Sunday, November 13, 2016

A 2016 Presidential Election Bestiary

As our great nation riots in the street and slaps digital high-fives on Facebook, there are a number of people who contributed to the popular vote in this country who are trying to figure out what the hell happened on Tuesday.  And as Americans, we have a natural tendency to want to simplify and boil down complex questions into succinct answers, because as a nation, we have the attention span of a goldfish and are desperate to find out who won Dancing With the Stars before we forget why we were watching it in the first place. We are our own worst terrible contradiction, I know.

The reality is that most complex systems that rely on the active participation of millions of people, filtered through fifty state bureaucracies and a host of exterior influences are way too complicated to ascribe a one word explanation that magically covers the letdown like a tiny little Band-Aid. This is not a toaster. We didn’t throw a rod. It’s our messy modern America we’re talking about. And there’s a lot of blame to go around.

To help focus or diffuse some of your rage, I’ve compiled a handy Bestiary of Assholes, Shitheads, and Generally Horrible Institutions for your consideration. I don’t know if I got everyone to blame on the list, but everyone that is on the list is surely to blame.

Some of you may not see it this way. Some of you may find yourselves on this list. Good. That was intentional. We all played a part in this year-long train wreak, and while I don’t wish harm or ill on anyone, I will say that you (the collective You, the inclusive You, the Royal You) gets to bear the your fair share. But we’ll get into that in a minute. Let me say for now that it’s possible—just possible—that President Trump will make good on his promises to bring jobs back, replace Obamacare with something better, make us safer around the world, lower taxes, and in short, Make America Great again. If he does that—I’ll admit that I’m wrong and apologize to you all.

But if that doesn’t happen; in short, if the jobs don’t come back (from vacation, presumably), and if I don’t end up with a better health insurance plan than my current Bronze Level Option, and we find ourselves re-engaged in the Middle East or North Korea, and they have to raise taxes to pay for that war, and American is Not So Great when it’s all over—if THAT happens, you’ll admit that you were wrong, and apologize to me, right?

Okay, let’s pick the scab and see what color the pus is.

A is for Americans
This would be the people that live in the giant swath of red that sits between the East and West coast. What Los Angeles and New York City call “flyover country.” This would include my little town, in North Texas. There’s a lot of people hurting out there, economically speaking. We don’t make stuff anymore. Not really. Not like we used to. That’s a problem, and it’s something that wasn’t really addressed in 2008 and 2012—with good reason.

However, it seems to me that the people in the middle of the East and West coast heard all of the good promises about jobs, and chose not to hear any of the horrible, awful, nasty things President-Elect Trump said about their fellow Americans. Or, maybe they did hear them, but since they weren’t People of Color, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, or some other form of hyphenated American, they figured it wasn’t so big a concern and voted only for their own self-interests. Just like anyone else would have done. Does this make them racist, too? Misogynist? Some people think so. I don’t. But the unfortunate truth of the matter is, for every church going, decent person who voted for Trump as (to their way of thinking) “the lesser of two evils,” there was a guy in a dirty bunker with a tiny bust of Hitler on their television saying, “Finally! Someone who gets us!” And the fact that he never addressed the ugly underbelly of America is a real and legitimate problem for a lot of people. Either way, it speaks volumes about the character of this country, and shines a revealing light on one of our most enduring myths that we tell ourselves.

B is for Bernie
The crushing irony of this is that Bernie Sanders was considered a political outsider (like Trump) for months, until, you know, he started to actually gain real support from real people. I remember all of the flapping-head sock-puppet pundits snickering loudly at Bernie Sanders’ chances in the primaries, because, well, tee hee, just look at him, I mean, really... Barbie and Ken dolls, all of them. Who’s snickering now?

Bernie came from a place of sincerity. Of genuine public service. Of principles and conscience. Of morals and ethics. If you were looking for someone to shake up the political machine as it currently exists, Bernie was your real Molotov cocktail. Maybe he still is. But this would have played out very differently.

C is for Conspiracy Theories
Holy shit, when did we as a nation become so gullible? You know what a conspiracy theory is, right? It’s an outlandish plot conceived to explain an unpopular occurrence that cannot be disproven. That’s how they work. When I was growing up in the 1980s, most conspiracy theories were in the closet of the fringe element, the whackadoos who believe that the Moon landing was faked. That Paul McCartney was killed and replaced with an actor and that’s why the Beatles broke up. Shape-changing lizards are running the government. Fringe nonsense. Here’s why people believe in conspiracy theories, and that’s something to consider when talking about our country in the 21st century.

Let me be very clear about this: every thing that Donald J. Trump accused Hillary Clinton of doing during the campaign (well, except for lying—see below) was actually a conspiracy theory. Here’s a list for you to mull over. And if your reaction to that is, “That’s just what they want you to think,” or if you’ve ever used the word “sheeple” in an online discussion, then you are actively dumbing down the country with your distracting nonsense.

