Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Subconscious Has a Weird Sense of Humor

I dreamed last night that I was watching a revival of Cyrano, and they'd decided to go a completely different direction by making it a musical. It was a terrible mistake, though, because the director chose "Roxanne" as one of the songs, and it really made Cyrano's reputation as a great poet and lover misfire when he wrote an anonymous love note calling the woman of his dreams a prostitute.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

I'm Suddenly Tempted to Make a Short Film

I saw the trailer for 'Spider-Man: Homecoming' recently, and while there was a lot of cool stuff to unpack, I find myself utterly fascinated by the four burglars at the beginning wearing the cheap Avengers Halloween masks. I mean, setting aside the head-twisting weirdness of kids dressing up like superheroes in a world where superheroes are real, I really want to know what made the bank robbers decide to pick these particular masks. I can actually see myself making a short film on the subject, a sort of Reservoir Dogs pastiche where these four hardened criminals, having obtained the advanced tech they need to carry out their crime, now argue over which Avenger they're going to dress up as.

I figure you'd have the one guy who really thinks it's a bad idea. He says that the one thing that will make the Avengers get up off their butts to chase down a bunch of bank robbers is finding out that those bank robbers all wore Avengers masks to commit their crimes. He finally, reluctantly agrees, but demands to be Captain America because that's the only one of the four who probably won't accidentally kill him just by punching him.

There's a huge argument over who gets to be the Hulk, with one of the guys insisting that he totally, like, gets the Hulk in a way that none of the others possibly can. But one of the other guys wants to be the Hulk, because it's either that or Thor (because the guy who organized the gang is like, "No, letting me be Tony Stark is one of the conditions of the job" and his mask is suspiciously better than everyone else's and it's kind of obvious to everyone that he came up with the whole 'Avengers masks' idea pretty much as an excuse to wear his Iron Man mask without looking weird for being the only one wearing a superhero disguise, but they don't say anything because it's a really good plan and they don't want to lose out on the loot)...

And the Hulk guy is like, "Why don't you want to be Thor? You're totally a Thor dude!" and the other guy explains that he saw all these creepy skinheads in prison with Norse tattoos and he doesn't want anyone to think he's, y'know, racist or anything, his girlfriend is black and his kid is biracial and he wants them to be proud of him. And the Hulk guy is like, "Naw, no way, man! The real Thor, he'd be totally cool with your kid! You know if he saw those skinhead dudes, he'd be smacking 'em with the hammer like he was playin' Whack a Mole!" and really selling Thor to this other criminal, until the guy finally relents and picks up the Thor mask and says, "Let's do this!"

And then the post-credits scene is just a reprise of the scene from the trailer.

I can see it working, I really can. I suppose it'll become a sickness if I ever write out an actual script.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Seat at the Table, a Voice in the Corner

(Crossposted to Daily Kos.)

I’ve seen a lot of angry progressives over the last few days. While it is definitely time to look at why we lost, it is not and never will be a time to cast blame. Finding a problem and fixing it is important and necessary; finding a reason why it’s not your fault is just an exercise in ego-preservation and will only lead to a whole bunch of new mistakes next time as we fix every problem but the ones we’re responsible for making.

So, let’s talk...calmly and without rancor...about Hillary as a candidate, and the other choices we had...and the other choices we didn’t have.

Hillary, in retrospect, was everything we tried to convince ourselves she wasn’t. She was a wonderful woman, a great civil servant, a hero that the American people frankly don’t deserve...but she was also a polarizing figure that the vast majority of Americans had already made their mind up about, who was too reserved and guarded to be an effective campaigner. She did her best, but she was always going to be better as a Secretary of State where she could play to her strengths than as a speaker out on the stump. We told ourselves that we could overcome that and we almost did, but the flaws were what we thought they were.

Bernie Sanders...was pretty much the same. Not that he didn’t differ with Hillary, but his differences were not the kind of differences that would have swung the election. He would have come out with a more fiery, more progressive message...but his message would not have swayed the voters that came out for Obama and stayed home for Hillary. Because his message to minorities, and her message to minorities, was the same. “Trust me to represent you and I’ll be a voice in your corner.” And I think that from now on, the Democratic Party is going to accept that this simply isn’t good enough anymore.

Because we’ve had Barack Obama. I’m 41, and he is the best President we’ve had in my lifetime. I think I’d say the same thing if I was 51 or 61 or even possibly 71. He performed magnificently under conditions that were almost impossible. He was an inspiring leader and a forceful voice in polarized circumstances. And his coalition, the coalition that got him elected and re-elected despite the best efforts of obstructionists and racists, is a diverse coalition of minorities. They have seen that a black man can be President and can do a damn fine job. A promise is not good enough for them anymore. Nor should it be.

If the Democratic Party and the progressive movement is going to be a coalition of minority voters, the candidates we put forward should reflect that. If minority support is the difference between a D and an R in the White House, then they deserve a seat at the table, not just a voice in their corner. They deserve to look at a candidate that reflects them, not just another member of the white establishment making promises. Anyone can make promises. Trump made promises. Actions speak louder than words here, and the actions of the Democratic Party were to follow up the historic election of America’s first African-American President with Lincoln Chafee, Jim Webb, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and tell minorities, “It’s cool, they’re all woke!”

(And in hindsight, Tim Kaine was the most adorably terrible choice for VP Hillary could possibly have made, for those same reasons.)

In 2020, we have to do better. We have to show that the Democratic Party does not just pay lip service to our core constituencies, we respect their ability and their perspective and their patriotism. It is time for people like Hillary, Bernie...and yes, me too, white guy sit down and let someone like Ilhan Omar be a voice in my corner for a change.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Saying Farewell to A Pastime

For those of you who haven't heard, tomorrow marks the last day of the Facebook game "Marvel: Avengers Alliance", which started out as a turn-based tie-in to the 2012 'Avengers' film and just sort of kept going for four years and 166 playable characters. It wasn't a perfect game--it was a Flash game and prone to bugs and balance issues just like many others, and it had its grindy elements just like pretty much any game that tries to get you to log in every day and play it as much as possible does.

But it had some amazing virtues. It had a character roster that hit just just the classic Marvel characters like Spider-Man and Thor and the Hulk, but quirky and offbeat cult favorites like Howard the Duck and Daimon Hellstrom. It introduced players to new heroes like the Blue Marvel and Faiza Hussain, spotlighted obscure heroes like Phyla-Vell and Cloak and Dagger, and even allowed you to redeem a variety of villains from Magneto to Ronan the Accuser and put them to work in the service of humanity. It allowed for a dizzying array of team-ups and crossovers, and was every Marvel fan's dream in a lot of ways.

And the gameplay, while simple, was not without its depths. The different characters each had their own mechanics and special abilities, and figuring out how to combine them could produce synergistic effects that made them amazingly powerful. (Drax, for example, was lethal but withered quickly under direct assault, while Groot was a walking shield wall that took the hits for his team mates. The two made a devastating pair.) Combine that with a variety of different game situations that mandated or prohibited specific characters and you had a recipe for constant reinvention and adaptation to the different enemies the game threw at you.

I've been playing the game in one form or another for about three years now, pretty much ever since 'City of Heroes' went the way of all things. It got me through my grieving period for that game, in a lot of ways. Now I have to grieve this one. I guess that's the problem with games that offer you an infinite number of possibilities and a sweeping array of things to do. In the end, it just means that your interest in the game outlives it instead of the other way around.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Has Whedon Changed, Or Have We Done Changed?

Of late, I think it's safe to say that there's been something of a fan backlash against Joss Whedon. His last work of note was 'Avengers 2: Age of Ultron', after which he more or less quit doing big studio movies in despair and hasn't had a major project since. Meaning that to some extent, he's been judged by 'Age of Ultron', which...

Okay, let's get this out of the way. I liked 'Age of Ultron'. I know the criticisms against it and they're not without merit, but I do think that they are sometimes overemphasized in relation to the film's virtues. Whedon had a murderously tricky balancing act to pull off--making a movie that was simultaneously the beginning of Tony Stark's big hubris arc while still making him relatable, advancing the metaplot of the Infinity Stones while still making a movie about Ultron, advancing the stories of Black Widow, Hulk and Hawkeye who aren't getting features of their own for internal studio-politics related-reasons that are pretty much why he quit in despair, introducing Vision, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, setting up Wakanda for future films, and oh by the way rebutting 'Man of Steel' and Zack Snyder's dystopian Objectivist vision of superheroism. The fact that he made a film that was watchable is, I think, something of an achievement even if I can also agree with the people who have specific and legitimate complaints about it.

There. Now as I was saying, he's been judged to some extent by 'Age of Ultron'...but I also think that we're beginning to see the first reappraisal of Whdeon's overall body of work as we get a bit of distance and perspective from it. And some of the things that people are seeing are things they're not happy about. For the first time, Joss Whedon is being viewed not as "the feminist writer guy", but as "the problematic writer guy". So what's changed?

I don't think that Whdeon himself has changed. I think he has always been a committed ally to feminism, but I think he's also, like a lot of guys who see themselves as committed allies to feminism, not really used to having to adjust to the fact that a committed male ally to feminism is playing a supporting role and not being a star. It's difficult, I think, for him to accept the fact that as a major Hollywood writer/director/producer, he is fundamentally sucking up some of the oxygen in the room away from feminism no matter how hard he tries to do otherwise simply because his voice is so much louder than that of the women he's ostensibly supporting. I think we've seen this overtly a few times when he's gotten into verbal dust-ups and been very upset that his "feminist cred" was being challenged by women--surely he'd done the work by now, right? Surely he would get the benefit of the doubt?

