Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

What leads to mass shootings (and what doesn’t)

Sunday, August 4th, 2019

What are the 4 things all the mass shooters have in common? The people who run the Violence Project helpfully tell us in this piece in the Los Angeles Times. I have lots of friends on Facebook who are ready to blame Donald Trump — and, look, I can’t stand the guy either — but his name isn’t on the list of causes.

Con-viviality

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Comic-Con was only four days — July 17th through the 21st — but it was even more excitingly overpowering, so much so that I took a week off blogging just to recuperate. Sure, I had plans to post things here during the Con, but I’m not sure how I would have done that. The event was stuffed — overstuffed! — with things competing for my attention (which isn’t unusual, even though this was the 50th anniversary celebration), so finding the time would have been challenge enough. Add in the fact that, as tracked by my phone, I walked seven to eight miles a day and did it on five or six hours of sleep each night, and you get a frenetic pace that fully required some recovery time.

(Plus, I was pretty busy when I got back.)

A few highlights:

  • Finding many excellent Silver Age and Bronze Age comics at reader’s prices. What qualifies to me as a “reader’s price”? Under the current cover price of (gasp) $3.99. I found lots of great old comics in $2 bins, half-price bins, and even, sometimes, for a buck each. Awesome sauce!
  • Seeing “Shazam!” the first night we got there. It was loads of fun and laugh-out-loud funny, Zachary Levi’s enthusiasm in the role was catchy, and it rather faithfully built on the source material while in plot points and in tone. A real joy.
  • Catching the documentary “Closer Than We Think,” about futurist artist and industrial designer Arthur Radebaugh. I’d never heard of Radebaugh, whose sleek designs and stunning artwork of the 1930s and 1940s made me jump online to buy a book of it… only to discover that no book of his work exists. Somebody:  Go collect this stuff into a book! In the meantime, you can see some of it here.
  • Getting to talk with Eddie Campbell, a comics writer and artist I follow (From Hell; The Playwright; Bacchus) and picking up his new book
  • Hearing comics great Jim Steranko take an hour to share three anecdotes — but one of them was pure brilliance, from his years as an escape artist, when he came up with what promised to be his greatest stunt:  escaping from a moving ferris wheel. Let’s just say that when he was rotated to the top, 80 feet up in the air, he got out of the coiled ropes a little early. “And what happened?” someone asked. “I fell,” he said. Luckily, one of the bucket cars on the wheel caught him after about 15 feet, purely by chance.

I got to see lots of other great things — Scott Shaw!’s “Oddball Comics” slideshow, which never disappoints; the “Quick Draw” live sketch event; lots of clever costumes; and the sheer amazement of my 15-year-old great nephew at his first Comic-Con experience, both at the excitement in the convention center and the near-pandemonium spilling onto all the streets of San Diego for about a square mile — but here, bar none, was my favorite bit of Comic-Con this year:

David Rosing (NASA JPL Mars Sample Return system engineer), Shonte J. Tucker (JPL thermal engineer), Kobie Boykins (JPL Mechatronics Engineer), and Laura Kerber (NASA JPL Mars research scientist) discuss how they go boldly where there’s no one around to fix it. Hear stories from the trenches of the heartbreaks, close calls, and adventures of real-life solar system exploration on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Q&A session following.

Yeah… no. That in no way conveys what the panel really was. Here’s what the panel really was:  government-funded scientists giddy with excitement about all the cool stuff they’re working on for the moon, Mars, and beyond, and what those new discoveries and possibilities might mean for us, all of it positive.

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to hear government-funded scientists beside themselves with glee about science and what we’re learning every day, and about their hope for the future.

So I decided to get up and tell them that.

I got to the microphone and said, “I can’t tell you how glad I am to be here in a room with scientists who are so excited about the future. Usually it’s not you guys in the headlines — instead it’s the anti-science guys from the government. So:  thank you. I’m really glad you’re here!”

That elicited big cheers and applause from the room, which was packed with about 200 people feeling exactly the way I did about it. We were all cheering the scientists.

