Thursday, April 26, 2012

monkey cooperation and fairness - youtube

Class, Race, Fandom, and Dr. Who

Dr.Who is a BBC TV show that's run, off and on, since the 1960s. The Doctor reincarnates whenever a new actor takes over the role—so far, all the Doctors have been white, male, British, and vaguely middle-to-upper class.

Except one.

Christopher Eccleston is known to fans as the Ninth Doctor. I loved him because his incarnation of the Doctor, with a Northern English accent and a black leather jacket, evokes the working class. Some people didn't like him for that reason; a snobbish Guardian writer refers to Eccleston's Doctor as "looking like an EastEnders extra".

The Doctor is traditionally accompanied by a companion or two, the show's Watsons. My favorite, Billie Piper's very working-class Rose Tyler, began with Eccleston and continued when David Tennant  became the Doctor's tenth incarnation. You may argue whether the Ninth Doctor's working class status was a matter of sympathy or identity—though he was reborn in a new human form, he was still a Time Lord—but Rose Tyler was, in the words of the actress who played her, "a bit of a chav." (The show made that explicit when Rose, possessed by an alien intelligence, looked in a mirror and exclaimed, "Oh my god! I'm a chav!")

Many fans saw what that Guardian writer missed. Backword Dave at “The new Doctor Who” at A Fistful of Euros noted:
Both Rose and the Doctor seem to be “working class.” So far they’ve stood up for enslaved corporate hacks against unnamed bankers, overthrown a despotic billionaire who considered his staff “disposable,” supported an honest (and Labour seeming) MP against a corrupt system, visited a Victorian funeral parlour (where the most likeable characters were a maid and Charles Dickens). In the second episode, the sympathetic character was some kind of maintenance worker, and in episode 1, Rose worked in a department store. Where is the middle classness?
The white Rose Tyler had a black boyfriend, Mickey Smith, who could be considered a companion, but his part wasn't as important as Rose's. The first major black character in Doctor Who was Piper's successor, Freema Agyeman, who played Martha Jones, a middle class medical student.

Just as Rose was an excuse to acknowledge class issues, Martha was an opportunity to explore race. How well the writers did depends on who you ask.

Now, the Doctor always reincarnating as a white male has bugged me for ages. Whoopi Goldberg hinted decades ago that she would love the part, and she should've had it. Or if the producers insisted on someone male and British, Lenny Henry would've been great, as he proved in a spoof in 1985.

But when people talk about race and Dr. Who, they focus on Martha and especially on a scene from "Human Nature": Martha, who had been pretending to be the Doctor's housemaid in 1913, tries to convince an upper-class Brit that she's from the future:
MARTHA: I'm training to be a doctor. Not an alien doctor, a proper doctor. A doctor of medicine. 
JOAN: Well that certainly is nonsense. Women might train to be doctors, but hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color.
It's a brilliant scene. The comment about "hardly a skivvy and hardly one of your color" tackles race and class simultaneously: To an upper-class Brit in 1913, being a doctor isn't for the working class, and it's especially not for brown-skinned members of that class.

But some of scifi fandom's Critical Race Theorists hate that scene. K. Tempest Bradford denounced it on a Tumblr page. then accused its writer, Paul Cornell, of "unintentional" racism at “Let’s Talk About Human Nature”, where she also complained about the Doctor getting to pass as a teacher, while Martha had to be a servant.

Two important points:

1. Bradford's comment about "unintentional" racism absolves no one of racism. All racism is unintentional: racists do what they do because they believe what they believe, not because they intend to be racist.

2. In this story, the middle-class Martha has accepted a working-class role to avoid calling attention to herself. Martha’s predecessor, Rose, wore a maid’s costume at least once; the Doctors companions have often passed themselves off as servants, I suspect.

What fascinates me about the discussion is that no one at Tumblr said a word about class, nor did Bradford at her blog.

But Paul Cornell, replying at Bradford's blog, mentioned class immediately:
...the question is, do we have everyone in (upper class, somewhat sheltered) 1914 be portrayed as absolutely non-racist, or do we note the possibility? I hate it when series set in the past ignore the racism of previous eras to extraordinary degrees. (To not have Martha hammered with it *every time* she sets foot in the past was, though, I think, the right decision.) I think it airbrushes the suffering of individuals back then out of history, by implicitly saying things were always all right. However, as you’re in the group portrayed here, I think your voice should have weight, and I don’t want to push it aside through my own privilege. It’d be really good if we could manage to have the (perhaps first ever) caring, dignified chat about race in the series. Mainly because I’m an enormous wuss and if it gets heated I could well disgrace myself with the wailing and the sobbing.
What Cornell missed with his "you're in the group portrayed here" is Bradford is not, because there's not a united black race. Bradford is a middle class fan whose Angry Black Woman blog excludes class from its concerns. She once said, "I rarely mention class because it’s not an issue I’m particularly familiar with." It's no surprise that in the conversation with Cornell, she continued to ignore class.