He doesn't and shouldn't. As much as I can say that I understand what he was getting at with the Black Widow scene in 'Age of Ultron', I can also say that I fully understand why a lot of people thought he failed at conveying what he was trying to say and failed in ways that reaffirmed some very sexist tropes in fiction. He does not get a "feminist pass" on those things, and he shouldn't behave as though he's earned one. And I can understand as well how that issue and his response to it has made him lose a lot of trust from feminists in the forefront of the discussion, even though he's said he'd like to try to write a story that would make amends for it. Because...

Well, honestly, because even if you ignore some of his recent tantrums over being called on his feminist credibility, it's still worth reappraising his work in the light of a good decade or so of distance. It's okay to say that while 'Buffy' and 'Angel' were very progressive for 1997 when they started, or even for 2004 when they left the air, that they're not that progressive for now and it's okay to examine them from the point of view of here and now and say that Tara getting killed off was a major example of a very unpleasant and homophobic trope that LGBTQ fans have gotten thoroughly sick of, or that killing off Charisma Carpenter's character because the actress got pregnant was shockingly petty and sexist, or that while we got some big moments of Buffy throwing off the shackles of the patriarchy over the years, we also got a whole season of her screwing up the basic functions of adult life so badly that her father figure had to come back and help her put her life in order.

And that Mal Reynolds is a misogynist jackass to Inara whose lack of respect for her is palpable in every scene between them, despite the chemistry the two actors had together, and that had the series gone another season we would have probably gotten the most profoundly horrible sexist episode of a Whedon series ever. (If you don't know about this one, be kind of glad. It doesn't get much better when you describe it in detail.)

Oh yes, and that in pretty much all his series he describes "physical strength" with agency and romanticizes abusive relationships. The point is, while Whdeon was progressive for the 90s, it's okay to say that it's not the 90s anymore (yes, I feel old too!) and we expect more from creators than just "look, there's a female protagonist here who's not the damsel in distress!" It's okay to say that looking back, these series seemed great to us because we were getting so little from our media in terms of representation that just having a lesbian couple who were openly in a relationship for a full two seasons was ground-breaking. It's okay to say that even though we respect Whedon's efforts to shift the conversation forward, he's not a flawless saint and he can be criticized without tearing down the entire edifice of feminism. It's okay to say that he's a feminist and that he's problematic. You can be both things at once. Lord knows that as a white dude myself, I've probably fallen into that trap more than a few times.

Joss Whedon has not become less feminist. He is still who he always was. But it's okay to want more than that now.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

My One Concession to Donald Trump

Having now officially heard more out of Donald Trump's mouth than I think I ever want to in this lifetime, I'm willing to concede one important point that he's been hammering on for the past...oh dear god it's been almost a year will this endless stream of verbal diarrhea never CEASE?

(It's not the one about the Mexicans.)

Donald Trump has been saying, almost from the beginning, that he's fighting a "rigged system". And after watching him in action, I'm willing to say that yes, absolutely. The system is rigged in such a way as to make it harder for liars, fraudsters, crooks, cheats, con artists and swindlers to get into a position where they have the power to siphon off vast amounts of public money for their personal aggrandizement, and to use the bully pulpit of running for office to steal money from American citizens under the guise of "soliciting political donations." We make it hard for people to do that. Entirely on purpose.

(Clearly we haven't made it hard enough, because Trump, but that's another conversation.)

Basically, yes. The system is rigged against Donald Trump. The system was also rigged against Bernie Madoff. The only difference is that Donald Trump is better at getting around rigged systems than Madoff was.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: The Fog

This is not a review of the 1978 film 'The Fog', directed by John Carpenter and starring Adrienne Barbeau and Jamie Lee Curtis. This also isn't a review of the 2005 remake starring Superboy and a bunch of other people who singularly failed to make an impression on my memory, probably because they weren't rocketed from the distant planet of Krypton. No, this is a review of Dennis Etchison's novelization of the '78 movie, which I picked up in a used bookstore because I saw Dennis Etchison's name on the cover and I wanted to see a bit of what he was about.

And look, there's no question that he gives it his all. He cranks up his descriptions of glowing fog to eleven with phrases like "the reptilian swishing of the cloud as it withdrew", and "It gathered in a cold boiling on the ground and grew amoebalike pseudopodia in glutinous chains" and "The fog contracted, strengthening its substance, and expanded again, solidifying an ectoplasmic net". This is a man who has realized that his brief is to make his reader buy into the idea of 'scary fog', and is determined to make the best of it.

The problem is that basically, this isn't a 'scary fog' story, despite the title being 'The Fog' and there being much made of 'scary fog' in pretty much every scene in the first three-quarters of the book. This is a zombie story. It's a zombie story that tries to make its zombies cooler by hiding them in scary fog, and cooler still by making them pirate zombies (well, technically they're independently wealthy leper sailor zombies, but the iconography is all piratical, so hell with it), but still, this is basically a movie where vengeful undead hunt and kill people. All the 'scary fog' stuff is just window dressing for boring old zombies that don't even really do any of the cool stuff that zombies do like eat brains or bring their victims back to life as more zombies.

(Which they could very easily have done! If they were actually pirate zombies instead of merely independently wealthy leper sailor zombies, then they could have a ship of the dead, and anyone they kill is damned to join their crew for all eternity. I mean, it would get a little crowded on board, but it's a spectral ship of the damned, so maybe it's got TARDIS-like insides that can hold a lot of people. Or maybe if you kill enough people to take your place, you're free, so there's constant crew rotation. The point is, the whole "actually really nice people in life who are just miffed about their totally unjustified murder a hundred years ago and are revenging themselves on the descendants of their murderers" thing is really only scary if you happen to be the descendant of a treacherous murderer who used stolen gold to make your family rich. And also that ghostly pirate ships are way cooler than scary fog.)

In the end, Etchison more or less manages to cover most of the weaknesses in the basic structure of the movie the same way that Carpenter did with the film version, through copious amounts of atmosphere both literal and figurative (see what I did there?) Honestly, that's probably the reason the 2005 remake made so little impression--without amazing people elevating the material, there's really not much there. Even with Etchison's prose, it's not great. But it's not terrible, it's short and there are worse ways to pass the time.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Review: I Drink For A Reason

Wow, was that bad. I mean, it was really astonishingly terrible. Hacky, smug, lazy, unfunny, frequently cruel, and the kind of thing any comedian should have been ashamed of, let alone someone like David Cross who's genuinely got a claim to being one of the most groundbreaking comedians of his generation. This is so bad that I spent a good portion of the book trying to determine whether this was actually some kind of fourth-dimensional meta-satire of the flaws of terrible pretentious faux-intellectual comedians, but after a while it became clear that no, David Cross just crapped out a book to fulfill a contractual obligation.

The big problem with it...well, the big problem with it is that it's actually woefully unfunny. Large stretches of the book are just Cross suggesting that someone innocuous is actually suffering in some way, as an aside or as part of a portion of a list. If the words, "A Retarded Baby Gets AIDS," free of context or purpose, is inherently funny to you, then you are Cross's target audience and may God have mercy upon your soul. (Only, of course, as Cross never tires of bringing up, God doesn't exist and people who believe in Him are stupid and/or crazy. He doesn't make jokes about that--apparently just saying that religious people are stupid and/or crazy is enough work for one day.)

But the other, bigger problem with it is that it proffers no point of view beyond simply "David Cross is much smarter than everyone else." Cross obviously makes fun of people he thinks are foolish or hypocritical or morally bankrupt, because that's kind of what comedians do and what satire is--you expose the foibles of the pompous. But Cross makes no differentiation between, say, Catholic priests who molested innocent children and the system that shielded them, and the people at who gave his latest comedy CD a bad review. His negation is mindless and thoughtless, which makes it worthless.

Because all he does is point to things and say "That's stupid," there's no value to his genuine social commentary. Does he examine why it is that the Catholic Church rallies around its members and uses its institutional power to protect them? Does he find something meaningful to say about the idea that any institution, no matter how noble, eventually comes to be about holding on to its power and authority rather than its initial ideals? Nope. It's because they're religions, and religions are stupid. He doesn't critique things, merely criticize them.

And like all emotional thirteen-year-olds, he's more interested in finding a weakness he can use to attack the people he disagrees with than in holding any kind of an intellectual or moral philosophy of his own. He's perfectly willing to go after Larry the Cable Guy as "homophobic", because he doesn't like Larry the Cable Guy and he knows that homophobia is a charge you can successfully level at someone. But he's also willing to do an extended multiple-page gag about Jim Belushi dressing up as a woman and giving blowjobs in a truckstop restroom, because homosexuality is nothing to be ashamed of unless you're using it to humiliate a comedian you find annoying. The book is filled with these little hypocrisies and petty jabs...interspersed, of course, with Cross's insistence that he's not at all bitter about anything in his life, and that anyone who thinks he's bitter or angry about anything just doesn't understand how calmly he takes the endless frustrations of dealing with all the stupid people who aren't him.

Other than that, the book is mostly weak and unfunny nonsensical asides, a few of which land with less than a dull thud than others but none of which can struggle to life under the endless burden of having to co-exist with Cross's angry whinging. If you really like David Cross, do both him and yourself a favor and pretend this book never existed. All it can do is lower your opinion of him.

Monday, September 12, 2016

A Brief Word From the Ministry of Magic

Dear Wizards and Witches of the Ministry of Magic,

We are aware that security is always paramount in the minds of all those who work in these august halls--our duty is to work with those aspects of magic that are forbidden, after all, and the forbidden always has its own allure. So we appreciate that everyone is doing their best to secure unauthorized Dark Magic spells, magical items, and curiosities away from those who would abuse them.

