Friday, July 31, 2009

Putting The Super Back In Superman

With the results of a recent lawsuit from the Siegel and Shuster estates (heirs of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, original creators of Superman), it looks like Warner Brothers has a choice: have a new Superman movie in production by 2011 or, possibly, never again without paying huge penalties. I have yet to find a concise, understandable description of this lawsuit or its results (if anyone out there has a link, feel free to send it my way), so I don't have those details for you, but I do know that the heirs of Siegel and Shuster have been saying for years that they have gotten a raw deal from Warner Brothers and DC Comics and, more often than not, the courts have generally agreed. The fact that almost all creators from that era got a raw deal seems to go pretty much unnoticed, but that's a different story.
The story here is that Warner Brothers needs to get a new Superman movie rolling fast, but they say they can't because the character is currently perceived as "uncool" and "damaged goods". One studio talking head in the court case used the abysmal box office record of Superman IV as evidence that this franchise was "played out".
That last point we can address easily. The abysmal box office record for Superman IV was evidence that Superman IV sucked. End of story. The sheer volume of successful Superman adaptations since then is overwhelming evidence that the problem was in that particular offering, not in the franchise as a whole.
So then we are left with the problems of "uncool" and "damaged goods". Those actually are not that difficult to deal with either. Whenever suit-and-tie-wearing executives interfere with the presentation of the character called Superman, we inevitably get a guy in a blue suit and red cape who does not otherwise show more than a passing resemblance to Earth's greatest defender. The bean counters have, over and over again, tried to "modernize" Superman, tried to copy the formulas of other heroes and anti-heroes, tried to "make" Superman "cool". These attempts have, over and over again, failed miserably. Without exception, every time someone tries one of these ridiculous re-imaginings and it bombs, someone else comes along and brings the Big Blue Boyscout back to his roots, and the character's popularity once again surges. You would think that, after seeing this formula repeated so many times, someone in charge might actually notice.
Since you guys at Warner Brothers can't seem to figure these things out on your own, let me give you a few pointers:
Superman is not an anti-hero. He is a shining beacon of hope and people could certainly use a bit more of that these days. It has been very rare that showing a darker side to Superman has actually worked (think Kingdom Come, a fabulous graphic novel that you really should read if you have not done so) and these have only worked because they actually highlighted his positive traits and were ended with a large redemption that restored Superman to these positive traits. If you ever doubt that Superman is The Hero and that doubt is not resolved absolutely and at least relatively quickly, you have not written a Superman story.
Superman is not Batman and you cannot use the same methods for one as for the other. This is not actually the same thing as the "not an anti-hero" point because Batman is not truly an anti-hero. He does things that are dark (opposite of Superman) but he does them for purely noble reasons (same as Superman and decidedly opposite of anti-hero motif). The combination of similarities and differences is what makes putting these two characters together so popular. They share absolute morals - protect the innocent, never kill, fight injustice no matter the odds, etc - but they constantly bicker over methods. The defining difference is in who they most seek to affect and how they accomplish this. Batman's primary affect is on criminals through fear. In many of the best batman stories, the average citizen doesn't even know whether or not there really is a Batman - he's an urban legend - but the criminals know him and are afraid. Superman's primary affect is on the average person through hope. Everyone knows Superman is real and most people feel a happy thrill when they see him flying through the air. Do you see the difference?
Superman is the most powerful hero in the DC universe. Quit wasting our time with problems Jimmy Olsen could solve. There is a reason the comics only rarely feature Lex as the upfront villain. Yes, it's good to see his devious manipulations from time to time but have you forgotten what the original and longest running Superman comic was called? Action Comics! Notice a key word there? We want to see Superman go toe to toe with villains who can actually hit back.
Superman is not a whiner. Leave the angst to the X-Men or the Boy Wonder. Teenagers. Superman is not a teenager. You don't make an adult character cool to teenagers by making him act like them. They're not stupid. Most teenagers see that as the lame attempt to grab their attention that it is.
Superman is not alien. Get off the isolated alien kick. Yes, he is technically and genetically not human, but he is emotionally and socially more human than human. He is the best parts of humanity, amplified. Superman was raised by Kansas farmers who taught him human values, human loves, and human ideals. Yes, he knows he is an alien and yes, this occasionally causes issues, but it is not the center of his being. The center of Superman's being is being the best human he can be because that is what Mom and dad taught him to be.
In short, give us back our Kansas boyscout and let him do some serious butt kicking in the name of defending truth and justice. Those two words are a Superman catchphrase, but I'll give you two more that should be guiding stars to the folks at Warner Brothers: hope and action.
There is nothing uncool or damaged about the character of Superman, only about the way Warner Brothers executives have treated that most iconic of characters. Be fair - hell, be honest and just. Make a Superman movie worthy of the name and you'll see moviegoers flock to the box office. Continue to think that people should be dumb enough to buy anything with a big red S on it and you'll continue to lose money. Shouldn't be a difficult decision.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