Then Dr. Rosing noted what a good investment science is, and how careful they are with how they spend taxpayer money.

“Oh, I’m happy to have you get my tax money,” I said. “It’s the other guys I don’t want to fund!”

More cheers and applause from the crowd for that.

As much as I loved the comic-book part of it, and all the costumes, and the great time with family and friends, hearing Dr. Laura Kerber excitedly pitch just how much we’re going to learn when she finally gets to launch her project exploring the deepest part of the moon in a crater so vast it’s wider than a football field and deep enough to accommodate Big Ben… well… that’s something I’m going to remember. If it’ll help, I’ll gladly send her $20 to help with Project: Crater Diver.

Sunday and Monday

Monday, May 27th, 2019
  • Having decided — again — that the play I was working on had been best served in its one-act version, i.e., that it should not become a full-length version, this decision being made after many months and endless pages of struggle to turn it into said full-length version, a version that I was having trouble believing one bit of, I turned back to a play I started this time last year, in the hopes that it would become my new full-length play. Fingers crossed.
  • Had some friends over last night from eight until midnight for drinks and cigars and snacks. Two of them are playwrights, one is an editor of TV shows and videos, and one is this universe’s foremost expert on “Star Trek.” We talked a lot about comic books and, naturally, “Stark Trek,” and a bit about theatre, and a surprising amount about Nancy Pelosi (impeachment now, yes or no?). I guess we’re all exhausted of talking about you-know-who in the White House.
    • When the subject of the race for the Democratic presidential nomination came up, I said that now that I’d watched all eight seasons of “Game of Thrones,” I had a new outlook. “Almost nothing that happened in the first seven seasons mattered in the end,” I said, “and the Democratic nomination is like that. I don’t need to tune in until next June.” One of the playwright friends said, “Yeah, backing one of the candidates now is like being all-in for Robb Stark.”
  • Started reading The Terror last night after midnight (okay, this morning). This is why I mostly don’t see movies or TV shows on books I’ve read or am going to read — it’s impossible to get the actors out of your head. I didn’t see the film version of “Anna Karenina,” but nevertheless Alfred Molina is now connected in my mind with that book, which was the most compelling novel I’ve ever read. Same with The Terror; even five pages in, it was difficult not to “see” Jared Harris on the page.
    • I also had an extremely sinister and upsetting dream — one in which I manage to evade some sort of creatures in a post-apocalyptic setting, but wind up running into a real-life person from my real life, someone I have studiously avoided for a long time now, and was forced to work with that person. Compared to my nightmares — in this case, the nightmare of being forced to work with this person again — no horror novel can compete.
  • This morning when I woke up I vowed to finally do something about the ever-running toilet in the master bathroom that had to be manually jiggered in order to stop running water. So I went and bought the part at  DoIt Center (yes, yes, it’s been renamed D.I.Y. Center, but in my household it’s still called “doit,” pronounced to rhyme with the first part of “soitently!”). Back home, it took about 20 minutes to fix. Well worth the eight weeks I put that off.
  • My son left for an overnight camping trip, and our other two children are already out of the house, and my wife works nights, so at one point the two dogs and I looked at each other like the last survivors on a life raft. They mostly prefer the other people and weren’t sure what to make of it being just us.
    • But given that they know I can still open the refrigerator door, they remain hopeful and attentive.
  • I was cautious in announcing any triumph in fixing that toilet, lest I get assigned any further duties. Proud of my strategy in delaying so long!
  • Washed some dishes. Not all of them from last night! — not the cocktail glasses or the rocks glasses or half of the snack bowls and plates — but enough to be seen doing it. Should get me through for now.
  • Now I’m sitting out back surrounded by loudly chirping birds oblivious to all the bad news in this morning’s paper, and I’m prepping another cigar, with hope in the air regarding this new play, a play based on an obscure, rarely named and somewhat disreputable philosophical condition. Fingers still crossed. I’ve cleverly entitled it “New Play.” (Might change that later.)

