Thanos

24 11 2018

Thanos’ plan makes no sense. The infinity stones give him godlike power. If he really believes there are too many life forms in the universe, then instead of killing off half of all life, he could make the universe twice as big. Or he could double the amount of resources — maybe create a double of every planet, but with no people, just more space and minerals and water and what-not. There are any number of alternate solutions to the problem he imagines, given access to godlike power.

I don’t say this as a criticism of Infinity War. Thanos is insane. His plan proves it.

I would have liked to see someone (Gamora, maybe) argue with him about his plan, and propose some more benevolent course of action. I don’t fault the movie for not doing this. Anyone who knows Thanos would know there’s no talking him down. But such a scene could be instructive in dealing with fascists. Because fascism is insane the way Thanos is insane.

It’s pointless to argue with fascists. They may present their beliefs as based on reason, but when confronted with actual facts their arguments fall apart. So a fascist won’t argue logically. He (it’s most likely a he) will instead deflect, deny, distract, go on tangents, make ad hominem attacks, and generally do everything except deal with the real-life implications of fascism. Unless he is talking to other fascists, in which case the violence and cruelty are precisely the point.

I believe some fascists can be brought back down to Earth. The best way I can imagine to do it is to be different, and be their friend. Fascism is an emotional belief. It can only be dispelled with firsthand emotional knowledge that comes from diverse personal relationships. If there’s someone in your life like that, please stay strong and stay connected.

Fascists in positions of power are more like Thanos. Nothing but resistance will do.

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When Will Blood Outweigh Bullets?

16 11 2018

Mass shootings are more and more commonplace, and still our congress does nothing. The political calculus is insurmountable. The NRA and the gun industry just have more influence than human blood and breath. Or so it seems.

I asked myself, what will it take to change the equation? Do the dead and the bereaved just need to greatly outnumber the gun advocates? How long until we reach that point, if we haven’t already?

I was going to pose the question as a brief pithy post on social media, but I thought I should at least try to dig into the numbers first. Not surprisingly, the question quickly became far too complicated to address in a single sentence.

Be aware, as always, I’m not a journalist. I don’t have the time or resources for anything but an abstraction that nevertheless will at least point to the truth, to the best of my ability.

Also, I was quickly reminded in my Googling that hard data around guns is scarce. The CDC is forbidden from from studying the impact of guns on public health. No one knows exactly how many guns we have in America. Only in the last few years, as national leadership has utterly failed to address the rising body counts, have private citizens taken it on themselves to track and analyze mass shootings.

Given all that, here’s what I got.

Best estimates generally agree that about 52 million households own guns, about 45% of America. I have to admit, I was surprised that nearly half of American households own guns. But I don’t have a quarrel with simple gun ownership. I believe that the majority of gun owners are fine and decent people, who would not oppose common sense gun regulation, let alone open fire without dire provocation.

Much of the resistance to gun regulation comes from the NRA. As mass shootings have become a national norm, the NRA has pushed farther and farther into extremist policies and dehumanization of gun control advocates and shooting victims. The influence of the NRA is a brick wall in Congress that few candidates and zero legislation can get past. So, for my little thought experiment, the people that the dead and bereaved have to outnumber are the members of the NRA. They don’t give an exact figure anywhere to anyone, but their website says “nearly five million members.”

The Gun Violence Archive tracks injuries and deaths by shooting, going back to 2014. They record the total number of shootings, then break it down into deaths, injuries, death by age groups, officer involved shootings, defensive shootings, mass shootings, and other categories. By virtually all measures, the numbers keep ticking up, except for the current year.

gun stats Agun stats B

 

I don’t have the statistics skills to do any kind of extrapolating, so I’m just looking at averages. I started with the total number of deaths, then subtracted suspects shot by officers, home invasions, and defensive shootings. There is a lot of nuance within each category, not to mention the overall total, but to me this seems like the best snapshot of preventable, unjustified shootings. The average per year: 7,934.

gun stats C

At that rate, it would take 630 years to reach 5 million dead, the same number as members of the NRA. But the number of dead isn’t strictly what I’m after. My original question was about voters; how long until those directly affected by gun violence outweigh those who advocate for unrestricted gun rights?

