10 Reasons to Vote Democrat 2016

I try not to post too many political things, but this is important.

Look, I get it. This election is divisive, more so than most elections in our history. Feelings are running hot. Negative rhetoric is all over, on a continuously self-spawning loop. Even the Russians have got involved (maybe)! Our democratic process is on the line . . . though maybe not for the reasons everyone seems to think.

And before I go further, a few caveats. I am a political independent. I am not now nor have I ever been nor will I ever be a Democrat, and I’m *certainly* not a Republican, though I described myself as a Republican back in High School (before Disaster 2000, more on that later). I have always backed political campaigns with my heart and my head working in concert. I turned 18 in 2001, too late to vote in 2000, and have voted in three presidential elections: for John Kerry 2004 (not ideal), Obama 2008 (yay!), Obama 2012 (somewhat muted yay). In 2016, I vocally supported Bernie Sanders in the primary, though I admit I drifted away from his team for various reasons that had nothing to do with him (more on that later). I’m planning to vote Democrat again this year, and that means voting for Hillary Clinton (not ideal).

What I’m going to present in this post are reasons for you to follow suit and vote Democrat this year. Note importantly that you don’t need to agree with all these points. If even just ONE of these points is something you agree with, then voting Democrat in 2016 may just be for you. Because I can guarantee that a Trump presidency will give us NONE of the benefits I mention below, but only the hindrances.

So. Here are a few reasons to vote Democrat in 2016:

1. You Like Hillary Clinton

Believe it or not, a lot of people do.

The lady has been in politics a long time. She’s played the game, she’s endured the mud slung at her (a consistent smear campaign for the last 30 years). She’s the most qualified of the candidates currently running (by a LONG shot). She has the connections to get shit done. She’s smart, skilled, and we know she’s capable of changing her views when shown new information (such as that the Iraq War was fought based on fraudulent intelligence, or that LGBTQIA+ people deserve rights). She evolves. She learns. She makes mistakes, and she tries to fix them. She’s human.

Is she from the war hawkish branch of the party? Sure. Does that mean she’ll start WW3? Unlikely. The most important aspect of Clinton is that she actually does bow to public opinion. I mean, that’s what all her detractors say, right? That she flip-flops and supports the popular opinion? At least she can change her mind, and she still cares about democracy.

2. You like Bernie Sanders

Believe it or not, a lot of people do.

This wild-haired Jewish man shouting in the wilderness with song birds landing on his podium and rays of light cascading from the heavens to light his path may not be Jesus, but, well, he’s got a lot of supporters who believe really fervently in him. Me, for instance. I love Bernie Sanders. He’s ethical. He’s moral. He’s largely remained on a consistent path throughout his political career. He’s an outsider, which I like. I see myself in him, and I think that’s really important to a candidate. Would his ideas have been too liberal and too radical to get through, and he would go down in history as the second coming of Jimmy Carter? Very possibly. But his nomination and election would have been an amazing message.

Unfortunately, he didn’t win, that message wasn’t delivered, and now our liberal option is Hillary Clinton. Whom Sanders has endorsed. Whom he is actively campaigning for. Sanders wants you to vote for Clinton. If you support him, you should really do what he says. Why? Because he’s your guy, and because SUPPORTING CLINTON GIVES HIM POWER. Sanders has carved himself a place at the table. The Democrats have to appeal to his supporters to get power, and that means moving to the left. That means addressing some of his points. That means highlighting the points of his platform Clinton agrees with (like 90% of it anyway). With a Clinton White House and (Gods and Goddesses willing) a Democrat-controlled Congress, that great vision we were all hoping for from Sanders? We might see movement toward that.

But only if Clinton wins in November, and we also vote in a Democratic Congress and Senate. Imagine if the Dems took back the Senate and Sanders leveraged his position and influence to become Majority Leader. Imagine what Clinton and Sanders could accomplish.

3. You Want a Third Party

Some of you reading this, like me, probably want to break the Big Two’s stranglehold on American politics. You might be pissed about having to choose between two candidates you don’t like, and though one is DRAMATICALLY WORSE than the other, you still feel like you have to compromise your principles to do the right thing. But lo and behold, here are two Third Party candidates that most people don’t seem to know about! You could vote for one of them!

Don’t do that. And here’s why.

This isn’t how you get a president in the White House. I mean, yes, running for president is part of it, but you run when you actually have a chance of winning. The Third Party candidates in this election (as in all elections before this) aren’t interested in winning: they’re running to “raise awareness” for their parties, not because they seriously think they have a chance of winning. Because they don’t. We all know they don’t. So what are they doing?

Imagine you want to run a marathon. 26.5 miles is a pretty long distance, even on a bike, and most human beings never run such a long race in one sitting. But those who do tend to be in fairly good shape, train HARD for it, prepare for it, map out the route, etc. They’re prepared. And when they succeed, it’s the culmination of months or years of work.

The Green Party and the Libertarian Party aren’t interested in all that. They’re just flopping off the couch where they’ve been Netflix-and-chilling for six months, stumbling out the door five minutes before the race starts, and expecting to do well. They haven’t put in the work, so of course they aren’t going to do well, let alone win.

If you want to get into the upper echelons of government, you need to start small. Elect city councilors. Sheriffs. Judges. Commissioners. Make yourself a household name. Build trust. Build recognition. Introduce yourself to people so they know you as a concrete entity, rather than a hypothetical group to turn to when they’re angry about some “lesser of two evils” business. Then you run and get elected to state office. Then national office. You keep working until you have 20-25% of the seats in Congress and the Senate and at least 10 governors. Then and only then will you have a reasonable chance of winning the presidency.

But instead, the Third Parties are running Jill Stein and Gary Johnson right now, without that support base. They announced about a month and a half ago, and are angry they’re not being taken seriously as candidates. They’re showboating. Not actually running.

DON’T ENABLE THIS BEHAVIOR. Advocate for a third party built from the ground up, so that it might actually win, rather than help the Donald.

“But won’t Johnson supporters be taking votes away from Trump?” you ask.

Statistics show that the third party candidates are more harmful to Clinton than Trump. The Republicans have always been better at organizing their base, even to vote for people they hate. Just look at the GOP party leaders coming out of the woodwork to endorse Trump. (It’s encouraging that some in the GOP actually speak out against him, but it’s not enough to keep The Donald from devouring their party.) The point is, Trump has the Republican party on lock, generally speaking.

