Wednesday, November 7, 2012

They gave it their best shot

Let me state right up front, I'm glad President Obama won re-election. That said, I don't expect anything to change for the better in Washington now that the far right of the Republican base has been repudiated by the electorate yet once again. For one thing, the far right won't admit it's been repudiated. As charter, founding members of the Unreality Based Community, they will continue to deny reality with desperate determination. This, despite the fact that in many ways Obama's victory was a landslide.

What's that, you say? How can you call a near 50-50 split in the popular vote a "landslide" win for President Obama? Isn't a near tie the very definition of a divided electorate?

Well, yes and no.

From the perspective of pure numbers, it's true the President pulled out a squeaker of a victory. A simple reading of the vote count would imply Obama won by the thinnest of margins. But let's examine the circumstances, and put those numbers into context.

Historically, when a President seeks re-election in a bad economy, he's defeated. (It's the economy, stupid.) Incumbents win when the economy is good (or improving visibly), lose when it's bad. This is Politics 101. In essence, that's why the Republicans did everything possible over the last four years to impair Obama's efforts to restore the economy, and have, in fact, done their best to sink it even deeper in the mire. (Case in point, the debt ceiling "crisis.") Republicans knew their best chance to win back the Presidency was to attempt to cripple Obama's economic efforts. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch O'Connell admitted their primary objective as legislators was to make Obama a one-term President. (Comforting to know how Republicans measure their obligation to the people of our country versus their political interests, isn't it?)

So, from a historical perspective, Obama went into the 2012 election cycle predestined to lose. All the Republicans had to do was mount a reasonably competent campaign with a reasonably competent candidate and the odds were in their favor. And that's what they did. Whatever you may think of Mitt Romney and the Republicans's political beliefs, the fact is they mounted a very competent campaign. They made no Sarah Palin-sized mistakes. Romney came off as polished and professional, particularly after the first debate. The Republicans did exactly what they had to do in political terms: they offered a plausible alternative to the incumbent during a period of bad economic news.

And they lost anyway.

And this is why I say Obama's win was actually a landslide. Because, if you analyze the numbers, this wasn't really a split decision. Romney's votes came primarily -- almost overwhelmingly -- from a shrinking portion of the electorate: white males. Romney won the vast majority of the while male vote (and the 65+ vote, which is the very definition of a shrinking electorate). He lost, OVERWHELMINGLY, every other element of the vote. Minorities, people under 30, women: all voted for Obama by wide margins, in some cases three-to-one for Obama over Romney (lookin' at you, Hispanics!) and in that sense, in the sense of winning the population that will soon dominate politics demographically, Obama won in a landslide.

Now, die-hard true believers of the far right will argue Romney wasn't "conservative" enough. But only someone who's closed his mind to reality would argue the electorate wasn't fully informed about the differing political beliefs of the Republican and Democratic parties. The GOP and its billionaire-PAC allies spent billions of dollars to get their message out. They had candidates at every level making their ideological case. And the clearer that case was made -- Todd Akins and his discussion of "legitimate rape," for example -- the more resoundingly it was rejected by the electorate. So, the argument that Mitt and the GOP weren't "conservative enough" to win over voters just doesn't hold water. That won't prevent the true believers from believing it, however. And more power to them, I say.

2012 may well go down as a watershed year in American politics. I hoped 2008 would be that year, but the demographics weren't there yet. They may not be here yet completely, now, for that matter, but I think what's happened in California this year might be indicative of what will happen in the rest of the country over the next decade or so:

Up until 1994, California was a more-or-less reliably Republican state. From time to time Democrats would get elected to the governorship, but for the most part the state was dominated by what today would be called liberal-moderate Republicans. But demographics began to change in the 1960s and 70s, and slowly the statewide electoral base began becoming more minority-based. In reaction, the mainstream Republican Party in California tilted to the xenophobic, anti-government right. Playing to prejudice, the right-wing passed a number of thinly disguised anti-minority "tax reforms" -- primarily to keep old white people from having to subsidize the education of young minorities. This thinly veiled reactionary racism hit its peak with the governorship of Republican Pete Wilson and his support for the anti-immigrant Prop 187 in 1994. The proposition was viewed by the growing Hispanic population (and other recent immigrants) as an attack on their political existence. It was the wake-up call for the dormant progressive movement in California politics -- and the death knell for the Republican Party in California.

