Avengers Classic

It’s Friday plus lol does anything even matter at this point so let’s burrow into the back-issue bins for some old and/or obscure comics.

Once again, I’m admittedly writing about a big name from a big publisher, but Avengers Classic from 2007 was, relatively, a brief blip and was certainly a little odd. Maybe a lot odd.

On the surface, Avengers Classic is obvious. A serial reprinting of Marvel’s popular Avengers title. The reprints have new cover artwork, which has been fairly typical for reprints for decades. (This makes some sense, even when the original covers were iconic Jack Kirby drawings, because it has always been ordinary for publishers to fuss over different options for cover art, knowing its importance to sales. It has probably become even more reasonable as printing technology has improved, and modern coloring in particular involves rich hues and gradients which 1960s comics art was never intended to blend with.)

Also on the surface, Avengers Classic is very obviously modeled on the Classic X-Men reprint series of a couple decades earlier. That doesn’t seem so odd, but the more I examine this in detail the more odd it becomes.

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Post-democracy America

As I watch corrupt sham democracy eat each big new hole in the remaining shell of representative democracy, I always feel a tension any more between dismay at how fast it seems to be happening and the lessons of experience about how long zombie systems can shamble along anyway.

Aside from the lessons of America itself over the past couple of decades, I think again on re-reading Gibbon recently, and on how long the Roman Senate existed after the Roman republic ended. This notoriously pathetic zombie institution (the use of which by America’s framers as an explicit model for our government was really Asking For It from the very start) lingered on for centuries after it had surrendered all power to autocratic emperors. The Roman Senate outlasted the republic, its own purpose, and even the Roman religion, by centuries.

That’s a powerful corrective to any expectation of a near-term catharsis, of any kind.

So I’m stuck, usually, with the expectation that things will get worse and worse, but, while some kind of explosion(s) are probably somewhere ahead, even they may not really alter America’s zombie-shuffle very much.

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Bipartisanship Deal Infrastructure

Friday morning I began writing a blog post about the absurdities in and around the “bipartisan infrastructure deal” announced the day before. Then I stepped away from keyboard for a while, and before I resumed writing, parts of the Jenga tower had already begun caving in.

There’s a small life satisfaction, there, although people are scurrying around trying to patch up this dumb thing, and I don’t presume the effort is at and end.

I do believe that the most important point is the same, regardless. Republicans’ shiny-object obsession with bugaboos, conspiracies, and other made-up bullshit, has a counterpart among too many Democrats as well as the culture at large. This center-left obsession is with, perhaps fittingly, obsolete conceptual infrastructure.

Customs, norms, rhetorical clichés, mental clichés, bipartisanship, filibuster, reconciliation; it’s an obsession with the score of a game which no longer serves any purpose at all, in large part because only one of the participating teams is trying to play said game. Despite which, this ridiculous scrum continues of spectators and one team ferociously debating tactics and points, while the other team (and an increasing number of referees who have joined their team) simply play Calvinball.

From this starting point, it seems like a pattern of over-complicated and inherently dishonest “deals”—Obama’s 2016 attempt to waltz the Trans-Pacific Partnernship through Congress, Republicans’ 2017 game of hot-potato over healthcare repeal, and now the “two track” infrastructure scheme—is not a coincidence but basically inevitable.

The old is dying. The new cannot yet be born until more people pull their heads out and confront reality. Here, meanwhile, are some of the morbid symptoms.

VALIS

Philip K. Dick’s novel VALIS is, 40 years after its publication, a bit like watching one’s self live on video: what seems bizarre is actually what’s there all the time, revealed by the unfamiliar reflection of the familiar reflection which we see in mirrors.

VALIS is a bizarre work, made more bizarre by the way it challenges the concept of fiction. Many of the thoughts and experiences in VALIS are allegedly those of the author. This is recorded in most standard accounts about Dick’s life, as well as within the novel itself, although the novel also includes the character “Horselover Fat” as, at various points, 1) a mask worn by the author, 2) a self-delusion which the author sees through, and 3) an independent entity who interacts with the author. VALIS does not seem to me like it’s simply a pantomime exercise in freaky shit, for what that’s worth. The gnostic musings as well as the reported experiences seem, in combination with external writing about the book and the author, to be coming from sincerity—although the author makes considerable allowance for some of the experiences to be hallucinations or other cognitive-only experiences, sincerely reported.

Taken all together, VALIS seems like a tour of delusions, myths, and conspiracy bunk, provided by a guide partially aware that some of it is incredible and may not be strictly real, but not at all certain what alternative is real.

In 2021, in America, this also seems like a prime example of the literary characteristic of applicability for which J.R.R. Tolkein expressed appreciation.

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1,317 Days

It is difficult for most people genuinely to believe and adapt to a belief that the system doesn’t work, and not surprisingly, elites are generally more prone to this than average people. For this reason as much as any, I just can’t believe that American renewal is close.