D is for Democrats
When will you guys decide to stop bringing knives to the gunfight? How about now, for instance? Two things need to happen if you ever want to be viable as a political party again. 1. Stop worrying about making grandstanding gestures for posterity and instead focus on passing legislation, enacting forward-thinking public policy and getting stuff done in Congress. 2. Stop going “high.” You’re fighting Republicans. You know, the men who run on the family values platform and then get caught with fishing for dates in the men’s restrooms? Why are you being considerate? They need to be hobbled. Get a bat and start swinging for the kneecaps. We need twenty new seats in the Senate in two years. Start now. Or better yet, do what Michael Moore says. Here’s his prescription

E is for Election Reform
For the second time in my lifetime—since I’ve known my wife—I’ve watched the electoral college nullify the popular vote. This is especially egregious, since the popular vote was the bigger number. Something has to change, and I don’t care what. If you won’t abolish the Electoral College, how about removing the “Winner Take All” provision and divide the EC votes according to popular percentage? And don't get me started on the whole mechanism of voting,  either. 

And while we’re at it, how about changing the rules so that Third Party candidates aren’t left out of the process altogether. I think one of the fastest ways to stop this polarization of the country is to give us a few more nuanced choices. The reason why the Powers that Be are reluctant to do this is simple: Money. They lose too much money when their respective parties are gutted from people going to a group that better reflects their needs and interests. The only way to fix it is to even out the process entirely and cap spending on campaigns. Let the messages be about the quality of the ideas, not the frequency with which the candidates are seen bashing their opponents.

F is for Facts
Ah, Facts...those things that were routinely ignored by our President-Elect for over a year. Those things he never let get in the way of a good story. I can’t remember the last time so many people chose to simply stop thinking like a rational person and rely on “gut feelings” and “people are telling me” and “I’m hearing.” What are we, imbeciles? You know, Santa’s not real, either, even though you’ve seen his picture on Coke cans for years. Using a gut check to pick a presidential candidate is not the dumbest thing you can do on this list, but it’s pretty close.

It’s time to start valuing math and science and data again. It’s time to stop playing fast and loose with feelings and opinions spoken with an air of authority. Just because you, average American, didn’t go to college, doesn’t mean you’re not smart. Certainly, you should be smart enough to know a con man when you see one. It reminds me of an old joke: How can you tell when a Politician is lying? His lips are moving! And the moral of this story is: a Campaign Promise is not a Fact. See “L” below.

G is for Gender
There is no way you can convince me that some—some—of the people who cast their “protest vote” for Trump weren’t just doing it because she’s a woman. I just watched a cavalcade of racist vomit for eight years on social media, when so many people were convinced that we’d licked racism because of President Obama in the White House. To the lunatic right and the ultra-conservative Christians and the just plain ol’ misogynists who have been strident in their disapproval of Hillary Clinton this past year, let me say this up front: I will not listen to your bullshit on this. If you think a woman’s place is in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, you’d best keep it to yourself.

And don’t “Bible” me on this, either. We don't stone people to death for transgressions. There’s no Biblical argument that makes sense anymore. It’s ridiculous, outdated, outmoded, and if you think we won’t push back on this, think again. There will come a day, down the road, when Elizabeth Warren will be offered up as a presidential candidate (or vice-presidential candidate) and she comes without 30 years of conspiracy theories clinging to her. She’ll get in, if it hasn’t happened before then. You are on the wrong side of history on this. Change, or head to the tar pit.

H is for Hillary
You know, I get it. I really do. Hillary Clinton is a divisive figure. I mean, she’s got the taint of Clinton Scandal all over her. But let’s not forget who first sprayed that stink all over her in the first place, right? I know a lot of you were alive in 1992. You must remember when Rush Limbaugh led the charge against them, insisting that they had committed murder in Arkansas. They hadn’t, of course, and there was never any question about it in the eyes of the law, but it started a 30 year full court press that culminated in some of the most hate-filled rhetoric I’ve ever witnessed aimed at a public figure. 

And yet, despite all of the accusations, and the constant investigations—7 or 8 of them, all led by Republicans—they did not find any malfeasance or misconduct. Whatever you want to call it. The only thing that Hillary Clinton is guilty of is being a career politician, with all of the skills and attributes that come with that job. The same skills and attributes that, say, Ted Cruz and Mitch McConnell have, by the way. If you don’t like the way she did things, and think that she didn’t play fair, or think that she got away with something, then congratulations, because you’ve put your finger on the pulse of modern politics and found the institution wanting. Yeah. They all do it. They all did it. Even your guy. Yes, him, too.