Cornell did not. He said:
I think it’s clear that, in some ways, we simply let you down, and I’m sorry about that. Some of this stuff one just can’t argue with, really. Back then we saw ‘chosen by the Tardis’ as a more poetic way of saying ‘by a roll of the dice’, but yes, it’s our choices that mattered. As a British person, the idea that in 1914 Joan would have known about women of colour being doctors feels very strange to me. That sort of cultural information would have been hard to come by (people of her class would have been surprised by that, I think, up until the 1950s, some much later), and I don’t think it’s a stretch at all to assume her ignorance. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think one of the reasons the text is problematic for you is that you feel kicked by the heroine expressing such things. The way institutional bigotries touch good people (because I think it’s important to be able to acknowledge one’s own racism, so I also think it’s important to show racism as a flaw in otherwise positive characters) is a theme in my work. I’ve read the Butler, which is, as you say, the best sort of SF.
Bradford then replied:
I will have to defer to historians on this one, because I admit I don’t know.
Despite acknowledging her ignorance, Bradford didn't change her mind. At Tumblr, she said:
Having a discussion with Paul Cornell about this episode over on my blog. I’m realizing again (always have to re-realize this stuff) how some people just do not see the world the same way as others. They just don’t fathom how everything in this episode is just… arg.
To people like Bradford who care only about the depiction of race, class and history are always irrelevant.

I can suggest answers to her plot complaints, though whether my explanations are implied by the script or are only fan-spackling, I don't know. She says:
People have pointed out that the Doctor did not choose the time and place, the TARDIS dd. Well, TARDIS: wtf? Still not okay. ... In the world of the show that is bad enough. But I find it to be handwavy and bull on the part of the writer/creators/whoever came up with this idea. It looks like they’re trying to absolve the Doctor of responsibility here, and that’s a dick way to do so. Plus, it doesn’t fly for the TARDIS, either, as it’s been well established by this point that it has a consciousness, too.
1. Having the Tardis rather than the Doctor choose a time and place at random seems like a good plan if you're trying to hide from creatures who can travel in time and space.

2. Throughout the show's history, the Tardis has been presented as slightly damaged and not completely dependable. Maybe it goofed up when it chose 1913 Britain.

3. A time-traveling vehicle with an alien consciousness might not know or care to avoid sending Martha to any place with a history of racism. That choice would rule out Martha visiting much of Europe and the Americas after slavery in those places was restricted to one race.

4. The Tardis may have thought the Doctor's pursuers would never think they would hide in a racist time. If so, it was being considerate in sending them to 1913 Britain rather than the Antebellum South or Britain before 1833.

Bradford also complained:
It’s yet another example in a long list of examples where Martha is put into the Mammy role. I might have let it slide except it happens so often it’s a damn theme, and that’s really problematic.
It's actually another example of companions put in servant roles. Did anyone complain when the working class Rose Tyler was put into a maid's role?

For these critics of the handling of Martha Jones, the question doesn't seem to be whether the stories accurately present prevailing attitudes toward race and class. The question is whether it's racist for a middle-class black woman to visit a time where black women are assumed to be working class. That Martha is heroic isn't doubted; she's a much-loved character in Who fandom. I think her fans who wanted her written differently are missing something the writers know: part of her heroism comes from confronting racism. She could have been written like Star Trek's Uhura and only visited post-racial and non-racial places. That would have been a valid choice of the writers.

But it would have meant keeping her out of the last five hundred years of history where English was spoken.

Or it would have meant ignoring racism in those times.

Good writers know a truth about storytelling that fans don't: A writer's job isn't to give fans what they want. It's to give them what they need. If fans are upset because a beloved character faces hard realities, their upset may only be a sign that the writers are doing their job well.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The art of the critique

When people ask for comments on their writing, be polite and be honest. Some commenters favor a policy of “brutal honesty,” but polite honesty is always more effective. Try this:

1. Find the strengths in the work and mention them first. You may have to dig to find them, but they’ll be there. You may only be able to find one or two good things, and they may be as minor as a sentence, a metaphor, a piece of dialogue, a character’s name, or an observation of nature, but there will be something there that’s worth preserving or developing further.