Nonetheless, we wish to take a moment to discuss the topic of security. After a few recent high-profile breaches, we would like to offer a few helpful suggestions that might help make forbidden magical items that can...purely hypothetically speaking...alter the course of history or undo all our hard-fought struggles against the Dark Lord Voldemort...even more secure!

1) Information security is everyone's responsibility. Between the use of Invisibility Cloaks, Polyjuice Potions and other disguises, one must always be aware of the possibility of someone using "social engineering" to try to determine the location of forbidden magic. Avoid openly discussing the location of hidden items, and never share details on accessing these items with someone, no matter how well you know them, without first confirming their identity beyond a doubt. Remember, kisses are not personally identifying information!

2) A strong password is a safe password. We understand that items may need to be accessed for a higher purpose, and that magical barriers must therefore have a means of removing them in the event that it becomes necessary. When setting a password for your magical barrier, try not to use the names of family members or pets, as these can be easily guessed by intruders. Also try not to use phrases like "password", or your birthdate, as these are too common and can also be guessed. Also, if you do decide to use a cunning children's riddle answer as your password, do not put a "hint" in that is the riddle's question. This common mistake allows the item to be accessed by the clever thieves only, and frankly if unscrupulous people are going to have access to our magical items, we want them to at least be dumb enough to get caught.

Following these two guidelines will drastically reduce the number of times a certain wizard with a minor facial disfigurement has to save the world (please refer to our workplace sign, "It Has Been 9 Days Since Harry Potter Has Had To Bear the Great Burden of Heroism On Behalf Of Wizardkind"). And remember, if it wouldn't safeguard a computer, it won't safeguard the most dangerous magical item ever created. Thank you!

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Review: Prophecy

I'm going to break my habit of curling up into a little ball and waiting for the Presidential election season to be over to review a book I read recently, David Seltzer's 'Prophecy'. It's an adaptation of the screenplay he wrote that was turned into a 1979 movie directed by John Frankenheimer, and it says a lot about both movie and book that the term "prophecy" doesn't refer to anything within the story--Seltzer is saying that the story, itself, is a prophecy of what will happen if we don't stop polluting.

Which is odd, because the primary consequence appears to be "angry deformed 15-foot tall bears will come and kill us all", and I'm reasonably certain he's kind of winging that one.

To be honest, if he'd simply skipped the "deformed bear" angle and come at it as a straight-up ecodrama, it probably would have been a lot more effective. It's about a doctor who works in the inner-city and is frustrated by his inability to make a difference due to the entrenched power structures keeping black people in poverty, and his wife who's dealing with a pregnancy that she knows he won't want but that she also knows she can't get rid of. The husband gets an offer to do an environmental study for the EPA, and decides that maybe he can do something for the environment that he couldn't do for the inhabitants of Washington's slums, and his wife goes along hoping to find a good time to tell him about the baby.

But what he walks into is a powder-keg, as the results of the environmental study will determine whether the local paper mill gets to keep operating in the face of entrenched (and increasingly militant) opposition from the local Native American population. The paper company is doing everything short of bribing him to give a good result, while the Native Americans are distrustful of yet another well-meaning white man who says he's there to help. Meanwhile, people and animals are sickening, dying, and being born horribly deformed due to contamination of the watershed with mercury. (Nothing involving mutant bears is quite as horrifying as seeing the pregnant woman tuck into some freshly-caught fish.)

This is all a bit preachy, and it's all filtered through an oh-so-70s level of racial and environmental consciousness (the Native Americans are referred to as "Indians" and given an overlay of noble savage mentality, the questions about abortion are treated with a lot of patriarchal condescension even though the wife's right to choose is ultimately upheld) but then there's this giant bear lumbering through things. It feels like Seltzer is dangling the bear like a bright shiny object whenever the story gets too boringly didactic, as if to say, "Hey, I know you don't have the attention span for all this boring political stuff, so here's a big deformed bear mauling some people for you!"

And that's fine as far as it goes--certainly, a lot of sci-fi stories use allegories to sharpen and intensify the emotions surrounding their central concepts. But the problem is that Seltzer uses "deformed bear attacks everyone" as his plot resolution, and you'd be amazed at how many problems a giant mutant bear doesn't solve in this world. The third act is really just a bunch of people running around getting attacked by a bear, and in the end I guess enough people are killed that things are better now but not really but maybe a little? It's all sort of dumped in the lap of the gods (and you'll be so totally surprised that one of the Native American characters thinks the bear is an "Indian legend" come to life to protect the wilderness), and I think that the ending becomes far less effective as a result.

It's weird to say that a monster story would have been more effective without the monster, but it's kind of true here. 'Prophecy' is, at heart, about people willing to leave the planet uninhabitable if it helps them make a few extra dollars. Next to that, even a very big bear isn't that scary.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Current Punditry Pet Peeve

I keep seeing it in every single article about Trump that's been published in traditional media or online. This particular one is from a Salon article by Sean Illing, but they all say something similar:

"If any other candidate said what Trump said this week, his campaign would collapse immediately. But Trump has been saying and doing things that would disqualify anyone else for months, and yet he slithers on."

Look. I understand that Trump did defy the political odds during the primaries by thriving despite some glaring and horrible statements. But can we stop pretending that Trump is somehow "normalizing" horrible discourse, or that he's not paying a price for his commentary? His polling numbers are in freefall, he went from dead-even with Hillary to having (according to FiveThirtyEight) a 13% chance of winning, his brand is toxic, Republicans are openly fleeing him in droves, the RNC is being flat-out asked to stop spending money on the Presidential race, every single media outlet is raking him over the coals as an affront to democracy, and he's losing states that haven't gone to the Democrats in 24 years. The only way that he could be more ruined by his Presidential campaign is if he literally burst into flames in the middle of one of his rallies and was dragged down to hell by the fiery claws of the Beast.

(Which may yet happen at this rate.)

The point is, Trump will still be allowed to speak all the way through November, unless he drops out or the Republicans finally come to their senses and lock him in a small windowless room without access to Twitter until November 9th kick him off the ticket. But that's not the same thing as still having a political career.

Monday, August 08, 2016

The Brutal Truth About the "Two Party System"

A lot of people will, as part of the ongoing debate about how miserable and grinding the current election is, talk about how frustrating it is that in America we only have Trump and Clinton as viable options because "we live in a two-party system". (Usually, this is right before they talk about writing in Mickey Mouse, and right before I deliver a long and boring discussion of tactical voting that I'm going to skip this time out, which is kind of a shame because I have a great analogy but I'll save it for later.)

The problem is, this isn't untrue. We don't live in a two-party system. We live in a two-competent-party system. There's no reason encoded into our nation's laws that genuinely prevents a third party from forming, and in fact there are actually something like one hundred political parties currently operating in the United States. But most of them are content to run essentially as ego-stroking campaigns for their members, insisting that they would totally win if not for "bias" and "a rigged system" while ignoring their own clear issues that prevent them from gaining a foothold beyond the occasional Congressperson or state official. Here's why you don't see a national third party that competes with the Democrats and the Republicans, and why it has very little to do with media coverage or any rigging that might be going on.

1. Third parties don't put in the work. The Green Party runs a Presidential candidate every four years, and insists each time that their momentum is growing and that they're going to take back the mantle of "liberal" from the centrist Democrats. But a) nobody has ever explained how President Stein will get her agenda enacted when she has literally no Congressional support, and b) nobody has ever explained how a party with absolutely no track record in government will suddenly do a great job in that field.

The fact of the matter is, a third party needs to be built from the ground up, not the top down. A Presidential run is great press, but any third party that wants to have a hope in hell of enacting their agenda needs to have a full ticket--a Congressperson for every district at minimum, Senators for the 33-34 seats up each year, and probably local representation as well. But that kind of work is boring and low-profile, while running for President is exciting and fun and entails lots of interviews with people who really want to know your opinion! So the Green Party is Jill Stein every four years talking about how unfair it is that she never gets elected.

2. Third parties are fringe. Both the Libertarians and the Greens this year are presenting themselves as alternatives for those in the Republican and Democratic (respectively) Parties who want a candidate who's more true to their beliefs. Meaning more conservative for the Libertarians, and more liberal for the Greens.

The problem is, a candidate who trends toward the far end of the political spectrum is going to have less appeal to the middle, for obvious reasons. And if you have less appeal, you get fewer votes. A third party that gets fewer votes doesn't get elected. Once you start selecting for ideological purity and campaigning for the outliers, you're not going to win. Hell, that's the problem the Republicans have this year, which is why they nominated a sculpture of Mussolini made entirely out of pre-chewed Cheetos.

3. Third parties tend to be single issue parties. This isn't so much true of the Greens and the Libertarians, who are least are making a pretense of caring about actual governance, but something like the Alaskan Independence Party is basically running on the issue of, "Hey, seceding from the United States would solve all of Alaska's problems!" (I assume the "Rent Is Too Damn High Party" in New York state has a similar approach, but I'm not quite sure what their issue is. Probably legalization of marijuana or something.)

The problem is, this is a nonsensical approach to governance. There's no single fix that can be pushed through that will solve the problems the United States experiences on a yearly basis, and generally these candidates tend to be delusional people who have focused their emotional energy on demanding one unworkable fix because it's easier to believe that you can Solve All the Problems with one heroic swoop than it is to deal with the years of constant and unrewarding work needed to make the world a better place. Most people know this, which is why these parties tend to only attract a few true believers who are just as delusional as the candidate. Which brings us to...

