use of ever more advanced tools and practices, built on previously unearthed truths. We may not understand all the building blocks of the universe, but that’s no reason to abandon what we do know. The Earth is still round. Opposite charges still attract.

The pursuit of  Truth — the endless, arduous struggle to understand — makes us human. If we passively accept received truth, we give up our free will. We make ourselves tools. We become machines.