It feels as though we are a society simply marking time, now. I made a counter of the days until Inauguration Day 2025, currently 1,317 days out. This date seems important because, until then, various limited but significant abuses of power will probably be on pause. That seems like nearly the only major reassurance available for American governance right now. Manifesting efforts aside, it seems very unlikely that Republicans can seize back the presidency’s terrible powers before then. This matters, given that their last presidency delivered not just vast corruption but e.g. concentration camps (even if they denied this term), an Attorney General publicly supporting a program to disappear dissidents off the street into unmarked vans, and Lafayette Square.

It’s a symptom of how complete the rot is that no one seems likely to be penalized for any of these things; on the last item, indeed, Biden’s Attorney General is defending Trump against a related lawsuit and media has recently picked up an attempt to gaslight the events’ reality out of history entirely.

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History is what happens while you’re making plans

Yesterday on Twitter, someone posted in a thread that: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” While attributed in this case and quite frequently to Franklin Roosevelt, I’m not surprised to find this morning that the attribution appears spurious. I have not spent all that many years personally engaged in politics, but bumbling seems much more typical than something happening as a result of planned activity.*

That seems to apply to… a lot, actually, as the past year has been demonstrating in big ways.

It isn’t just that no one seems to have a credible theory of the case. Republican elites probably come closest, with their states-and-courts strategy for hollowing out democracy—while abhorrent it’s a strategy and it’s working—but even they seem to have a tiger by the tail. This looks like a disciplined, functioning strategy in comparison with most other political activity, much of which is ritual people just repeat because humans are that way. Calls, postcards, zingers online, letters to the editor; dance the ghost dance, shake the magic gourds, chant the word “bipartisan” again and again and again and again.

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Rule of (Brandolini’s) Law

Brandolini’s Law: the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it (Alberto Brandolini, 2013).

This is one example of the problems that I just don’t think America can realistically contain with policy at this point.

The frequent heading of “disinformation” does not quite get to the scale of what’s in motion, in my opinion. In the big picture, the disruptors* are engaged in mythmaking. I don’t think any lesser word conveys the full scope of various related efforts to delegitimize negative facts and create deeply held contrary convictions. The mystery-funded Cyber Ninjas “audit” in Arizona “is a new kind of political ritual, whose purpose exists beyond reason or consensus or fact.” Its purpose is, it seems obvious, to further the myth of a stolen election.

This is not completely new, though. Similar origins produced the “birther” lie in response to Obama’s election, and while I don’t recall many Republicans disputing Bill Clinton’s election per se back in the 1990s, they were at work weaving the fundamental myth that all Democrats are inherently an Other who cannot legitimately govern “real Americans.”

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The democratic party that wasn’t there

America, I have realized, doesn’t really have an institution for the protection and promotion of representative democracy, or at least not a remotely adequate institution. If there is a way to make a large multiethnic democracy work, I suspect that it would have to include such an institution.

We don’t have that. There is no formal department, or program with this responsibility. In Congress, there are committees on veterans, small business, Indian affairs, aging, printing… There is no committee with clear responsibility to work on issues of democracy.

It so happens that America does have a Democratic Party, which has been one of the country’s two major political parties essentially forever. There are a number of reasons why the Democratic Party has been ineffective at stopping the sabotage of democracy, but the main reason is probably that “the Democratic Party” is really just a loose concept, not an organization.

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Nonbinary Generation

I’m 42 years old and not really with-it, or hip, or anything like that. Yet it does seem like a grassroots conceptual revolution has gotten underway in a relatively short time, when it comes to sex and gender. The rise of nonbinary identification seems like it is gathering pace especially rapidly.

Personally I can definitely describe myself as gendernonconforming, which is a pretty broad category given what rigid expectations of gender norms still prevail in our culture. There is no obvious reason why nail polish, my most public demonstration of this, is so much associated with a specific sex only, but it is. (The only comments on my nails to date have all been positive, but not everywhere is Lakewood.) Nonbinary might also be applicable, but the term feels so new that I wonder if I understand properly.

Recently I caught up with a Generation X friend who has two gendernonconforming children, the older of whom identifies as nonbinary and has adopted they/them pronouns. It was only during our conversation that I realized how recently I have had any real awareness of nonbinary status as more than an abstract concept. I heard another acquaintance mention one of his children identifying as nonbinary, some time in 2018 or 2019. So, maybe three years. A lot has happened during the past three years, but that’s still not a long time compared with four decades.

A few thoughts about this for whatever they’re worth.

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The Illusion of Change

During my active years in comic book fandom, somewhere or other I absorbed the concept of “no change, only the illusion of change.” I’m not sure that there’s any firm, verified single origin for it, and in any event its significance is in the clarity of its understanding of America’s biggest long-running superhero properties. From year to year, things seem to happen, but decade to decade, not so much, and over the longer term even less so.

I was reminded of this after spending some time thinking about American politics and governing, at the national level, and what major change has actually happened compared with 10 and 20 years ago.

That probably gives away much of my conclusion, which is that at this time scale so much of the screaming and scrambling and struggling seems to even out. Most of it is equivalent to the illusion of change. Above and beyond that, slow geologic trends seem to be the main story, and it is not really a good one.

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