4. Most third-party candidates tend to be delusional nutbags who build the party around their particular hobbyhorses, and they wind up more as cults of personality than viable attempts to do the work of governance. The obvious example that comes to mind is H. Ross Perot, whose stated goal was to create a pragmatic third party focused on practical solutions rather than ideology, but that wound up being held hostage to the narcissistic whims of its eccentric candidate. (Yes, I know, it does sound like the Republicans are rapidly descending into third-party status, doesn't it?) But really, I mean something like this guy:

Take a look at those proposals. This is a man sincerely running on a platform of disclosing the Pentagon's secret time travel program and admitting that we're already on Mars. This is the kind of thing that third parties in America are doing right now. They're not out there trying to become a viable alternative to the current two dominant parties, they're out there trying to put Bigfoot on the Endangered Species List. This is why we live in a two-party system. It's not because the Republicans and Democrats suppress the competition, it's because third parties are more interested in being symbolic forms of protest against an unpleasant reality than any kind of actual group interested in promoting responsible governance. Until someone--a lot of someones, really, because a political party isn't just something you make with your buddies in the garage--is willing to change that, a third party won't gain traction in America.

In fact, at this rate, we could be down to a "one-party system" in a few years unless the Republicans get their act together. But that's probably a separate post.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

My One Political Prediction

It, um...seems to have been an interesting few weeks, politically speaking. I believe that since I last blogged, Donald Trump has picked a fight with the parents of an American soldier who died stopping a suicide bomber on the grounds that they support Islamic terrorism, stabbed his two most prominent national political allies in the back, insinuated he would use nuclear weapons as a first resort, asked the Russians to illegally interfere in a national election on his behalf, discussed documents that he claimed were "top secret" (which may not actually exist), and oh yeah he kicked a baby out of one of his rallies.

And then said that he doesn't understand why he's behind in the polls.

With all that, the Republicans seem (unsurprisingly) to be hitting the panic button. There's just one problem--that button's not hooked up to anything. There is no provision for denominating a candidate who has been selected as the Republican standard-bearer once the convention happens. This means that no matter what Trump does--publicly setting fire to Reince Priebus' car, pissing in Paul Ryan's protein shake, playing the "I'm not touching youuuuu!" game with John McCain--all they can do is ask him to drop out. (And Trump knows it, which is why he's doing all this. Trump is only nice to people when he needs to be in order to get something out of them. Voters should remember that in November.)

Which brings me to my one political prediction. Because rumor has it that the Republicans are, in fact, privately trying to get Trump to drop out (a rumor that the Republicans are denying with the same approximate degree of believability that NFL team owners use when insisting that they have full confidence in their 1-11 head coach and don't plan on making any personnel moves until after the season). And those journalists who have looked into this have said that if Trump were to drop out, the Republicans would need it to happen before September 1st in order to be able to put the new candidate's name on the ballots in all 50 states (once they selected him or...oh who are we kidding, become the nominee, which would also need to happen before September 1st).

So here's my one political prediction. I'm not saying that Donald Trump is going to drop out and fail to finish what he laughably calls a political campaign. (Although it's not an impossibility. If you quit, claiming that the game is rigged and people aren't giving you a fair chance to win, you can always claim you would have won.) But I will say that if Trump does drop out, it will not happen until at least September 2nd.

Because if there's one thing that the Ryan/McCain episode has made clear, it is that Donald Trump never does anything gracefully when he can achieve the same outcome while avenging imaginary slights against him. If Donald feels like the Republicans have insulted him (which, although entirely justified on their part, they have) he will exit the race in a way that makes it as clear as possible that the blame for his failure rests on them, and in a way that does as much damage to them as a party as he conceivably can. In this case, that means shifting his campaign message to suggest that he's being sabotaged by his own party, then dropping out after it's too late to find a replacement and watching their electoral strategy crash and burn.

I realize that "Donald Trump does something spiteful and petty to his allies in order to salvage his ego" is not exactly going out on a limb as far as predictions go, but I feel that it will at least help you during this uncertain period to know that we are stuck with Donald for another month at least. Beyond that, it will depend on which kind of humiliation he hates more--the humiliation of losing to Hillary, or the humiliation of not even trying.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review: The United States of Arugula

It's strange--looking back on our nation's history, we can collectively remember a time when TV dinners were new and exciting and frozen food was a miracle and SPAM was something to be lauded and celebrated. But somehow, it's difficult to connect our modern day Instagramming of "food porn", 24-hour food-based TV networks, celebrity chefs and McDonald's arugula salads to the days when the most exciting thing about food was how well it kept and how easy it was to make. What happened to bring us from food as a grim necessity to food as an epicurean delight?

That's not just the question I ask myself every time I walk past a Hungry Man TV dinner and wonder who still eats those, it's the basic premise of David Kamp's book 'The United States of Arugula'. The book starts in the 1950s, the era when fast food and processed food was at its ascendance, and introduces the key characters responsible for transforming our cultural understanding of food. He covers fine dining, cookbooks and cooking shows, and the process of food sourcing and how it changed slowly but surely over the decades.

There's a lot of interesting stories in the book, many of which show how the counter-culture movement of the 60s intertwined with the push for ethically-sourced and healthy cuisine, and he highlights a number of important figures in the history of the culinary arts that might otherwise have gone forgotten. In addition to obvious stars like James Beard and Julia Child, he covers Craig Claiborne, Jeremiah Tower, and a host of other people known primarily to foodies who he feels influenced the development of modern cooking and taste-making.

In a way, this is also probably the book's weakness. Because he wants to cover the breadth of the transformation of food culture as well as the depth of it, there's a lot of jumping around to focus on figures within the industry who play only a minor role, or who are more remembered for their influence on other famous chefs. Towards the end, without the organizing principle of "how did this person's legacy contribute to food culture as we know it?" (because as the book ably shows, it's hard to tell a food fad from a cultural contribution to our national cuisine right away) the book loses focus rather badly. The last few chapters are a dizzying leap from chef to chef to celebrity chef, with no real explanation given as to why some merit consideration within the book's pages and others are a mere footnote.

Still, the overall theme comes out very well despite that--the last fifty years have seen a national conversation about what we eat and how to make it better tasting and healthier. And while that's occasionally descended into faddishness, snobbery, scolding and absurd levels of bacon worship, it's still a conversation worth having. Kamp makes that case very well indeed.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

My Brief Take on the New Trek Fan Film Guidelines

There is exactly one thing you have to understand about the new Star Trek fan film guidelines. They are a promise, not a threat.

The promise is actually pretty impressive. Not quite unprecedented--Lucasfilm embraced the fan film community, albeit with a few reservations--but this is a pretty big deal. Paramount is saying that they will let anyone, for free, make their very own short film based on one of the four biggest entertainment properties in science-fiction (Marvel, Star Wars and Who being the other three), for free, gratis, so long as certain rules are adhered to. Are those rules pretty stringent? Sure. Do they let you make your very own Star Trek with absolutely no threat of legal action by the holders of the IP? Sure.

And if you don't want to adhere to those don't have to. Sure, you could be sued by Paramount, but what people are forgetting in their initial judgment of the new policy is that this was always the case. All Trek fan films prior to this point, every single one of them from the officially unofficial series that used Trek actors playing their copyrighted characters down to the guys wandering around in their heavily wooded backyards in pajamas yelling, "I AM KIROK!"...they all risked a lawsuit. Because they were infringing on someone's intellectual property. They had no legal defense against that, none of them. It wasn't fair use, it didn't matter that they weren't making a profit, it didn't matter how it was distributed. They all were potential targets.

So nothing has changed for these people. Officially, 'Star Trek: New Voyages' is operating outside the guidelines and is vulnerable to a lawsuit should Paramount decide to go after them. Officially, Paramount can't say to them, "Hey, we don't really care, you're not making any money and your show is good PR for us so knock yourself out." But that was the case yesterday too. All this is, when you boil it down, is a way for Paramount to cover their butts so that when someone like Alec Peters comes along and raises a million bucks to make a feature-length movie while selling bootleg merch, he can't say, "Well, I had no idea that I couldn't do it!"

Of course, that won't stop fans from freaking out about it, but hey. Fans gonna fan.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Review: The Tropic of Serpents

After gushing about Marie Brennan's first book about the intrepid Isabella, Lady Trent and her voyages to discover dragons, I felt like I would be remiss if I didn't spend at least a little bit of time talking about the second book in the series. This one focuses on her journeys into the swamps of Mouleen (an ahistorical continent with clear parallels to colonial Africa) to study swamp dragons, during which she gets unavoidably swept up in local politics.

It's the local politics that take up a lot of the book, which is a little disappointing if you come to the novel looking for dragons, dragons and more dragons. On the other hand, Brennan does a good job of conveying, through Isabella's slow realization that her country may not have the finest interests of Mouleen at heart, the contradictory and messy interests that lie at the heart of the colonial mentality. Being something of an outsider in her own homeland due to her decision to pursue a traditionally male career, she's positioned perfectly to notice that the Scirling (read: British) promises of aid and comfort tend to come with a lot of armed men, and not a few concessions to a superior military force. Her decisions regarding that ugly truth behind the "White Man's Burden" myth form the narrative's spine.

