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I’m pretty much sickened to the point of inarticulation by the events of the last few days. I live in the Twin Cities. I’ve driven along the same road where Philando Castile was pulled over and murdered by a panicky idiot with a badge. I have African-American friends and family who drive up and down that same road. I now have to spend every day wondering if I’ll see their deaths on my Facebook feed. There aren’t really words to respond to that.
Some of the things I want to say feel too obvious. This is an unpardonable breach of the covenant we have with our government. More than that, it (along with the Alton Sterling shooting and the Tamir Rice shooting and all the other police murders caught on video in the past year) makes that covenant feel like a sick joke, a lie we tell ourselves to help us sleep at night. These videos show us that what white people think of as the law is really just the largest street gang out there as far as minorities are concerned. They’re just another group of violent thugs that have to be placated or avoided. At this point, though, it feels like the multiple police murders…and worse, the multiple policemen who have avoided any punishment for committing murder due to a system that protects them…speaks so strongly to that fact that anything I could say on the subject feels inadequate.
And other things feel too taboo to say. Like…look, I don’t condone violence. I don’t support violence. But I do understand why someone would kill those policemen in Dallas. It is very difficult to say that in our culture, where the police are portrayed by default as “good guys”, where their bending or breaking of the rules to catch “bad guys” is celebrated by popular culture, and where their lives are considered sacrosanct to the point where the mere testimony of an officer that they believed their lives to be in danger is considered to be sufficient to exonerate them from any suggestion of wrongdoing. But if the police are murdering people, targeting them by demographic for rape and murder and extortion and seemingly getting away with it, I can understand why some people would respond by killing police. I don’t want it to happen, but it is an unsurprising response.
And the response to the response…again, this is the point where we’re supposed to say, “But he was a bad guy!” We, as a culture, celebrate rough justice done to criminals. But we shouldn’t. The police murdered one of the suspects in Dallas. They had him cornered, they were out of the line of fire, and they delivered a bomb to him by remote control and set it off in his face. They decided that the courts didn’t need to be involved in this man’s trial and punishment, not when they had a little wheeled robot and a spare bomb. This is the problem. This is the heart of it. There are police out there who feel like they have the right to decide who lives and who dies based on whether they’re “bad”. That is not the rule of law. That is murder. It doesn’t matter how bad they are, it doesn’t matter if they had multiple previous convictions or just a bunch of traffic stops, the police are murdering people who pose them no immediate threat. And we are allowing it.
And in the end, I don’t want to talk about it because there’s nothing I can do. We protest and the police murder people. We catch them on camera shooting unarmed men and they walk away scot-free. An essay like this is just another drop in the bucket of words that won’t change anything. That’s why I don’t talk about this more. Because everything I’m saying? It won’t matter to the guy with the gun and the badge who knows he can get away with murder if he kills the right sort of person.
Everyone loves a good fan theory, right?
….can we just pretend they do, for the sake of my introductory spiel, here?
……..so some people on the Internet really love a good fan theory, while others are indifferent or unaware of them, and still others find them tedious and annoying. There are plenty of famous/infamous ones out there, like the Pixar Timeline, or Jar Jar Binks being Supreme Leader Snoke. But there are some fan theories out there that have gotten a little less traction. Let’s look at a few of them, shall we?
All of the extras in ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Independence Day’ are the same people, but the two stories don’t take place in the same fictional universe. They’re just crowds of gawkers who travel from one reality to another to watch crazy-ass shit happen.
Al Leong plays the exact same role in each of his movies, a wise and benevolent member of an alien species who has come to Earth to teach us universal peace and harmony. Unfortunately, they introduce themselves through their race’s traditional peaceful gesture of leaping into frame, brandishing weapons, and screaming loudly, and so are constantly gunned down by action heroes without a second thought.
‘Adventures in Babysitting’, ‘Home Alone’, ‘Mrs Doubtfire’, and the first two Harry Potter movies are all directed by Chris Columbus.
The peddler at the beginning of ‘Aladdin’ is really just making up the whole story to get you to buy his crappy merchandise, and Disney cut the scene at the end where ushers come into the audience pestering you to part with a little extra cash for some tchotchkes.
‘Highlander 2: The Quickening’ is a sequel to ‘Highlander’. (This is remarkably unpopular!)
John Cusack’s character in the disaster movie ‘2012’ is a time traveler, having come to 2012 from 1408 without having aged more than a few years.
All of the Marvel movies are linked in a variety of subtle ways, with characters such as Captain America, the Black Widow, Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Hawkeye, Thor, the Winter Soldier, and Nick Fury reprising their parts as “Easter Eggs” for the attentive viewer.
Soylent Green is actually made from people.
Will Smith pretty much plays the same part in every movie he ever did. (A similar fan theory exists regarding Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.)
Deckard is actually a telepath who can project his thoughts, but only in an unconvincing monotone.