I is for Internet
Social Media is, without a doubt, one of our modern devils, responsible for so much evil, pain, and strife, when it’s not distracting us with pictures of kittens and baby otters and people getting hit in the junk with softballs.  Then you drop a petulant narcissist onto Twitter and let him run unfettered, and he gleefully sets himself to the task of trolling the 2016 Election, all while actively encouraging the Russians to Keep. Hacking. The. American. Election. Process. You do know that the Russians are the bad guys again, right? And by the way, since when exactly did a meme, banged out in thirty seconds (eyes closed, judging from the frequent misspellings) constitute a meaningful thought? Memes are the bumper stickers of the Internet. And I don’t mean that in a good way. I mean it as in, you should stop using memes to make your points.

Look, I know you’re reading this online, but want you to understand something: this is not an ideal form of communication. It’s advantages—speed, distance, flexibility, are outweighed by its disadvantages, chief among them—anonymity, security, and obfuscation. There’s a reason why we all seem to become mean, hateful and a little sociopathic, and that’s because it’s a consequence-free environment that we mistake for meaningful discourse. And if you’re a troll, it’s your preferred medium and mode of expression. So, why are we placing such emphasis on social media to help us with the most important political decision we make every four years?

J is for Justices
The Republican controlled Congress, led by the obstructionist Mitch McConnell, has held up the appointment of the ninth Supreme Court Justice for—what? Six, seven months now? Thanks to the Republican Majority in the Senate, and Tea Party dissidents like Theocrat Ted Cruz shutting down Congress because they didn’t get what they wanted, the Supreme Court was the only branch of our government that was still doing its job. And it was doing, more or less, a good job, until Scalia died earlier this year.

In the final gesture of disrespect, Congress has ignored its duty in vetting and approving President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination—a man that even the Republicans agree would be great for the job—so that the honor could go to the next president. Lovely. Once again, held hostage by Republicans so that they can roll back Progress in this country to 1952.

K is for Kangaroo Court
Listening to people chanting “Lock her Up!” was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. Now, in this election, at this time, you’ve all suddenly grown the spine and moral fortitude to hold a politician’s feet to the fire? And for what? Stuff she’s already been cleared of, from multiple sources.

Oh, and all of you “nose holders,” don’t think you’re not part of this, either. “I don’t like Trump, but I really dislike Hillary.”  You’d rather have the Elite Oligarch, the super-rich real estate developer than the career politician who at least doesn’t want to burn it all to the ground, is that your stance? All because you think she did something wrong. You just can’t articulate what. Hmmm. We’re all right with war crimes and war profiteering, but the email server is your line in the sand? Hmmmm.

L is for Lying
Never before have I watched a political campaign spew half-truths and untruths like a firehose, hither and thither, with no real attempt by anyone in opposition to call the liar on their junk. And let me be very clear, here: I’m talking across the board, top to bottom, all along the spectrum, about Donald Trump. I thought initially that it was willful ignorance at work, where he’d just squint and omit the parts of the story he didn’t like. But then he started reshaping the narrative in the most brilliant way; he actually gaslighted the American public. He figured out that if you repeat something often enough to people, they take it as the truth.

Clinton doesn’t get to skate on this, either, but I want to make it clear that her “misspokes” and her “not well articulateds” and all of the other awkwardly-worded things she said only made her look like she was trying to get away with stuff, and it made her seem more untrustworthy. Pretty frustrating, especially when she kept getting investigated and they kept saying, “We didn’t find that she did anything wrong.” Of course she lied in the course of her job. So did every single politician who ever held the office. There was lies a-plenty to go around during the last Republican Presidency. But that never was part of the Democratic narrative, was it? “We want to run a clean campaign,” right? How’s that working out for you? And now it seems that all of the hate and the bile and the venom was nothing more than campaign rhetoric. In other words, more lying. But it’s okay if your candidate wins, right?

M is for Media
Some of the media are already taking their lumps for this, but to be fair, it’s the whole of corporate-owned and ratings-driven news that needs to be nut-punched repeatedly until they agree to start treating the American public like it’s a body politic and not bored Romans thirsting for Christian blood in the Coliseum. We don’t need political analysis from your lantern-headed mouth-flapping correspondents, whose only qualifications seems to be that you’ve had them on the show before. Pundits and bloggers? Are you kidding me?

How about stating facts, telling people what happened, and covering the things that actually matter? Be useful. Stop slanting, shading, and skewing your data. I hate that I see stuff on the BBC news that is never talked about from any of the cable news networks. We deserve better than this. You—the media—are considered part of the public trust. At least, you used to be. Either start helping us all make good choices or get out of our way entirely.