You, however, might be one of those Republicans who wants to stop Trump. You’re not going to do that by voting for Johnson. You’re only going to do that by voting for Clinton.

I’m sorry, I know it sucks. But that’s the only way you can participate in stopping Trump.

And on a related note:

4. You Remember 2000

Now admittedly, it’s debatable whether Nader really made a difference that got Bush elected. (Here’s an article about that.) There was a perfect storm of factors that swept Bush into office: low democrat turn-out, complacency, voter irregularities, Nader taking votes from Gore, the Supreme Court siding against disenfranchised voters, etc., all of which favored the GOP. But what isn’t debatable is that Nader tainted his party with a reputation for aiding Bush in getting elected, ushering in 8 of the worst years our country has had to endure in my lifetime, at least.

And Nader could have had it all. If he had sided with Gore, uniting their causes, and Gore had been elected, Nader could have leveraged his showing in the election into a cabinet position or become a significant advisor in the Gore White House. If he’d acted early enough, he could have been Gore’s VP, and how would that look for the Green Party optics? He’d have ushered in a new era of trust and recognition for his party, and he would have got at least some of the political things he wanted enacted, because the Dems and the Greens are both liberal parties, and they could have compromised.

Instead, he followed his ego, kept pushing for publicity, and we saw the worst, most f***ed up election in my lifetime, got a president who not only eradicated all the things the Green Party supposedly cares about but plunged us into multiple wars that have led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of people, shattered our economy, and shepherded the rise of terrorism in our modern world.

I don’t think I’m alone in growing up loathing or (at best) distrusting the Green Party. They set back their cause by years if not decades. And Jill Stein stands to do that again. I’m not 100% opposed to her because of her platform (there’s a lot we can agree on, though she might want to reconsider her anti-science stances). It’s because I’ve seen what the Green Party has done to itself and to all of us, and I will not enable or encourage that again.

Stein and Johnson only stand to do damage: to themselves, to their respective parties, and to the country. Voting for them will at best do nothing, at worst get Trump elected, and most likely damage their parties’ prospects in the future. And that’s not what you or I want. (See #3 above.)

Whew, that was negative. More reasons to vote for Clinton!

5. You Are a Principled Person

Now let’s be clear. When I say “principled,” I mean “cares about things like civil rights, the rule of law, the environment, other people, America, etc.” If you have other principles, I’d be curious what they are.

Is honesty your principle? In most analyses (here’s one), Clinton has been the most honest candidate so far in this election. I know, right? Hard to believe, particularly if you listen to the jeers of the GOP. But it’s true. She tends to tell it like it is, whether it’s encouraging or not. And sure, she puts spin on things, but so does every politician in the history of ever. That’s their job. That’s what we pay them to do.

Is progress your principle? Clinton pushed for universal healthcare in the 90s. She followed America’s lead on same-sex marriage and has become one of its biggest advocates. She’s pro-choice. She is to the left of Obama on almost all issues.

Is social justice your principle? I . . . I don’t really have to go into that one, do I? Trump and the GOP are the team that advocates registration for Muslims, who casts black people as insurgents leading to a civil war with police, who make fun of people with disabilities, etc. Clinton, well, doesn’t?

Ugh. I knew I’d have to get to Trump eventually.😦

6. You Like Living in a Democratic Republic

A couple thousand years ago, there was a vast, sprawling country called Rome, which controlled a whole lot of the known world. They had a Senate, elected by the people, which made decisions on behalf of the rest of the country. It wasn’t perfect, obviously. Slavery, imperialism, war, entirely too much bloodshed, etc. But at least it was a country ruled at least ostensibly by its people.

Then a guy named Julius Caesar swept in and took it all over, becoming the Emperor.

I know, I know, we glorify the dude in all sorts of plays and movies and video games, but the truth of the matter is, he was a tyrant strongman who rode a swell of popular opinion to the top, and smashed the Roman Republic. Sure, he maintained a semblance of popular control–the senate still existed–but he was the guy in charge.

In the 1920s, a guy in Germany rose to power in a similar way.

Sound familiar? That’s what Trump wants to do. He has risen through the Republican party and now wants to present himself as the strong savior of America, which is under all sorts of threats from all directions (according to him), and only he has the solutions (what those are, none of us know, but he’s got ’em, he says). He wants to throw his political opponents in prison. He wants to purge the nation of ethnic and religious minorities. He wants to close the borders. He bullies. He blusters. He threatens.

He isn’t protecting our two party system. He wants a ONE party system. His party.

For more on this point, I recommend this piece.

America’s democracy is at stake in this election. The monster the GOP has morphed into needs to be soundly defeated, and its ideals firmly rebuked. Fascism does not wither and die when ignored. It must be completely destroyed, and defeating Trump is the first such blow.

7. You Like Freedom of Choice

Not just birth control and family planning. I’m talking about other medicines. Doctors. Religion. What you wear when you go out. What you say online.

Because Trump and his cronies have questioned all of these things and insists he will overturn and dismantle important pieces of our free expression.

Clinton won’t do that. Heck, why would she?

Also? Trump stands to nominate 4 Supreme Court justices, who will reshape America for generations. Is that really what you want?

8. You Like Having an Economy That Works

Trump likes to talk a big talk about how “you’ll all be rich” or how he’ll fix all our trade issues, but he has no idea how to do it. Not only does he have no real economic policy or demonstrate even the faintest understanding of how the American economy works, he’s also a horrendous business man. He makes his money on fraud and stealing money from people who’ve done work for him, who he just bullies into accepting less than was promised. He’s gone into bankruptcy many many times. He is far worse than even Mitt Romney (a.k.a. Richie Rich).

Meanwhile, Clinton will continue Obama’s economic policies, which have pulled us back up. And on that point….

9. You Like President Obama

Personally, IDGAF Obama (who relentlessly trolls and rebuts GOP talking points these last six months) is my favorite Obama, but generally speaking, he’s been good for stability of our country. He pulled us back from recession. He’s proved remarkably capable at international relations. He hasn’t got a lot accomplished, but then, no other president has ever met such massive, continuous roadblocking from a hostile Congress.