’28 Days Later’ was originally written as a bleak, post-apocalyptic sequel to the film ’28 Days’, but after Sandra Bullock was recast as Cillian Murphy, they changed the character’s name.
Radagast the Brown was supposed to die in battle at the end of the third Hobbit movie and be reborn as Radagast the White, but Paul McGann was unavailable due to other filming commitments.
All of Pixar’s movies exist on my DVD shelf.
‘The Shining’ is really a movie about a hotel caretaker that goes insane and tries to kill his family.
‘The Abyss’, ‘Cyborg’, ‘Day of the Dead’, ‘Howard the Duck’, ‘Earth Girls Are Easy’, ‘Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome’, ‘Terminator’, ‘Real Genius’, ‘Night of the Comet’, ‘Short Circuit 2’, ‘Cocoon’, ‘Altered States’, ‘Back to the Future’, ‘Enemy Mine’, ‘Cherry 2000’, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘The Garbage Pail Kids Movie’ are all works of fiction created in the same decade and filmed for public consumption to varying degrees of critical and commercial success. And you can’t prove otherwise.
Let’s start out with the obvious: I, like many others, was woefully wrong regarding the Republican electorate and their love affair of Trump. In retrospect, I can see where I went wrong; I knew that the Tea Party crowd was going to hijack the process somewhere in the next few elections, because they’ve been pushing the party ever further right (aided by a gerrymandering process in 2010 that made it impossible to be moderate in the Republican Party without risking usurpation in the primary by someone louder and dumber) and sooner or later they were going to stage a revolution against the money people who kept insisting that they needed a moderate like McCain or Romney to win, but who lost anyway. 2016 seemed like their “If we’re going to go down, we’ll go down with a real Republican” moment.
But where I made my mistake was in thinking that a real Republican was someone like Ted Cruz, who was against taxes, against government regulation, pro-religion, pro-life, and generally embodied the talking points Republicans have been spouting since the 1990s. I didn’t think they would look at a New York businessman with ties to the Clintons and Hollywood and say, “Yeah, that’s one of us alright!” But that’s because I didn’t really understand what the true values of the Tea Party crowd were. It wasn’t about taxes. It wasn’t about small government. It wasn’t about religion. It was about bigotry. Everything that the Republicans have said since Nixon has been a long string of dog-whistles for their xenophobic base, and Trump outflanked people with far stronger political credentials by simply being nakedly, unashamedly racist. Ted Cruz might have years of experience in attempting to destroy the federal government out of thinly-veiled spite at the Democrats for electing a black man, but he wasn’t willing to get down to it and say that the federal government needed to deport all the brown people everywhere. Trump was. That’s why he’s the nominee.
(At least, theoretically the nominee. It is still June, and there’s a non-zero chance that someone could derail the Trump campaign with parliamentary maneuvering at the convention. It’s in the realms of “OMFGReally?”, because if they do it then that’ll pretty much be it for the Presidential election and it’ll also finally cause the slow-simmering feud between the four entirely incompatible factions of the Republican party to boil over, but I feel like it has to be mentioned because if I don’t say it, someone else will.)
(The four factions, by the way, are the ultra-religious theocrats, the libertarian “business is business” deregulators, the “subjugate the lesser countries” neocons, and Trump has revealed that the racists in the party are a faction all their own that can be courted.)
Anyhow, the point is, Trump appealed to the racist wing of the Republican party through a series of Nurembergian rallies, and is now…pending serious bizarreness…the nominee. And he’s down seven points to Clinton. Clinton has, if not actually seen off her one serious challenger in Bernie Sanders, at the very least reduced him to sulking somewhere in Vermont and muttering dire conspiracy theories about the Illuminati, and she has a huge war chest, a battle-tested and savvy group of campaigners on the ground and already moving in the hotly-contested swing states, and several much-loved Democrats up to and including President Obama ready to go out and stump for her. While Trump has…
Okay, look. The thing you need to understand about Trump, in order to make the last few weeks and the next several months make any sense at all, is that he has been surrounded for pretty much his entire adult life by people whose job it is to tell him everything he says, thinks and does is brilliant. If there was ever a point where he had any self-awareness, it withered and died decades ago. This is key, because everyone out there is constantly assuming that at some point, Trump is going to say, “Nah, nah, just kidding! Here’s my real plan,” and we’ll find out that this was all some sort of clever Xanatos gambit to position himself into some sort of superior position to win the election.
But the fact of the matter is, the Trump you see is the Trump you get. He really does believe that he doesn’t need to fundraise personally, because he’s rich. He really does believe that he’s going to be competitive in New York (where he’s currently twenty points down in the polls) because he’s a great guy and everybody in his home state loves him. He really thinks that he can just go around from state to state holding rallies, and appear on TV talk shows, and everyone will listen to his great ideas and vote for him. He really, honest to God, thinks that “the Mexicans” and “the gays” love him. (For that matter, he really thinks that they like being called “the Mexicans” and “the gays”.) Why not? he asks himself. People told him that wouldn’t work to get the Republican nomination, and they were wrong then. Why can’t he win the Presidency this way too?
