Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We Always Knew It Would End Like This- A Eulogy for a Most Cantankerous Cat

I have long maintained that, while humans domesticated dogs, it was the cat that went on to domesticate the human.  And while I have known many a cat in my day, the cat that most domesticated me, Snowflake, died last Thursday.  It feels weird and stupid and childish to let something like this bother me so, but there it is.  I don't know exactly how to describe my general mood since her passing as anything other than "melancholy"; as if a persistent cloud was looming over me, in spite of any efforts I make not to think on it.

Maybe it's because Snowflake was the first cat I knew since she'd been a kitten?  She was 6 weeks old, I was about 8, and we seemed to imprint immediately, despite the fact that officially she belonged to my sister.  Snowflake didn't belong to anyone, although it was fairly clear that I belonged to her, whether I liked it or not.  Her air of superiority was constantly obvious, in a way that only a cat could ever pull off.  She was not fond of very many people, and rest assured, if she did not like you, you knew it.  When friends or relatives would dub her "your evil cat" or "Kitty McNasty", I'd just shake my head and smile.  I never had a problem with her, so clearly something was wrong with them in her eyes. 

But she lived a long life, and this is the way of things.  Almost always when someone acquires a pet, they expect to outlive them (parrot owners aside).  I've certainly lost pets before; I don't kid myself on these things.  My cat Isis, for example, has had a few medical issues stemming from a botched surgery she had as a kitten before I met her, and I can't expect her to live nearly as long as Snowflake did.  That just wouldn't be realistic.  But something about Snowflake's death, old as she was, hit me harder than I expected it to.

I guess where it all became "real" for me was a dream I had a few days after her death.  In the dream, I was sitting at my parent's house petting her, when all of the sudden I realized that this wasn't right.  I looked at Snowflake, and said "wait, you're dead."  I woke up, and realized that I'd been subconsciously avoiding my parents’ house since she died, even when I had spent time with them.  Because if I went there, I'd have to face the truth:  Snowflake is dead, and I'm never going to see her again.  There will be no good bye, she's simply gone now.

Again, I don't really know what I'm feeling; it seems so.... emotional, so ‘human’ to even feel much of anything.  I have fond memories of a cat that many people didn't particularly like, but a cat that was quite elderly.  17 is quite old for our feline friends.  This is all part of life, and I know and accept that.  Why should I allow any more thought to the matter than that?

I suppose the answer is, despite all my best intentions, I really am only human.  I can never fully understand that perfect engine of death and design that is the cat, and sometimes my emotions still get the better of me.  There was something I respected and enjoyed about her mixture of grace and disdain- and make no mistake about my comments, she wasn’t always disdainful, often she was quite happy to cuddle with those she deemed worthy.  She and I were as close of friends as members of two different species could be.

I've never known two cats that I thought were particularly similar, and if I'm to take anything else from losing Snowflake, it's this: She was unique, and therefore, with her passing, something unique has been lost to my universe.  There's no lesson to be learned here other than the obvious; everything dies, usually unexpectedly, and nothing can be done about it.  So you have to cherish everything, because you never know when it will be gone.

She's gone.  I live to fight another day.  It's not an overly happy ending to the tale of the two of us.  But then again, no one ever said it would end any other way.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

My Fellow Americans: Can We Please Stop Asking What the "Founding Fathers" Would Have Said About America Today?

Many moons ago, when I was a much younger, pre-Amazing Justin, I was sitting on a bus with a friend of mine, debating politics.  The two of us did this often, but not usually for such a long time- we were on a school trip from Illinois to New York, and neither of us were the type to sleep much while traveling.  We were worn down and getting generally irritable- so naturally, our debate (I can't remember the specifics on what it was on) was getting somewhat heated.  And at one point, as we rambled bits of logic, or what counted as logic in our near-sleepless state, our exchange spiraled into this:

Him: "Okay, fine, but that's not the point.  The Founding Fathers would have said-"
Me: "Man, fuck the Founding Fathers!  Who the hell cares what those dead bastards would have thought!"
Him: *Gasp!*


Now, there's two very important lessons I think I can take from this exchange. 1.) Having a spirited political discussion when you've only had 6 hours of sleep in the last 4 days is probably not a very good idea, especially when you're an uppity, arrogant teenager.  And 2.) My annoying, loud-mouthed, angry past-self might kind of have a point. Why do people continue to tell people what the "Founding Fathers" would have said, as if that is an "instant win" card in any debate?  Does it really matter what they would have said in the first place?  Should we really care what some rich, dead, white guy thought about states rights or gun control?