Clinton will continue his policies. She’s a little left of him on almost every issue, in fact. And that centrist attitude will be good for the country.

10. You Like Ken Burns

I had to include this one.:)

IN CONCLUSION

I get it. You don’t want to vote for Clinton. I’m not a big fan either. I don’t think we’d be friends.

I know some people are–some people love her, and I can see why. Me? She’s not my ideal candidate. I wanted Sanders. But he’s not an option any more.

But the Democrats are still running. They are still our best option for stopping the rise of American fascism.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s not about her. It’s not about him.

It’s bigger than that.

It’s bigger than all of us.

So I’m voting for them. I’m voting for her. I’m voting for you. I’m voting for me. I’m voting for ALL OF US.

Your vote is yours. Please use it, and think hard about how you use it.

Cheers

 

Related: Check out John Oliver discussing the RNC:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/07/25/john-oliver-exposes-donald-trump-this-is-a-dictatorship-and-i-m-the-dictator.html

Avengers… Hail Hydra!

So, it’s been about a week since the revelation that Captain America (the honest to goodness, original, Earth-616, Marvel comics Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty and Man Out of Time) is apparently a Hydra agent and has been since the beginning.

Well, balls.

Now, what exactly that comic was telling us or what the implications are, we can’t say for sure. I’m sure Marvel has a plan, and I’m sure they’ll come up with some interesting way to redeem the character. That wasn’t really my issue. if it was, the whole thing would have rolled off my back as easily as any other fleeting change to the status quo (Wolverine’s dead! Peter Parker switched minds with Dr. Octopus! Etc!). This . . . this is something much different.

My evolution on this issue over the past week has involved a great many discussions with friends–be they fellow writers, fans, or otherwise–and a number of articles I’ve read both supporting and condemning the decision. I’ve attached further reading below. Unless I specifically call out someone else, all ideas presented here represent my own thinking on the issue, influenced by those discussions.

And before I go on, let me state something flatly for the record:

THERE IS NO CONCEIVABLE EXCUSE FOR THREATENING OR ABUSING THE CREATORS OF THIS . . . OR ANYONE ELSE, FOR THAT MATTER.

If you’re one of the assholes doing that, knock it off right now. You are worse than Hydra.

Now then. Let’s get into it.

captain20america20hydra

From Captain America: Steve Rogers #1, Copyright (c) Marvel Comics

The Public’s Response

As far as I’ve seen, the response to this twist has been mostly negative from the audience. I haven’t seen a single person excited about the possibility that Captain America might be a racist supervillain, though I’m sure there’s someone out there somewhere who is.

There are plenty of people urging “well, wait and see,” and “you’re being overly emotional about this,” and “it’s just a comic book.” And we’re getting plenty of Gamergate-style trolling from would-be geek cultural gatekeepers. (If that’s you? Knock it off.)

I am particularly sympathetic toward my Jewish friends and others whose families and lives have been directly or indirectly shaped by the Nazis and Neo-Nazis. Nazism wasn’t just some fun comic book pretend villainy–it was a real thing that produced oceans of harassment, assault, abuse, murder, and corpses, and is still around in various states and forms today. It is irresponsible in the extreme to pretend it’s just some plaything to be used to make a story “edgy”–just as reprehensible as the worst exploitation of sexual assault or racism or homophobia in fiction.

Let me say this:

If you don’t think Marvel could create a character as anti-Nazi propaganda 75 years ago, called him CAPTAIN AMERICA, put the Stars and Stripes on his uniform and unbreakable shield–a character who has stood the test of time, starred in multiple TV shows and multiple blockbuster hit movies, and has legions of fans who grew up believing that he (and America) by association stood up for them, and people would NOT be irrevocably emotionally invested in him, then you don’t know shit about people or art.

It is NOT a surprise that there are so many people upset about this horrendous inversion of the character, and to cast aspersions upon what they love and cherish is not only insanely rude, extremely privileged, and incredibly insensitive, but it also fundamentally misunderstands the very concept of art* or why people love it.

(And before you say “but comics aren’t art,” check yourself. Comic writers and artists and fans have been pushing for comics to be taken seriously as art for decades. WATCHMEN and THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS came out thirty years ago. Comics have won Hugo awards. Comics push the limits of storytelling by leaps and bounds, and they are getting better every year. If TV shows or films or paintings or drawings or stories or poetry or photography are art forms, comics are art, because they combine any or all those things.Comics are never more respected or admired as they are today. Comics are art. And you can’t demand comics be taken seriously one day and then pretend “they’re just comics” the next. They’re always art, whether you personally understand them or not.)

Art is *designed* to evoke an emotional reaction as well as an intellectual one. That’s how it works. Pretending that we should or even *can* be strictly intellectual in our discussions of comics in general, let alone something like HydraCap in particular, is intensely dishonest and disingenuous and reeks of the worst kind of snobby elitist privilege.

Maybe you didn’t have an emotional reaction to this. Maybe your family wasn’t persecuted by Nazis. Maybe you don’t live in America. Maybe you weren’t bullied as a child. Maybe you didn’t grow up reading Captain America, or any comics at all. Maybe you never reassured yourself that things would be ok, because heroes could exist in this world. Maybe you did all these things and you STILL didn’t much care about Hydra Cap.

That still doesn’t give you the right or moral high ground to deny other people’s feelings or reactions.

Symbols have power. Captain America is our symbol, and has been for 75 years.

And now not only is it stripped from us–not just taken but suborned into something truly evil–but the rug has been yanked out from under us and that symbol has been something horrifically evil all along? And we have been evil by association for supporting it?

You can bet people are upset.

Nick Spencer’s Commentary

You can read the Spencer interview in the Further Reading links section, below.

I gotta admit, the first time I read Spencer’s interview–where he talks blithely about “feeding” on controversy and being pumped about all the rage, where he wears the badge “most hated man in America” with pride–it made me more upset. Mostly, because I compare how he’s handling this to how I would handle it, as an author who has worked with other long-established intellectual properties (the Forgotten Realms, for instance). I like to think I would never do something like this–never destroy a character hundreds have worked on before me because I thought I could do something clever with the story, never outright insult millions of fans and make thousands of little kids cry and then be not only not apologetic, but actually proud. That seems beyond the pale to me.