To the rest of us, the reasons why are obvious. There are not enough bigots in this country (thank God!) to make up for the number of women and minorities who will turn out to vote against him. A Presidential candidate receives far more public scrutiny for their statements than a B-list celebrity and reality TV star, and he will have to spend the next several months defending his record of lies, inanity, unworkable plans, and general drunken uncle on Facebook-level blather. The Republicans are not going to throw good money at this moron, and while they may not actively turn on him, they certainly don’t want any part of the Trump brand. Spending time and effort campaigning in states you are going to lose no matter what, or states you are going to win no matter what, is essentially ceding ground to an opponent who targets swing states. You really should settle any pending fraud lawsuits against you before you decide to run for political office, so that you’re not desperately trying to seal evidence while the media is looking for a juicy scandal. Little things like that.
At this point, those little things are adding up to a major defeat. Nobody is willing to call it that, because we all have memories of Trump somehow rolling up victories in the primaries when it was obvious to the majority of Americans that his campaign was an unmitigated shitshow run by a bloviating fascist who raised epistemic closure to an artform, and none of us wants to be wrong again. But of course, Trump wasn’t trying to appeal to a majority of Americans in the Republican primaries, just the bigoted few who agreed with his ugly, racist screeds. The very fact that the majority of Americans have been waiting months to weigh in on the discussion should tell us something about how November will go.
There is a lot to say about the massacre in Orlando. There is my sympathy for the victims and their loved ones, all of whom must be kept close in our hearts. They were victims of a horrible crime committed solely because of who they loved, a heartbreaking tragedy that we must always remember. There is my deep and abiding concern that the Republican Party continues to stoke these fires of hate, calling trans women “sexual predators” and warning about the awful dangers they pose to children, then affecting a pious pose of bland sympathy when their hateful rhetoric becomes hateful action. There is my strong feeling that this is a test that one candidate has failed so thoroughly, so disgustingly that we cannot possibly trust him with even a Twitter account, let alone the Oval Office. There is my belief that we have to correct our course on gun control. This cannot continue.
But one of the most important things to say, I’ve already said on my own blog. I’m reposting it here because I don’t really think it can ever be said enough and in enough places. I wrote this after Paris, but it is no less true today:
Okay. I am going to try to explain this calmly and reasonably.
The most pessimistic estimates of ISIL’s membership put it at about 200,000 worldwide. That includes non-combatants, support staffers, administrators and other political actors as well as fighters, but 200,000 is going to be our baseline estimate because it’s always good to think worst-case scenario.
There are currently 1.3 million active US military service members, with a further 850,000 on reserve. This is solely the number of men and women that America can put into the field; it does not count our traditional allies such as France, Great Britain, Canada, et cetera et cetera.
There are 1.47 billion practicing Muslims worldwide.
Take those three sets of numbers together, and you will see a picture of ISIL as a tiny guerrilla force unable to do anything more than inflict cruelty on the defenseless. They are out numbered more than 10 to 1 by the United States military alone, and we are far from alone in our opposition to ISIL. Even many of the countries we have historically had a troubled relationship with feel that an apocalyptic death cult doesn’t make a good neighbor. ISIL is politically isolated and counting on two things to help them in their struggle against the West.
One, they are counting on the fact that because they are small and we are large, we have more to defend and they can choose to strike us where we are not expecting it. This is in the nature of guerrilla warfare. It is utterly tragic, and it will mean that Paris is not the last place that ISIL attacks us, but the same tactics that make them effective as a guerrilla force make them ineffective as a conventional army. They are not able to destroy America. They are not able to destroy anybody. They are only able to inflict cruelty upon the helpless when nobody is watching.
Two, the only way that they can progress beyond their status as petty, vicious murderers is by reframing the issue from “ISIL against the world” to “Muslims against Christians”. As a crazy, hate-filled death cult, they are a weak military force that has drawn the attention of some of the most powerful armies in history. As defenders of the Muslim faith, they have a potential army of over a billion that they can recruit from. They are desperate, literally desperate to convince Muslims everywhere that the West hates all Muslims with the same passion that they hate ISIL and want to crush Islam entirely.
In other words, when Donald Trump says that we need to shut down all the mosques to prevent ISIL from gaining strength in America, or when Ted Cruz says that we don’t need to care about civilian casualties when fighting ISIL, they are making ISIL recruiting speeches. They are doing our enemy’s work for them, and it is a testament to the kindness and decency of the overwhelming majority of the people of the Islamic faith that they have refused to give in to the hatred that their supposed allies around the world hold for them.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t need to stop and stop now.