There are also further developments in the slightly ominous metaplot that was seeded in the first novel--having discovered that preserved dragonbone is as light as aluminum and durable as steel, Isabella spends no small amount of time in the book attempting to avert a resource war over the rare and endangered dragon species that we already know (since this is presented as her memoirs) has already happened. This book keeps that to the background, but it informs the entire story with the slow drumbeats of impending conflict. There's a lot of very clever metaphor going on here, with dragons standing in for any number of precious and irreplaceable natural, they're freaking dragons, which is always cool.

I'd recommend the second book just as strongly as the first. It takes a bit longer to get to the dragons, but the time it develops other themes is time well spent.

Thursday, June 16, 2016


Is it wrong that I really hope Tom Hiddleston turns out to be gay or bisexual so that he can be linked with Benedict Cumberbatch romantically (whom I also hope turns out to be gay or bisexual) simply so they can have the "power couple" nickname "Hiddlebatch"?

I would accept, as an alternative, a romantic liason between Tom Hiddleston and Mark Ruffalo, who would of course be "Hiddleuffalo". (I suppose technically they could be "Ruffleston", but I feel like that lacks the quiet dignity of "Hiddleuffalo".)

EDIT TO ADD: I would also be satisfied if Mark and Benedict caught each other on the rebound from that serial cad, Tom Hiddleston, and formed the power couple "Cumberbuffalo".

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Corrected Facebook Memes

Hi everyone,

I'm sure that some of you, in the wake of the tragic massacre in Orlando last weekend, may have gotten a few people posting a meme on Facebook about how they stand ready with their Second Amendment-approved legal firearms to defend you from the madmen. I won't repost the original meme, as it needed a few edits for factual accuracy (which I've helpfully made). If you do happen to see it, feel free to provide them with the corrected version below:

“I stand behind you in line at the store with a smile on my face...and a gun under my shirt which I occasionally stroke and pet like I’m masturbating with it in public, and you are none the wiser, yet you are much less safer for having me next to you. I probably won’t shoot you. My gun won’t pull it’s own trigger. I might pull that trigger, if my obvious power fantasies and propensity to believe problems can be solved with gunfire finally conflict with my deep-seated feelings of inadequacy to the point where I just have to show the world that I matter by killing a bunch of people, but my gun isn’t just going to go off or anything. It is securely holstered with the trigger covered. It can’t just go off. However, rest assured that if a lunatic walks into the grocery store and pulls out a rifle, I will get shot before I can do anything. And that’s really kind of the best-case scenario, because despite my erotically-charged fantasies of shooting down ‘bad guys’ with my penis substitute, I have no real experience of firing this thing at anything other than paper targets in a controlled setting. I’m just as likely to shoot a cop or an innocent bystander as the actual shooter, and that assumes it’s a real threat and not me just panicking at the sight of a black guy wearing a hoodie and staring at me too long. Because if that happens, I gotta tell you, I’m unloading every bullet in my clip at him and claiming ‘Stand Your Ground’ later, even if he’s eight. The point is, I’m dangerously unstable and prone to pulling out my gun whenever I think I’m in danger. I’m part of the problem, but I think I’m part of the solution. Repost this if you’d like to make sure that wannabe vigilantes like me are kept as far away from firearms as humanly possible.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Called It!

I was bored and going through some of my old posts, and I found my original reaction to the New 52 from May 31st, 2011. I would like, specifically, to draw your attention to the statement, "No, not the "We're relaunching everything at #1!" crap. That'll be retconned away within five years, max."

DC Rebirth #1? May 25, 2016. A week before the deadline. I don't know whether to be proud or disgusted.

Monday, June 06, 2016

CONsole Room Roundup

Sorry about the lack of a blog post last week, I was getting ready for a con, then attending a con, and am now recovering from a con. Said con was CONsole Room, a Twin Cities Doctor Who convention now in its third year; this year, we had as guests Dominic Glynn, composer during the Classic series era, and former companions Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazier Hines (Jamie), and Wendy Padbury (Zoe). All of them were really sweet and fun to have over to the Twin Cities, although what with scheduling of events I didn't get to see nearly as much of them as I'd hoped.

I also did several panels, which went quite well (I think). I talked about superheroes on TV, Doctor Who spin-offs and controversies, and where to start watching (and reading) Doctor Who. It was a smaller con than CONvergence (and needless to say, infinitely smaller than Dragon*Con or GenCon), so the panels took on a bit of a round-table feel. The panels I was at were more open to interjections from the audience, and it had the atmosphere of a discussion rather than a lecture. (Which is generally good, but can be harder to achieve as the audience gets bigger.)

Also, I watched an episode of "The New Avengers" with my son and he liked it and wants to see more. Not sure what to do about that.

It was a lot of fun, I'm already registered for next year, and I'd love to see some of you there! Also, if you want to be a panelist, go ahead and put your name in! We could definitely use more voices and more diverse voices, and goodness knows if I can do it, you can do it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

DC Stokes Their Vast and Terrible Engine of Hate

I've had this theory for a while now. It sounds kind of crazy, I know, but it's really kind of the only explanation for certain business moves that DC (and its parent company Warner Brothers) makes. My theory is that they have some sort of mystical engine hidden away in the basement of the DC offices, a vast and terrible engine performing some sort of arcane function that is absolutely vital to the company. And this engine is fueled entirely by Alan Moore's fury. So every once in a while, DC has to just go out and do something for the sole purpose of infuriating Alan Moore.

That's really the only explanation I can come up with for this. There's certainly no creative reason for it; nothing Johns is saying makes a lick of sense as a plausible piece of story logic. This quote: “If you’re going to have a conflict between optimism and pessimism, you need to have someone who represents a cynical view of life and also has the ability to affect this," said Johns. "I know it’s crazy but he felt like the right character to use," highlights the fact that Johns apparently either didn't read or didn't understand a comic that was all about Doctor Manhattan rediscovering the tiny miracles that are all around us and setting out to do something wondrous and transcendent instead of being imprisoned by cynicism and despair. (Well, insofar as 'Watchmen' was "all about" any particular thing, because it really did have a multiplicity of ideas, but certainly that's what Doctor Manhattan's arc was about.)

And it's not a sensible business decision, either. Setting aside the plan to once again urinate on the smoldering ashes of your relationship with the man who penned all the best sellers in your back catalog, it's not as if the world is really clamoring for more 'Watchmen' written by people who aren't Alan Moore. If 'Before Watchmen' settled one thing, it was that. Nobody is interested in 'Watchmen' for the characters, they are interested in 'Watchmen' for the writing, which is the one thing that DC has, largely through their own actions, placed entirely and permanently beyond their reach.

(Perhaps that's actually part of the problem--DC, like Marvel, is predicated upon the notion that creators are valuable but ultimately interchangeable, and that the true value is in finding intellectual properties that they can continue to sell no matter who is behind the metaphorical camera. Having a series like 'Watchmen' that they cannot exploit in any meaningful sense without respecting Alan Moore's talent and autonomy is like a poison pill for them.)

Honestly, given Johns' tone in the interview, the decision seems to be entirely motivated by petty spite. It's as if Johns is saying, "Hey, comics aren't fun at all, they're joyless and despondent and filled with unlikable anti-heroes! Who could possibly be responsible for that? Well, I told everyone back in 2005 that it was all Marv Wolfman's fault, and yet somehow things still haven't gotten any better in the ensuing eleven years? I know! I'll write a comic that blames Alan Moore!" And meanwhile, the guy who's been working at DC for the last sixteen years and who's been their Chief Creative Officer for the last six somehow skates. (Who could that gentleman be? I wonder...)

Honestly, I really hope that engine is doing something useful. Because I've pretty much given up on any hope of getting good comics out of the whole deal.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Lazy Link Post 3: This Time It's Personal!

As has been mentioned in the past, I've been recapping seasons of the Amazing Race over at Now that the newest season is in the books, here's a linkroll of the episodes in order:

"I Should've Been a Boy Scout"
"You Look Like Gollum"
"Bros Being Jocks"
"Get It Trending"
"We're Only Doing Freaky Stuff Today"
"Let the Good Times Roll"
"Welcome to Bloody Fingers 101"
"I Have a Wedgie and a Half"
"Salt That Sand!"
"Monkey Dance!"
"That's Money, Honey!"
"The Only First That Matters"

Not sure when we'll see TAR 29--it's been renewed, but not yet scheduled--but I plan to blog that one as well!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Insane Comics Moments, Part Ten

Normally, it would take a lot for an issue of "What If?" to make a list of insane comics moments. I mean, it's a series that basically takes as its starting point the idea of checking out all the crazy consequences that might happen if Wolverine had become a vampire, or the High Evolutionary had turned everyone on the planet into a giant telepathic hive-mind. There's a certain baseline expectation in these stories of bizarre events that can't happen in a canonical Marvel title, is what I'm getting at. So I wouldn't generally say these count as "insane"...

But then I saw this.

Take a good, long look at that, if you will. Imagine being a fly on the wall during that pitch session, hearing either an editor or a writer enthusiastically proclaim that you can get twenty-two non-crazy pages out of the concept of "Nick Fury and His Howling Commandos Fight Space World War II". Imagine being the person who has to actually sit down and write this thing. Imagine being the person who has to illustrate this collage of insanity, setting it out for posterity in pictorial form. You can't either? I don't blame you.

The basic premise, as outlined by the Watcher, is that Leonardo da Vinci was taken more seriously in this reality, and so humanity got a five-hundred year (or so) head start on air travel. Which turned into space travel, which turned into intergalactic travel, which means that by 1945, we've colonized big chunks of space and are running into the Betans, who look (and are explicitly described as in the narration boxes) "even more nightmarish than the worst caricatures of the Japanese." So, you know, we're not dealing with any kind of awkward and cringeworthy racism on top of this ludicrous premise.