N is for Nationalists
This is where the shame lies. Shame on Donald Trump for not immediately and stridently denouncing the endorsements of the guys living in neo-Nazi encampments in the woods, making their own beef jerky and waiting patiently for the coming race war that’s going to happen...oh...any day now... Of course, these chuckleheads have been predicting something like this for thirty years, to no avail. But now there’s a guy running for president, and he hates brown-skinned people, too! Whoo-Hoo, boys, put on your clean overalls! We’re going to town!

There’s already a “Mexicans Go Home” attitude that’s floating around, and Trump’s not even in office, yet. I live in Texas. The “ex” part of the state is a reminder that our culture and way of life is inextricably tied to Mexico. This is a real problem for me, and it should be for the rest of you, too. Mexicans go home? They are home, Gringo. Aw, it’s just such utter bullshit, this idea that all of these mythical jobs are being appropriated by Hispanics, and our nation of white landscapers and white custodial service workers and white day laborers and white construction workers are starving because of it. Hogwash.

O is for Orange
Demented Cheeto. Walking and Talking Circus Peanut. Parboiled Yam. The color now and forever associated with President-Elect Trump will be orange, thanks to his spray-on bronzing solution. I am sure the glow is healthy in real life, but on naked video, it makes anyone wearing that stuff look foolish and stupid. But that ridiculous skin color is the very least of a whole catalog of problems that are self-evident when considering this man for the highest office in the land.

I never liked him. Not when he was a spoiled rich kid millionaire. Not when he was a reality TV star. Not when he was an agitator for the Republican party. And as much as I didn’t like him then, I hate the thought that this demagogue is the president-elect.  I thought he was a joke, a wastrel, who got lucky. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth and somehow managed to keep the money instead of pissing it away. This is no “Man of the People.” He’s the very person most of us in the South claim to despise. I’m still baffled that a rich, spoiled Yankee who is too big for his britches would somehow win my people over.

P is for Pussy
Here is our National shame, laid bare, that such vulgarity would find its way into the political discourse. And that even this—this tacit admittance to, at the very least, sexual assault—wouldn’t dissuade you from voting for Trump—well, that’s some deep blues, right there. You don’t have to be from the Ivy League to know that’s no way to treat a lady, ever. “Locker Room talk,” my ass. I know bragging when I hear it. He was trying to impress Billy Bush. Billy Bush! Geez, Louise.

Already the children of the hateful people have been sent to school by their proud parents and started yelling at the Hispanic kids to “Go back to Mexico.” How long do you think it’ll be before one of those kids “just can’t help himself,” and decides to help himself, because, you know, this is apparently okay, now, right? I mean, if the president can do it, and get away with it, what kind of message does that send?

Q is for Qualifications
For decades now, I’ve listened to older Republicans lament that “what we really need is a business man in the office. He’d be the one to fix our budget.”  The thinking being, we need a guy who runs the government like he runs a business. Ruthlessly slashing waste, eliminating redundancies, streamlining operations, etc. Not necessarily running the busi—I mean, the government—with strong ethical conviction. That part is never mentioned.

Well, be careful for what you wish for. Here’s your businessman, kinda. Sorta. I guess. I mean, he’s a real estate developer, and he’s worth millions, and he’s got a brand, of sorts, and despite all of the failures along the way, he had enough money to run a protracted political campaign, and, on top of all that, it worked. I will tell you this, right now: he looks like a dog that just caught the car he was chasing. He looks worried. He’s not being presidential, now. He’s looking for the exits so he can ghost at the first chance. We’ll see just how far that business acumen takes him. If only there had been someone else running for office with a laundry list of credentials and actual experience in the White House…

R is for Republicans
You have a lot to answer for. I’m not sure when “the party of principles” decided that anyone could rent space on your platform, but you either need to eject the cranks and whack-jobs in your party or change your name to something else. It’s bad enough that you let the Tea Party radicals in—and I think you already know that your punishment was Ted Cruz, the most hated man in Congress—but you only backed that Orange Horse because you didn’t like any of your rank and file candidates. You even had a Bush in the mix, for crying out loud! But you were afraid he wouldn’t win, because that’s all that matters to you. You obstruct, you shut down, you drag your feet, you waste millions of dollars on needless political stunts, and you have the temerity to blame the Democrats because stuff doesn’t get done at the Congressional level. 

And while we’re on the chopping block here, you need to jettison the social and moral backwater stance, too. If you want to be the party of fiscal responsibility, that’s fine. Be that party. But don’t also lump “family values” into it. You’re always one disgraced Senator away from looking like idiots. And no one trusts you because you always end up looking like the very worst kind of hypocrites. That word is in the Bible a lot. You should look it up.

S is for Scandals
Hopefully this will be the only Presidential election ever where the manufactured scandals got all of the attention and the actual scandals were patently ignored by the voting public. Democrats? You had to know that every ounce of Republican-based dirt reserved for the Clintons over the years would be trucked out and used against Hillary Clinton, right? You had to know that. I knew it. We all knew it. Dogs knew it. Did you think that her record of public service would protect her from a manufactured murder-conspiracy? The opposition just fielded a Reality Television Candidate!