This isn’t going to be thoughts on the actual issue; I made the decision back in about April 2007 (during the execrable ‘Countdown to Final Crisis’ and ‘Amazons Attack’) that I wasn’t going to be spending any more money on DC’s comics without a wholesale shakeup of their senior management. Apart from a few good reviews of the ‘Omega Men’ reboot and some passionate defenses of ‘Final Crisis’, I’ve heard absolutely nobody telling me I made a mistake here.
It’s also worth emphasizing that these are solely my thoughts on the subject; I’m sure MGK has his own opinions, which may or may not coincide with mine, and he may make his own post on the subject at some point. Oh yes, and I’m going to install a spoiler tag for those who want to read the issue but haven’t.
continue reading "Random Thoughts on DC Rebirth"
For a while, people have been asking “when are you going to release a collected edition of Al’Rashad like you said you wanted to do, we want to buy that.”
Yes! We did ask about that!
In answer, Davinder and I have set up a Patreon page for the sequel to Al’Rashad, entitled Ra-Boka: Kingdom of the Bound. More swords! More undeads! More Joro mouthing off! Everything you love and new things as well, which he hope you will love, including numerous other major cultures in this world what we have created, and new characters who we are sure you will like (or, as appropriate, hate) as much as the original cast. And, if the Patreon is successful enough, we’ll put out pages at a faster rate than we did for Al’Rashad.
…but that’s not exactly what we asked for?
We know. We’re currently trying (and have been for a while) to get a deal with a traditional publisher, because Davinder and I both have time-consuming day jobs, and the time spent on publishing a book, even via an assistance service like MakeThatThing or similar, is time that we would prefer to spend on other things. An ongoing Patreon that is successful makes us more attractive to publishers – and I will not lie, pretty much every publisher we’ve talked to says some variation of “I like this, but it doesn’t fit into our current paradigms of what makes for a successful comic release,” so demonstrating that we have an audience via the Patreon will help us a lot in that regard.
And if it turns out the paying audience is smaller than we hoped, well, that’s what Kickstarter is for. But we’re hoping to avoid that.
Are there like, rewards and things?
Yes! Getting to see pages in advance before they’re published on the website; getting to see rough pencils before the pages are finished; PDF copies of any promos/prints we might do for yourself; and, for our most generous contributors, insertion of yourself as a character into the comic, either in a non-speaking role or – and this last one is pretty exclusive – with lines. Ra-Boka will have a larger and more diverse cast than even Al’Rashad had, so we can do this easily without tainting the artistic integrity of the work. Pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves.
Okay, I’m sold. What’s the link again?
Glad you asked, Invented Person Who Doesn’t Really Exist! It’s here.
This is the most depressing goddamn book I’ve read in ages. Everyone should go out and read it right now.
Okay, that probably needs a little background. Like, for example, what the hell I’m talking about. ‘Shrill’ is the new memoir by Lindy West (of Jezebel and GQ fame), which jumps around a bit chronologically but is basically the story of how she went from being a shy, vulnerable person who was convinced that she couldn’t be loved to being a badass fat-positive feminist who writes about why she got an abortion and why Daniel Tosh is an asshole whose rape jokes are shitty and unfunny. (Which some folks may remember me agreeing with at the time on this blog…)
I bought it because I was familiar with Lindy West’s writing on Jezebel, because she has always been wickedly funny and brutally insightful and has the kind of take-no-shit attitude that makes me stand up and cheer every time I read one of her pieces. She calls bullshit out for what it is, basically, and that’s always a thing I will enjoy reading. I assumed this would be more of the same, and to some extent it was, but…
This is a book about what it costs to be a badass fat-positive feminist who writes openly about controversial issues on the same Internet as GamerGaters and Vox Day. This is a book about what it’s like to receive six hundred text messages a day explaining how the person on the other end would love to rape you to death if only you weren’t so ugly. This is a book about what it is like to receive a constant, unending torrent of vicious abuse for the crime of being a woman who expresses opinions. This is a book about what it is like to have someone create a Twitter account named after your dad who died of cancer less than a month ago so that they can express, through his lips, what a disappointment you were to him. Basically, if you have any shred of empathy at all, this is like sticking your hand into the fucking pain box from Dune.
But that’s why it’s so important to read. Because as painful as it is to hear about it, it’s even more painful for Lindy West to live it. And Lindy West isn’t at all an unusual or special case; she’s just the person who had the chance to write a memoir about it so that everyone could understand what it’s like just a little tiny fraction of a bit. This is what a lot of women go through on the Internet. All the time. Every day. This is something that if you’re a straight white cishet guy, you need to know about so that you can help, in whatever way you can, in pushing back against it and making the Internet, which is by this point pretty much a default mode of human interaction and not some special Wild West electronic frontier that only the select few need to bother with, a less shitty place for your fellow human beings. And if you think you already know what it’s like, you may want to read the book anyway, because it’s probably worse than that.