Reading his interview again, however, I wonder if that’s really what’s going on. I start to see an author who is a little rocked by the impact of what he’s done, and he’s just trying to roll with it as best he can. Will he be able to salvage it? Perhaps. Will it matter? That remains to be seen.

Marvel Doubles Down

Marvel seems to be 100% behind Spencer and seems pretty confident that not only is this a good idea, but everyone will agree once they see where it’s going.

The logical question there, of course, is whether that’s worth making your shining hero a a member of the closest thing we have to a universally despised group: the Nazis. Which is basically a massive insult not only to entire subgroups of people (the Nazis’ victims and their families) but to everyone who has ever loved or identified with this character.

And yes, as a comics reader I recognize that Hydra and the Nazis are not exactly identical, but it’s either naive or disingenuous to assert that there isn’t SIGNIFICANT cross-over, thematically and in terms of some of Hydra’s most powerful villains (Baron Strucker, Red Skull, Baron Zemo, etc). In the Earth-616 universe, Hydra is basically Marvel’s stand-in for the Nazis. They were initially that, they are still that. And the significantly more popular MCU makes almost zero distinction.

Really? You’re going to tell me that “Heil Hitler” and “Hail Hydra”–whilst raising your right hand in a salute–aren’t related?

Nazis and Hydra: thematically occupying the same place, alike in all the ways that matter.

(More about this in the Further Reading links.)

And anyway, even if one was to grant that “well, Captain America isn’t a Nazi, exactly . . .” that boils down to “he’s not exactly the worst villain ever–just close to it” which earns, what, exactly?

Captain America is a supervillain, and has been since the beginning–a member of an organization dedicated to world domination and stomping out all who oppose it. The exact opposite of everything the character is supposed to stand for.

Maybe my problem with this is that it hits too close to home.

The Cancer of the American Dream

So here’s the thing. Here in America we live in an increasingly divided country–politically, culturally, philosophically, etc. The state of our discourse grows worse by the day, and what might have been a peaceful, civil discussion as little as a year ago is much more likely to turn into a heated argument where aspersions of an opponent’s character are casually thrown around, and even threats of violence (particularly if your opponent happens to be a woman, a person of color, LGBTQ, etc.). We’ve lost the art of discussion through the rancorous noise that surrounds it, and we start looking at every counterpoint as a personal attack.

This is harmful to our society, our governmental structure, and our way of life.

In a way, we live in a country that is built on hate.

Captain America is a symbol that we can all share. He’s good. He’s decent. He’s strong. He’s sensitive. He cares about people. He’s moral. He’s ethical. He cares enough about freedom and doing what’s right to stand up to his friends and superiors even when the whole world tells him to move.

He is, in a sense, how we Americans like to see ourselves–the shining hero in the shining city on the hill, keeping the rest of the world safe.

And he’s a villain. Not only that, he has been a villain all this time. And not just a villain, but one of the worst villains imaginable: a double agent for the Nazis, who are the closest we come in today’s society to a universally reviled group.

Because America . . . we are not the shining beacon to the world that we like to think we are. We murder thousands of innocent people in foreign wars drummed up to further our financial and imperial interests. We shovel money at an elite upper class and continually swallow their lies about personal responsibility. We normalize rape culture and seek to oppress the rights of people of different sexualities, genders, or even just appearance that’s outside our strict heteronormative norm. We tolerate a police force that brutalizes, incarcerates, or murders black people at astronomically higher rates than white people. We send thousands of our own men and women to die overseas, and don’t bother caring for those who come back. We enslaved a whole group of people for centuries and continue to exploit poor people and immigrants. And maybe worst of all, America is built upon the shallow graves of millions of people who were here before us, who we casually trampled over because they were in the way.

And this year, a substantial minority of us supports a presidential candidate that wants to blame our cultural and economic problems on an entire ethnic group–who openly supports camps and denied immigration and in all the ways that matter parallels the rise to power of Nazism in 1920s Germany.

Hydra is the gross, rotting, noxious underbelly of America, and what Marvel has done with this revelation about Captain America is knock America over and bring the cancer into the light.

I don’t call things “cancer” lightly. I’ve had many friends and family members succumb to cancer over the years, and I am a cancer survivor myself. I know how insidious and awful it is. How you can go day by day, not knowing it’s there, explaining away the symptoms as something else–a flash in the pan, someone else’s problem, consequence of something you ate or too much to drink or too little water or whatever. And all the while it is eating you, growing worse and more damaging and more toxic until finally you can’t ignore it any more, and by then it’s too late.

(Christ. Maybe Mark Millar was right to make Ultimate Cap such an asshole.)

Captain America is a symbol of our patriotism–our nationalism–and some of that is bullshit. “Our Country, Right or Wrong” leads to a lot of wrong. We might do some things right, but we do a lot of things wrong. We’re not just kinda evil, racist, and misogynist–we’re a LOT those things. It’s a problem.

And the first step in solving a problem? Admitting that it’s there.

Maybe that’s what Marvel has done. Maybe they are making a bold statement in an election year when one party is running a fascist who wants to round up an entire ethnic group he blames for the problems in his country. (Instead of Hail Hydra, Cap could easily have said “Trump 2016.”) Marvel is trying to point out the problem–make us stop pretending its not there and rise up to do something about it.

Maybe Marvel isn’t the enemy.

Maybe we are the enemy.

What are you going to do about it?

In Conclusion

Ultimately, you should make up your own mind about this, as you should with any piece of art. Art is supposed to challenge us, to make us uncomfortable, to force us out of ourselves and explore possibilities. This could be a brilliant commentary on the state of our nation and politics. It could be a performance piece about outrage culture. It could be a blistering mistake that brings down the character and profoundly taints Spencer’s career. All of these things could be true, and they could all be true at the same time.

If you’re upset about Hydra Cap, I’m sorry on behalf of the universe for what you’re going through. Gods and Goddesses know Marvel isn’t going to apologize, and neither is Nick Spencer. I don’t think you were the target of this, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hit you. Maybe this conversation will prove useful and we can start addressing some of the very real ways in which we in America are Hydra.

If you’re not upset about Hydra Cap, well, I’m jealous. I wish I could let this just roll off me and come out the other side unaffected. Please try to have some patience for those who ARE upset, and don’t be dicks about how it’s just a comic. Maybe take a look at yourselves, too. Because if we’re Hydra, then you certainly are too.