And yet, this guy was tangerine Teflon. Things he actually said and actually did—stuff that, in any other year, under any other circumstance, would have gotten him booted from his own reality show, fired from a corporation, turned him into a social pariah—none of that mattered, because the folks in Trump’s camp were “tired of Hillary (or Killary, or Shillary, or, you know, ‘that c*nt’) getting away with it,” whatever “it” was. Oh, yeah, all of those scandals over the years. The ones that Republicans investigated multiple times, using millions of dollars of the taxpayers money, only to find nothing. Unbelievable. People were more willing to believe that Hillary Clinton murdered people than to admit that Donald Trump was demonstrably guilty of sexual assault.

T is for Third Party
Dan Savage is right.  Before you start throwing wide-eyed, earnest-looking imbeciles at us every four years, how about fielding a few candidates at the local level, hmmm? Maybe work up to state senate? Congress? We don’t know anything about your party, because we’ve never seen it in action. Why keep swinging for the fences and missing? How about you assholes get some people on base, first? Because all you’re really doing, in the end, is jacking up the big game by insisting that you have a turn at bat.

It only really matters during times of extreme duress, like, you know, the past twenty years, now, when those people who voted for third party candidates actually made their point at the end of a barrel of an important gun. I say this as someone who voted for Ross Perot in the 1990s, to no avail, and who saw a lot of people try to defend their choice for Nader in 2000, when the election was too close to call, and now, sixteen years later, staring at the 1.7 percent of the vote that sure did tell a story, and that story ends with a Trump presidency. I’m not saying you Green Party and Libertarian Party people are wrong; we do need to break up the two-party system. But this was not the year to try that, obviously. Put the work in, first, and you’ll find a more receptive electorate in, say, 2020 or 2024.

U is for Undecided
Really, undecided? You have been on this Earth for how long, exactly? Oh, all of your life. Right. Gotcha. So, then, why is this something that happens every four years, as if you have emerged from a chrysalis state, newly-minted, full of wonder and gentle good humor at our funny Earthling ways? The thing about experience is that it’s supposed to stick with you. Moreover, you should ideally use that experience to make informed decisions.

I don’t buy that there wasn’t enough for you to hang an informed decision from July onward. There was plenty of substantial, concrete information to base your choice on, without even cracking the surface of the muckracking and filth that coated this election like fried chicken batter. I don’t know where you’re at, or what this says, that so many people who were registered to vote simply didn’t, and even more people stayed home because they didn’t think it would matter one way or another. Maybe this will go away in four years, or even two. But I think as long as nothing above changes, we’re going have to deal with the Undecideds for a while longer.

V is for Vocabulary Words
“Dog Whistle.” “Micro-Aggression.” Clinton pulled a good one out of her hat: “Basket of Deplorables.” Now, we all know what she really meant by that, and it’s willfully ignorant to pretend anything different. But the first thing Trump said that actually got the attention of his base was that he was tired of being “Politically Correct.” And while everyone looked shocked and horrified (or cheered because they could say vulgar things in public again), no one looked past what that really meant; namely, the notion that the Extreme Left loves to talk down its nose at people who are not in the same Pullman car on the Train of Progress as themselves. This usually manifests itself on places like Twitter, where they actively lock horns with the Internet trolls, but it spills over onto all over aspects of American life. People who simply aren’t up on the latest Mercurial changes in terminology get labeled “racist” or get admonished for “mansplaining.” No one catches flies with honey on the Extreme Left. Everyone has a flame thrower, and they burn bridges daily. Patton Oswalt has the right idea about this phenomenon.  

There is another culprit here, as well. The media just loves its jargon, doesn’t it? If it’s not phrase-making it’s phrase-borrowing. POTUS. SCOTUS. “Full-throated endorsement.” “Down ballot.” How about you stick to reporting facts and learned opinions and leave the wordsmithing to the professional poets and dreamer of the world, hmmm? Instead of trying to show you have insider knowledge, work on delivering the news in the format and with the simplicity of a sixth grade Spelling Bee. Especially now our president, who uses words like “bigly,” and can’t articulate complex thoughts and must rely on hyperbole and repeated phrases for emphasis, isn’t much of a “reader.”