Over the last seventeen years the GOP in California has become increasingly marginalized, though the right-wing continues to win an occasional victory through well-funded and deceitful ballot initiatives. Unable to win majorities in the legislature, the Californian GOP was reduced to using the only power it had left -- the ability to hold the state budget hostage every year, under a state constitutional requirement of a two-thirds majority to pass tax increases. (Sound familiar? Can anyone say Senate Republican Filibuster?) But now the GOP has lost even that small amount of power: This week the Democrats won a super-majority in the California legislature, removing the threat of a minority-Republican veto from the budget writing process. For all intents and purposes, in California, the Republican Party is dead.

In ten or fifteen years, if the national GOP continues to follow the rightward path of the California GOP into political irrelevance, it will be dead too.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Christian religious argument against a Christian religion-based society

One of the central tenants of Protestantism (as opposed to orthodox Catholism) is the primacy of an individual’s personal relationship with God. This relationship is a result of the individual freely accepting Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior, leading to the experience of being “born again.” Baptism is a symbol and an expression of this rebirth, a rebirth that’s only possible because the individual freely accepts Jesus and his teachings. It is this concept, which includes the concept of free will, that is the central core of Christian religious belief. Without free will, and without the free acceptance of a personal relationship with Jesus, there can be no true conversion, and no salvation.

One stumbling block to belief often expressed by athiests is this notion of an all-powerful and all-knowing God providing mankind with free will. If God is truly all-powerful and all-knowing, the argument goes, and if he wants humankind to worship him, why gift humanity with free will? Wouldn’t it be simpler just to create humans with an innate belief and understanding of a personal God? Why go to all the trouble of providing humans with free will, and then allowing them the choice not to believe, if belief is what God wants from us?

To this argument the believing Christian has two answers. The first, of course, is that God’s motives and methods are inherently unknowable, and so cannot be questioned by human rationality. The second, and more important for our purposes, is the notion that God allows us free will because he values our worship precisely because it’s freely given. In other words, the ability of an individual human to reject God’s worship is part of God’s plan for humanity.

It is for this reason that the attempt of believing Christians to enforce God’s will upon non-believing Christians is inherently blasphemous.

By setting themselves up as God’s agents on earth, to enforce what they perceive to be the creator’s will, Christians who seek to legislate religious rules through governmental action are placing their own judgment above God’s will. They are seeking to supplant God’s plan with their own.

They are blaspheming against God.

So, next time a Christian believer tells you that he’s only seeking to enforce God’s will when he tries to pass a law restricting your freedom to ignore God’s will, tell him or her that what he’s doing is pure blasphemy. Tell him that God endowed you with free will, and that you must be allowed to act upon your free will if God’s plan is to be fulfilled, and that any attempt to restrict your free will is clearly unGodly, and that whoever does so is sinning in the face of God.

Let’s see how they like them apples.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Drive He Said

Among my many personality flaws, as my wife reminds me, is my charter membership in the Everybody On The Road Except Me Drives Like An Idiot Club.

Fortunately for my waning sense of humility, it isn't a very exclusive club, and its members are mostly, if not entirely, self-sponsored.

Recently, though, I've had reason to consider dropping my membership.

Maybe it's because I'm getting older, maybe I'm developing some perspective as time passes, or maybe I'm finally growing up (just a bit) but it's begun to occur to me that the modern American traffic system is actually a model of driving excellence.

If it weren't, after all, most of us would be dead.

Think about this: at any given moment as you cruise a busy highway like, say, US 101 through the San Fernando Valley, you're cooperating with hundreds -- if not thousands -- of other drivers in an incredibly complicated series of instant-by-instant maneuvers happening almost literally too quickly for conscious judgement to become involved. Merge on and off an access road, change lanes, accelerate and pass, slow down and avoid a bit of congestion, make a last-minute course correction to switch freeways, all of this taking place at speeds in the range of a mile-a-minute or more -- the number of unconscious decisions you have to make, second to second, is almost incomprehensible. The only possible way you can survive even five minutes on a high speed freeway is if almost every other driver you encounter operates with a skill and efficiency and a predictability that would seem impossible if you tried to plan it in advance. If you don't find this even remotely astonishing, and a real compliment to the inherent adaptability of the human brain to remarkably challenging and stressful demands, then I pity your lack of imagination.

Humans are amazing.

Even if most of them can't drive worth a damn.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Jar-Jar Doesn't Suck (Much)

I recently tweeted that my sixteen-year old daughter Rachel’s favorite Star Wars character was (gasp) Jar-Jar Binks, and her favorite Star Wars movie was a tie between “The Phantom Menace” and “Return of the Jedi.”

From the amount of grief I got, you’d think I'd said her favorite President was George W. Bush.

