Me on Comixology's It Came Out on Wednesday Podcast

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I'm on Comixology's It Came Out on Wednesday podcast this week, talking with Jake about the latest comics, including Alan Moore's Neonomicon, Red Sonja, Stephen King's Gunslinger prequel, Green Lantern and much more.

Normally, Comixology pays me to write code, but every once in a while I get to do cool stuff like this too. Go listen!

War is a Meaning That Gives Us Force

If you haven't read Chris Hedges's book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning you should do so. It chronicles Hedges's experiences as a journalist in the former Yugoslavia during the NATO action to protect the Kosovar and Bosnian populations against Slobodan Milosevic's genocide against them after the fall of the Soviet Block. That conflict was clearly a war. Although I'm not sure it is at all clear that every state actor in that conflict was at War with the Serbian State. Today, as a coalition of state actors including the United States moves to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and cripple Moammar Ghaddafi's ability to carry on his civil war with the rebels seeking to overthrow his regime, it is only natural for USAmericans to be asking whether we are now at war with Libya. It is a question that seems simple. Simple it is not. A brief resume of the last 70 years of warfare shows that the task of determining when the United States is at war is fraught with arbitrary distinctions and political posturing.

The Constitution of the United States of America gives Congress the power to raise and sustain an Army and a Navy. The power to declare war on another nation belongs to Congress and Congress alone. At the same time, the President of the United States is named Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces. This bifurcation of the war powers of the Federal Government, separating military policy from command and control, serves an important role in the system of limited powers given to the Federal Government in that document. It prevents the President from using the military in whatever way he sees fit, and prevents Congress from micromanaging the most urgent affairs of national defense. However, it also makes it difficult to determine whether or not the United States is at war at any given time.

A Solution to the Abortion Problem

I think that abortion opponents have been going about their desire to end abortions in entirely the wrong way. The real core of the problem of unwanted pregnancy is not that women are getting pregnant when they don't want to be, it's that men are getting women pregnant when they don't want to be fathers. As such, I would like to propose a new abortion law that will get at the heart of this problem: mandatory vasectomies for the male parents of aborted fetuses.

The Upside of The Coming American Disaster

Doom. That's what's on the way for us here in the fifty nifty United States. Doom doom doom. Big fucking Doom. That's right, I said it. The world is in fact coming to an end in a total cluster fuck of denial, false consciousness, and Machiavellian intrigue. Ten years from now, you will look around you and no longer recognize the world you live in. I do not say this lightly. I am no doomer. I genuinely believe that global warming and peak oil will most likely cause a crisis that will meet with some sort of solution. In the middle term, those are problems that I think humanity is more or less capable of dealing with. There will be problems, but those problems are not insurmountable. No, the people who see in the coming food crisis an end to all things are mistaken. They are mistaken for good reasons. They worry about the rise of unchecked economic power in the post-industrial world. They worry about the unsustainability of current modes of production. And these are real problems. But they fail to grasp the flip side of that coin. They make the same mistake that Ronald Reagan's conservative children make, and see only the supply side of the economy. This is the path we have been on in the United States and in much of Europe for a good 40 years now. So dominant is this view of the world that even in the thinking of an astute and critical mind like that of Chris Hedges, the coming dystopia is mistaken for something akin to the feudal dark ages of Europe. This is a historically conditioned vision of the world and it says more about the fears of those who have them than it does about what the world will look like in ten years. I am sympathetic to those fears, but fear is not a civilizing impulse and it is a severe impediment to rational thought.

The Obamanation of Escalation

I think I've figured out why it is that a certain segment of the left is so disappointed in the various mediocrities of the Obama administration. Clearly, there's a population of leftist democrats in the country who thought they were voting for Will Smith and were disappointed when President Obama turned out to be neither Bagger Vance nor Hancock.

That's right. I'm calling you all a bunch of racists. Deal with it.

Now, I know I've had my own beefs with Obama from time to time. I had high hopes. But I knew he was a centrist that I would disagree with a lot going in, and that's what makes the really outraged statements of disappointment sound so hollow to me. Yeah, it hasn't been as good as it might have been, and yes, I think some of that at least is Obama's fault. At the same time, some of the things people are surprised about (his view on gay marriage, the fact that he wasn't pushing harder on DADT, the issue with Gitmo, the failure of the public option) are things that were either unrealistic or things that he was upfront about being a centrist on.