Oh yes, and it did also turn out to be wickedly funny and brutally insightful and Lindy West did, in fact, call out a lot of bullshit for what it was. Which was awesome, and did soften the blow of sticking my hand in the pain box just a little bit. But trust me when I say this is not a fun read.
But it’s a necessary one.
Warning: some spoilers for the new Captain America film follow. Oh, and the Civil War comics, but those are like a decade old now so who cares.
Ezra Klein has a column up at Vox wherein he explains that Captain America is in the wrong in Captain America: Civil War and Iron Man is the actual hero. This is in fact not the first time Klein has written about Civil War; in 2010 he expressed his agreement with Spencer Ackerman (whose column about Civil War seems to have disappeared when Firedoglake collapsed):
And, incidentally, I agree with Spencer entirely: Iron Man was unequivocally right in the argument over superhero registration. I’m not even sure what the case for the other side is, and the libertarians I’ve asked haven’t been able to come up with one. If the state has any legitimate function at all, it’s to train and regulate people who could accidentally kill everyone in a hundred-mile radius.
I’m not a libertarian; I’m your bog-standard sorta-socialist liberal. I am also rather famously on record with respect to my opinion as to Civil War being a not-entirely-competent story.1 That having been said, the case for the other side is really quite simple: these are stories set in a universe where superheroes exist, and the normal balance of security versus liberty is accordingly upended.
Political pundits like to take Iron Man’s position for two reasons: first off, Iron Man is unequivocally the villain (or at least the antagonist) of both the comic and film versions of Civil War, and there’s a certain sort of contrarian glee to be had in saying “no, the bad guy of the story is right,” which is why every new Star Wars movie generates a fresh flood of why-the-Empire-were-actually-the good-guys columns despite the fact that the Empire are Space Nazis who murder billions of people both onscreen and off. The second reason is because Iron Man’s regulatory position makes sense when you assume that some of the elements of a comic book universe apply but don’t follow through wholly with the logic.
Klein’s argument that Iron Man was “unequivocally right” about the original Civil War dispute is one that relies on the assumption that Iron Man’s concerns about unregulated superheroes are valid and that Captain America’s concerns about the tyranny of the state are overblown. Now, because I’m a sorta-socialist liberal I can understand this position, because in the real world, the closest analogue to Captain America’s position is one expressed by gun nuts and idealistic-but-stupid libertarians, whose concerns about the tyranny of the state are (usually) overblown. But Civil War is a comic in a superhero universe, and in a superhero universe Cap’s concerns are entirely valid, because in a superhero universe as the powers of individuals grow to ridiculous proportions, so does the power of the state.
The amazing thing about Cap’s argument is that I don’t really have to make it. It’s already been made for me. Christos Gage wrote a superb one-shot Civil War tie-in comic, Casualties of War, which is mostly just an extended conversation “mid-war” between Tony and Cap as they each try to convince the other of the rightness of their position. Tony’s argument is, for the most part, the one Klein makes, along with the argument that he and Cap have a responsibility to make sure that the next generation of young superheroes is properly trained; he cites Spider-Man failing to save Gwen Stacy as his primary example. Cap refutes that argument by pointing out that Gwen Stacy didn’t die because Spider-Man failed to save her – that’s an argument that places blame unfairly on Spidey – but properly assigns the blame for that death to the person who actually caused her death: Norman Osborn.
He then points out that Osborn was able to do this because he knew Spider-Man’s secret identity, and discusses other times when superheroes’ loved ones were threatened or even killed because of secret identity leaks. And then points out – entirely correctly – that any database of registered superheroes could and would be exploited by supervillains, and actually cites moments from both Tony and Cap’s individual careers where their own information was used against them to discredit/frame them for crimes they did not commit – and even if supervillains didn’t do it, there’s no guarantee that a future administration with regulatory oversight wouldn’t do it, which for Cap is particularly relevant since the government had forced him to stop being Captain America more than once.
The crucial distinction between Tony and Cap’s positions, in the comic, is that Tony’s position is grounded in our real-world experience of how regulation generally works. Cap’s position is grounded in his unreal-world experience of what actually happens when external authority is applied to superheroes: the result is inevitably a slide towards tyrannical behaviour, regardless of the intent of the regulator, or the allowance of threats to superheroes so intense that they would be forced to abandon their duties as protectors.2
And here’s the kicker: in the comics, Cap is proven completely and utterly right by the events following Civil War. Iron Man’s side “wins,” and for about two years of comics, they mostly do all right: Tony sets up government-sanctioned superteams all over the United States (why Wyoming needs its own superteam I don’t know, but they supposedly had one) and they prevent a lot of threats. But even at this time, Tony – who is supposed to be the hero, remember – has set up the Thunderbolts as a covert team of super-criminals who have been coerced into government service. (It ends up being a spectacular failure, because psychopaths don’t make good government functionaries.)