A period of transition

Sunday, March 31st, 2019

I was just searching for something in my Evernote file and found this:

We’re in a period of permanent transition. Nothing will settle.
It’s not an age of reading — it’s an age of looking. Looking at print or looking at screens — some of the print is interactive with sound and motion.

The old forms needn’t die. People are still buying tickets to the theatre, which has been dying for thousands of years.

I wrote that on July 25, 2014 (at Comic-Con in San Diego), no doubt as a jumping-off point for something I didn’t wind up writing. Since then, the permanent transition has continued, and nothing has settled.

By happenstance, I went to WonderCon today. I spent half of my time in the exhibit hall searching for just where comic books might be, then discovered that I was in Hall C of the Exhibit Hall — an area mostly devoted to independent artists and people lumbering around in gigantic bulky clumsy costumes representing things I didn’t recognize — and that comic books were in a small quadrant in a corner of Hall A. I’m now calling that one of the sections where “old forms needn’t die.”

I’ve been going to comics conventions for 54 years, and can remember when the exhibit hall was a smorgasbord. You’d have a comic-book dealer next to a science fiction dealer next to somebody selling Tribbles and around the corner from somebody hawking his own new board game. That’s how you’d come across new things you never knew about or thought about. Now we’ve got redlining:  comics way over there; whatever Funko Pops are and similar novelties in a separate hall, gaming stuff way back there, and so forth. At a time when the people of the U.S. seem more divided than ever (almost; we haven’t hauled out any cannons yet), someone has now split fandom down into its constituent elements too.

I remember being warned about this in the 2000s:  that, increasingly, we’d get served only the news we wanted, and blithely ignore the things that didn’t pertain to us, that we didn’t select. Take a look at Twitter or Facebook and tell me that that isn’t exactly what’s happening. And who is the perfect avatar of this dynamic? The guy who lobs one distracting new “emergency” after another into the chattersphere. It’s aggravating how much oxygen and attention he consumes.

Still, the old forms needn’t die. We’ve carved everything and everyone into smaller and smaller niches, just as the Alvin and Heidi Toffler predicted in “The Third Wave.” It’s all still here, just smaller and discrete. Which is fine in many ways. A lot of the mass market didn’t serve a lot of people, including me. Television was very bad when I was a kid; ironically, there’s so much great television now that no one could possibly watch all of it and most of it looks bland. Turn on your TV (or device) and there are so many high-quality choices that none of them seems compelling. A lone diamond sparkles against velvet, but looks lost inside a gem mine.

Now we search, in a time when everything is findable. Nothing need go out of print (or “print”) any more, and no market is too small for some attention. At the convention, I picked up a newly published book called “Comic Book Implosion:  An Oral History of DC Comics Circa 1978.” The book relates the story of DC Comics announcing a big “DC Explosion!” of new titles in 1978 — and then canceling the entire effort two months later. Not exactly “The Story of Civilization,” right? Pretty arcane — but, still, there’s some interest in the topic somewhere (like, here — with me), so it exists. I also would assume that the topic exists on Wikipedia, and it does. In 2001, I attended a speech by Thomas Friedman wherein he talked about what he called the “Evernet” — being ever-available, ever-on, because of the cellphone and the internet.

That was six years before the iPhone, which solidified the Evernet, increased immediate access to information, and also increased the immediate sharability of information — as well as disinformation. Since then, the permanent transition has continued abated. And now, thanks to speed and availability, fluctuations will increase (economic; sociopolitical; cultural) and nothing will settle.

47 months

Sunday, March 10th, 2019

I do not like Paul Manafort.

I do not like his kind or sort.

I do not like himself or his’n,

I would not like him out of prison.

 

Paul Manafort is a bad actor,

which the judge failed to factor.

I think his sentence far too light,

And think that on this I’m quite right:

that he should spend his days in jail

and never live to tell the tale.

Update

Wednesday, February 20th, 2019

Okay, I now know who Jussie Smollett is. He’s a guy who may go to prison for three years for telling serious lies.