Thing is, politics in America is always about numbers and noise. You can't just sit back on Nov. 5 and figure that your work is done. Movement leftists need to constantly nag, constantly push, constantly try to move the ball a few more inches in the right direction. When you get quiet you die. That's part of the reason Obama compromised as much as he did, and it's definitely the reason that the GOP took the House back last year.

So, yes, I'm sorry your "super duper magical negro" didn't fix everything with a bob of his massive afro, but maybe before you start scape-goating the best hope we have of keeping a disaster like Michelle Bachmann or Mike Huckabee out of the whitehouse, maybe take a good long look in the mirror and ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for you country.

Fuckers.

Names formerly misspelled in the previous article

Barbara Cartland (first one noted and fixed before the article was reprinted at io9)
Don Delillo
JK Rowling
Neil Gaiman
Stephenie Meyer
Charlaine Harris

And yet Paolo Bacigalupi? That one I got right.

Why I'm Not Worried About Academic Laurels or the Death of Mainstream Book Reviews

Back when I was Literary Fiction guy, I had a conversation about books with a girl I knew who was, if not exactly well-read, did certainly read books regularly. In the course of the conversation I mentioned Don Delillo and Dave Eggars, and she referred to them off-handedly as "people no one had ever heard of." It was at that point I realized how thoroughly we lived in different worlds.

I had a similar moment recently at my job at comiXology, when Jake, who does a weekly comics podcast, mentioned that he might have George RR Martin on as a guest and asked me if that was a big deal. There's this assumption that comics and science fiction are part of the same "geek" world (as if geeks are some monolithic entity), but Jake is extremely well-read in comics didn't have any sense of the scale of one of the best-selling authors in the world right now.

But then, I should hardly feel cocky for having heard of Delillo, Eggars and Martin. After all, according to Wikipedia, the top five bestselling fiction authors of all time are, in order, William Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Barbara Cartland, Harold Robbins, and Georges Simenon. Shakespeare and Christie are recognizable enough, but before looking this up I could not have told you for the world who those last three names belonged to. Apparently, Cartland wrote romance novels, Robbins wrote adventure fiction, and Simenon wrote detective stories. How is it that I, someone for whom books are practically a lifestyle, has not even heard of three of the five best-selling writers of all time? Imagine how absurd it would be if I were a film buff who had not heard of three of the five top-grossing film directors of all time?

The Federal Budget Deficit is Not a Problem Right Now

In 1936 John Maynard Keynes, the most important economist in the history of economics after Adam Smith and Karl Marx, published a book called The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money. The book is highly technical and difficult to follow for a non-specialist. I have read it, but had a very difficult time getting through it. Luckily for those of us who are not economists, there are many very bright people who devote their lives to this stuff and many of them have done a very good job of explaining it to the rest of us. The key insight of the book, despite the book's difficulty, is relatively easy to understand. In it Keynes argues convincingly and at length for the thesis that full employment, meaning the economic state where everyone who wants to work can find work, is not a function of the price of labor, but of the aggregate demand in the economy. Even as I rephrase that I can't help but notice how it's rife with jargon, shibboleths and mathematical concepts that are beyond the high school mathematical education of most American adults.

So think of it this way: suppose the economy consisted of just four people. One of those people is a consumer, one is a capitalist, and two of them are workers. The consumer pays the capitalist for the things the consumer wants and the capitalist sells them to him. The capitalist pays his workers to make the things that he wants to sell to the consumer. The workers do what the capitalist tells them to do. The consumer is independently wealthy. The capitalist makes money from profits that are the difference between what he has to pay the workers and what the consumer pays him for his goods. Got all that? Ok good.

On Right Wing Fantasist Reactionism

The latest hubbub in the nerdosphere is an absurdly stupid article from Leo Grin that basically says that fantasy was much better in the good-old days when JRR Tolkien and Robert E. Howard (Conan the Barbarian) walked the Earth, and that since then fantasy has succumbed to liberal elite moral relativism to give us gritty, "nihilistic" fantasy writers like Joe Abercrombie, who naturally, by extension, represent the Decline of Western Civilization. Forget that Conan was an amoral figure who basically killed anyone who got in his way and took any woman he saw, and was in turn a send-up of what Howard saw as the namby-pamby chivalric knights that were popular in historical writings at the time. And forget that the morals in Tolkien's work have (pretty deliberately) the complexity of a fairy tale. But then that may be the point; the author wants to see beautiful, noble good up against ugly, traitorous evil and anything more subtle, more realistic than that is somehow the End of Civilization. In other words, he wants the kind of shoehorning of everything into a reductionist, black-and-white worldview typical of right-wing ideology in general.