W is for Wall
This was the whole of Trump’s political platform, writ large: “I’m gonna build a wall. And Mexico is going to pay for it.” This statement has been walked back, reworked, and massaged from every possible angle, and no matter what metric you use to examine it, it’s clear that the idea is ludicrous in the extreme. Anyone from Texas who thinks that such an idea is practical, and yet doesn’t read science fiction, or have collections of old issues of Popular Mechanics where those vastly impractical airships of the future are shown as concept drawings is just delusional, because we know what the border of Texas actually looks like. For the rest of the world, trust us on this; there’s no way a physical barrier could ever run the length of the Texas-Mexico border, never mind the rest of the United States. But that’s one of those “Big Concept” ideas that seems so easy to so many. Yeah. Just, you know, build a wall. With cheap labor, so it don’t cost as much. You know, like those undocumented… oh, wait…

Now people are insisting that this wall was actually a “metaphor” for some sort of combination of security systems and plans and programs that would be implemented. Pfft. Whatever, dude. You know what he meant. I know what he meant. Stop trying to make him smarter after the fact. It’s pretty obvious that immigration is a hot button topic, but there’s so many other ways to handle the volatile and uncertain situation that involve diplomacy, good policy, and thinking long-term. I realize these are not strengths of the incoming President. And I’m not a political junkie. But I have been watching this clown since the 1980s. I know an asshole when I see one.

X is for Xenophobia
Speaking of assholes, I’m shocked (and this is my own confirmation bias showing, here) that the various disenfranchised white people are clumping up around Nazi flags. Still. To this day. In 2016. I honestly thought that there wasn’t a member of the KKK under the age of 85. This is my naiveté, I know. However, I wasn’t blind to the number of people who don’t like all Muslim people because of what happened on 9-11. And it’s an extremely touchy subject.

In so many ways, I feel like we’ve come full circle by jumping back in time a hundred years, to when Immigrants were pouring into this country to work the factory jobs, and, well, you’ve seen this Schoolhouse Rock short, I know. We all have. Of course, what that lovely cartoon never mentioned was the “No Irish Need Apply” signs and the anti-Jew and anti-Italian and anti-immigrant sentiment that was a nasty backlash to what amounts to most of our ancestors moving to America so we can be having the same arguments 120 years after the fact.

Y is for Youth
Oh, you precocious little Special Snowflakes. We, the members of Generation X, were once like you. Our guy was Bill Clinton, in 1992. We used to be the Youth Vote. And with the help of MTV, we Rocked It.  And then our guy got caught…well, it doesn’t matter. We realized, because we grew up jaded, that all of these bastards had feet of clay. They were fallible. Imperfect. Human.

That’s why your principled stance really stuck in my craw. But I can’t make you do anything, really. No one can. No one ever did. But your insistence in voting for a third party candidate or worse, not voting at all, despite a cavalcade of credible information on both candidates, just baffled me. Maybe this is a good thing. You need to see for yourself what’s happening next. What’s coming up. Then, maybe you can put cause and effect together and make better choices next time. Provided we can beam that information to you in 140 characters or less.

Z is for Zeitgeist
The zeitgeist, for those you unfamiliar with the term is “the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time.” What that means on this list is, we are all to blame for what happened. Our need to be entertained instead of informed and enlightened. Our muted anger and frustrated feelings of having no control. Media streams blasting at us from so many directions. Stress. Fear. Cynicism.

We have turned into really shitty people, you know that? It didn’t happen overnight. All of this innovation seemed like a good idea. From the late 1980s on, there’s been a slow, glacier-like creep towards becoming bored, entitled, ignorant, naval-gazing, self-important turds. We didn’t used to be this way. I’m not romanticizing the past, either. We’ve been our better selves, but usually only for a short time—during Christmas, or national tragedies. We profess to be a Christian country, but we are the most un-Christian-like people when it comes to the way we treat others. It’s no wonder that the current champion of the oppressed is a rich, bigoted, narcissistic, borderline fascist with no impulse control and a sense of entitlement to rival English royalty. He's us, write large. He is the Uber-American. 

Sorry if I got any of that on you, personally. But this has been building up for almost a year, now, and I needed to lance that boil, because it was killing me, literally. We all made ourselves sick, worrying about this stuff. And in the end, we missed the mark, but good. I don't blame any one thing on this list, so much as I see it for the Gordian Knot that it really is. 

So, what's the answer? I don't know. I have no earthly idea. Everyone is saying, "Get Organized! Rebel! Resist! Fight Back!" Yeah, great ideas. Pick a monster and have at it. There's a lot to throw your weight against. Me? I'm wearing my safety pin. I'm going to continue to comment on the things that matter to me. I'm not going to make assumptions about people, but I will not stand for open displays of bigotry, intolerance, or hatred. Your answer will undoubtedly be different, and your path is not my path, and, provided no one is hurt and no laws are broken, I wish you well. One thing is certain: this was only the first of what feels like a five act Shakespearean tragedy. Let's all hope that's not the case. 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

My ArmadilloCon 2016 Schedule

For those of you who can't get enough of the ol' Finnster, here's my ArmadilloCon schedule for next week. Of note is the History-Making Gentlemen Nerds Podcast with live-audience participation, on Saturday at 10 AM. Now, I know it's the first panel of the day, and we wouldn't dream of sending you out into the world without coffee and doughnuts, right? Well, how about this: You bring the beverage, and we'll bring the doughnuts. Cool? We'll all be in the same room for the first time ever, and we WILL be talking to the audience. Come be a part of the magic of podcasting, won't you?