And anyone who is harassing, abusing, or threatening any creators involved in this, or doing anything typically moronic and sociopathic (rape threats, badgering on social media, calling people SJWs, etc), knock if right the fuck off. You’re being worse than Hydra, all right? You’re being A.I.M. right now, and no one wants to be those assholes. Be a little better, for the Watcher’s sake.

As for me, I don’t really know what to think about the comic. It’s going to take me a long time to figure out what to do from here–whether I’m going to read it or not. I may never read a Marvel comic again. I’m certainly going to be depressed for a while. (As someone who struggles with chronic depression, I don’t use that term lightly either.)

Time will tell.

Happy reading and writing, all.

Cheers,
Erik

Captain Hydra

OMG STEVE WHY. (Credit unknown)

FURTHER READING: 

The basics of HydraCap: http://www.dailydot.com/geek/captain-america-comic-steve-rogers-hydra-twist/

Nick Spencer on turning Cap “green”: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/05/25/captain-america-writer-nick-spencer-why-i-turned-steve-rogers-into-a-supervillain.html

Marvel people talk about HydraCap: http://moviepilot.com/posts/3941853

On Whether Hydra are Nazis (spoiler alert: they are): https://shoshanakessock.com/2016/05/29/yes-hydra-were-nazis-and-no-i-will-not-forget-it/

On whether HydraCap is antisemitic: http://panels.net/2016/05/26/on-steve-rogers-1-antisemitism-and-publicity-stunts/

On fan entitlement: http://birthmoviesdeath.com/2016/05/30/fandom-is-broken

On false equivalences (partly a rebuttal of the previous piece): http://bibliodaze.com/2016/05/from-hydra-to-ghostbusters-the-false-equivalences-of-fan-culture/

 

Why be Inclusive in Games?

I often hear the argument (as came up with the recent rigamarole over the inclusion of a trans character in Baldur’s Gate: Siege of Dragonspear) that trans characters don’t belong in video games unless there’s a particular *reason* for them. Otherwise it feels “forced” or “breaks the immersion” or “insert excuse here.”

Now, aside from the obvious:

1) Not everything in a video game has to be for you–sometimes it’s for other people, and

2) You’re ok with elves, dwarves, dragons, boob plate, and fireballs, but not trans people? WTF? . . .

There IS a reason to put transgender characters in a game: namely, to be inclusive to trans members of the audience.

And maybe (just maybe!) it’ll teach something to those of us who aren’t trans: specifically, that it’s ok to have trans people in the game.

Not sure you buy it? Here’s an analogy:

Say all the games you had ever played starred lesbian Asian women. * And not just games, but movies, books, TV shows, etc.

All their major supporting characters were also lesbian Asian women.

Occasionally you’d see an Asian man, but mostly only in a minor role and then his stories were often caricatures of what it’s like to be manly. They all pretty much focus on one thing men do, say, play basketball. Pretty much all male characters you see play basketball, and no acts like that’s weird.

Occasionally you see white people too, but again, their stories are very one-note and all about one particular thing white people do–say, listen to Walkmans. Every white person (male or female) has headphones for an outdated music technology around their neck at all times.

You basically never see straight characters, and when you do, they’re always shouting about being straight and generally making fools of themselves.

And what you basically never EVER see is a straight white male. In fact, people in your games and movies are always talking about how gross straight white males are–constantly demeaning them, taunting others by calling them straight white males, and even threatening to murder them for being not lesbian Asian women. And those times a game or film tries to be “edgy” by starring a straight white male character? They cast a lesbian Asian woman in the role.

Meanwhile, the lesbian female Asian characters are varied. Some are super strong and tough, some are super smart and witty, some are malevolent and unpredictable. They have nuance. They have depth. They explore the corners of human nature.

Everyone else? They’re pretty one note. They show that the writers didn’t even try to be sensitive to their cultures, but just went with stereotypes. Because that was easier.

Your characters in Baldur’s Gate? 90% lesbian Asian women, a couple black people (one male, one female) and a gay white dude. No straight white males. Because why would the game include straight white males? They have to be in there for a REASON, right?

Now say a Baldur’s Gate expansion comes along where LO-and-BEHOLD, there’s a straight white dude. He’s not obviously a straight white dude–you only realize he’s straight if you go into his dialogue tree–but he’s there. Living his life. Being who he is.

Finally, a character who looks like you. You, who haven’t had any characters who look like you in a D&D game before, and few anywhere at all.

Haven’t you earned that, at last? You, who’ve been playing these games loyally for years. Wouldn’t it be meaningful to you to see the designers and developers FINALLY try to include you in a meaningful way? To acknowledge you and your way of life–to embrace you as a worthwhile part of the audience?

That’s the reason to include trans characters. Because trans people play the game, and it’s not fair that you and I get to be the vast majority of the heroes and NPCs and villains, and they get no one.

Particularly when we’re talking about the Realms is a big sandbox. It’s big enough for everyone. We can share it.

* Note that I have absolutely nothing against lesbian Asian women. That was just the analogy I picked. It could be orcs, it could be dwarves, whatever.

 

Roll for Intimacy!

This is a neat little piece about sex and intimacy in RPGs.

http://bluestockingsblog.blogspot.com/2016/05/sex-in-gaming-what-fuck-is-point-of.html?spref=tw

My first major D&D character was a female elf rogue, who gladly charmed her way out of situations, though never actually had any sex on-screen in the campaign (to be fair, I started playing her at age 12, and that game went through age about age 15-16). She ended up married to one of the other PCs (a male human fighter/mage), somewhere toward the end of the campaign, and they formed a pretty tight bond going forward (or at least, so it seemed to me). This formed a basis for most of my future characters and storylines, especially my work in the World of Ruin setting and my novel SCOURGE OF THE REALM, which stars a priestess of the goddess of intimacy/love/sex in her world.

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Scourge of the Realm (cover art by Emma Rios)

While I have come to understand its role as a core part of my writing aesthetic, when I was young, my interest in playing female characters and establishing/playing around with relationships and sex in RPGs struck me as a bit odd. I was a bit of an awkward kid who never really had any experience with girls until I realized I could befriend them late in high school (that was really cool, btw), and I didn’t have a real girlfriend until my sophomore year of college. (And I’m married to her now.)