2. Make your general observations next. Here’s a tentative check list:
  • Do the characters change over the course of the story? Or is the point of the story that they fail to change?
  • Does the setting come alive? Does it seem like the right setting for the story?
  • Is the style smooth? Does the story flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph?
  • Does the writer seem to be trying to tell too much or too little?
3. Make petty points last. Write minor suggestions on a copy of the story and give that to the writer rather than belabor small things like typos and suggested deletions.

4. If the writer seems to be having trouble with your suggestions, point out that you’re only doing the best you can, and you know that your suggestions may not be right. Criticism should never get in the way of friendship.

The art of the critique

When people ask for comments on their writing, be polite and be honest. Some commenters favor a policy of “brutal honesty,” but polite honesty is always more effective. Try this:

1. Find the strengths in the work and mention them first. You may have to dig to find them, but they’ll be there. You may only be able to find one or two good things, and they may be as minor as a sentence, a metaphor, a piece of dialogue, a character’s name, or an observation of nature, but there will be something there that’s worth preserving or developing further.

2. Make your general observations next. Here’s a tentative check list:
  • Do the characters change over the course of the story? Or is the point of the story that they fail to change?
  • Does the setting come alive? Does it seem like the right setting for the story?
  • Is the style smooth? Does the story flow from sentence to sentence and paragraph to paragraph?
  • Does the writer seem to be trying to tell too much or too little?
3. Make petty points last. Write minor suggestions on a copy of the story and give that to the writer rather than belabor small things like typos and suggested deletions.

4. If the writer seems to be having trouble with your suggestions, point out that you’re only doing the best you can, and you know that your suggestions may not be right. Criticism should never get in the way of friendship.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

if I rebooted the DC universe

This is a collection of posts about revamping DC characters. The first one is tongue-in-cheek, but the rest are straight fanboy.


  1. Dear DC, Please Keep Captain Marvel Black!
  2. If I rebooted Wonder Woman
  3. If I rebooted Batman and Robin
  4. If I rebooted Superman
  5. If I rebooted the Justice League: Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter
  6. If I rebooted Atom and Green Arrow
  7. If I rebooted Aquaman
  8. Why Aquaman is the greatest superhero ever (or, rebooting Aquaman, part 2)
  9. If I rebooted Zatanna
  10. If I rebooted Sgt. Rock
  11. The gender-reversed Justice League
Dear DC, Please Keep Captain Marvel Black!

Dear DC,

You’re about to reboot your universe, and I approve. Comic books should be rebooted every decade to keep them vital. Having a younger Superman who was never married makes sense. I only have one plea: please, keep Captain Marvel black.

I’m old enough to remember the early ‘70s when DC had the best female superheroes, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, and Batgirl, and Marvel had the best black superheroes, the Black Panther, the Falcon, and Luke Cage.

But everything changed in 1973 when DC expanded its universe with characters that had been published by other companies. Justice League #107 introduced the Quality Comics superheroes. Here’s that groundbreaking cover:

With one stroke, DC accomplished two things. The obvious one: it leapt ahead of Marvel on diversity, creating four African-American heroes, a Mexican-American Black Condor and a Japanese-American Human Bomb (which seems simplistic now, but was a daring commentary on nuclear weapons then).

Sure, DC got flak from racists who said Uncle Sam had to be white. DC bravely answered that the spirit of America could manifest in any of its citizens, and all the major media news media agreed, giving DC publicity that no amount of money could buy. Until then, Marvel Comics had threatened to surpass DC, but DC's bold integration of its world pushed Marvel back into second place.

DC's other accomplishment is easy to overlook now. When independent comic book companies were competing, they had slots to fill. Among them:
  • The white supernatural guy.
  • The white woman in a skimpy costume.
  • The white guy who flies.
  • The white guy who shrinks.
  • The white guy who is super-fast.
  • The white guy whose power makes him a tragic freak.
Imagine if DC had left the Quality characters white. They would’ve been redundant: the Spectre, Wonder Woman, Adam Strange, the Atom, the Flash, and Robotman had those roles covered. But with a simple change, DC made the DCU look more like the world of its readers.

When DC saw that sales didn't suffer from having characters who weren’t white, they did it again with the Fawcett characters in Justice League #136 and #137:

Can you imagine what those covers would've looked like with all-white characters? You would think you were in an alternate universe where Hitler won.