Which in other hands would make him presidential material.

Hypertension news

Tuesday, February 19th, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-02-19 at 3.39.33 AM

 

When a guy I know through Facebook posted the story above, from 1989, I commented, “At this point, I have to let the 30-year-old crimes go. There are so many new ones every day that it’s hard to keep up.”

“It’s about the Jussie Smollett story,” he said.

Oh, sure, I thought:  What’s the Jussie Smollett story?

I looked it up, still didn’t grasp the full impact of what he was trying to get at, and moved on.

That’s what happens when you more or less take the weekend off from the internet.

Sure, I dipped in here and there (I felt compelled to note, for myself at least, that celebrating Presidents Day didn’t mean I celebrated all Presidents… and far from it), but for the most part, the long weekend was spent catching up on comic books, writing, going to the gym, running my playwriting workshop, exterminating super mutants in “Fallout 4” and reading the newspaper — in print. And here’s what happens when you set social media aside even just for three days and then come back: Suddenly, you recognize very little.

Most of what’s trending on Twitter will never wind up in the newspaper, and that’s fine. But the real insight is this:  What’s trending is fleeting, but because most of the trend is tied to outrage, and there’s always something new trending, the outrage is constant. Marshall McLuhan’s statement that the medium is the message was never so true.

Some of the people I follow on Twitter are professionally outraged. I don’t mind the act when it’s Lewis Black doing it for laughs; I feel differently when it’s some professional CNN guest pumping people up to sell his latest book. The one guy did a livestream of his appearance on CNN, so all you’re seeing is his side — and what I saw was a trained monkey grinning at the host and punching up his own one-liners. Yes, he purports to be some sort of journalist, and yes, he’s got a new book, but that book is just a collection of his outraged posts and opinions. That’s not a journalist — that’s a late-night comic who isn’t funny.

Catching up, it seems that Jussie Smollett is now accused of having fabricated his story of being assaulted in a hate crime, and then the fake journalists over on Fox were having a laugh about that, but then Smollett strongly denied having fabricated the story. And Smollett appears to be an actor on some show I’ve never seen and had never heard of.

This seems as good a time as any to post a cartoon I also found on Facebook. It applies to more than just television screens.

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Presidential credential

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019

I’m not going to be reading the memoir by Chris Christie, the former governor of my birth state, but I’m sure glad Matt Taibbi did. Here’s his blistering look at the book, and at just how the self-believed master negotiator Christie got so thoroughly strung along by Donald Trump. (Like, well, millions of other people.)

It’s fun to read this takedown of Chris Christie, who has deluded himself into believing he still has a shot at the presidency, but it can’t have been fun for Garden Staters to live through his governorship. Last I checked, the people of New Jersey remain divided on Chris Christie — split between those who hate him and those who plain loathe him. That’s what happens when you do things like close the state beaches to everyone — except yourself and your family.

(Not) government work

Friday, August 3rd, 2018

It isn’t exactly a revelation that the Trump disintegration — er, “administration” —  doesn’t know how government works (or, should work). But here’s the latest evidence:

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that eliminating mileage rules on new cars would effectively reduce the ownership costs of a new vehicle by $2,340, or $468 a year over five years. Even if it’s true that this represents a cost saving, the job of the EPA is to protect the environment, not manage household budgets.  Or, at least, the job of the EPA used to be to protect the environment. (And the EPA, we should note, was started under executive order by a Republican president.)
  2. The Trump disintegration is also now saying that it should be the job of the ACLU to find those parents that the administration forcibly separated from children and then deported. Why a cadre of lawyers who work to protect our civil rights should do this — or even how — is anyone’s guess.

Given that this government isn’t doing its appropriate work as a government, it makes you wonder what they are doing.

 

Acceptance

Tuesday, June 5th, 2018

My sons were watching “Defiance” last night, the movie where Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests in order to protect themselves and about one thousand Jewish non-combatants from the Nazis.

I reminded them, “Remember, there are good people on both sides.”

They seemed skeptical. So old-school.