In my personal life as a white straight cis-male, I’m about as straight-laced as they come–even *quaint* by today’s standards of relationships and sexual ethics–and I think part of it is that gaming and fiction have given me so much room to explore and experiment in a virtual, safe way.

I think the inclusion of romance, relationships, and sex is not only good and healthy in a game, but often times extremely important. It opens up doors to understanding and shifts of perspective that can be quite powerful when applied to real life.

Caveat: When it’s done well, of course. If sex in your games translates to “f*** the wenches” or involves rape or other dehumanizing shit, you should probably reconsider.:)

Cheers,

Erik

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice League Alliance

So, I saw the laborious titled BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE yesterday. I’m sure anything I’ve got to say about it has been said elsewhere, better or worse, so I’ll only mention four things:

Firstly, I’d say about 70% of the time watching the movie, I found it entertaining and worth watching.

Secondly, before I saw the movie, I thought this internet meme was just a joke:

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Totally legit plot device.

Thirdly, Wonder Woman was underused (though I expected her to be much less used, knowing Snyder’s work), but she was still my favorite part of that movie.

And finally, watching the movie put me in mind of the game I’ve always wanted to play, which is called DC: JUSTICE LEAGUE ALLIANCE, a variant of the Facebook game, MARVEL: AVENGERS ALLIANCE, which I play to the detriment of my writing output and my sanity (stupid PvP).

Specifically, if there were a game similar to this (basically a Final Fantasy style strike team of superheroes taking turns unleashing powers to defeat enemies) for DC, I would play the shiznit out of it in a heartbeat. Also? MAA seems to have been pretty good for promoting Marvel’s movies (as if they need the help), so maybe it’s something DC should look into. But I digress.

In the spirit of designing said game, I’m going to offer a couple notes about prominent DC characters and how they might work in a MAA style game, because it’s super fun. If you’re not familiar with the glorious time waster that is Marvel Avengers Alliance, you might want to check it out, or perhaps just flee, flee, flee for the sake of your productivity and free time.:)

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Your three principal characters that you start with in the game.

SUPERMAN: Supes I see thematically similar to Hyperion (basically Marvel’s version of the character, complete with his own weirdness to make him edgy, etc), but mechanically not all that different from most bruisers in MAA. So he’s class blue, with variant costumes that are generalist (gray) and blaster (red). He’s flying, obviously, and his health, attack, and defense are naturally very high. I think he has a passive 20% chance to evade physical attacks (faster than a speeding bullet). His L1 is a strike of his mighty fists (combo setup and probably incapacitated), his L2 a blast of his eye rays, his L6 a flying tackle that might stun an opponent, and his L9 a move where he flies an opponent into space, throws them into the sun, something like that (with the near fatal condition). Kind of a mechanical mix between Hyperion and Jessica Jones, really.

BATMAN: Bats I see primarily as a tactician (green), but his L2 should shift him to infiltrator (purple) or scrapper (yellow), so that he can shift styles on the fly. Not unlike Moon Knight, but rather than it being random (denoting insanity), it’s planned (denoting strategy and preparation). His L1 should be a physical attack of some kind, like Black Widow’s martial arts. His L6 should be a multi-function utility kit power, letting him do at least three things: 1) smoke bomb (similar to the Punisher’s smoke bomb that grants an evasion chance to all allies), 2) batarangs (incapacitation, stagger), 3) grapple gun (webbed and combo setup). His L9 should be some awesome swoop-slam thing that exploits the various things he can do to an enemy. So he’s kind of a combo Moon Knight and Punisher, which makes a lot of sense.

Alternate uniform for Bats would be his armored battle suit, which is a Bruiser base but can shift into Scrapper or Blaster, doing slightly different things.

WONDER WOMAN: Either scrapper (yellow) or bruiser (blue) with alternate costumes that are generalist and whichever of those we didn’t pick for her base class. She functions a bit like Wolverine, often jumping in the way to deflect incoming attacks, and is thematically similar to Sif (down to the berserking passive that joins in on attacks or counters attacks against allies). She has a passive which allows her to reflect ranged attacks–like the damn Dark Energy Blade does, interrupting and inflicting some damage back on the attacker. She has a sword for her L1, the lasso for her L2 (causing pressure points), a flying charge for her L6, and heck, an invisible plane strike for her L9. Because why not. It would be cool to work in the throwing tiara somewhere as well.:)

THE FLASH: He works basically like Quicksilver does (scrapper/yellow), except that his L9 is conjuring lightning to throw at enemies rather than that stunning vortex thingy. Also at least one of his powers is called “Run, Barry, Run!”

GREEN ARROW: He works a bit like Kate Bishop, with the numerous trick arrows, at least one of which is the boxing glove arrow. Kate’s a tactician, which I guess fits for GA. Alternate costumes (which look like Steven Amell’s Arrow) are Infiltrator and Blaster.

BLACK CANARY: Scrapper (yellow). She works a bit like Black Bolt or Havok (with low level canary cries that affect all enemies and a big burst that affects one enemy). Her other two powers involve martial arts attacks, perhaps like Black Widow. She also grants passive bonuses to other Birds of Prey characters.

HARLEY QUINN: Scrapper (yellow). She’s basically just like Deadpool with different animations.:)

BATGIRL: Assuming we’re talking about Barbara Gordon, this would be Infiltrator (purple) with alt costumes (Batgirl of Burnside, tactician and infiltrator). Martial arts and batarangs like Batman, but her L6 and L9 are tech based. She grants a passive of combat awareness due to her Oracle level of planning and surveillance.

And so on and so forth. I’m such a geek.:)

Cheers

Norwescon 2016 Highlights

So Norwescon 2016 is over, and I’ve taken a break from sleeping it off to share a couple highlights for those who weren’t there, and memories for those who were!

Thursday Afternoon: Mass Effect RPG

Surprising no one, there weren’t many people who signed up to play in my Mass Effect game on Thursday afternoon at 4-6pm, but I was fortunate to have my good friend and editrix Gabrielle Harbowy (playing Mordin), a grizzled veteran of gaming (playing Garrus), and a spritely, energetic 11-year-old girl (playing Liara) who knew nothing about the setting but picked it up like a pro. (And if you ever want to subject your playtest to a thorough test, recruit an 11-year-old!) It went really well and ended with a bang–literally: a mass effect explosion.