Superman, Supergirl, Batman, Robin, Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Green Arrow, and Green Lantern had already taken these slots in the DCU:
  • The white guy with demi-god powers.
  • The white woman with demi-god powers.
  • The rich white athlete guy with gimmicks.
  • The rich white guy's boy sidekick.
  • The white guy who flies.
  • The white woman who flies thanks to her boyfriend.
  • The white detective guy.
  • The white guy with a supernatural doohickey.
By making the Fawcett characters black, DC told its readers that anyone could be a superhero, regardless of race or gender. Who was stronger, the white Superman and Supergirl or the black Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel? No one knew whether a Kryptonian could defeat the magic of Shazam, but one thing was very clear: the people at the top of the power spectrum could be of any hue or gender.

Comics could sell a million copies in those days. Did the black Captain Marvel and Isis make it a little easier for Jesse Jackson to be elected president in 1988?

Probably not. Comics can’t change the world, even if they change the discussion for a few people. If DC had stuck with a white Captain Marvel, I'm sure capitalism would still be in crisis today and the Republicans would've still given us a moderate like Barack Obama to cope with our changing world.

But it’s nice to imagine that things would be a little better because DC saw a need and acted on it.

So, DC, when you revamp your universe, don't make the most powerful men and women white again. Keep the Marvel Family black.

ETA: RAB reminded me of this panel from Animal Man, which features characters this fanboy would love to see again:

Sunshine Superman

ETA 2: Walaka reminded me of the alternate Justice League in Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1, with Earth-D's black Superman and Superwoman. For pics of the rest, see his post, Earth D-lightful.

If I rebooted Wonder Woman

This is the Wonder Woman I would choose:

She's from a one-shot, Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. The designer solved a problem that's defeated every other attempt I've seen to fix her costume: he turned the original bird insignia into something that both holds up her costume and suggests armor.

I dunno who suggested the costume, but I strongly suspect the writer, Marv Wolfman, suggested that she look Middle-Eastern. It makes sense. In classical literature, the island of the Amazons has been located in Libya and Asia Minor.

ETA: While I like the skirt, I would be tempted to give her pants. 

If I rebooted Batman and Robin

This is a light modification of a panel in Legends of the DCU: Crisis on Infinite Earths #1. I could go either way on making Batman's costume black and gray or blue and gray, but for a creature of the night, the yellow belt made no sense, and the panties were just too 1940s.

My Batman's personality is inspired by the 1960s "New Look" Batman: he's a detective who has mostly made peace with the fact that he can't bring his parents back from the dead. He doesn't like putting Robin in danger, so Robin would be a supporting character, someone who goes undercover in places where Batman can't and who usually has adventures on his own or with the Titans. Their styles are so different that they shouldn't team up often: Batman's inspiration is the creature of the night; Robin's inspiration is the people's hero, Robin Hood. The only reason Batman trains Robin is because he realizes that the kid will fight crime no matter what Batman does, so he might as well do what he can as mentor and friend.

The Bruce Wayne playboy is not a "cover". Batman thinks of himself as a soldier or a spy who works hard and parties hard. He knows he needs R&R to keep doing his duty, and he wants fun that won't result in anyone becoming too fond of him. He's an adrenaline junkie, and sometimes, late at night, he wonders if he has a bit of a death wish. If so, so long as it helps him do his job, he's fine with that.

ETA: The capes can become rigid and serve as gliders. Otherwise, why are acrobats wearing capes? Other than they look cool? Which, I grant, in a comic book is never automatically the wrong answer.

ETA 2: The trick to making the original Robin cape work is to use the collar. Perez understood that:

ETA 3: I would be tempted to make Robin's cape green.

If I rebooted Superman

For background on Superman's look, try SupermanPage and Superman's Symbol, Shield, Emblem, Logo and Its History!. Part of what I like about them is they disagree. For example, was the original Superman meant to have red boots, and the printer or the colorist screwed up? No one seems to know. Blue boots are plausible:

So are red:

What's clear is that Superman was meant to resemble a circus strongman. And that's what's wrong with DC's current attempts:

Is he supposed to look like a kid playing superhero by tying a towel around his neck?

The amount of blue and the high neckline makes it look like a he's wearing a uniform, and the hints of armor make it worse: a superman doesn't need armor.