But Tony’s moral failings aren’t the worst part – the worst part is when he loses power as a result of a crisis (a Skrull invasion) and Norman Osborn is given control of the regulatory regime. Osborn then uses his new state-sanctioned power to remake SHIELD into HAMMER, which is essentially a death cult loyal to Osborn alone, and viciously and relentlessly persecutes the superheroes – including Tony! – who won’t play ball with him, which is most of them, because Osborn is an evil man not interested in the general welfare of society at all, but only really in power for its own sake, in glorifying himself and in murdering Spider-Man, with whom Osborn is obsessed.
So Tony’s belief that a less-intrusive regulatory regime can assuage Cap’s concerns about its potential for misuse is just wrong; wrong on the evidence of what had happened before, wrong on the reasoning of what is happening currently at the time, and wrong as to what happens when it is enacted. That’s the argument for Cap’s position. And Cap is completely right.
So that’s why Klein is wrong about the comics. Why is he wrong about the film? That’s easy. First, everything I wrote above still more or less applies in the movie: Cap has real-world experience of the dangers of giving organizations too much control over superheroic quantities – that was what Winter Soldier was about, remember.
Secondly, let’s go to his column:
As I understand it, the Avengers are allowed to simply stop being Avengers if they don’t want oversight — Cap can keep his shield, Widow can keep her stingers, Iron Man can keep his suit, and they can go on and live normal lives. What they can’t do is act as vigilantes. That’s more or less the equilibrium in America, too, where we let people possess mind-boggling amounts of weaponry but have pretty strict laws about who they’re able to shoot.
The problem with this understanding is that it is wrong, because it skips over the part where some of the Avengers can’t actually stop being Avengers in a way which would satisfy the concerns of the state. It is made extremely clear in the film that the Scarlet Witch is not going to be allowed to go on and live a normal life; she is going to be imprisoned. The prison might be a particularly nice prison, but it will be a prison nonetheless, and that is Cap’s sticking point. Remember, in the film, Tony almost convinces him to work within the Sokovia Accords at one point – until Cap learns that Wanda is going to be a prisoner.
And Cap knows that Wanda isn’t the only enhanced human out there – Bruce Banner is still out there, Quicksilver was one before he died, and it is safe to assume that there are others. It is fairly obvious what would happen to them as well, and the film shows us explicitly what happens when anybody resists, regardless of whether they have powers or not – they’re sent away to an extrajudicial mecha-Guantanamo in the middle of the ocean without the burden of due process. Wanda is fairly obviously doped out of her mind to prevent her from using her powers, which is by any reasonable standard cruel and unusual punishment. And it’s clear from Tony’s reaction that he obviously didn’t know this was happening, despite his assertions that with his participation such abuses would be prevented.
Bottom line: Cap is right in Civil War, both in the comics and in the film. He’s right because although our everyday reality is that governmental regulation is, by and large, a net positive, his everyday reality is different from ours in very significant ways – and that makes all the difference.
And we’re back! Phil recaps not just the episode this time but the entire season, reminding us that over the course of eleven previous legs, the happy sparkly friendly Tumblrvinstagramchat generation was gradually whittled down to perpetual bickerfest Dana and Matt, barely competent but adorable and lucky Sheri and Cole, and five-leg winner Tyler and Korey. Who will win the million bucks? Let’s find out!
continue reading "Amazing Race 28, Episode 12: “The Only First That Matters”"
For those of you who haven’t seen it, ‘Civil War’ was a great movie. It was an incalculably vast improvement on the comics, with characterization that felt more grounded in the previous movies and less crammed with Millar-esque swerves for the sake of swerves (part of this is that much of the genuinely despicable stuff that Tony did in the comics is off-loaded onto Thunderbolt Ross, who’s already a well-established asshole). The action sequences were great, the story worked in a whole bunch of characters and events without seeming overstuffed, and in general it made everyone look over at DC and say, “On your left.” And it made me want a very specific Marvel movie, which for the sake of avoiding spoilers for ‘Civil War’ I will put behind a cut.
continue reading "I Want This Soooooooo Bad"
And we’re back! Phil helpfully reminds us that last week’s episode was mostly about the Double-U-Turn, plus a heaping helping of fetch-and-carry, and that it resulted in the final exit of the Frisbee Boys. We’re down to the Final Four now, and the nice times are over. Right?
continue reading "Amazing Race 28, Episode 11: “That’s Money, Honey”"
Seeing a lot of “the sky is falling” sentiment last night and this morning from people who are genuinely shocked that a blatantly racist and misogynistic buffoon like Donald Trump could become the de facto Republican nominee, and who have equated that with Trump’s ability to win in the general election. I’ve also seen more than one person cite this blog post by Scott Adams as argument for Trump’s strength in the general and his ability to pivot towards the center. (The fact that the argument for Scott Adams’ intelligence is his capability to recycle the same dozen gags over and over again to get people to buy Dilbert merchandise seems to have been momentarily lost.) The other big argument is that pundits got Trump’s chances wrong across the board and thought he could never win the nomination.