To answer that, I can only estimate. Those directly affected would include all the loved ones of the dead, all the injured, and all the loved ones of the injured. I think a safe and conservative estimate would be that for every death, 20 other people feel traumatic loss. That’s 158,680 people, which adds up to 5 million in 31 years.

Honestly though, I think it’s more realistic to assume that for every person killed, 100 others would either know that victim personally, or feel a loss through some other connection (an injured party, proximity to the location, a shared interest or workspace, etc). In that case, the traumatize would outnumber the NRA in just over 6 years.

Then we have to ask, what year to we start counting from? When did our epidemic of violence start, and when did it spiral out of control? There’s no way to definitively answer those questions. If I had to choose, I would choose the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. That singularly horrifying event should have been the moment when gun regulation finally got some traction. Instead, it became a painful, sickening object lesson on the values expressed in our national policies.

If my estimates are correct, then now is the time we should start to see some progress. And there is some evidence that progress is starting. In the 2018 midterm elections, over 1,000 candidates in state and federal elections ran and won on platforms of gun control.

Our years of inaction convinced the Parkland students to mobilize, because no one else would defend their lives. Many others are equally fed up and fired up. We’re not there yet, but I’m seeing signs that our reckoning with unfettered deadly weapons is on the horizon.





Trump Incites Terror. He Must Go.

29 10 2018

First things first: vote next week. There is a lot of work to do, and it will take many years, but we all have a crucial opportunity to staunch the bleeding next Tuesday. Vote.

In the last week, we’ve had a spike in domestic terrorism. I’m quite certain there is more to come. More bombs, more bullets, more cars plowing through people. It’s no mystery where it’s coming from. The hate and rage fueling the violence has been stoked for decades, by Fox News, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and so on. Trump is just the latest in line, but he is the loudest and most persistent. And he’s the president, which lends a (false, but convincing) air of legitimacy to the rhetoric of terror.

There hasn’t been much talk of impeaching Donald Trump. It’s a problematic gambit at best. If Democrats don’t control both houses of Congress, it’s unlikely to succeed. But I reject the argument that impeachment will only inflame Trump’s base, leading to everything from energized Republican voters to violence in the streets.

Violence in the streets is here. We have nothing to gain by appeasing the domestic terrorists in Trump’s base. Every rally he holds protected by the secret service, every tweet he sends from the White House, every second he’s in office encourages more deranged white middle-aged men to cross the line into barbarism.

We should send them an unmistakable signal that violence against any of our citizens will not be tolerated. It’s a very simple message, devoid of moral, legal, or ethical ambiguity. There must be consequences for the perpetrators, and also for the instigators. It’s long past time for any and all office holders to get on the right side of history, or get kicked to the curb.

Vote them out now. Impeach and prosecute later. Regulate the goddamn weapons. And join in the long process of changing hate into understanding, one soul at a time.





Letter to my Senators

10 07 2018

Here’s a letter I sent to my senators. Feel free to share/appropriate/whatever.

Dear Senator,

Only one thing matters in the debate over Justice Kennedy’s replacement: when Mitch McConnell and congressional republicans refused to even hold hearings for Merrick Garland, they stole the nomination from President Obama. This action was unprecedented, unwarranted, and surely illegal. Almost equally outrageous is that the action went uncontested. Such blatant disregard for the rule of law cannot go unchallenged. The fact that it happened in 2016 is no reason to abandon the issue. Nothing is normal anymore. There are serious questions about the legitimacy of Trump’s presidency. The institutions that keep America strong and free are under attack. I urge you to take this opportunity to demand the least of appropriate consequences for the egregious actions of Mitch McConnell and associates: no one fills the seat unless it’s Merrick Garland, or unless Donald Trump is cleared of collusion.

Thank you!





Want some art?

19 06 2018
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This is the kind of thing I will draw for you, subject to your request. We’ll talk.

Hi readers. Would you like a drawing? I will draw you something. And send it to you. Make a pledge to my Patreon at any level before July 1st, and you get art. Boom!

What’s a Patreon, you may ask? Is that like a Patronus? Kind of, if Dementors are all the things getting in the way of independent artists practicing their crafts.