And for the rest of the festivities, here you go:

Fri 6:00 PM-7:00 PM Ballroom D
Allen, Mark Finn, Klaw*, Lansdale, Williams
A history and appreciation of Tarzan, including, of course, the 2016 movie. 

Comic Books You Should Be Reading
Fri 10:00 PM-11:00 PM Ballroom F
Benjamin, Mark Finn, Humphrey, Porter*, Rogers
What comics should we be reading, and why? 

Gentleman Nerds Podcast 
Sat 10:00 AM-11:00 AM Southpark A
de Orive, Mark Finn, M.A. Finn, Fotinos
The Gents gather to create a podcast discussing a variety of nerdy topics. 

Sat 1:00 PM-1:30 PM Conference Center
Mark Finn

Game of Thrones - What's New, What's Coming
Sat 4:00 PM-5:00 PM Ballroom E
Mark Finn, Goldsmith, Picacio, Rountree, Swendson, Wilson*
Our panelists discuss the latest season of Game of Thrones, and any hot rumours as to what may be on the way. 

Fannish Feud
Sat 5:00 PM-6:00 PM Ballroom D
Mark Finn*, Bobo, Wilson, Cherry, Landon, Martinez
Come see our Fans vs. Pros game show event. Let's play the feud!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Darwyn Cooke 1962-2016

If Darwyn Cooke had only given us DC: The New Frontier, it would have been more than enough. I mean, that whole thing is a masterpiece from start to finish. The book starts out with the Losers on Dinosaur Island, for crying out loud. And it gets better from there. An amazing achievement from start to finish that really captures the mid-century zeitgeist.

Just one example of his impeccable
design sense.
Mid-Century. It's kind of one of those buzzwords, now, and it refers to the design aesthetic that emerged Post-WWII to roughly the late sixties. Mod furniture. Boomerangs in the design. The 1966 Batmobile. Surfboards. Mid-Century.

There was a light side and also a very dark side to that time period. And that was where Darwyn's artwork was situated. A lot of people compare him to Bruce Timm, (and don't think I'm dissing Timm, who is an amazing artist), but that's not a fair comparison. Darwyn's artwork, to me, was closer in tone to Alex Toth, or maybe Will Eisner. It's hard to put a finger on. But there was an elegant simplicity to what he did that looked effortless, fun, and occasionally whimsical.

If he'd only done Catwoman with Ed Brubaker, it would have been enough. If he'd only done cover illustrations, it would have been enough. But he did something else that will be regarded as his critical zenith.

He gave us Parker.

Richard Stark's Violent World of Parker series are my favorite caper novels. And I'm not alone, either. And now, thanks to Darwyn Cooke's brilliant adaptations, they are favorites of so many others, too. When I worked at bookstores, I often took it upon myself to foist these books onto people who were looking for something good. Many of my friends are Parker fans because I put these books in their hands. I used to have to give them this succinct elevator speech about the book, the character, the series.

Monochromatic, nihilistic, and elegant.
The Parker Graphic Novels are some of
the best crime comics, ever. Period.
Now I can just point to Darwyn's brilliant, pitch perfect, couldn't happen any other way, or in any other medium, graphic novel adaptations of these novels. That Mid-Century aesthetic has a dark side, and it's the world Parker lives in. Darwyn did things in adapting the Parker novels that you can only get away with in comics. They are a master class, the kind Will Eisner and Alex Toth used to teach, on how to tell a story in words and pictures.

I got to meet him, once, a few years ago, the last time I went to San Diego. The Score had just come out and I was giddy with excitement. I know a bunch of comic book creators, and I long ago stopped getting excited to meet them. There were exceptions, of course. Joe Kubert. Will Eisner. And now, Darwyn Cooke. I could not understand why I was so nervous, waiting in a line that flat-out wasn't moving, to meet this guy.

My friend Joseph McCabe, an excellent pop culture journalist, kept me company while the line inched forward. We were both pretty stoked about meeting him. And when it finally, by degrees, inched around to where we could actually see him, he looked tired. The signing was supposed to be an hour long, and we were in hour two.

At last, I got my chance to speak to him. "Thank you so much for doing these books justice," I blurted out. Nothing cool. Nothing suave. "I hope you're not stopping at three."

He smiled. "I really want to do Butcher's Moon."