The fact is that the basic Superman costume is surprisingly delicately balanced. Get rid of the cape? It works too nicely in flight. Get rid of the panties? He becomes too streamlined. I considered giving him red pants and blue boots:

But that does odd things to the icon, too. Much as I hate taking the conservative choice, on Superman, this can't be improved:

Make fun of his panties. I do. It doesn't matter. Superman is perfectly comfortable with his sexuality, thank you very much. I hear men mocking his look, but I can't remember ever hearing a woman saying there's something wrong with calling attention to his crotch.

As for powers, he should be able to fly into space, but he shouldn't be able to move planets and he shouldn't be faster than the Flash.

Clark Kent works for the Daily Planet as an investigative reporter. He doesn't worry about the deadlines that come with TV or radio reporting. The Planet has a web presence that's giving the New York Times a run for its money.

Romance? Complicated. Lois Lane is simultaneously a best friend, love interest, collaborator, and, on some stories, competition. Clark and Lois should see other people while they're working that out.

Best friend? Jimmy Olsen, the only reporter with less experience than Clark, and the only reporter who is as gutsy as Lois.

Boss? Penny White, a black woman.

Completely new character? A Korean-American male reporter and former Marine who works with Lois and Jimmy, and is Lois's current romantic interest.

Clark's current romance? His relationship with Lana Lang is getting rocky. His work has taken him to Metropolis, and she's on an archeological dig in South America, where she's falling for a local. 

If I rebooted the Justice League:
Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkwoman, Martian Manhunter

According to a friend I trust, when the trailers for the Green Lantern movie appeared, kids asked, "Why did they make Green Lantern a white guy?"

That's not a joke like "Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?" It's because, to folks under thirty, this is the Justice League:

But this is DC's reboot:

How many ways is it awful? The short list:

• Instead of being a team of individuals, they look like they went to the same tailor.

• Aquaman is one of my favorite characters, but he shouldn't be part of the core League. He should only appear when a case involves the seas.

• Cyborg is great in the Titans, but he doesn't have a distinct role in the League unless they turn him into a brilliant scientist. Also, his name is generic—it's like calling a character Robot. Give him back to the Titans.

• One woman? Are you kidding me? Humanity is 51% female, and there's one woman in the core team?

My reboot would have the Big Three, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, and:

• Green Lantern. John Stewart, a black man who is the one and only Green Lantern of Earth. In the reboot, he's the guy Abin Sur Katma Tui* chose to wield the ring. (Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner would make cameos as people who might've been picked, if things had gone differently.)

• The Flash. Ricky Estrada, a Mexican-American man with the personality of Wally West.

• Hawkwoman. Shayera Hol, a Thanagarian cop who comes to Earth in pursuit of an alien crook. Her partner, Katar Hol, is killed, and their ship is destroyed, so she stays on Earth for longer than was planned, and comes to love the planet.

• The Martian Manhunter: The original always seemed goofy to me: a green version of Superman who can change shape and gets weak in the presence of fire? Use Miss Martian instead:

Miss Martian photo

A fundamental principle should apply to characters like Green Lantern and Hawkwoman: Heroes should be unique—unless someone offers a lot of money to make a movie or TV show about a variant like Supergirl or Batgirl.

* Using Katma Tui instead of Abin Sur to make it clear that the ring can go to anyone who is worthy.

If I rebooted Atom and Green Arrow

On the list of simple comic book truths: Superhero comics need major female superheroes. I like the idea that the Flash should be a woman. A speedster called Jesse Quick briefly took over the role:

It'd be great if The Fastest Man On Earth was a woman.

But DC is conservative with the characters it considers its most valuable properties, so I doubt they would go with a female Flash, even though that's the best way to get a second woman into DC's Big Five of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash.

That argument doesn't apply to the Atom and Green Arrow.

There've been several male Atoms over the years, including an Asian, Ryan Choi. I'm a big fan of the Earth-D Atom:

And the female Atom on Earth-15:

So I would make the female Atom a black or Asian-American scientist, then give her a jet pack and ray guns. That would be an Atom who'd be a lot of fun to write.

Then there's Green Arrow, one of DC's most durable characters, probably because he's usually a supporting character. He's Batman if Bruce Wayne was inspired by Robin Hood crashing through his window instead of a bat.

So let Batman be Batman, and let a woman be Green Arrow. An American Indian woman could work nicely if you avoided the obvious cliches, or you could use the character who has been called Arrowette and Miss Arrowette:

She was updated for Young Justice:

Put her in a hooded costume:

And that's my Green Arrow.

If I rebooted Aquaman

For at least a summer, Aquaman was my favorite comic. It was the only comic I subscribed to, and the only reason I stopped subscribing was because as I was such a fanboy that I wanted to be able to pick out the best copy of each issue from the spinner.