They Are Not Freedom Fighters

"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter"
I get so sick of seeing this argument, especially since it almost always comes from people who will do anything in their measly power to demonize America while also doing everything in their measly power to apologize for and excuse terrorists. Taken from one of the comments sections that we all know I love to dig through, here is the quote that has set me off today:
"lets say the US was invaded by a far superior force, and somehow in the ensuing resistance effort that you would surely be part of, your wife and young children ended up being killed in some horrific fashion."
Let's take a little history lesson, for those who are somewhat reality-impaired.
First of all, the vast majority of terrorist organizations have nothing to do with anyone who has ever been invaded by a superior force. I realize that you people are obsessed with Iraq, but there is more to the Middle East and everything going on there than that one country. Most terrorist organizations are about fundamentalist Islamic movements that have either toppled or are actively trying to topple their own legitimate government. The only invading that has been done in these cases has been done by their own co-religionists.
Yes, there are, in some cases, legitimate complaints and yes, some of these terrorist movements have been the result of legitimate complaints or even, in far less cases, of some invasion. The pre-existing legitimacy, however, does not excuse the resulting behavior. A man who goes around indiscriminately murdering high school teachers because he was abused by one and no one would listen to his complaints is still wrong in his murders no matter how legitimate his original complaint may have been.
For another thing, we in America already have a perfect historical example of a people who were invaded by a superior force and did not resort to terrorism. And guess what: we won! (If you can't figure out what I'm talking about then you really need to take a remedial history class.)
There is a very easy to define and distinct difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter: Freedom fighters do not intentionally target civilians and children! Yes, there is collateral damage in any war and yes, there is sometimes even more collateral damage than can in any way be excused, but civilians and children are not collateral damage to terrorists. They are the intended targets! Are you apologizers so intent on seeing everything wrong with America that you cannot see this one unarguable fact?
What is truly pathetic is that even the terrorists know this. How many times has Hamas accused Israel of targeting schools and hospitals? And you apologizers eat it up because you know that this is the difference between terrorism and a legitimate fight, but you refuse to apply that standard to anyone other than America and her allies.
They are not freedom fighters, they are not legitimate, and there is no excuse for their reprehensible behavior. So long as they are intentionally murdering civilians and children in order to scare people into accepting their religious authority (which is their stated goal), they are evil. Plain and simple. They may have had a legitimate complaint at one time, but it has become so buried by their own crimes that it no longer matters. They have become the monsters they claim to fight against.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

One Giant Leap

On July 16, 1969, people waited with anxiety and baited breath as we launched one of the most historic missions of exploration that mankind has yet seen. Not a continent or an ocean would be crossed this time. No, on that day we set out to cross the gulf of space itself and set foot on a land never before marked by human prints. And we did it!
"One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."
Today is the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and mankind has continued to leap forward in ways Armstrong could not have anticipated. Sadly, however, we have not continued on the path he would have naturally assumed. Our space program has done little to push forward the human spirit of exploration and the moon is still untrod and largely unexplored.
Yet there have been great advances. Much of the technology we take for granted today is a direct offshoot of the space program and such projects as Hubble and the Mars rovers do continue our quest for knowledge and understanding. Of course, the space station is pretty much a bust, but it was terribly designed in the first place (the very idea of having a bunch of countries who can't ever agree on terrestrial subjects get together and "coordinate" the building of a giant object in space is laughable when you think about it). And Hubble will probably start falling apart now that there are no more maintenance missions scheduled because shortsighted bureaucrats failed to plan ahead for the end of the shuttle program. And the Mars rovers ... Actually, that program exceeded life expectancy quite some time ago and continues to go fairly strong. Now if only there were something planned to follow it.
Do I sound grumpy? That's because I am. The human race is defined by scientific achievement and exploration and yet we still have people who want us living in the Dark Ages. Today, ABC (that bastion of journalistic integr... sorry, I can't quite complete that, even as a joke) ran a headline which read, "Apollo 11 Anniversary: Debate Continues", and the opening sentence claims that "the argument rages." Informal poll: ask around your office and see how many people are raging about the Apollo missions. There are those who claim that with "the trillions of dollars we have spent on the space program, all we have are some moon rocks, several tons of space junk and a dozen and a half or so dead astronauts," as they type their complaints using microprocessors and satellite communication they forgot to list. There are even those who still insist that the moon landing never happened, who argue that, even with today's technology, we could not accomplish such a feat. Of course they're right. Man could never fly in a giant metal tube or accurately plot the movements of stellar bodies or design pressure suits that were proof against vacuum or ... Wait a minute. Isn't this all rather easily contradicted?
There are always those who insist that nothing else should be done until the poor are fed or the homeless are housed or something else of that sort, and these people also merrily type away their complaints on their computers using their high speed internet, totally oblivious to the internal contradiction. They're also oblivious to the fact that the budget for the space program is minuscule compared to the budgets (notice the plural?) for the various Help the Poor programs and there isn't a chance in the world that adding that small amount to the existing poor programs budgets would make any difference at all. Meanwhile, continuing the research that goes on in the space program very well could have direct and indirect side effects that do help those other programs. Shortsightedness rears its ugly head again!
But "if you don't have the money to begin with ANY expense is too much." I actually saw someone make that argument against pointing out how small the space program budget is compared with budgets for other programs or the GDP as a whole. It's amazing how many people will make this argument against a small expense but will not make it against the huge expenses. If we cannot afford the relatively small expense of the space program then why did such a significant percentage of the "stimulus bill" go toward expanding various liberal programs that cost so much more? How many of these people would argue for cutting welfare or Medicaid or Social Security payouts or HUD etc etc because we can't afford them?
Probably the largest reason I am grumpy, though, is the simple fact that the Apollo 11 moon landing was one of the most important and historic achievements the human race has ever seen and yet, forty years later, shortsighted bureaucrats and even more shortsighted sheep - I mean citizens - have prevented us from doing anything that really built on that. We're marching in place! Granted, we are at least marching in a place where there is still valuable knowledge to be gained, but we could be doing so much more. It's there! Why aren't we reaching for it? Have we, as a species, become so pathetic that we no longer see the joy and honor in striving for the difficult but great accomplishments? I sincerely hope not but sometimes I look around and I worry.
Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins were heroes in a classic sense, in a way that too many people know nothing about anymore. They saw the distant and the dangerous and the great and they reached for it. In reaching, they conquered, and they reminded us that we can be great. They inspired a world, and that is what a hero does. We could use some of that inspiration today. We need to remember greatness and we need to remember that we can be great.
To everyone who was involved with Apollo 11, happy anniversary and thank you for the gift we have yet to earn. Some of us really are trying.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