That stopped me. If I had had gum, I would have swallowed it. "Butcher's Moon" is the last of the original Parker novels, and it's a sort of a Parker's Greatest Hits, where he calls in every thief he ever worked with to pull a massive heist the likes of which have not been done before. It makes Ocean's Eleven look like Waiting for Godot. Unfilmable. But not un-comic-able. It would be sublime.

I thought all of that in the span of a heartbeat. then I tried to say it all out loud. What came out of my mouth was, "Holy Shit!"

He smiled again.

"That would be--so--" Words failed me. I stopped trying to talk and just smiled and nodded. He personalized my book, and I shook his hand. It was an amazing moment, one I haven't forgotten. Not profound, but just nice. I think he understood what his books meant to me.

He was one of my favorite artists.

It's not fair that he's gone. He was too young, too talented, too nice, too...too...ah, dammit.

Fucking cancer.

And rest in peace, Darwyn Cooke.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Ghostbusters are Women Now.

If you really don't think these four actors are funny, then
you and I will never see eye to eye on anything, ever.
And I'll always hold this against you. 
In honor of National Woman's Day, I'm going to come right out and say I have no problems whatsoever with four women in the beige jumpsuits. None whatsoever. And if you do, well, I can't speak for you and won't try.

But I will offer this up in reply to your, um, stance: If you say, out loud or in print, that this movie (or any other thing you seem to disagree with) has "ruined your childhood," I'm going to invent white dwarf matter, create a shrinking device, shrink down to the size of an electron, travel through the fiber optic network and pop out of your computer and chop you in the throat. I'm totally not kidding.

Your childhood has been ruined? What kind of idiot are you?

Allow me to elaborate:

1. If the whole of your childhood hinges on whether or not a single movie gets remade or updated, then you are far more fragile than your profile picture would seem to indicate and you need to be in therapy.

Childhoods are ruined by learning there is no Santa Claus at the age of 6 when no presents arrive on Christmas Day because Daddy lost the money at the track. Random beatings. Social Services intervening. Nasty, contentious divorces. Creepy uncles. That stuff ruins childhoods. Movies don't ruin childhoods. And movies you watch as an adult certainly don't ruin personal childhoods, unless you're so developmentally stunted and emotionally retarded that you're still in your childhood at the age of 37.

2. No one has gone back in time and killed Ivan Reitman's parents so that he can never direct the first Ghostbusters movie and it never gets made. That didn't happen. The first Ghostbusters movie still exists out there for you to watch in an endless loop if you so desire. No one is stopping you. All of the venom and bile you keep vomiting up online about it could be better spent watching the first movie. Or, you know, the not-as-good second movie. Or the not-nearly-as-good cartoons. Or trawling ebay for the toys from the cartoon. Or getting out of your man-cave. All in all, 10,000 other things you could be doing instead of mewling to a bunch of strangers that you have no actual perspective by claiming some sort of Ret-Con childhood destruction because of a movie that you haven't even seen yet.

3. No one--and I mean, NO ONE--is making you see this movie. You don't gotta go. And let me tell you something, that alone will be your saving grace. If you're that upset by four funny women in a movie, you just don't have to expose yourself to that experience. Don't pay the ticket price. That'll teach 'em!

I have used this technique for years with great success. I still, to this day, have not seen Highlander 2. Or any of the other Highlander movies. You know why? There can only be one, that's why. And that one movie remains high on my list because I haven't surrounded it with all of the negative baggage of the other movies. It's not a 'franchise' to me; it's just one good movie. I wish I had done that with the first Ghostbusters, but I didn't, and now I have to square Mood Slime and Slimer driving a Midtown bus with the brilliance that was the first movie.
It helps if you stop thinking about this one good movie and
all of the crap that came after it as a "franchise." Also,
it helps to have actual perspective about pop culture. 

But I digress. We were talking about your hang-ups.

4. Was Ghostbusters 2 so good, so brilliant, so much better than the first movie that you want a third one with the same cast? Minus Harold Ramis, on top of everything else? Old, sad, and not as funny? Fat Dan Aykroyd? Come on. You're better than that. Well, you should be better than that.

5. If the movie comes out and it falls flat, let's look at it from that point of view. The script doesn't work? Fine. Ham-Fisted directing? Okay. Wooden acting? Fair point. But let me be very clear about this: if everyone but you likes it, then you're the asshole. Unless your standards for comedy are so Byzantine and esoteric that you don't like anything from any of the people in the movie, and can back that up with reasonable, if subjective, criteria, then saying "The four chicks in the movie ruined it" is not valid criticism and you henceforth suck.

Me, I'm willing to wait for the movie to come out before I throw it under the bus.

In conclusion: Grow up. Get a Life. And Shut Up Your Damn Head About the new movie. Participate, or walk away, but stop with the Nerd-Rage. We're all just sick of it.