I loved everything about Aquaman. I loved his weird underwater world. I loved his relationship with Mera, his girlfriend and then wife who could do everything he could, and could manipulate water as well. I loved his orange and green costume with the scales. I loved his conflict with his half-brother.

Okay, I didn't love his sidekick, Aquaboy in his stupid shorts. But annoying teen sidekicks were the price of DC superheroics.

So, what would I change?

Make him Polynesian.

Aquaman and Green Arrow appeared at the same time, in More Fun Comics #73 (Nov.1941). Like DC's Big Three, they slid from the Golden Age into the Silver with few physical changes: Green Arrow was briefly a brunet; Aquaman's gloves were often yellow before they settled on green.

This is the Aquaman DC is rebooting:

I don't mind the neckline, though I prefer the boatneck collar of the '40s and '50s. But the trident is just a stupid thing to have to carry around. If you want to give Aquaman a gimmick, give him a harpoon gun.

Also, ditch the gloves. He doesn't have a secret identity or any reason to protect his hands.

Here's an early appearance of Mera:

I wouldn't change a thing about her. Superhero comics could use an interracial marriage. If you have to give someone a trident, let it be hers.

Aquaboy? Aquagirl? Heroes should be unique. Forget them, and Topo the Octopus too.

PS. I don't know how many Aryan heroes DC needs, but really, they can spare a few blond guys.

Why Aquaman is the greatest superhero ever (or, rebooting Aquaman, part 2)

Aquaman has a bad rep for one reason: Superfriends didn't know what to do with him. And to be fair to the show, he doesn't fit as a regular member of a team that operates primarily on land divided into nations.

Here's why:

1. Aquaman is the ultimate anarchist superhero. His father (or, in some versions of his origin, step-father) was an American and his mother was an illegal alien, an Atlantean. He grew up an outcast, a citizen of no nation.

2. Aquaman works for justice on the whole planet, but especially on the three-fourths where human law is weak. Every other superhero has a home beat, the city they live in. Even Superman, who should be international, is seen by the world as an American because he operates out of Metropolis. Only Aquaman roams the world.

3. Aquaman is strong enough to survive at the bottom of the sea. How many other heroes can keep him company there? Only Kryptonians, the Marvel Family, Green Lantern, and a few magical folks.

4. The creatures of the sea obey Aquaman because he's just that awesome.

5. Aquaman has a strong enough sense of self-worth to marry someone who is objectively more powerful than he is.

So, what mistakes have been made with Aquaman?

1. Originally, he didn't have any limit on how long he could be out of water. A limit makes sense for Atlanteans, but Aquaman should be unique, half-human and half-Atlantean, incorporating both group's strengths and neither's weaknesses.

2. He should never have become King of Atlantis. The job should've been offered and rejected.

How would I write Aquaman?

He and Mera are kids in their early '20s, cruising the world and looking for adventure. She has the power to shape solid things out of water and he does not, but she can't stay out of the water for more than an hour or two, while he can survive anywhere a human or an Atlantean could.

If I rebooted Zatanna

I would have her look like a dark-haired Marlene Dietrich in drag:

But this cosplayer could sell me on keeping the old costume and making her Asian or black:

(photo from here)

If I rebooted Sgt. Rock

I would make him the black leader of a black company. Popular culture has forgotten that the US Army was not integrated until the 1950s.

I was reminded of that by My Very Own Captain America -

The gender-reversed Justice League

From The best cosplay of Comic-Con 2011:

Friday, April 20, 2012

today's reason I hate capitalism, or one of my favorite writers may need a $50,000 operation

It's too early to know how things will work out, and it's not my story to tell, at least, not unless the friend says he's cool with me ranting about it in public. But in a civilized country, you wouldn't have to try to figure out how to get a quick fifty grand in order to get an operation that you need. I so wish Canada would conquer us now.

The friend is exploring options, and Minnesota is better about helping people than many states, so all may ultimately be well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

a post for anti-racism theorists

Even more "class trumps race" evidence: Socioeconomic Factors Trump Race and Geography for Odds of Living to Old Age: "By studying survival beyond 70 on a county-by-county basis, a team of researchers found that a combination of social factors, such as education, marital status and income, were much more predictive than race or geography alone."

And a tumblr that I enjoy too much: Be a SJ Ally, not a SJ Sally. Perhaps my favorites:

a post for anti-racism theorists

Even more "class trumps race" evidence: Socioeconomic Factors Trump Race and Geography for Odds of Living to Old Age: "By studying survival beyond 70 on a county-by-county basis, a team of researchers found that a combination of social factors, such as education, marital status and income, were much more predictive than race or geography alone."

