Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Lois Capps, Medicare, and the Cost of Missed Opportunities

The National Republican Congressional Committee has put out the following ad against Santa Barbara's own Congresswoman Lois Capps attacking her on Medicare:

Put aside the fact that before entering Congress Lois Capps spent her career as a nurse and health advocate. Put aside the fact that in Congress Lois Capps is the founder of the House Nursing Caucus and Co-Chair of Congressional Heart and Stroke Coalition, the House Cancer Caucus, the Congressional School Health and Safety Caucus, and the Democratic Task Force on Health. And put aside the fact that Lois Capps is beloved in her district in large part due to her 13 year Congressional record of strenuously fighting for healthcare rights.

This ad isn't really about any of that. Maybe the RNCC thinks Capps will be vulnerable after redistricting, maybe they're just message testing. But what they're definitely doing is trying to muddy the waters. Two months ago the House passed Paul Ryan's Budget which would end Medicare as we know it. All but 6 Republicans voted for it in the House, all but 5 Republicans voted for it in the Senate, and every Democrat in Congress voted against it. A large majority of the country oppose the plan and last month Kathy Hochul won a stunning upset in the special election for the conservative NY-26th district by turning it into a referendum on the plan.

Even more concerning for Republicans, they lost my grandmother. She's a traditional fiscal conservative who voted for Obama last time because she was disgusted with Sarah Palin, but was unlikely to vote for him again. She's the kind of voter Democrats should be reaching out to and Republicans should be terrified of losing. And on the day the Republicans passed the Ryan Plan, she called me upset because she was worried that the program my great grandmother had relied on, that she relied on, wouldn't be there for my mom and my uncle when they retired. And she's not alone, 74% of seniors and even half of all Republicans oppose the plan.

Democrats were handed a gift on a silver platter: the chance to turn the 2012 election into a referendum on the Republicans "right-wing social engineering" agenda instead of the economy. But for that to work, voters need to be reminded every day between now and the election exactly what the Republicans will do to this country if given the opportunity. And the window is closing. If Democrats don't hammer them on this issue now while the vote is still fresh in people's thoughts, they'll forget. And that's what this ad is about, if the Paul Ryan plan isn't kept in the forefront of voters' minds then come the election all they'll remember will be a series of 'he said/she said' attacks from both sides saying the other is out to destroy Medicare. Not remembering the details or wanting to do the research, Republicans are hoping that voters will then just ignore the issue and focus on the deficit. And if we don't take concerted action soon, they may well be right.

West Wing Wednesday

I've been marathoning through Deadwood over the last couple of weeks. And both frumpy and onomatopoetically should be used more often.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Makeover: Calendar Man

Julian Gregory Day, first appearing in 1958, was cursed with a name that is vaguely associated with calendars (Julian Calendar, Gregorian Calendar, and Days) and thus was unable to escape the fate of becoming a supervillain named Calendar Man. This should give expecting parents everywhere cause to think carefully about the name they give their child as his name is literally the only motivation originally given for Calendar Man taking on a life of costumed crime fighting Batman in Gotham City.

Originally Calendar Man's gimmick was that he would commit crimes corresponding to and inspired by holidays. So on St. Patrick's Day he'd dress up as a leprechaun and take Irish folkdancers hostage or rob the First National Bank using fireworks on the 4th of July. Later Jeph Loeb would turn him into a more Hannibal Lector inspired killer for The Long Halloween, but the calendar schtick remained pretty much the same.

There are a couple serious flaws with Calendar Man as a supervillain. Most cripplingly, he has no actual motivation for committing holiday themed crimes. With the possible exception of Erik Prince the founder of Blackwater who trains his private army in his secret lair in a swamp, people do not become evil just because they have an evil sounding name. His gimmick of creating new costumes inspired for each crime also makes him less memorable because even for supervillains, branding is important. Finally, the best supervillains are almost always either twisted reflections or foils for the hero they fight. For example two of Superman's most recognizable villains are Brainiac, who is another survivor of a doomed alien world who comes to earth bent on conquest rather than compassion, and Lex Luthor, who uses his mind to battle the brawn of the Man of Steel. Calendar Man fights Batman with festive weapons because.....?

So what can be done to rehabilitate Calendar Man into a villain that any superhero would be proud to call his own? I propose that Julian Day was a Professor of History at Gotham University who focused his research on ancient pagan festivals and rituals. Add in a dash of mental instability and you have a man who can no longer stand the corruption and commercialization of his life's work and is determined to remind people what the real meaning of the holidays are. Many of our Christmas traditions are adopted from Nordic Yule festivals which also called for blood sacrifice, Valentine's Day falls on the same date as the Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia where the men ran naked through the streets, and the list goes on. Between ancient origins of current holidays and the forgotten calendars and celebrations of civilizations and cultures that haven't existed for hundreds of years, he'd have an almost infinite number of potential (dark and often bloody) story hooks. While still not very closely tied to Batman, this adaptation at least offers some hope to use Calendar Man as a dark mirror of the Caped Crusader. Batman taps into the primal fear of the dark to scare criminals, while Calendar Man would tap into the primal origins of our cultural traditions in order to scare society. Finally, he needs some kind of permanent and recognizable costume. I'm personally imagining him dressed as a druid in red as a nod to his original costume, but I'll be the first to admit that I'm no artist so I'm open to suggestions.


Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Freakshow Roundup

What did our valiant Republican opponents get up to this week:
  • Mitt Romney has apparently decided to skip the step where he wins the nomination before daydreaming about how super cool Marco Rubio would be as his Vice Presidential Running Mate.
  • Coming from the 'who better to guard the hen house than the fox' school of management, Herman Cain announced that he'd like the CEO of Shell Oil to oversee the EPA.
  • Rick Santorum tried to explain that it made sense to impeach Bill Clinton over lying about a blowjob, but it would be wrong to ask David Vitter to resign over lying about paying prostitutes to dress him up in diapers and have sex with him.
  • Sarah Palin continued to be a regular American and cancel her bus tour 'vacation' in order to return to Alaska for jury duty and isolation, because normal people do that instead of just getting it postponed until after the trip right?
  • And last but certainly not least, Michele Bachmann called the cops because she was terrified that a lesbian and an ex-nun were trying to kidnap her out of a public restroom when they asked her about her position on gay marriage.
See you next week!

A Joint Review of Green Lantern and Thor

I went into Green Lantern expecting it to be terrible and wanting it to be good. Neither really turned out to be the case as I found it to be mostly bland and at worst merely bad. In mulling over where the film went wrong and what it could have done to actually be good I realized I had already seen that better movie and it was called Thor.
Fish Out of Water in a Cosmic Sea: Oa and Asgard
Unlike most of their superhero counterparts (at least in the movies) both Green Lantern and Thor spend a bunch of their time not on Earth and as fish out of water.
Shortly after Hal Jordan gets his ring, he’s transported to the Green Lantern Corps homeworld of Oa, the first human to ever be admitted to the Corps. This would be the perfect time to explain to both him and the audience the back-story of the Green Lanterns and the threat of Parallax. Except this was all given to the audience at the start of the movie in a giant exposition speech while flying through space, so instead we’re given a fairly boring retread for the audience and the vague feeling that Hal Jordan doesn’t really seem that interested in finding out about this whole new world he’s been drawn into. I’m not really sure why this choice was made, having a character be out of their element is a perfect opportunity to slide in necessary exposition without it being too clunky. That’s one of the reasons Batman needs a Robin (or at least Alfred) to explain things too, or there’s always a new guy who just joined the team in every heist movie. Finally, and I realize it’s somewhat subjective, Oa doesn’t actually seem like a planet that has been inhabited since the birth of the universe. At least, when I imagine the gathering place for the universe’s most powerful paramilitary police force that can create anything they can imagine, I don’t picture them standing around in a cave.
Thor, on the other hand, is cast down out of Asgard into our world. So the fish out of water moments end up being mostly jokes at his expense instead of exposition. And while like Green Lantern, Thor also begins with a voice over narration explaining what we need to know about Asgard, it at least has the courtesy to have Anthony Hopkins fighting against an army of frost giants as the backdrop for it. And while the Green Lanterns are slumming it in a cave on Oa, Asgard is shown to be a fantastical shiny home of the gods.
I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends: The Corps and the Warriors Three
Again unlike most superhero movies, our two protagonists aren’t actually forced to go it alone, Thor has his buddies the Warriors Three (plus Sif) and Green Lantern is a member of the (SPOILER ALERT) Green Lantern Corps. And so of course whether he’s recklessly invading the frost giants’ home world or defending a small New Mexico town from the indestructible Destroyer Armor Thor takes the assist from his friends, because when you’re facing impossible odds there’s no shame in getting a little bit of backup. In contrast, Hal Jordan after quitting Green Lantern Corps basic training goes off alone to face Parallax alone. This would be the same Parallax who has already killed a strike team of the elite of the Corps and Jordan’s immediate predecessor and greatest Green Lantern Abin Sur. Because when the fate of the universe is on the line, the Guardians of the Universe decide that their freshest recruit should face this threat alone instead of with the 3,599 other Green Lanterns at his back. Obviously that’s not quite as dramatic, but if you’re going to take the effort to tell us exactly how many other, better trained Green Lanterns there are, you need to provide a better justification for why they’re not out defending the universe (i.e. their job) than they’re needed to protect the ancient Smurf homeworld.
Villains are More Exciting
Batman and the Joker. The X-Men and Magneto. Superman and Lex Luthor. Great superheroes are defined by their great supervillains. Thor pits the God of Thunder against his brother Loki, God of Mischief. Green Lantern pits it’s hero against a nerd named Hector Hammond (no cool codename) and a Giant Evil Yellow Space Octopus named Parallax. Now I’ll get back to the wisdom of a Giant Evil Yellow Space Octopus, but first I want to focus on Thor. Namely that Loki is a classic comic book archnemesis. Where Thor is strong but not the smartest god in Asgard, Loki is devious but weak (at least until he steals Odin’s power). And as Thor’s brother Loki also packs an emotional punch as his enemy, neither one really wants to fight the other, they’ve simply ended up on opposite sides and won’t back down.
Now let’s return to Green Lantern, Hector Hammond, and the Giant Evil Yellow Space Octopus. Right off the bat, it’s always difficult (though not impossible) to fit two villains into one film. I’ll confess that I’m not super familiar with Hector Hammond in the comics, but I question the choice of a bulbous headed crippled man who’s powers aren’t actually visual for a summer blockbuster action film. More to the point, rather than finding him threatening I just kind of feel bad for the guy. Or as my sister put it, “the guy was just sitting at home playing chess and hanging out with his hamster before he got infected with evil and crippled and then murdered.” That’s just not what you want in a villain, which leaves us with everyone’s favorite Giant Evil Yellow Space Octopus Parallax. Honestly, I can’t remember if Parallax can actually speak or if it says anything in the entire movie. Regardless, Parallax certainly won’t be providing any emotional challenge for our hero, and the mid-movie reveal that Hal Jordan and Hector Hammond went to high school or something together isn’t going to cut it. I also question the decision to destroy the Giant Evil Yellow Space Octopus not with the Most Powerful Weapon in the Universe, the Green Lantern Ring, but rather by letting it fall into the sun (good thing Parallax never passed near any other star while traveling across the galaxy). At least Thor had the common courtesy to bash the Destroyer Armor with his hammer.
The Hero’s Journey
Ultimately, both films are about our heroes overcoming their personal shortcomings and truly becoming heroes (see: every other superhero origin movie ever). When we are introduced to Thor, he is proud that he is about to be named king of Asgard so that he can go forth and achieve glory by crushing the frost giants. After he is stripped of his powers he is only able to regain them by proving he is worthy of them. He does so by willing sacrificing himself to save mere mortals after forgoing battle to protect his friends. He then uses that power to spare his sworn enemies the frost giants from genocide. His journey is to learn humility and compassion. When we first meet Hal Jordan, he’s escaping a nameless one-night stand to go be the most awesome fighter pilot in the world, admired by everyone (except his love interest who will of course be won over later). He too has trouble using his powers, until that is he learns that he really is just as awesome as everyone else in the movie has been saying he is. Thor must prove himself worthy of the powers of a god by learning that others are just as important as he is. Hal Jordan must prove himself worthy of the powers of a Green Lantern by learning that he is the most qualified person on the planet. One of those is a compelling story of growing up, realizing that we are not the center of the universe, and caring for others, that we can all at some level (hopefully) identify with. The other is a childish power fantasy.
Personally, I’d much rather hope that I’m worthy of picking up Mjolnir than that I’m innately awesome enough to receive a magic ring.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One Sentence Review of X-Men: First Class