To this, speaking as someone who started predicting a likely Trump nomination victory in November of last year and advised people not to write off his chances as early as August – in short, as someone who has been more or less continually right about Trump’s chances all along – I’m going to say now: although it is not impossible for Donald Trump to win the general election against Hillary Clinton (it is never impossible; that is the nature of a two-party system), there is probably not a worse candidate with the possible exception of Ted Cruz that they could have nominated to go against Hillary, and every piece of actual data we have, rather than pundit sentiment, says that Trump is going to get absolutely murdered in the general.
Firstly, consider the low baseline. There are 18 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have gone Democratic in every election since 1992: Washington, Oregon, California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Maine, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Rhode Island, Maryland and Hawaii. Every single one of those states right now currently polls a hypothetical Hillary/Trump matchup with Hillary winning. In most cases she’s winning by ten points or more. If she wins all of these traditionally strongly Democratic states, and then wins Florida – where she presently beats Trump in the hypothetical matchup by thirteen points – that’s the ballgame because she has enough electoral votes to win. If she loses Florida but wins Ohio and Nevada (where she also leads Trump in general election matchups), she wins too. If she loses Florida, Ohio and Nevada but takes New Hampshire, Colorado and Virginia, she still wins. In order for Trump to have a shot of winning he has to crush Hillary and win essentially everywhere that he stands even a modest chance of winning. He has to be perfect.
He won’t be. There is a difference between winning a hyperpolarized Republican primary, where you can essentially say anything and it doesn’t matter, and winning the general. The modern GOP doesn’t really give a shit about policy; they’re a party founded on resentment (of liberals, of minorities, of foreigners, etc.) and if you express that resentment for them they’ll follow you over a cliff, which is how Trump won. But, across the board, he won a plurality of GOP voters – not even a majority, although by the end he’ll probably have a slight majority of overall votes and delegates. Trump is massively unpopular. His net unfavorability rating is averaging around negative twenty-five percent. Hillary, who is widely disliked, only averages around negative twelve percent – and historically that gets better whenever she’s obviously the target of sexist attacks. Donald Trump will be incredibly misogynistic towards Hillary because that’s who he is:
And if Trump has a weakness – he has many, actually. Trump’s personal and business history is loaded with egregiously awful things that will make glorious attack ad fodder, more juicy than the ad above. But his defining weakness is that he is a bully and when he gets challenged he loses his temper. His few moments of discomfiture during the Republican debates came when he was attacked, and during the GOP campaign his opponents could not call him out on many of his weaknesses because to the GOP primary audience they were strengths, but they will not be strengths with the general electorate.
Since we are talking about hypothetical general election matchups, let us talk about Bernie Sanders for a bit, because at this point in the campaign hypothetical election matchups are really all that is left. He and Hillary agree on too many policies for it to be otherwise; Bernie himself has pivoted to talking primarily about how he is best suited to beat Trump (or any other GOP candidate, but really, it was Trump everybody was talking about). The argument for Bernie is as follows: Hillary is unpopular; Bernie is not. Hillary does all right in hypothetical Trump matchups; Bernie does better. Therefore, Bernie is better equipped to beat Trump.
The problem is that Bernie is simply wrong about this. The argument assumes that Hillary and Bernie are equal quantities; they are not. Whatever one thinks of Hillary, she is a known quantity to the general American public; she can’t not be. Everybody in America has their opinions about Hillary more or less set already. Bernie is not a known quantity, and there is ample fodder for attack ads that the Hillary campaign has never touched. For example: in 1980, Bernie was an elector for the Socialist Workers Party. In 1980, the Socialist Workers Party called for solidarity with the revolutionary regime in Iran during the Iranian hostage crisis. The attack ad writes itself. As does the one where Sanders applied for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War. And the one where he called for the abolishment of the Armed Forces in the 70s. And the one where he was arguing that military budgets should be halved in the 90s. All of these will hurt Bernie, some more than others, but he will have trouble arguing back against them because they all happen to be true.
And this is before we get to the big problem, which is that Bernie is a self-identified socialist. (Over the last couple years he’s started saying “democratic socialist” but it doesn’t really matter.) It’s literally the least popular trait a presidential candidate can have. According to polling, fifty percent of Americans would not vote for a socialist Presidential candidate. That’s worse than “atheist” (forty percent), “Muslim” (38 percent) and “gay” (24 percent). Even if we assume that’s soft and Bernie can get one out of five of them to consider it once he explains his policy enough, that still means only sixty percent of the electorate would be even willing to consider voting for Bernie.