Patreon is a way to directly support artists like me by making a monthly contribution in the amount of your choice. In return, you get access to patron-exclusive content and other goodies. (Please click here for the full list of rewards.)

It’s also a community building device. I’ve been supporting several artists on Patreon for some time, and thanks to their insider posts and messages, I’ve gotten to know them and their work much better. I plan to use Patreon to foster a close relationship with my audience, as well as to generate the resources to crank out comics faster and better. There will be tangible merchy rewards as well– notably the aforementioned, limited time offer. Sign up now, at any level, and get an original drawing! Black and white, 7.5×8″, 1-2 characters, either according to your request or my questionable judgement. Once you’re a Patron, we can exchange messages and hash it out.

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A page from Æthernaut, my primary comic project

To my readers who have already pledged; Thank you!! I am humbled and honored by your support. If pledging is not for you, a tweet or a Facebook share of the link is also super helpful! If you just wanna read my blogs and comics and not be bothered, well, thank you as well! Making comics is something I have to do, and having people read them makes it worthwhile. So please know I appreciate all of you.

Thank you!

 





Jessica Jones S2: Has All My Pet Peeves, Is Good Anyway

17 06 2018

Jessica Jones Season 2 is not about saving the world from aliens, or the city from ninjas, or the neighborhood from ruthless real estate developers. It’s about coming to terms with trauma and power. It’s a human scale story with super-powered people who are eminently believable and compelling. I liked it more than any Marvel tv series, except maybe The Punisher. Which is weird to say, because Daredevil, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist are some of my favorite comic characters. It’s also weird because JJS2 includes all the pet peeves I’ve been grinding on ever since Heroes got everything all wrong. Let’s go down the list.

1. No costumes, no logos, no hero names. Here’s the thing about superheroes: historically, they are ridiculous. The whole idea is juvenile. But, over time, the audience has matured* and demanded that superheroes mature as well, becoming something greater than throwaway entertainment for young boys. And storytellers have obliged, in many different ways, with varying results (I’ll resist the urge to start cataloguing them here.) In many cases, storytellers’ first step is to dispense with the costumes and hero names.

I can see the logic; the tights are embarrassing, the names are silly, and both just highlight the infantile roots of the superhero. That’s flawed logic though. It strikes me as an outsider’s logic, a poseur’s logic, the logic of someone who wants to sell something to an audience without understanding that audience. The names, the costumes, and the logos are characterization devices. With one look at a superhero costume (especially in the act of using their powers) we know everything we need to know to jump into the story. From that point, our expectations can be fulfilled, subverted, expanded, or whatever the story requires.

In The Punisher and season 1 of Daredevil, the lead character only shows up in costume in the final episode. In all the other Marvel/Netflix series, costumes are absent. The Defenders goes so far as to openly mock the idea of costumes. It’s supposed to be witty, and sort of meta, and inject some true-to-life atmosphere, but it struck me as a played-out tactic. Huge audiences have already accepted Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Captain America. To assume that a costume gets in the way of telling a solid, relatable story is just dumb.

Jessica Jones of course never wears a costume, and never uses any name but Jessica Jones. But it works. The costume is not something her show is running away from. She is just better suited to bluntly asserting her everyday identity in all situations.

2. No supervillains. Too often, superhero stories amount to the heroes fighting amongst themselves, or fighting for nothing more than to retain ownership of their powers. Ant Man is just Hank Pym and Scott Lang trying not to let Ant Man technology hurt people. Iron Man, Iron Man 3, and Avengers: Age of Ultron are, similarly, about cleaning up Tony Stark’s messes. Daredevil Season 2 is mostly infighting between Daredevil, the Punisher, and Elektra. And the whole point of Civil War is heroes in conflict with each other. Which is certainly a rich vein of story to explore. But if the heroes have no reason for being other than mitigating their own existence, the whole thing becomes an exercise in irony.**

Again, I get it. Here in the 21st century, supervillains are even more ridiculous than superheroes. The classic tropes around threatening the world into submission with some doomsday device just don’t make sense any more. The evils that plague us are impersonal and institutional, corruption woven together with legitimacy in a complex web, unsusceptible to the kind of straightforward and gratifying solutions that superheroes are designed to provide. But let’s be honest; this state of things is not new. And it doesn’t make supervillains dramatically impossible, just more challenging. Surely there are ways to embody and personify entrenched corruption, duplicitous media, climate destruction, and so on. To simply not provide a hero with a combatable nemesis is just a failure of imagination.

In JJS2, pretty much everyone treads on all sides of right and wrong. The closest thing to a villain is Dr. Malus, and even he is difficult to write off as irredeemable. But again, in this case, it works. Jessica is up against herself. She’s trying to figure out how to live with her power and come to terms with her past. Malcolm, Trish, and Alisa all function alternately as helpers and hindrances, while their own struggles parallel, intersect with, and illuminate Jessica’s. There’s just no call in the story for a Kingpin or The Hand.

3. Misused/underused powers. Like costumes and hero names, powers can (and should) be a window into the character’s nature. They also should be visually interesting; both comic books and film/video are visual media after all. In general, superhero movies and shows lean heavily on choreographed martial arts. I enjoy that kind of thing, but I also want to see energy beams and inhuman forms and general weirdness. And much of the time, there’s plenty of that other stuff on screen (my favorite thing about Ant Man was the feast of micro-scale imagery). But sometimes it’s clear that fancy fist fighting is standing in for the more expensive-to-produce special effects. Or worse, standing in for creative application of powers (Daredevil is a big offender here).

Jessica Jones’ powers are barely even defined. She’s strong and she’s durable. It’s kind of a minimal default power set, without any thematic rationale like unbreakable skin or spider-strength. The Defenders suffers from a lack of differentiation among its characters. All four heroes do essentially the same things most of the time. I waited in vain throughout that series for a demonstration of Jessica’s superior brute force.

But yet again, what bothers me elsewhere does not bother me in JJS2. Jessica’s broad-stroke powers are her blessing and her curse, a metaphor for all kinds of power people wield and the repercussions of doing so. Which is a common theme with superheroes (hello, Spider-Man’s catch-phrase) but it’s not often explored with the depth and sensitivity of Jessica Jones.

I’ve been nursing a grudge for years against properties that “get superheroes wrong.” There’s no point to such grudge-holding in any case, but it’s clear to me now that I don’t have to cling to any criteria for what makes a superhero story. There is such a wealth of on-screen material out there now… lots of it is still bad, but lots of it is really, really good. And a lot of the good stuff is looking for new angles on the genre, much as the comics started doing in earnest 30 years ago. Ever since 2002’s Spider-Man, I hoped the movie adaptations would follow a similar path to sophistication, only faster. 16 years later, on the whole, storytelling on the screen is rivaling–even exceeding–that of the comics.

Once in awhile, you get what you wish for.

*”Mature” is an odd way to describe staying attached to the comics of our childhoods.

**I’m all for irony. I’d love to see an absurdist superhero movie. But that’s not what Marvel or DC are doing.

 





Reinvention of Self (Red Pill Version)

19 03 2018

matrixPillsRed(I found this in my drafts, written almost 3 years ago but I guess I never thought it was finished. Gonna go ahead and post it now.)

At the ripe old age of 45 I got sick of feeling like an insecure 13 year old around new people, and decided to apply my hard-won wisdom and maturity (one assumes by this time) to the problem. I thought, be intentional about my identity. Who can I be that isn’t affected by what others think?

I decided I would be everyone’s friend, whether they knew it or not. I didn’t alter my SOP of hardly interacting with anyone, but looked at everyone around me in the most positive light I could and made an effort to be helpful whenever possible. To maintain my intention I mentally repeated a mantra: no judgement, no entitlement. I would require nothing of anyone, and make only positive assumptions.

It doesn’t exactly sound like a power mantra, does it? I’m not sure how I arrived at it. Certainly my aikido practice was a contributing factor. Anyway I found it to be surprisingly empowering. It broke a cycle I had been riding in my head forever; feeling self-conscious, then defensively projecting negative judgements on everyone else. Which reinforced my self-consciousness, which pedaled the cycle on and on. They hate me–>I hate them–>they hate me–>I hate them–>∞.

 

Also, sorry for being a judgemental prick all the time.