I enjoyed X-Men: First Class and wish more superhero movies would play around with the genre (the 60s were both a bold and right setting for this film), but if I think about it too hard or ever watch it again I'll probably enjoy it a lot less.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Important Thought on the Weinergate Scandal

Apparently Rep. Weiner did in fact send a picture of his underwear over the internet. Beyond being pretty sleazy, something he should be ashamed of, and a cruel thing to put his awesome wife through, I don't really have anything more to say about that scandal.

I instead want to instead focus on the far larger scandal at hand, namely that once again the media has come up with a name for a scandal by taking a word associated with the scandal and adding -gate after it. Putting aside how lazy a naming convention it is and how it probably automatically biases coverage of the story, what I take offense at is that it doesn't even make sense. The granddaddy of all -Gates was of course Watergate, it was the first and it brought down a President. And of course it was called Watergate because the scandal was kicked off by the break in at the WATERGATE HOTEL. Because of that break in and the surrounding coverage we have been subjected over the last nearly 40 years to Rathergate, at least 2 Troopergates, Lewinskygate, and Nipplegate (I can't have been the only person who was actually watching that Superbowl halftime show and completely missed what happened until the media went crazy the next day).

Unless the scandal takes place at the Watergate (which frankly I'd avoid if I was a politician along with yachts named the Monkey Business), use a little creativity coming up with a name. The guys name is Anthony Weiner and he got caught sending pictures of his underwear covered genitalia over the internet. I'm not saying I have any suggestions for a name, but I'm sure there are some middle school kids out there who do.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

One Sentence Review of The Hangover II

If you enjoyed The Hangover, you'll enjoy The Hangover II; and if you were offended by The Hangover, you'll be even more offended by The Hangover II (also if the film is a hit, Ed Helms is the new manager on The Office).