Thursday Night: Women in Practical Armor party

This was pretty fun. I showed up fashionably late along with my wife (being a very good sport and putting up with a truly epic travel on public transit to get there). I hung out with a few old friends, reconnected with some young writers with a huge amount of potential, and finally put a few faces to names. To all who supported the anthology, thank you–you’ve done a great thing for the industry.:)

Friday: Carol Corps, Represent!

I went to numerous panels on Friday, all of them memorable and fun, but the Carol Corps panel was especially great. (And I’m gonna fanboy for a bit here.) The panel was about the arrival of the CC and what it means for the comics industry, and in the words of Torrey Stenmark (dressed as Ms. Marvel, btw) “it means the industry has a future,” helping to evolve the marketing decisions of the powers that be to understand an audience with a wide range of perspectives. Truer words.

It’s always great to see my friend, G. Willow Wilson, who is extremely talented and classy in how she deals with her well-deserved fame. It was at this panel I floated the question of Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel vs. Billy Batson aka Shazam as Captain Marvel, which would come up the next day (no spoilers, see below). The consensus was that Carol had that fight easy.

Friday Evening: World of Ruin Reading

It’s tradition for me to read late in the evening on either Friday or Saturday, and this year was no exception. I got the 10pm – 10:30pm slot, with no one after me, and that was good because I spent about an hour, first reading from the forthcoming MASK OF THE BLOOD QUEEN (third novel in the series, look for it this winter!), then answering a gaggle of questions about the setting, the magic system, my inspirations, etc. It was great.

Saturday: All the Panels!!

So Saturday was my big working day at the Con. I was on at least six panels and/or critiques, and then I was set to run a game Saturday night 9-11pm. Literally busy from noon until 11.

It all went really well. Interesting, compelling things were said by all. I had the honor to be on a panel about character/plot-driven story techniques with Writing Guest of Honor Tanya Huff (who is fantastic) and moderated a panel on Scene Structure and Variation, which produced some very thoughtful stuff.

My favorite panel of Saturday–and of the con entirely–was the SF/Fantasy Battle Royale panel, moderated by the very funny Matt Youngmark, in which we pitted popular scifi/fantasy characters against each other in a single elimination death match style tournament. I might do a whole post about it to go over the ins and outs, but sample battles included:

  • Han Solo vs. Indiana Jones on an old timey rope bridge.
  • Rey from Force Awakens vs. Rocket Raccoon on the Forest Moon of Endor.
  • Samus from Metroid vs. Lara Croft on that really hard Super Mario Brothers level with the bendy mushroom platforms.
  • The Hulk vs. the Hulk’s Weight in Bees, fought on the Bee Planet in the Bee Nebula where bees have a hivemind and each bee has the strength of 10 normal bees.

Battles like that. I will say I was a major supporter of Rey and (obviously) Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel, who had to vanquish Shazam on the surface of the moon in the qualifier. Shenanigans were had, and it helped to have Captain Marvel IN THE ROOM WITH US, no less. But anyway, the panel deserves its own write-up.

Saturday Evening: Fate or Coincidence?

After some miscommunications and cross-pollution up in the tower at Norwescon, I realized too late that my Mass Effect game was set to be played down near the panels, and when I arrived, twenty minutes late, no one was there to play. So instead of hitting another party, I decided to retire for the evening to get some more sleep. By sheer coincidence (or fate!), I happened to be walking back to my car next to two of the players of the game, who only recognized that I had been the one running it when two entirely unrelated people recognized me and said something loudly about how I was supposed to be running a game. After a brief discussion, we decided to try and play the following afternoon, Sunday.

Sunday: Mass Effect redux!

After I encountered the same people I just mentioned (the Mass Effect folks) in the morning and confirming the game was on, I spent the first part of the day hanging out with friends and doing a couple writing workshop critiques. I love offering feedback and assistance to fellow writers through that program, though I suspect I should limit myself to two manuscripts rather than three, so I can devote more attention to each one.:)

After that, I did indeed meet up with a group of hardcore Mass Effect fans (two of whom I’d met that previous night) and ran them through an incursion on a geth-controlled space station. It was Tali commanding Thane, Grunt, and Legion. The tensions were high and the battles were epic. A great time was had by all. Afterward, I told them all kinds of secrets about my ongoing Mass Effect campaign, which is complicated and dramatic and awesome. I should really hold a session of that again sometime soon . . . After I do some more writing, I suppose.

All in all, it was a great Norwescon, and I was very happy to be a part of it.

 

Fighting The Social Inequality Dragon

The struggle to make the world a better place for everyone (i.e. social justice) is not a competition. White feminists should not be in competition with POC feminists, for instance, and spats between the gay community and trans folks are counterproductive. Shouting down one activist because your cause is dire doesn’t help.

Why not? Because everyone working for social justice is fundamentally working toward the same goal—a more just society—and such friendly fire only serves the Social Inequality Dragon.

Now I know social justice activists often rub each other the wrong way. (I suspect what I just said pissed off some people.) People who work for social justice (like myself) tend to be easily offended by accusations that sound like “you’re doing it wrong.” That’s not my intention here. My intention is to discuss intersectionality and how it applies to social justice, through the analogy of role-playing games.

What can I say? I’m a geek.:)

Social Justice Heroes: Fighters, Rogues, Clerics, Wizards

Here’s the analogy.

In the world’s best roleplaying game, a party of heroes comes together from all walks of life, bringing different skills to the table, all of which will prove essential to their adventure. The group includes a fighter, a rogue, a cleric, and a wizard. Each of these four has something valuable to contribute in the quest to find and slay the Social Inequality Dragon.

• The fighter provides important protection for the squishier members of the group and dishes out some important damage. But without the cleric’s buffs, the rogue opening locks and finding traps, and the wizard dispelling the bad guy’s magic, the fighter wouldn’t succeed.

• The rogue has massive DPS, can open locks, and can disarm the traps. But the rogue wouldn’t survive long without protection from the fighter, opportunities created by the wizard’s magic, and healing from the cleric.