And a tumblr that I enjoy too much: Be a SJ Ally, not a SJ Sally. Perhaps my favorites:

now at a year in a fair world: our taxes

a year in a fair world: our taxes

our taxes

Emma and I paid $327 in income taxes because we made a little under $7000 US last year. Some people think that makes us freeloaders, but I disagree. One argument is that paying less than others is the American way: after all, the richest 400 Americans pay a lower tax rate than the next 1,399,600 or so. But I think this is the better argument:

Those who have more should pay for their privilege. In a fair world, taxes would be paid by the richer 50%. Those who get more should give more, but without the law to force them, the rich share less of what they have than the poor do. One example:

Of course, the current US tax rates may be the best illustration of the greed of the rich. It's not the poor who keep lowering the rates so the rich can pay less and less.


Wealthy weasels: Rich people more likely to cheat - New York Daily News

Work and Taxes | Working-Class Perspectives

Robert Reich (Why a Fair Economy is Not Incompatible with Growth but Essential to It)

Corruption Is Why You Can’t Do Your Taxes in Five Minutes « naked capitalism

How to Pay No Taxes: 10 Strategies Used by the Rich - Businessweek

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

thinking about toilets


I sometimes think anyone seeking public office should have to answer two questions:

Have you cleaned up your own shit?

Have you cleaned up other people's shit?

Those questions are not metaphorical. If you can't answer "yes' to both, I don't want to vote for you.


Emma and I have lived in homes that only had one toilet, but we spent the last five years taking care of a place with four, counting two in guest areas. Now we're in a small house with one. I'm thinking about installing a second toilet, which has led to thoughts about privacy, luxury, and waste of many sorts.

I've always lived in homes with flush toilets, though when I was a kid, those were homes with one toilet for a five-person family. But Grandpa had a cabin by Lake of the Woods which only had an outhouse, and because I loved my grandpa and the lake, outhouses have always had good associations for me.

Which is why I may try to convince Emma that instead of installing a second flush toilet, we should build a closet with a humanure toilet.


This post was inspired by this:

Lack of Sanitation

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Cabin In The Woods: no spoilers

If you enjoy Joss Whedon's work, you'll enjoy this. Yes, it's a horror film, but the darkest and bloodiest moments aren't worse than the worst in anything else he'd done. There're just more of 'em.

Feel free to mention spoilers in the comments. There are only a few small things that I would've suggested changing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why writing groups can be great #1

Writers argue about a lot of silly things, like whether writing groups are helpful. The sane answer to that? Writing groups are like any other group: good groups help some people, but some people are better off solo.

Five Temptations That Actually Boost Your Willpower at Psychology Today has one reason why good writing groups help some of us: "Research shows that willpower can be contagious. You can “catch” extra self-control just by seeing someone else pursue a goal."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Adolph Reed Jr. on lesser-evilism

Lesser evilists assert as indisputable fact that Gore, or even Kerry, wouldn't have invaded Iraq. Perhaps Gore wouldn't have, but I can't say that's a sure thing. (And who was his running mate, by the way?) Moreover, we don't know what other military adventurism that he—like Clinton—would have undertaken to make clear that he wouldn't be seen as a wimpy Democrat.

Adolph Reed Jr. on identitarian Ivy League POC

At Obama: WTF? A Facebook Roundtable of the Left « Corey Robin, Adolph Reed says of Obama, "I’d refrained from saying that he, as well as his various running dogs, haunt me as illustrations of the modal type of Ivy League POC students I’ve been teaching for the last 30 years. That same mastery of performance of a cultivated, yet at the same time empty and pro forma, intellectuality, conviction that one’s career advancement literally embodies the victory of the civil rights movement, and that awe that Bromwich notes of the rich and powerful."

The last reference is to David Bromwich, who has written many criticisms of Obama.

Bonus! From Neoliberalism & Black Politics: A TBS Conversation With Adolph Reed, Part 1:
I’ve been teaching mainly in the Ivy League for 35 years, and I’ve been watching this type coming down the conveyor belt on the assembly line. In fact, probably as early as ’83, I had a sister in my Black American thought class at Yale who was a graduating senior, it was a grad/undergrad class. I know her aunt, who is an old friend of mine, and an English professor, and I know her parents a little bit. We were talking one night, and she said something that just led me to remark without even thinking about it, “if I didn’t know better I would think that you’re saying that the whole point of the civil rights movement was [so] that people like you could come to Yale and then go to work at Morgan Stanley,” which is what she was going to do. She said, “yes, absolutely.” Without thinking again, I said to her, “well, I wish somebody had told Viola Liuzzo that’s what the movement was going to be about because she might have stayed home in Detroit and watched her children grow up instead of going to Selma and getting killed.”