Let's start by defining the opening issue: Just who were the Founding Fathers?  That's one of those questions that people go back and forth on.  Obviously men like George Washington and John Adams were, but how about lesser known figures, like William Few or Jared Ingersoll?  John Hancock signed the Declaration of Independence, but had little to do with the US Constitution, is he a Founding Father?  What about Thomas Paine?  His works Common Sense and The American Crisis were probably more influential on the American Revolution than almost any of the signers of the Declaration.  For the record, here's Wikipedia's breakdown of all the "Founding Fathers".  Honestly, can you find more than ten names on that list of people you recognize without clicking any links? (Note: American History Majors, you are excused from this exercise.)

It may surprise you to know that "the Founding Fathers" as a term is less than a hundred years old.  It was first used in Warren G. Harding's keynote address to the 1916 Republican Convention.  Said Harding: "Conditions do change, popular interest is self-asserting, and "paramounting" has it's perils, as the Democratic party will bear witness, but the essentials of constructive government and attending progress are abiding and unchanging.  For example, we ought to be as genuinely American today as when our founding fathers flung their immortal defiance in the face of old-world oppressions and dedicated a new republic to liberty and justice."* That's it, that's where the term came from.  It's a good speech, (though I'd argue with the nostalgia regarding the facts behind the American Revolution in it) but that's where all of this started.

None of the Founding Fathers ever considered themselves as such.  After all, it's just an arbitrary term to describe a loose group of people.  The "Founders" themselves probably thought of earlier settlers as their own "founding fathers", people like William Penn or Richard Nicholls (I am the first person to admit that this is purely speculation on my part).

More to the point, how much stock should we really put into the Founding Father's imagined opinions of us?  I'm not trying to bash the USA, but historically, a lot of the Founders- including the near-universally revered ones- had some pretty serious character flaws.  12 of the first 18 presidents owned slaves, and 8 of them did so while they were president, including Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson.  The last sitting president to own slaves was Zachary Taylor, who died in office in 1850, owning roughly 100 slaves at the time.  Even Benjamin Franklin, in later-life an avid abolitionist, at one point owned slaves.  And the "It was just a part of life at the time" argument isn't entirely invalid, but the truth is some people thought slavery was wrong long before England and America banned it.  There were some Quakers were working to abolish slavery at least as early as 1688, 99 years before the US Constitution was signed.

Does this mean we should reject everything they had to say?  Of course not.  Ideas are more important than people, even the people that originated them.  And some of the ideas that these men put forth were and are profoundly important, both here in America and abroad.  But we need to remember that these men, heroes of (Euro-)American history, were still just people.  They had faults, flaws, and some of them were probably just assholes.

Ben Franklin was a brilliant diplomat and inventor, and also quite the perv.  Thomas Jefferson was arguably the single most important writer in American political/philosophical history; yet despite all his writings on freedom and Enlightenment ideals, his (arguably extreme) pro-slavery stance stands in staunch opposition to his writings.  Nearly every president in the first 150 years of this country took part in the Indian Wars, an awful part of our national history that we should all be ashamed of.  No one- president or parent- is perfect, and we need to accept that.  Looking at these (rich, white) men as "heroes" without question or context diminishes them as people and diminishes our history as a whole.  Warts and all, our history is how we got here, and we should understand it honestly.

All of this is ignoring the real point, of course.  Americans- historically, at least- love to think of their past leaders as heroes, almost of biblical proportions.  And our current leaders- political, spiritual, whatever- they know this, and twist the words of the founding fathers to suit their purposes.  This happens on all political sides, there's plenty of this nonsense to go around.  But from what I can tell, they use it just like in the argument my friend and I were having in high school; an "instant win" card to play in the debating game.  "If the founding fathers thought this, it must be true" is all the reasoning they need.  Sometimes, yes, that's what the founding fathers thought, and sometimes not.  But who cares?

It's 2012.  Almost two and a half centuries later, are the opinions of the Founders really that relevant today?  Sometimes, but certainly not always.  The world is vastly different today, obviously.  The United States is the dominate world power, women can vote, slavery has been abolished, the economic center of the country is no longer the south- today's America is nothing like theirs.  It couldn't be, because change is constant, and often a very good thing.  So why keep looking to the past to justify today's actions?  I'm not saying it serves no purpose at all, but you can't let nostalgia form your argument for you. 

Is it time to maybe stop seeking the founding father's approval?  After all, only a child constantly needs verification from their parents for their every deed.  Maybe it's time to stop worrying what George Washington or Aaron Burr would think of the way we've run things since they've died.  Maybe it's time to accept responsibility for America today, so that we can step forward into an even brighter future.

Maybe it's time for America to grow up.  Just a thought.

*=For the record, Harding was protesting the 64th United States Congress and the Wilson administration.  Wilson, a Democrat, enjoyed a super-majority in the congress, and it should probably be noted that Wilson was re-elected in 1916 under the slogan "He kept us out of war!"  That would not last.  I'd have to check on the specifics to put Harding's speech in greater context, I admit that my WWI-era history isn't nearly as up-to-snuff as I'd wish it to be.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Live-Blogging The First X-Men #2: All Wolverine, All the Time!

On a lark, I’m live-blogging my reading of artist Neal Adam’s latest work, “The First X-Men”.  Adams is an artistic legend in the comic book community, but lately some of his work has been seen as… odd.  By some.  Yes, that’s a reasonable assessment.  So!  I’m reading it, and commenting as I go, and my friend Patrick is replying to my descriptions of what’s happening with no further context, just for laughs.  Last time went better than I expected, really.  The plot was pretty thin, but mostly not awful.  So let’s see what this week’s issue has in store!

Previously on the Neal Adams X-Men Vanity Project Adventure Hour, Wolverine and his pal Sabertooth decide to save all the mutants.  Good times.  They met some girl named Holo who we’ve never heard of before, and then got told to piss off from a douche Professor Xaiver.  Now they’re off to find Magneto to get him to join their rag tag group!
me:  Alright, First X-Men #2
Wolverine has decided to save all mutants.
Sabertooth decided to help him, because he's got nothing better to do.
Random dude who's dad knew Wolverine died, but sort of didn't, after he exploded
Girl named Holo has joined their team
... And will probably die by series end because we've never heard of her
Professor X is marrying Moira MacTaggert
And just generally being a dick

Patrick:  Holo?
Where do they come up with these names

me:  And the W-Men, as you so aptly put it last time are off to find Magneto and ask him to join them

Patrick:  Is she a living hologram?

me:  She projects hologram like images in people's minds, I guess?

Patrick:  That's just lazy naming

me:  Well, yes
So, we ready to do this?
Because I have questions, just with the cover alone. 
First off, there are no bad guys on it

Patrick:  I'm guessing that's Magneto?
Behind Wolverine throw a car at him
With flowing grey hair

me:  Yes.
But everyone is fighting.... someone?
Which begs the question

me:  What is up with his hair?

Patrick:  lol

me:  It's like a mullet hybrid with Wolverine's hair helmet

Patrick:  Yeah I'm not sure what's going on

me:  They're fighting "someone"
And “Someone” just threw a car door at Sabertooth's face
Which is funny, but I'm really confused with what this image is saying

Patrick:  I'm guessing that car door is just magneto multitasking

me:  But aren't Sabertooth and Magneto on the same side?
(Who can tell, anymore?)

me:  The Page 1 Recap has the most amazing sentence I've read all this week in it, though. “Logan is surprised when the boy he has just found explodes."
That sentence is hilariously deadpanned.

Patrick:  That's a Joker's boner if I've ever read one

me:  lol

Patrick:  But honestly... would Logan be surprised?

me:  People doing crazy shit around Wolverine is pretty much just a Tuesday afternoon, yeah
We open in Colorado, where some dudes are hunting down a Wendingo.
And a delightful conversation on the differences between Bigfoot and yetis ensues.
Know your cryptozoology, kids!

Patrick:  I thought Wendigo lived in Canada
What is he doing all the way down in Colorado
Or is this a different one

me:  Apparently I was wrong to assume the big, white, scary Wendingo-looking dude was Wendingo.
I guess his name is really "Yeti".
Can you check Wikipedia to see if this is an obscure X-Man/Alpha Flighter/whatever, or if Neal Adams is making up more characters to kkill later?

Patrick:  once again getting real creative with names
“The second Yeti was a member of Weapon P.R.I.M.E., a covert Canadian superhuman team working for Department K, the agency responsible for the Weapon X project that created the X-Men character Wolverine.
Both are depicted as huge white beasts that resemble the Wendigo”
this sounds like our guy?

me:  Sounds like
Holy shit, the creature from the black lagoon just popped out of nowhere with no explanation!

Patrick:  Again, though, why isn't this comic just set in Canada?
If we're going to use all these Canadians?

me:  Oh, Holo just created the black lagoon monster to scare off the Colorado rednecks.  Got it.

Patrick:  Good old Holo with her pop culture references

me:  Canada is America's hat, Patrick.  We can use it as we like.

Patrick:  and Colorado is America's little Canada?

me:  Sure, why not?
Oh man, Holo is even actually calling out references in dialogue
Is that a real movie?

Patrick:  no but it is a character from Marvel comics
Based on the Black Lagoon creature

me:  Ah

Patrick:  Of course in Marvel, it's an alien that arrived on Earth 1000 years ago.,..
And so SHIELD needs to capture it

me:  Right, naturally

Patrick:  But whatever, moving right along!

me:  Holo inexplicably strikes Sabertooth
I mention this only because there's no real reason, and the dialogue doesn't really help to clarify
Yeti is looking for his brother, and Wolverine and crew opt to help him
No mention is made of Operation: Get Magneto.
 me:  Yeti's brother is named "Ben Goldendawn", which doesn't ring any bells for me, but my X-trivia is good only up through, like, 1982, then it gets muddled
We're suddenly in Virginia!
Where, um, I guess Wolverine's tracking nose found Yeti's bro, maybe?
Or something?
But the comic says we're in Quantico now
Why not?
Stuff explodes, and we find the kid that Wolverine thought was dead, but wasn't.
I'm still very confused on how we got here from the Rockys.

Patrick:  Quantico?  What the hell?

me:  Says so on the top of the page, yep.

Patrick:  Boom tubes?

me:  Sure, why not

Patrick:  This sounds like a series of random events
And not a story but alright

me:  Slpopdin' Kid is joining them too now, obviously.  And now the team's eating sandwiches in Upstate New York!

Patrick:  On the road again!
To Magneto?!

me:  Nope
Just eating

Patrick:  We all know that Magneto likes to hang out in central park playing chess
So I was just hoping...

me:  Apparently Logan's got a cozy little place up there

Patrick:  He has a place everywhere

me:  True
Just not in Virginia
Or Maryland
Or Delaware

Patrick:  Because why would anyone want to live there

me:  The closest safe house he had was in Upstate New York, clearly
(Well, that's a good point...)
Suddenly, Wolvie leaps to murder Holo!
...To, uh, teach her to fight.  I guess.
(While she's trying to enjoy a chicken leg.)

Patrick:  Maybe he just wants her chicken?

me:  Who knows, she spanks his ass with her psychic powers
Or illusions
Or whatever
Because it is time for a TRAINING MONTAGE!

Patrick:  We need a montage!
Just like in First Class!

me:  During which, everyone's face looks like monkeys!
Oh, wait, that's just this comic, not the movie
Jesus, this comic really is just vamping on First Class pretty hard

Patrick:  Maybe THIS is what Wolverine was doing the whole time!

me:  Seriously, there's a seen with Wolverine and Kid Napalm, and it's just like the one with Havok and Professor X
Complete with fire extinguishers putting out the explosions remains
Oh, and he finally gets a codename!
You thought the first two were bad, but are you ready for this?
It's WAAAAY worse

Patrick:  You mean it's not Kid Napalm?

me:  Nope

Patrick:  Because I kind of like that
Is that just what you nicknamed him?

me:  I'm pretty clever sometimes, and his real name is not
No, his name, which an editor had to okay, is....

Patrick:  Stop the suspense!

me:  "Bomb"
I swear

Patrick:  hooboy
Can we back up
And just pretend this never happened

me:  Oh thank evil jesus, Magneto's finally in this comic

Patrick:  This stuff is starting to make Batman odyssey look sane

me:  Well, no giant pterosaurs yet, but here's hoping
Magneto's still in Argentina, presumably killin' 'Natzis.

Patrick:  There's always a chance for a savage land field trip!

me:  true

Patrick:  Oh, so once again Magneto is in South America
Chasing down those Nazi fugitives

me:  yes

Patrick:  Just like in that movie!
Although to be fair... he might have been in Central America in the movie?

me:  No, I'm pretty sure it was Argentina...

Patrick:  how does Neal Adams get work!

me:  So, Wolverine and Sabertooth, to get Magneto's attention and try to get him to join them, decide the best way is to kill the Nazi that Mags is looking for off camera, and announce it to him from a helicopter hovering above him
...That's.... Okay, let's just keep moving
After everyone's threatened everyone else, they meet on the ground, and Magneto refers to all mutants as "freaks" more than once
This is kind of off-putting

Patrick:  Magneto is a self-hating mutant
I guess...
Sounds completely out of character

me:  Oh boy, I'll touch on that in a sec
But can we go back to your question about all these Canucks in America?

Patrick:  Well now they seem to be in Argentina..

me:  Wolverine's talking about the feds cracking down on mutants
and Magneto immediately knows it's the USA he's talking about here
And everyone's agreeing that "American feds taking out all us mutants" is bad
But yeah, they're in Argentina
Wolverine and Sabertooth are Canadians
And Magneto is Eastern European
(his nationality varies slightly depending on the writer)
So... what's the deal?

Patrick:  Yeah but before you know it, America will be invading other countries, killing mutants
Like they ALWAYS do
Wolverine knows this, because he's being written by someone from the future

me:  ... Well, it IS an X-book
I guess that makes as much sense as anything

Patrick:  Is Wolverine going to run into the Hulk sometime soon?
I feel like that should be happening around then

me:  We can dream
But now, it is time for a FIGHT SCENE
Magneto won't join them, and he won't let them leave until they "agree to abandon your suicidal mission!"
(actual dialogue)
So... fighting

Patrick:  So he'll kill them instead!

me:  That seems reasonable
And this fight scene is in a scrap yard
Advantage: Magneto
But Holo makes him see scenes of being a 90 year old man in a Concentration Camp

Patrick:  Has it ever occurred to Magneto that he could just control Wolverine to kill all the X-Men?

me:  Well, he can't yet
No metal bones

Patrick: Oh, pre Weapon X... right

Me: Yeah.

Patrick:  So Holo knows Magneto’s back story?

me:  I guess?

Patrick:  She's seen First Class too, I can assume

me:  Magneto is all like "Well, uh, I was like 7 then, so clearly that was an illusion, and not really me"
And he goes back to knocking the shit out of all of them
Then Magneto just kind of leaves
Because he's too good for them
And now, an Undisclosed Location!
It's an evil government one, too!
Hey look, it's a young Bolivar Trask!
His superior is all like "giant robots?  That's stupid!"

Patrick:  Well... to be honest...

me:  You said it, not me

Patrick:  Giant purple robots designed to kill mutants

me:  No, we get another maybe cameo?

Patrick:  Gotta love X-Men books, always full of those cameos

me:  a full page spread of some gross dude, controlling what I assume is Yeti's brother
The gross dude is named "Lyle Doorne"
codename "Virus"
(No idea if he's new or not)
And, uh... that's the end
Last time wasn't great, but... oy

Patrick:  Looks like he's new from as far as I can tell
Which means he'll die too

me:  He's on the cover for next issue too.  Great
This book needs stronger editing

Patrick:  I feel like Neal Adams just does whatever he wants
Without supervision
Someone should check him into a nursing home already
Or he should just go back to drawing

me:  Oy!
For the record, blog readers, Patrick said put Neil Adams in a nursing home, not me
Please, rabid fans, blame him

Patrick:  Hey at least I can appreciate his artwork

me:  True

Patrick:  Anyway...

me:  .... That being said, way back in X-Men # early 100s or whenever, when the "New X-Men" first encounter Magneto, shouldn't he have been "Don't I know you?" to Wolverine?
I mean, I know Logan won't remember any of this because, hey, mindwipe
Same for Sabertooth
But Mags...

Patrick:  I'm just assuming this is all non canon
me: I suppose that's the sane way to deal with all this
Anyway, I guess that just about wraps this up
First X-Men #2:  Not a very good comic.

Patrick:  no not at all
but when you're rewriting X-Men history by making Wolverine the star...

me:  Also, Mr. Adams, could you please slow down just a little?  Your are should be much, much prettier than this
I know you can do it, I've seen it

Patrick:  Is he doing the artwork?

me:  Yes
And I don't think it's simply a matter of needing an inker
Not anymore
Until next issue!