Believe me, I understand the disconnect here. As an OSWF (Original Star Wars Fan) myself, I was deeply disappointed when I saw “The Phantom Menace” back in 1999, after standing for hours in a line outside the only theater playing it in Westwood. (OK, I admit a true fanatic would have been in line for weeks, but give me a break, I had a job and a family, there are limits.) As each prequel appeared, I disliked them as intensely as any True Fan, and I doubt I can ever fairly judge a performance by Hayden Christensen after the way he massacred Anakin Skywalker.

All of that remains true, but my feelings have tempered as I’ve gotten to watch the series again with Rachel, and have tried to see Star Wars through her eyes.

In fact, I’m beginning to think I’ve been wrong all along.

I don’t know if he said it first, but I believe the great science fiction writer and editor Damon Knight once proposed, “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 13.”

What he meant by this, of course, is that our personal Golden Age for discovering the delights of fantasy/science fiction is that moment in our lives when we begin to transform from a child into an adolescent. As a child, we’re still open to a sense of wonder and awe; as an adolescent, we want our imaginations to be challenged by broader concepts of Universal Conflict, Love, and Tragedy.

Star Wars, like most of pulp science fiction, fantasy, and comic books, is the perfect vehicle for this transitory Golden Age.

With the child’s uncritical perception, and the adolescent’s longing for challenge, the Star Wars series (all six movies) delivers the perfect combination of awe, humor, childishness, adult longing, proto-sophistication, youthful solipsism, and good-old-fashioned fun.

Even, and especially, the first prequel, “The Phantom Menace.”

A few weeks ago, during the Christmas holidays, Rachel and I spent a weekend watching the six films back to back. She hadn’t seen them since she’d been a child -- I’m not sure if she saw Phantom Menace when it came out, but I know she saw it a few years later, when she was eight or nine. Even then, her favorite character was Jar-Jar, and even at that time, of course, I could see why -- Jar-Jar was designed to be kid-friendly. And I, of course, still despised him.

The odd thing is, though, as we re-watched the films in order over Christmas, I found myself not hating Jar-Jar as much as I had before. In fact, I began to see how similar he was, in story and thematic terms, to C-3PO and R2-D2 in the original trilogy. In fact, once I tried looking at the series through my daughter’s eyes, without the prejudices I brought to the movies from my own experience watching them for the first time twenty-odd years ago, I began to realize that Jar-Jar and C-3PO/R2-D2 were pretty much the same character, and that for an adult, all three of them were superfluous and annoying, while for a young kid, they were an absolute necessity and a vital part of a child’s way into the Star Wars story.

And I finally realized what I should have realized twenty-odd years ago, and what was made clear to anyone who paid attention at the beginning of every Star Wars film since “A New Hope”…

Star Wars isn’t science fiction. It isn’t a fantasy. It ISN’T for adults.

It’s a fairy tale.

For kids.

While this may be obvious to you (and truthfully, on an intellectual level, it’s always been obvious to me), the fact of this didn’t hit me emotionally until I saw the movies through my daughter’s eyes.

Maybe George Lucas really is the genius I used to think he was.

More on this next time...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


When I was eight years old I asked my dad if we could fight crime as Batman and Robin. We had a car that looked like the Batmobile in Giant-Sized Batman #1 (well, kinda; ours was a dark green and it lacked the big bat-fin, but, details, details) and my dad had already made me a top-hat and a cape for a local kid's theater production of "Jack and Jill" (our director had a unique vision that called for me to play the little-known part of Magician-Wizard in the tale) so I figured the costumes wouldn't present a problem. My dad had been in the Army during World War II and he was still in good shape, wiry and muscular, and he had black hair like Bruce Wayne, and even though I was fairly clumsy and uncoordinated myself, I knew I could be a great gymnast like Robin once I got the red and green outfit on. All in all, as brainstorms went, I was pretty certain this one was a sure fire winner. Much more practical than my previous idea to win a contest for a spacesuit, like the hero of my favorite book, "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel," because as far as I could find out, nobody was actually promoting a contest with a spacesuit for a prize, but this Batman and Robin idea only required a simple paint job on our car, and some sewing, and we'd be good to go.

My dad, bless his heart, listened to this proposal and said, with all seriousness, that he'd think about it. Meanwhile, wasn't it time for me to go to bed?

I mention this now, not to provide an early indication of my somewhat tenuous grasp of reality, but to establish that from almost the beginning of my relationship with comics, I didn't want to create stories about super-heroes; I wanted to be a super-hero. Writing about super-heroes was my consolation prize.

Just thought I should make that clear up front, in the spirit of truth in advertising.

And So We Begin Again

I'm starting a new blog — this one — to discuss my "theories" about writing in general, comics and TV and screenplays and novels in particular, and my "memories" about my days writing comics, TV, screenplays and novels.

All of which should be taken with a grain, or even better, a spoonful of salt.