The Betans attack one of our early warning stations (which, in this book's closest stab at subtlety, is not actually named "Space Pearl Harbor") and before you know it, we're at war! Nick Fury leads a group of Space Howling Commandos, who are pretty much the same as the normal Howling Commandos except that Gabe Jones has a "sonic laser bugle" and I'm so sorry if that phrase just made your head implode, and they train under the watchful eye of their computer base commander and his robot adjutant. Because of course they do.

As it turns out, the computer has a plan to lure the enemy into an assault on Midway Station (hey, remember what I said about subtlety? GONE NOW!) But the Betans have a secret ally among the humans who is feeding them information! Who is this traitor? Why, none other than Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, of course! But he's not allied with the Betans solely because this is Space World War II and he was a bad guy in the comics. No, he plans to draw the Betans and the Earth...ers? ...icans? ...erosities? ...anyway, he plans to draw them into a war while Germany hoards its resources in secret, the better to overwhelm both groups after the war and institute the rule of the Nazi Party! Which is still a thing in a world where space travel was invented by the time of the Wright Brothers.

Needless to say, Nick and his boys take care of the Betans, dish out a little chin music to the Ratzis, and even manage to save the robot adjutant from being scrapped in the assault on Midway. All in a space day's work! There's a suggestion that more lies ahead for Space Nick Fury and His Space Howling Space Commandos in Space, but thankfully this particular alternate timeline has never been revisited.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Review: Rat Queens Volume One ('Sass and Sorcery')

One of the interesting things about tabletop gaming is the way that it transforms the material that informs it. That is to say, the clear inspiration for fantasy RPGs (lawsuits and denials aside) is 'Lord of the Rings' and its successors. It is intended to create epic fantasies in which noble and stalwart heroes from a curated variety of races quest for the means to defeat a major, world-shattering tyrant in glorious, dramatic fashion...

But in practical terms, this "epic" is being interpreted by regular human beings with puckish imaginations and wild improvisational skills, resulting in battles where the villain is defeated by a horde of zombie chickens or the cave troll is repelled by the newly-researched spell "Bigby's Fist of Forcible Intrusion". Half the fun of gaming is warping and perverting (in the non-sexual sense of the word...usually...) the tropes of high fantasy into something more like what actual people would do in a fantasy world.

All of which is by way of saying that 'Rat Queens', the comic by Kurtis J. Wiebe, manages to capture the spirit of fantasy as it's practiced on the tables of the world far better than just about any of the fantasy novels that inspire said campaigns. The heroes aren't noble, wise, honorable warriors--they're debauched, selfish, vengeful, and mostly in it for the cash and the glory. They bicker, they plot petty revenge, they pack field rations that are entirely hallucinogenic drugs and candy, and they treat magical healing as a convenience rather than a gift from any god. (One of the best running jokes in the series is that the cleric is an atheist.)

All of this makes it sound like the protagonists of 'Rat Queens' would be unpleasant to spend any length of time with, but Wiebe is smart enough to realize that style and charm make up for morality any day. So Betty, the halfling thief, is loopily adorable, and Hannah the necromancer is smart and sexy, and Dee the cleric presents an interesting and thoughtful analysis of what atheism means in a world where the gods are real and present gifts of power to their worshipers. And Violet, as a dwarf who shaved her beard to present the face that she saw in her mind every time she looked in the mirror, is a welcome and meaningful representation of a group traditionally marginalized in fantasy stories.

Basically, 'Rat Queens' is a gloriously absurd, amoral, glamorous look at fantasy on the sharp end. It's about real people doing not so much the right thing as the thing that seems right at the time, and it's a whole lot of fun. I'll be picking up Volume Two as soon as I can.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Why I'm Rooting For Marvel To Regain the FF Rights

Because I totally want to see Victor von Doom make a guest appearance on 'Agents of SHIELD'. It would be so awesome to see the fight between him and Daisy Johnson.

Think about it--she'd blast him with seismic energy, shouting, "You're nothing but a relic--an outdated footnote to history made of obsolete technology and outmoded ideas. Oh, you've made your attempts to update yourself, but nobody cares anymore. The world's moved on without you."

And Doom blasts back with energy bolts, declaiming, "Relic? I am an icon! I am a legend, the cornerstone of the world you made. You think you would be anything without me? You think you're anything now? You're nothing but flash without substance, a few marginal improvements on a design I conceived. I am no footnote to history. I AM history."

And in the surprise finish, the Vision shows up, phases through both their chests to knock them unconscious, and says, "You're both obsolete. Unreal FTW!"

(Yes, this is a terrible joke.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

My X-23 Concept

I know that right now they've turned X-23, the Wolverine clone with an extremely problematic backstory, into the new Wolverine. And that's fine so far as it goes, because it makes her a main character and gives her a significant amount of development and all, but it also has that problem that's also affecting the new Thor and the new Captain America, which is that it's only a matter of time before some bright-eyed young editor says, "Hey, you know how we can get a cheap sales boost for the next six issues? Bring the original back!" And then they become a surplus protagonist, and if the comics industry is known for anything, it's known for the woefully mistaken belief that killing off a superfluous protagonist is a shocking twist that will get people to sit up and pay attention rather than the laziest and most obvious thing to do with a story.

So I'd like to see X-23 get her own series as X-23. And my idea for that series is actually related, somewhat, to that problematic backstory I mentioned. Not in the sense of "she was forced to turn tricks and now must get REVENGE!", because if we're getting into lazy and obvious, well...that's high on the list. But I feel like Laura Kinney is a character who has been denied agency pretty much for most of her life, and my idea for her ongoing series would be for her to try to walk away from her past as a killer, her genetic ties to Wolverine, her legacy as an X-Man, and to find out who she is as a person when she's not embroiled in all the chaos that is her life. (Naturally, it's not that easy.)

In my version of the story, she quits all the X-Teams and goes to a normal college. She majors in sports medicine, learning how to help people with debilitating injuries...and, it must be noted, how to inflict debilitating injuries while causing an absolute minimum of physical damage. She still keeps some ties with her mutant friends, spending time every week in a room lined with adamantium and someone like Kitty Pryde who she can't hurt, trying to control her instinctive response to the trigger scent that turns her into a murderous killer. She tries to keep away from as much of her old life as she can...

But there are still people who need her help. From time to time, in exchange for keeping her off the radar of the world's black ops agencies, some of her old "friends" from her time as an assassin ask her to assist with jobs suited to her talents. She's made it clear to them that she's never going to kill anyone again, and they've accepted that...sort of...but her skills make her invaluable in retrieving kidnap victims, repatriating stolen goods, and other tricky tasks that a skilled infiltrator and combatant can perform. The real challenge to Laura Kinney, though, is finding a way to help people without hurting them. Or at the very least, to minimize the damage she does. She's decided she needs to not be Wolverine. Because Wolverine is a berserker, a monster in his own way, and she wants to be something else.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

But I'm Here to Tell You There's Something Else (The After World)

The same year that took David Bowie has now robbed us of Prince. I don't know if these two musicians were associated in life, but I think that death will now link them forever in the memories of music fans, and I think to some extent that's a fair thing. Like Bowie, Prince seemed to have something of the trickster about him, endlessly reinventing himself as well as his music almost as a kind of game. In fact, it could be argued that Prince took the game further than Bowie ever did--Ziggy Stardust was a persona, but Prince was willing at times to shed himself entirely like an old skin.

Prince was also one of those musicians who I always think of as an artist's artist--certainly he had his share of hits for the general public, but it always seemed to me even when he was alive that his greatest legacy would be the way he inspired other songwriters. He always seemed to be so advanced, pioneering whole new ways of thinking about music that others picked up on and worked into their own acts. I think he left a legacy that has forever transformed music.

I suspect he'll also be remembered mostly for that music--by most accounts he was a private, troubled and difficult individual who mostly preferred to keep the spotlight on his work. Even when he did let it shine on himself, it was Prince the persona and not Prince the person who became the focus of attention. For most, the fiction presented by 'Purple Rain' will become the man. That's not such a bad way to be preserved.

Like Bowie, he was someone who died too soon simply because time is not long enough to allow a genius to create. And I'd really like 2016 to stop this now, thanks.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Spoiler-Free Review: "Welcome to Night Vale: Ghost Stories"

I had the opportunity to see the newest "Welcome to Night Vale" live show this weekend as it passed through the Twin Cities on its way to parts unknown, and while I naturally don't want to spoil anything for anyone, it was another very excellent live show. I'd put it in some ways above "The Investigators", last year's live performance, in no small part because Cecil Baldwin gets to do some genuinely powerful stuff with this script. Although WtNV generally blends genres from scene to scene and even line to line, it tends to hit one of three predominant notes, funny, scary or moving. This one falls in with the last.

We got some very good guest performances as well--won't spoil who, because for all I know it's different from city to city--and some funny recurring bits that are definitely crowd-pleasers. But it really comes together very well at the end, and if you do have the chance to see it in person, you won't be disappointed. And if you don't have the chance to see it in person, you will almost certainly enjoy it when it comes out as a download.

The Weather was Carrie Elkins and Danny Schmidt, two musicians from Austin, TX (a town near and dear to my heart). They were also quite good and we braved the horrific crowd around their merch table afterwards to buy their CDs. They are also crowdsourcing baby names, so put in your vote for Rowan.

Honestly, the only tiny disappointment I had was that they sold out of t-shirts in my size before the show even started. Other than that, a generally wonderful time was had by all, and I look forward to next year's tour!