On Restoring A Political Party

I'm not a big fan of our two party system since I believe that giving major airplay to only two points of view doesn't even resemble true representation. I, for example, being decidedly neither Republican nor Democrat, am not represented by any of those clowns in Washington. I don't think there is more than a half-dozen of them whose agree-disagree ration is much further apart than 50-50. People always talk about the power of the "independents" and the "third parties", but what power is that really? The power to swing the vote to one or the other of the two big parties is hardly true self determination. It's just picking the lesser of two evils, writ large. Sometimes, like in our most recent election, even picking the lesser of two evils is more like rolling the dice than actually making a decision. Do we want the incompetent smooth-talker or the incoherent mental case? Anyone have a dart and a dartboard?
However, even a two party system certainly beats the stuffings out of a one party system. I want the Republican party to be viable simply because I do not want the Democratic party to be the only choice, and vise versa. I would whole-heartedly support the crumbling of one or both of these parties if it meant opening our system up to something better but, at present at least, it wouldn't. If one party gets marginalized, that only means that the other party would get the full run of things, and that is truly terrifying, no matter which way it goes. So, for the present, I must support keeping both parties viable. It's that lesser of two evils thing again.
Whether the Truly Faithful want to admit it or not, the Republican party currently is at risk of becoming marginalized. This is not a fait accompli like many on the left would like to believe, but it is a real possibility. The demagogues have claimed control of the Republican grass roots but they do not represent the Republican party as a whole. They are also easy to beat. They stir up the evangelicals and the hardcore conservatives (which blocks make up only an estimated 20%-30% of the Republican party and an even smaller - much smaller - percent of conservative-leaning independents) but they leave the rest of the party cold. You'll get a lot of noise, but not much of any usefulness. Meanwhile, the Democrats galvanize a much larger percentage of their voting block (largely because they do not always insist on treating the loudest block as the only block that matters) and sheer attrition spells a bad day looking for Republicans.
I would like to believe that the ongoing spending orgy being pushed by the Democrats might galvanize a broader Republican base in the next election, but non-evangelical Republicans are rather squeamish in that department right now. The last Republican administration was not exactly conservative on spending. I have also been cruelly disillusioned on what will galvanize the Republican party. I had truly believed that an outright election theft (called such by outside news agencies across the country) and profligate spending would galvanize Republicans in the last election here in Washington state, but it didn't. It wasn't even what one could truly call close.
Republicans, if you want to stir your party as a whole next time around, and not just the loudmouths, you're going to have to work for it and not expect the Democrats to do the work for you. Almost regardless of how much the Democrats do that you dislike, the party as a whole will not move unless you give them a reason to do so. Most people are not going to stir themselves for what they believe to be a losing proposition.
So what will move the Republican party as a whole? How about focusing on more broad spectrum Republican and conservative beliefs? I realize that the evangelicals make quite a racket, but religious issues are not broad spectrum Republican issues. In fact, the continuous attempt to make religious issues defining center pieces of the Republican party platform is a large reason why you are losing! These ideas just do not have broad enough support. Running Republicans who are as checkbook happy as the average Democrat doesn't help either. Fiscal responsibility. Law and order. National defense. States rights. The sovereignty of the individual. Do any of these ideas sound familiar? These are core, broad spectrum Republican ideals and they do not require religious or far right demagoguery. The last great conservative movement (Anyone remember Reagan? The hero of the Republicans?) was ushered in on these very principles. If, as the talking heads of been stating ad nauseum since the last election, the nation as a whole is more center-right then center-right is exactly where the Republican party needs to position themselves. How does pushing further and further to the far right help?
And while I'm handing out free advice that no one is going to listen to, get off the Sarah Palin kick. I realize she's the darling of the far right, but the key word there is "far". She is not a viable candidate and naming her as his running mate crippled a McCain campaign that wasn't exactly doing hot without her "help". Most moderate Republicans and conservative-leaning independents view her with the same stunned disbelief (and sometimes even horror) held by the Democrats. She's the Joe Biden of the Republican party. That woman cannot open her mouth without swallowing her foot up to the knee. If you want to keep losing then keep talking about Palin in 2012. There isn't much you could do that would be more helpful to the Democrats.
If you want to try winning, though, and maybe restoring a true two party system in the process, you might consider getting back to the Republican party ideals and remember that there is much more to the party than just who makes the most noise or the splashiest headlines.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The "Evidence" for Catastrophic Climate Change

The single most used piece of evidence in the climate change debate is computerized climate models. This is an unarguable fact. Every statement of catastrophic climate change is based in computer models because there is no observable evidence for catastrophe. There can't be observable evidence because there is no observable climate-related catastrophe currently occurring.
Let's put a few things into perspective before we go any further. No one with even the barest education denies that there is such a thing as climate change. In fact, the cynical observer can note that the reason the environmental lobby switched from using the label "global warming" to "climate change" was because the one was highly debatable while the other was not and using the undebatable term would help to silence the rest of the debate as well (the cynical observer also notes that it is difficult to keep the public's attention on a threat of global warming if the planet refuses to cooperate and show consistent warming trends for you). Climate change happens and always has happened. Earth's climate has never been stable. Dismissing skeptics as "people who don't believe in climate change" is ridiculous and a dishonest refusal to address what is actually being said.
What is actually being debated is 1) whether or not the current round of climate change has a significant human influence and 2) whether or not the current round of climate change has potentially catastrophic consequences for humanity (if you think it's about catastrophic consequences for the planet, you're delusional - the planet will adapt and keep going regardless). Contrary to popular belief, the debate on these two questions has not been settled. It cannot be settled because it has never happened. It cannot happen because, from Day One, believers have accepted the premise as proven fact and have vilified doubters with a fervor usually reserved for religious inquisitions. (Want an example of this fanatic extremism? A prominent New York Times columnist recently argued that those who voted against the Cap and Trade bill in the House should be considered treasonous. How's that for open minded discussion?)
To be fair, the first question cannot be answered with any surety. Not in anything resembling the short term, anyway. The only way to prove this point, one way or the other, is to make dramatic changes and then wait around about a hundred years to measure the results. Not the most efficient means of answering a current events argument but this is, essentially, what the environmental lobby wants. It is not, however, what the general public wants. Such dramatic changes would be expensive beyond comprehension and would produce equally dramatic upheavals in everyday life. The general public does not like that kind of change without a good reason.
Which is where the second question comes into play. If there is an imminent catastrophe and such dramatic changes have a real chance of heading off this catastrophe then there is good reason for the changes.
So, is there an imminent catastrophe? The environmental lobby says there is, but that's not exactly an unbiased source. Is there evidence for an imminent catastrophe? Contrary to the constant headlines, the answer to that question is a resounding no. A catastrophe is certainly within the realm of the possible, but every statement of catastrophe that has been made has been a guess or a computer model prediction.
There is no evidence in the historical record. Warming trends and cooling trends have been well documented through the use of core samples and other such data collection methods. While there is plenty of evidence for cooling trend catastrophes (ice ages do tend to make such survival requirements as food collection/production rather challenging, to say the least) there is nothing in the historical record to indicate the kind of global catastrophe being described as a result of a warming trend. In fact, human culture and civilization has tended to thrive during the warming trends!
The proponents of catastrophic climate change do not challenge this fact (except maybe for those who are so uneducated they believe the catastrophe is due within their own lifetimes, despite the fact that their own models do not predict catastrophe for about a century). Instead they argue that it isn't relevant because this time the world is warming faster than ever before, but what is the evidence for this claim? There isn't any because the scientists these people are quoting don't claim this! These scientists claim that the world will be warming faster than ever before. Notice the difference? The scientists are not stating an observed fact, they are making a prediction. They are then using that prediction to support another prediction. In order to make the first prediction, however, they must assume that human activity has a significant impact on the world's climate, which is exactly what these predictions are supposed to be trying to prove in the first place. Nice circle.
As I said at the beginning, the single most used piece of evidence in the climate change debate is computer models. Melting ice sheets? The major ice sheets have always melted and reformed and we have only been actively observing this process for thirty years. We know nothing of any consequence about the major ice sheets - which are currently melting and freezing, depending on where you look - and only computer models indicate that what is happening now is any different from normal fluctuations. Mass extinctions? If you had any idea how many species are assumed to go extinct every hour now, you would only be able to laugh at this claim. The truth of the matter is that no one has a clue how many species are on this planet and no one knows how many go extinct or what will cause or prevent these extinctions. Claims of mass extinction are nothing more than computer model number crunching based on statistics and probabilities. Severe global drought? This one is another joke. A prolonged or unusual warming trend is as likely to increase atmospheric moisture as to reduce it. This is all based on computer models and many of those models actually predict longer growing seasons and more arable land (which is also what the historical record supports). Quite the opposite of a drought. Rising sea levels? This one is actually smoke and mirrors. Sea levels have actually been rising for centuries (to put it mildly - pretty much since the end of the last Ice Age) and most computer models do not predict any unusual increase in this natural, ongoing process. It just sounds bad because no one mentions that it's been going on forever. The models that do predict catastrophic rises have been used for benchmarks for years and, so far, they have not gotten one single sea level increase prediction right.
Notice a trend here? Every single claim made by proponents of climate change catastrophe is based on computer models - models that either cannot be independantly verified or that get the predictions wrong when attempts to verify are made - and then they claim the debate is closed. Computer models cannot prove anything except the fact that a computer can model something based on input. No other branch of science would be allowed to claim something as proven based only on computer models and I don't think any other branch would try.
Astrophysicists had computer models predicting the existence of black holes for decades before the phenomenon was observed and, until it was observed, it was only a theory. Cosmologists have computer models predicting the existence of dark matter but no other evidence has yet been found, so dark matter is only a theory. Computer models exist that show that a cataclysmic meteor strike of Earth now only has happened but can happen again, yet no one is suggesting a complete upheaval of society to prepare for this possible catastrophe.
:et's be clear: Cleaning up the environment is a good thing and should be done. I always considered myself an environmentalist before that label was stolen by irrational fanatics. Trashing your own home is just stupid! Cleaning the environment, however, can be done without record deficits or social upheaval. If there is no imminent catastrophe then it should be done without record deficits or social upheaval. Until there is more evidence than computer models, the debate is still open and arrogantly refusing to listen helps no one.