This doesn’t mean that Bernie can’t beat Trump. He may well be able to do so. But it does mean arguments that he can beat Trump more easily than Hillary can because of current polling are facile arguments with no real weight to them.
And we’re back! We begin the episode with Phil’s reminder that Rachel had a hard time lugging around buckets of water, while Brodie had a hard time putting a kite together. Brodie and Kurt escaped elimination by the skin of their teeth, but it’s a sobering reminder of just how much Kurt has carried the team…and how he can’t do that anymore.
continue reading "Amazing Race 28, Episode 10: “Monkey Dance!”"
As I have previously mentioned, the one bright spot about the existence of the otherwise extremely uninspiring and uninteresting ‘Batman v Superman’ movie (really, I remember having huge misgivings as soon as the project was announced–Zack Snyder, talking about DKR as his inspiration, feels like it could be the dictionary definition of “toxic masculinity”) was that it held the potential for some truly wacky studio hijinks. After all, the movie looked like it was going to tank, at least by the standards of Hollywood blockbusters…
A word about that, for everyone saying, “Hey, it made $850 million, why is it being called a failure?” It’s being called a failure because different standards apply to Hollywood blockbusters. These things are designed, through merchandising, product placement, synergistic endorsement deals and aggressive promotion, to make back their money even if the film is basically just two solid hours of Arnie flipping the bird to the screen and shouting, “SUCKER!” in an Austrian accent every few minutes. (Spoilers for ‘Terminator: Genesys’!) It is very hard for them to actually lose money, because so much of the money is made before the film hits theaters–‘Phantom Menace’ would have been profitable without selling a single ticket–and so much more of the money is made before the reviews come out. These films are not judged on the absolute money they make, but on the money they make relative to each other, because their job is not to make money. Their job is to make the kind of obscene, world-shattering money that lets studio execs throw $50 million at some crazy vanity project sight unseen because they’re making ten times that per extremely reliable Avengers movie and have money to burn. On that scale, BvS has failed. ‘Ant-Man’ did better in its fourth week than ‘BvS’ in its fourth week. You do not want to be the guy who makes a Batman/Superman movie that makes less than ‘Ant-Man’.
OK. So the point is, all I was really hoping for is that WB execs would lose their shit and we would get some entertaining panic. Would they dump Snyder overboard like a hot potato? Would he give great snippy bitchy interviews where he blamed audiences for not getting his vision? (I’m still holding out hope for that. If there’s one thing I can say about Snyder besides the fact that he’s a shitty director, it’s that he’s incredibly thin-skinned and holds grudges with reviewers that he works out every time he does a press junket. He’s still holding court on ‘Sucker Punch’, ferfucksake.)
Instead, we get Seth Grahame-Green quitting the ‘Flash’ movie. Now, I can’t say this would have been a great movie–I loved the hell out of the book of ‘Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter’, but he hasn’t been able to translate his skills into movie-making quite yet and it’s distinctly possible that this would have been a big whiff. (Especially since this would have been his directorial debut, and giving someone a huge summer blockbuster as their first movie even though these things have damn near broken guys like Sam Raimi and Joss Whedon seems like its own category of fascinating train wreck.) But in terms of whose vision I’d rather see in the DC Murderverse, it’s an untested Seth Grahame-Green over Snyder any day.
And now James Wan is talking about ditching ‘Aquaman’. And while…look, I cannot stand ‘Saw’, okay? I absolutely think the final twist is the kind of irredeemable bullshit that makes me want to throw things at the screen, an infuriating and unearned “gotcha” that makes no sense and requires six billion coincidences that the killer can’t possibly arrange all to fall in a very particular way for the movie not to literally end on Page Two of the screenplay. (“Hey, I found these keys stuck in the drain! Let’s just go!”) I cannot stand this movie and I will gleefully spoil it for strangers on the grounds that it is better for you to not watch the movie than feel like you wasted two hours on it. (The killer is the guy on the floor. He’s not really dead. Yes, it’s bullshit.)
But that’s all the script. The direction in ‘Saw’ actually makes a movie about two guys stuck in a room all night compelling. It’s impressive work. James Wan has a solid and impressive body of directing behind him. If WB is backing Snyder, whose biggest hit is now over ten years behind him and wasn’t written by him in the first place, over Wan, this is going to be less “fun trainwreck” and more “oh. oh, that poor man. oh god, his wife is crying, and she’s covered in blood, and…is that her blood? is that her husband’s blood? oh god, they had a cargo flat full of adorable baby lambs, and they’re squealing, they won’t stop squealing, there’s just so much pain….”
I’m hoping that doesn’t happen. I’m really hoping that the backstabbing and panic leads to good movies in the end, rather than good movies being shitcanned in order to double down on the Snyder vision of a Bat-boot stamping on a human face forever. Because this, this thing of interesting and creative people fleeing the DC movies like rats leaving the sinking ship? Not actually what I was hoping for.