Monday, April 04, 2016

Review: A Natural History of Dragons

I can only assume that the reason we haven't seen something as quietly brilliant as Marie Brennan's 'A Natural History of Dragons' long before now is because the fantasy genre has been struggling for decades to dig its way out of the steaming mound of sub-par Tolkien clones that compensated for their lack of originality with an excess of length. Because part of the brilliance of Brennan's concept is that it's so gobsmackingly obvious that as soon as you hear about it, you wonder why nobody has ever thought of it before.

For those of you unfamiliar with the book, it's a memoir written by "Lady Trent", a scholar and a gentlewoman who's made her life's work the study of dragons in their natural habitat. Brennan takes as her inspiration both classic romantic novels (think Jane Austen) and legendary writings on natural history to turn the entire idea of the dragon on its head. She places it into an ecosystem, treating it like a real animal that has habits, biology and a place in nature, and writes an incredibly moving and fascinating story about a young woman who decides to learn everything she can about these rare and fantastic creatures.

For this to work, everything else has to be absolutely grounded in reality, and Brennan does not disappoint. She writes a pseudo-Victorian fantasy world that feels textured and multi-cultural, sprinkling in details about religion and history and society that makes sense as an actual world and not merely window dressing for the dragons. The plot is also clever, interesting, well thought out and holds tantalizing hints for future volumes (there are at least three more books in the series) but the amazing achievement is the way it feels like a true story written by a real woman in a world that just happens to not technically exist.

In case I'm not making myself clear, I adored this book. It makes its stunning conceit seem effortless in a way that only a genius can, and it's a charming page turner that feels like Jane Austen collaborated with Charles Darwin. It's a wonderful sign for the fantasy genre that we're getting books like this out of it.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Why I Disliked the Winter Soldier But Love 'The Winter Soldier'

I have made very little secret, in the past, of my dislike for the comic book character of the Winter Soldier. I have always found him to be emblematic of a certain trend in superhero comics that I'm not fond of, a desperate need to pretend that the genre doesn't have its roots in juvenile fiction and a tendency to paper over everything that could be considered immature with the same overcompensatory obsession with violence, guns and ruthless brutality. Retconning Bucky into a Super Seekrit Black Ops Assassin always felt kind of pathetic to me, even before they transformed him into a Super Seekrit Black Ops Cyborg Soldier.

(Um, for those of you who don't know, according to Brubaker even before Bucky became the Winter Soldier, he was a ruthless assassin killing off Captain America's enemies from the shadows so that Cap could continue to be a star-spangled propaganda machine, and the whole "camp mascot, cute kid, bad puns" thing was a ruse to divert suspicion. Y'know, just the way that Jack Kirby intended.)

Actually, that's kind of the point. I feel like when you write for a shared universe, there's a certain responsibility to respect the work that came before you, and I feel like turning Bucky into a merciless shadow assassin for the US government because you think it's "uncool" that Captain America used to hang out with a teenage boy in short shorts. If you don't want to deal with that part of Captain America's history, that's fine. There are a lot of other things to do with Cap. But retconning it into something nasty and dark and mean always struck me as an unprofessional way to play in the big sandbox.

(And frankly, if you'll allow me a second parenthetical aside in three paragraphs, it felt emblematic of Brubaker's treatment of Cap's mythos in general. I was never the biggest fan of the Jack Monroe Nomad, but I thought the character had been well-written in the past and had potential for more stories, and turning him into a mentally unstable psychotic and then killing him off just to show everyone how badass the Winter Soldier was left a bad taste in my mouth. It was, again, disrespectful of the character's history.)

So with all that said, why am I not just okay with but enthusiastic about the Marvel Cinematic Universe Winter Soldier? Because it's not a retcon. They are not leapfrogging the character from Point A, pun-happy kid who has the dream job of being Captain America's sidekick, to Point Z, grim and merciless gun-toting cyborg who kills people because That's What Cool Heroes Do. They're telling the story of Cap's childhood friend, the guy who always looked after Cap and fought alongside him in wars small and large, who was turned into something terrible against his will and is trying to reclaim his humanity. That's not the story Kirby told, but it's also not a repudiation of it. I can take that Bucky Barnes and that Winter Soldier on their own merits, and enjoy them for what they are.

And in a month or so, I get to see the next installment of their story. I can't wait.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review: The Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies

There are really only two problems with the Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies by Peter Normanton. Unfortunately, they're both really huge. (Perhaps they're the Mammoth Problems with the Mammoth Book of Slasher Movies? No? Okay. Please yourself.)

The first isn't so bad--the author includes a number of horror movies like '28 Days Later', 'Living Dead at Manchester Morgue', and 'Night of the Living Dead' that aren't actually slasher movies at all. They're zombie movies. Now, I love a good zombie movie as much as the next person, and probably significantly more than the next person depending on who the next person is. But a guide to slasher movies should be aware of what a slasher movie is. In specific, a slasher movie is one that foregrounds the persona of the killer or killers with an intent to make them distinct or unique in some way. (There are also a number of cannibal movies, which kind of blur the line because usually it's an entire group of people acting as the cannibals, but I can at least forgive those because often the cannibals are recognized as unique and distinct individuals. Zombie movies, though, are about a faceless horde.)

This means that there's less space for analysis, because the book is stuffed full of movies that don't belong in it. It also means that the sequels are footnotes at the end of each entry, which is a shame because frequently the tone of a slasher franchise changed over the course of each entry, and it would be worthwhile to look at the way that (for example) Freddy changed from being a grim and vicious child molester to being a malevolent trickster-god, or the way that the mythos of Michael Myers got progressively stranger with each installment.

Worse, though, was the decision to file the movies alphabetically with an index at the back showing their chronological progression, rather than filing them chronologically with an index at the back showing how to find them in alphabetical order. This is absolutely gutting, because what analysis there is of the movies focuses on the way the genre developed as different filmmakers explored the motifs and translated the idea of the Italian murder mystery known as the giallo into American horror...and how a new generation took a genre that had become trite and formulaic and began experimenting with that formula.

So you can imagine how the book is impacted disastrously by having hugely influential films like 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' in the back of the book under 'T', while something like 'Hostel' is about a third of the way in. Any attempt to derive meaning or insight gets lost in the random shuffle of movies, and the book becomes a confused recitation of random details without context. I really wanted to like this book--Normanton clearly knows his stuff, and there's a lot of obscure movies in here that clearly illustrate his ideas about how the genre evolved. But the lack of organization turns it into something of a slog. Unless they fix this problem in a revised and updated edition, I wouldn't spend your time or money.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Definitely One of the Ninety-Nine Percent

You know how I said John Scalzi was right about 99% of the time? Well, he did an essay recently that I really strongly feel is a must-read, because this is one of his best of that 99%.

I don't talk a ton about it, but I am the father of a trans child, and the issues he talks about in this essay are part of my everyday life as a parent. He really does a great job of hitting every important point, including the bit about having the self-awareness to understand that you're not going to get it right the first time and that you need to keep trying and not get defensive when someone points out that you got it wrong. Basically, this is really good Trans 101 stuff, and it deserves a read.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Batman v Superman: A Non-Review

I am given to understand that 'Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice' comes out this weekend. I hope it is enjoyable for the people who go and see it, and I hope you understand that I won't be in that number.

I've tried to be pretty low-key about not having any desire to see it, because I really don't want to be That Guy on the Internet. You know, the one who decides to inflict his personal tastes on everyone by insisting that anything that looks bad to him must be empirically awful and if you liked it, you're a bad person with bad taste? Yeah, That Guy is a jerk. Let's go egg his house. has been brought to my attention that That Guy is hypothetical. Also? That's not his house. Put the rest of the eggs away.

Seriously, I don't want to get into an argument about the merits of the movie. I'm not even saying it's bad. It may be a perfectly good superhero movie--it's just that it looks like it's taking a number of aesthetic elements I really don't like and using them in conjunction. I don't like Zack Snyder's libertarian, hyper-conservative ethos when it's applied to...well, a lot of things, but especially Superman. A person who works on an adaptation of 'The Fountainhead' in their spare time is not going to fundamentally get a hero who operates on principles of pure altruism. That's actually the point of Luthor, in Grant Morrison's view--he literally can't trust Superman because the concept of true altruism is so alien to him that he imputes motives to the character that aren't there because otherwise Superman makes no sense to him.

(Not that I'm saying Snyder is like Luthor, but I'm saying a libertarian Objectivist doesn't have enough of a grasp on altruism to write Superman in a manner that's true to the character.)

I don't like any take on Batman that focuses primarily on his emotional damage, and I don't like any take on the Batman/Superman relationship that focuses primarily on Batman's egotistical need to prove himself superior to Superman. I'm pretty much over Frank Miller's take on the character; I find it reductionist to the point of being one-dimensional, and I think it limits the number of stories you can do about Batman. And further, I think most of the stories you can produce with the Miller Batman tend to show the character as unsympathetic and selfish, fighting crime primarily because it makes him feel strong and powerful rather than because he genuinely wants to help others.

I'm not interested in a story where Batman and Superman hate each other; I feel that it's a view of both characters that's tremendously disrespectful to decades of their histories, and that it really misunderstands what John Byrne was trying to do when he wrote the original 'Man of Steel' mini-series. Byrne was trying to show how two men of very different backgrounds could come to respect each other's commitment to their shared ideals, but everyone took it as, "Batman sees Superman as a wimpy boy scout and Superman sees Batman as a thug," and that characterization got locked in by Frank Miller (who unsurprisingly loves vigilantes and hates altruists).

And very little of the stuff around the edges that I've seen so far appeals to me, although I'm willing to credit the idea that Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman will be great if she's given something to do. I don't think Doomsday is necessary, I like the idea of Facebook Luthor but not enough to see a movie for it, and the cameos by the rest of the Justice League seem forced and desperate, like Warner Brothers is trying too hard to jumpstart a mega-franchise.

Now, I could be wrong about all this stuff. If I start hearing reviews that say, "Wow, this movie is nothing like what you saw in the trailers," I may decide to see it and I may like it. But I ultimately feel like this is not a Batman/Superman movie for me. I'm not saying it's bad, I'm not saying you shouldn't see it, I'm not saying you should feel bad for liking it. I'm just saying that it's rooted in a vision of the characters that's never appealed to me, and I've got better things to do with my time and money.

But if you're wondering what I think...well, now you know.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Friendly Advice for the Production Team of 'Cutthroat Kitchen'

Hi folks!

Look, we all know that social media is pretty awesome, especially if you're a basic cable TV show looking to drum up enthusiasm for your series that could translate into a bump in the ratings. People love to talk about television on social media, and even to watch shows while chatting with other viewers about what they're seeing live. That provides a real incentive to find ways to get your show "trending", in order to get people to switch over to see what's happening. We all get that.

And yes, it's fun to come up with clever topic hashtags, funny and quirky things that will get the public curious about what's going on with your show at that moment. Silly, funny little hashtags like "#hashtaghashtagpan" can create a little bit of excitement and, one would hope translates to a few extra viewers. And since those viewers help pay for the show (indirectly through advertising, let's not explain your own business model to you) then it's understandable that you're always looking for new quirky tags.

But here's the thing about the Internet and social media...they're used for a lot of different things. Some of them are things that, well...only grown-ups talk about. Special, grown-up things that don't necessarily involve cooking or television, except for the people for which both of those things are very important to their grown-up activities because of a special rule we call Rule #34. And it's important to remember that those grown-ups, talking about grown-up things, are on the same social media as everybody else, and the only thing that really divides them is the topics they talk about.

Basically, what I'm saying is that if one of your contestants does happen to slice off the tip of their finger, as happened in the March 13th episode, it's probably for the best if you don't try to get it trending with the hashtag "#justthetip". Because there are two very different meanings to that particular phrase, used by two very different groups of people, and trust me when I say that neither one of the groups who use it want to think about the other meaning when they're very...emotionally using it in its current context.

Okay? Okay.

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Why I Avoid "Dream Cast" Lists

Right now, there's a lot of buzz about who the next Doctor Who companion will be. I've heard some interesting names being floated for the part, but I've also seen some "here's who they should cast" lists. Those tend to be very frustrating for me, because most of the "dream cast" lists that you see on the Internet tend to boil down to, "Here are people who are already doing a ton of stuff in sci-fi/fantasy and who are up for every third part in any genre movie or TV series you'd care to name! Wouldn't it be awesome if they were in this, too?"

And while the answer is usually, "Yeah, sure," (I mean, who doesn't want to see David Tennant in more things?) it feels very insular and limiting. The honest answer, especially for Doctor Who, is that I want to see someone I've never heard of. I want to see someone who isn't on my dream casting list, or even my casting list at all. I don't have the resources that a casting director has, and I don't get tons of headshots and resumes crossing my desk. Why should I be lobbying for anyone to get a part?

No, I'd greatly prefer to discover a new actor or actress through Doctor Who, or through any number of other sci-fi/fantasy movies. Let them be the next Matt Smith, or the next Tatiana Maslany, or the next Michael B. Jordan. The casting director's job should be to range far and wide and discover someone brilliant--if they've only found the people we all know about already, they're not working hard enough.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Discredited Argument I'd Like to Stop Seeing Of the Day

"I'm not racist when I say Character X was white in the comics and should stay white, I just want them to stay faithful to the source material."

There's usually more to this argument, generally centered on the failure of the latest Fantastic Four movie (which is unambiguously blamed on casting Michael B. Jordan as the Human Torch and not on any of the other changes they made from the original comic) and on how Marvel has been so successful because they stayed faithful to their source material.

So, let's just take care of this one now, shall we? Bucky Barnes is not an orphan and "camp mascot" who meets Steve Rogers for the first time after he becomes Captain America. Bucky also did not get strapped to a missile that was launched over the Atlantic and exploded, plunging him and Cap into the icy waters. The Red Skull is not a masked Nazi handpicked by Adolf Hitler as his personal attendant. HYDRA is not created by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, who is not a World War II era Nazi and does not wield the Satan Claw as his signature weapon. Arnim Zola is not a bio-android wearing a TV screen on his chest that shows his original face (although that could still happen, Russo Brothers!) The Falcon is not a street-smart hustler whose memories were altered by the Cosmic Cube (which is not called the Cosmic Cube and does not have the same properties or origins as the Cosmic Cube). He does not have a trained falcon. Whiplash is not seeking revenge on Iron Man for the destruction of his home village at the hands of a man wearing stolen Stark technology. Volstagg is not a comedic figure whose cowardice and incapacity in a fight is played up whenever the character appears. The Destroyer is not animated by the consciousness of a living person. The Chitauri are not shapeshifters and have not been infiltrating human civilization since before World War II. AIM is not an offshoot of HYDRA headed by MODOK. Iron Patrior is not Norman Osborn and is not a super-villain seeking to masquerade as a patriotic hero. Ultron was not created by Hank Pym. Hank Pym was never Giant Man, Goliath, or Yellowjacket. The Purple Man is not actually purple. The Abomination was not a KGB spy who bombarded himself with radiation in an attempt to become a second Hulk. Sam Sterns is not a janitor from Boise. Drax is not an undead revenant created by the forces of the cosmos to murder Thanos. Nebula is not a cosmic con artist pretending to be Thanos' grand-daughter to make use of his reputation. Ronan is not an officially sanctioned law officer of the Kree government. Korath is not a blue Kree scientist who gave himself superpowers. Rocket is not a jet-booted swashbuckler created as a therapy animal for a planet-sized insane asylum. Yondu is not from a thousand years in the future. Yondu is not a wise and noble mystic from Alpha Centauri. Yondu does not use a bow with his arrow. Yondu is not disinterested in consuming human flesh. Star-Lord is not...oh, let's just say that Star-Lord is not anything Star-Lord ever was in the comics and leave it at that, okay?

In short, Marvel has taken vast liberties with every single aspect of their source material, and 99% of them have been greatly adored. It is significant that the only ones some people even notice, let alone take issue with, are the ones that change the skin color of their favorite characters. Let's not pretend otherwise, okay?

(Feel free to link to this post any time someone is making this argument online and you don't want to just retype it all, by the way.)

Monday, February 22, 2016

The All-Kidding-Aside State of the GOP Race

And now there are only five. A dying race, ruled by a dying emperor, imprisoned within themselves in a dying land.

No, wait. That's 'The Dark Crystal'. In the GOP race, they're not dying quickly enough for anyone's tastes. (And not metaphorically enough for some, but that's a whole other story.) We are down to five candidates, with the departure of Thank-God-He-Failed-Or-They'd-Dredge-Up-Neil-in-2024 Jeb Bush: Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.

More importantly, though, there are only three viable candidates; Kasich and Carson have struggled to break out of single digits, with Kasich's only finish within sniffing distance coming in New Hampshire, immediately after Rubio's worst debate performance. Neither one of them stands even a microscopic chance of getting the nomination. That puts it at a three-way race--Cruz, Trump, and Rubio.

I can pretty much guarantee you that the GOP establishment would just as soon it be Rubio. They're terrified of the possibility of Trump actually getting the nomination--he's a gaffe-prone disaster whose every utterance is an airborne toxic event, and having him tied to the Republican brand would be exactly what they don't want in an election year that's probably going to have pretty high Democratic turn-out anyway. Cruz has his own problems; he has historically not worked well with his fellow Republicans, and there's some bad blood there. So they want Rubio.

And Rubio is doable. Not easily, but he is. Cruz and Trump are basically drawing off the same pool of voters, and I don't realistically think that Kasich supporters will go to Trump or Cruz. Carson supporters may go to Trump or Cruz, but I don't think he'll leave the race for anything short of an autographed selfie with Jesus. Kasich, on the other hand, could be lured into conceding with the promise of political considerations either personal or for the state of Ohio. (What they used to call "bribes".) And Kasich plus Jeb equals probably about fifteen percent of the GOP vote, enough to shift the conversation if they all break for the same person.

So if Kasich is lured into conceding, and he endorses Rubio, Cruz and Carson and Trump split each other's votes and Rubio winds up being the nominee. Which means the Democrats will win, because he's a callow dimwit who's less interested in the actual business of governance than he is in imagining himself to be a bigshot politician, but it's not like Cruz or Trump are going to shear moderates away either. Basically, I think what Republican insiders are hoping for at this point is to nominate someone who isn't such an obvious hot mess that he screws up their chance to keep the House and Senate. If they win the Presidency as well, that's great, but they really just don't want to backslide.

If Cruz drops out, on the other hand, all bets are off. I don't see Rubio picking all of those people up, even if a lot of them probably wouldn't go to Trump either. (I assume that if you're a crazy religious libertarian nutbag and you haven't already supported Trump, it has to be due to personal antipathy.) That could deliver the nomination to Trump, who will probably explain three days for the election that this was all a Stanley Milgram-style psychological experiment to see if the American people would vote for the worst human being imaginable and that he really wishes President Clinton/Sanders the best of luck.

Hey--it could happen. Certainly wouldn't be any crazier than anything else this electoral cycle.