• The cleric can produce light, buff allies, heal wounds and treat diseases, and provide some off-tank support in combat. But without the fighter to maximize the cleric’s buffs, the rogue to handle those tricky agility-based challenges, and the wizard to dish out arcane attack to match all the divine defense, the cleric isn’t going to get it done.

• The wizard is a walking toolbox of magic, with a spell for almost every situation. The wizard is particularly good at taking out a bunch of weaker creatures (like hordes of goblins who will all buckle to a single sleep spell) or some flashy damage against a big enemy (like a lightning bolt for a giant). But the wizard doesn’t have enough spells to match the abilities of everyone else in the party: toughness spells to simulate the fighter, agility spells to simulate the rogue, and certainly no healing to simulate the cleric. The wizard needs people from the other classes who can reliably do those things more often than once a day.

The abilities of each class complement those of the others but aren’t the same. No class can solo the adventure. (Well, maybe the warlock…)

Now think of a party composed entirely of members of one class or another.

• Team Fighter is really good at combat. Like *really* good. They can chew their way through a horde of creatures well enough, though they’ll probably take a long time to do it and get tired. (The wizard could have handled the horde with one or two spells, and the cleric probably could have turned undead on at least one of them.) They’re probably quite adept at climbing and getting through physical challenges, but if they have to keep breaking down every door they come across (rather than picking the lock), they’re going to attract a lot of attention, and if they spring every trap by stepping into it, their health will suffer. (The rogue could have helped pick those locks or avoid those traps, and the cleric could have helped heal.) By the time they get to the Social Inequality Dragon, they will be too exhausted to fight at their best. They won’t have the buffs to penetrate the Dragon’s armor or the dispelling magic to get through its magical protections, and the dragon will just strafe and burn them from a distance.

• Team Rogue has no problem with traps, hazards, and locked doors. They’re pretty good at taking down big enemies (though if one ever gets a hit in, that’s probably a dead rogue). They have a lot of trouble with hordes of minion types, as their specialty tends to be major damage to a single target. Some of the rogues might have minor magical abilities, to help with magical wards, but not a lot of healing or major offense. When they get to the Social Inequality Dragon, they’ll go down amazingly fast—one or two rogues with every attack—and while they may get in a hit or two, without protection they’re basically doomed.

• Team Cleric is impervious to wounds, poisons, and diseases. If they get it, they can heal it. Some of them are probably decent warriors, too. But they are probably going to suck at climbing or agility challenges, getting through doors, or trying to bypass magical wards. Hordes of minions are going to give them a hard time, unless they’re undead. If the strategy is literally “let them hit me until they get bored and go away,” that’s not going to fly in every situation. When they get to the Social Inequality Dragon, the clerics are probably going to suck it up with ranged weapons, meaning the dragon is basically free to strafe and destroy them with impunity, and there’s only so much healing can accomplish if the clerics can’t dish out offense.

• Team Wizard is supremely confident in its ability to handle anything. Smart wizard teams will have members that can emulate each of the other classes, but that emulation goes only so far. Their lack of hit points and lasting armor will be their undoing, and if they get to the Dragon, odds are they will have used up all their spells or at least they won’t have enough power to take it down. They can break its magical defenses and weaken it, but they just don’t have the strength or agility or sheer grit to defeat it.

Ultimately, the party cannot infiltrate the dungeon, defeat the dragon, rescue the kingdom, and get all the treasure unless everyone works together, bringing their different skills to the quest.

Social Justice Activists: Feminism, Racial Equality, GLBTQ+ Rights, etc

There are many overall types of social justice workers who advocate for many different things—feminism, humanism, racial equality, GLBTQ+ rights, wealth distribution, legal rights, voting rights, etc.—and hundreds of different shades within those disciplines (just like there are types of fighters, rogues, clerics, wizards, etc). Each and every activist has a different skill set and specializes in different things. A feminist might be really good at feminism but clueless when it comes to religious freedom activism. A gay rights activist might have celebrated gay marriage finally becoming legal all throughout America but be generally indifferent to voter suppression in Florida.

And that? That’s ok.

None of us can do everything. We can’t invest all our efforts in every cause. If we did, we’d be overwhelmed and never get anything accomplished. We need to pick those things we are really good at doing, and let specialists in other fields do their own thing. All social justice is valuable. All of it is important. Because the Social Inequality Dragon has many heads and many claws in many causes, and we need to work together. All of us are in this together, whether we want to be or not.

The Enemy: The Social Inequality Dragon

The problems with the world are vast and sprawling. Women are suffering all over the world, as are GLBTQ+ people, non-white people, etc., etc. Governments legislate against the medicines they can acquire, the people they can marry, or the restrooms they can use. They may have laws passed against their very existence, and they might face prison or death just for being who they are. Obviously it’s worse in some places than others, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still suck in the places where it’s better, and all of it needs to be addressed.

I guess the Social Inequality Dragon is more like a hydra (Hail Hydra!), with heads popping up all over the world and claws in almost every land. Sometimes it works through direct, obvious servants (politicians or talking heads who advocate against the rights of one of the dragon’s targets), and sometimes it benefits from seemingly unconnected people who just don’t think the dragon is a big deal (people who try to silence Social Justice activists because “it’s worse over there,” “there are more important issues,” “this isn’t really a problem,” etc). These people probably aren’t evil (that’s a whole other discussion), but they support an evil entity—either knowingly or not—by advancing its aims and hindering its opponents.

Sometimes these minions are other Social Justice types who have been charmed, tricked, or manipulated against each other. The Social Inequality Dragon has a super high Charisma and plenty of domination spells. If it can turn its enemies against each other, that frees it up from their attacks. When gay rights activists attack each other over language (tone policing) or perceived slights or question each other’s bonafides as allies (No True Scotsman fallacy), the only one that wins is the Dragon. When feminists fight over whether the hijab is empowering or not (some see it that way, some do not) or white feminists denigrate non-white feminists (or vice versa), the only one that wins is the Dragon.

How Do We Fight the Dragon?

Fight the Dragon. Stop fighting each other. Focus on the greater enemy, which thrives by keeping us divided and at each other’s throats.

Take a stand. Work to the best of your abilities. Respect each other and recognize a common foe. We are all working toward a better world. Let each other do it.

Be good to each other. Be good to the world.

Go forth and do good.:)