Marx explains Barack Obama

'The more a ruling class is able to assimilate the most prominent men of a ruled class, the more solid and dangerous is its rule.' —Karl Marx

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

two points about capitalist democracy

"It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favour of vegetarianism, while the wolf remains of a different opinion." — William Ralph Inge

Canada's Tommy Douglas used cats to show how that works today:

cognitive dissonance and the antiracist Democrat

For people who see effect rather than cause, the most racist sins of the United States today are the drug war and the war in Afghanistan.  I will argue with the idea that the US's foreign wars are racist because the US fights wherever war is the most effective way to preserve or expand its power.

But even when you factor in class, the drug war disproportionately punishes black folks.

Therefore, choosing a presidential candidate should be easy for antiracists: The only major candidate opposed to the drug war and the war in Afghanistan is Ron Paul:

Ron Paul: Get out of Afghanistan! End War Profits and Corporatism!

Ron Paul: End the War on Drugs!

But antiracists say he's racist, so they won't support him.

Because I often fail to connect the dots for people who disagree with me, I'll make this as simple as I can: Antiracists prefer an antiracist whose policies imprison and kill people of color to a racist whose policies would free and save people of color.

As usual with people suffering from cognitive dissonance, antiracists hear words and can't see deeds.

Does this mean I support Paul? He's a conservative capitalist and I'm a socialist, so the answer's no. But if he was the Republican nominee and I accepted the logic of voting for the lesser evil, choosing between Obama and someone who wants greater limits on war and imprisonment would not be hard.

However, I rejected lesser-evilism long ago. Where people choose the lesser evil, the greater good can never win.

ETA: Malcolm X on lesser-evilism: “If you put the Democrats first, they will put you last.”

Sunday, April 8, 2012

class insult of the day: Bogan

Bogan - Wikipedia: "The term bogan is Australian and New Zealand slang, usually pejorative or self-deprecating, for an individual who is recognised to be from a lower-middle class background or someone whose limited education, speech, clothing, attitude and behaviour exemplifies such a background."

socialist Bible verse of the day: John 13:12-17

"So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, [your] Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them." —John 13:12-17

Brother Will says: Jesus rarely speaks from a position of authority—he tends to call himself a "child of humanity" or a "child of God" to show he's just like the rest of us. But here, he uses the disciples' insistance that he's their Lord and Master to say, "Fine, have it your way, I'm your lord and master. I'm still here to serve, and if you truly respect me at all, you'll serve others also." Jesus uses authority to reject authority, which is the proper use of authority.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Bill Colsher has a blog: Sapere Aude, Incipe!

Bill Colsher, a member of Cats Laughing and culinary advisor for Liavek, has a blog: Sapere Aude, Incipe! He's just announced has intention to take the Food Stamp Challenge: "$64.40 for 2 people for a week not including spices and condiments." I suspect the results will mighty tasty.

Friday, April 6, 2012

our new bikes

our new bikes | a year in a fair world

our new bikes

We knew we wanted bicycles for fun and cheap transportation.

Emma found hers quickly. It's a crank-forward model, the Suede by Giant, that she bought from the local bike co-op, Hub. She wanted several gears, and she liked the crank-forward because it would put her a little closer to the ground, which would make her feel a bit more secure.

I was torn between getting an old beater that no one would want to steal, or an adult tricycle that would be great for hauling things, or a recumbent that would be easy on an over-50 body. But recumbents are expensive, trikes take up a lot of space, and beaters really aren't fun to look at or ride.

Then Emma spotted the Elektra Cruiser 1 at REI. I like the added ergonomics of the crank-forward and the simplicity of having a bike with only one gear. Its gear is a bit low, so when I'm in better biking shape I may change the sprocket to get a little more speed out of it. Or maybe not. It's good to go slower and see more.

Neither of these bikes are as cheap as something from Target or Walmart—without any extras, mine was about $275 with state tax, and Emma's was nearly $500—but we bought them with the intention of keeping them the rest of our lives.

I did a little googling for average bike prices, and concluded what we paid is reasonable for a well-made bike: