Friday, January 30, 2009

We'll always have Bespin...

It's always sad when a relationship comes to an end. Times shared are lost; memories once sweet become bitter; bits of your life with that other person conjure both a nostalgia and a sadness. Sometimes, you see the other person and you just don't know if you should say hi, or pretend you don't see them, and you want to be adult, but you are hurt and you consider actually accusing them and then wondering if you should forgive them. I am going through that right now.

I recently broke up with George Lucas. We've had an active relationship since I was six years old and my dad took me to the Cine Capri Theater in Phoenix (then the largest movie theater in Arizona, now torn down and replaced with an office building) to see that new spaceship movie Star Wars. It was my first time in a movie theater, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. The lights dimmed, a bunch of words rolled up the screen, and then it happened. The Imperial Star Destroyer took forever to pass overhead. It was beautiful, and every molded, sculpted, honest to god modelwork detail burned its way into my head and at that moment Dan was born- the Dan who today practices geek the way most people practice their religion.

Of course The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi followed, and though there were those damn Ewoks, this was a monumental mythology, timeless, and nothing to do with Earth, but rather some Galaxy far, far away. This was an epic that made Tolkien look like a poser. It sponsored countless hours of running around the acre of land I grew up on with a piece of aluminum pipe pinched off at one end as my mighty lightsaber. My collection of toys grew from my set of Star Wars figures. I sent in little blue proofs of purchase and got Boba Fett in the mail. I still have that Boba Fett.

Years went by. Eventually, my dear George Lucas told me he was going to give me more. He made a whole new trilogy. I know a lot of people who told me I should break it off then. People who didn't care for midi-chlorians or Gunguns, or anguished cries of "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!"

You know what? I was good. Maybe I should he seen it sooner. Maybe it should have paid more attention to things like remastered originals and Hayden Christensen. I was an apologist though-- George may not have done it like I would have, but my kids loved the new trilogy- it did for them what the original did for me, and there were some pretty cool lightsaber fights. Nope- I just didn't notice he was drifting away.

Then, she appeared.

She wasn't timeless or mythological. She was straight American early 21st Century. Not from a Galaxy far, far away. She was from Nickelodeon. She was iCarly, Hannah Montana, Zoey 101- she was Miley Cyrus with a lightsaber. Along with her she brought funny battle droids and cute little baby hutts and some cross dressing hutts too. But I was willing to try. I watched.

About 10 minutes. This was all the imagery from Star Wars, but patronizing down to what Hollywood seems to think teenagers and kids are like, and what parents allowing such crap to be devoured by their children would support. Lame PSA after-school-special type life lessons mixed in with cutesey nicknames and slapstick. More than that, it was rewriting what Lucas allowed Genndy Tartakovsky to do in his far FAR superior version of the same story which inspired awe and cheering, and not cliches and cookie cutter story telling.

So, it's over. Maybe too late, maybe I gave him more time than I should have, but George and I are done. I will always have my movies (non-remastered) and I have my Boba Fett, but as of now, this relationship is over. Someone else can be Lucas' b*tch because I just can't do it anymore. He gave me some of the best times of my life, but I am just not willing to stay in this abusive relationship.

What kind of a world is this where Battlestar Galactica has become cooler than Star Wars?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Some rules really are golden...

I have a fundamental belief in how the universe works. I believe everything in the end balances out. One of the things which first brought me out of my “everyone has to believe just like me” shell was recognizing balance as a major factor in most of the belief systems of the world. “Karma” has several interpretations in the world of Eastern Religion, but stays true to the concept of balance. Sure, some forms of Hindu karma say it is delivered by the Supreme Being while Buddhism sees it more as one of the building blocks of natural law, but the idea is our deeds (in fact the word itself is derived from a Sanskrit word for “deeds” or “actions”) affect what happens in the world. Our actions carry repercussions, consequences, and we have a responsibility to act properly to make those consequences turn out for the best.

Just before the time of Rabbi Jesus, Judaism came under the influence of a Rabbi named Hillel. Hillel, who basically established Rabbinic law, codified the ethic of reciprocity for the Jews. As the story goes, a foreigner (rejected by another Jewish leader at the time as being unfit for God's law because he was not a Jew) complained to Hillel there were too many rules to follow in the Jewish religion. Following his rejection at the hands of the other Rabbi, the foreigner felt he could never understand Judaism unless it could be simple enough for Hillel to explain while standing on one foot. Hillel raised his foot and said, “that which is hateful to you, don't do it to your neighbor; the rest is commentary.” So, this great teacher reduces the entire Torah, Talmud, and Mishnah to little more than an explanation of why God's law is the ethic of reciprocity- balance.

Then of course, in our Western tradition, comes that Rabbi Jesus I mentioned earlier. He takes it a step further. See, the Eastern idea was one allowed the balance to happen- Karma was a matter of course. Hillel said you should adjust your behavior to not do bad things. Jesus comes along and says “do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law of the prophets (Mt 7:12).” It has become active at this point- you are to go actively do good.

One of the most important tenants of this rule is the object of its application. To whom are we to do good? Jesus makes it pretty plain he thinks it applies to everyone. In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 we see Jesus point out to a fellow Jew that the term 'neighbor' applied to the Samaritan man in the parable (this is right after the whole love your neighbor as yourself thing). We forget that to the Jews of the first century, the Samaritans were held in about as low regard as you could get. Tell yourself this story, but substitute a Christian for the Priest, a Jew for the Levite, and an Islamic Fundamentalist Mujahadin in Afghanistan for the Samaritan and you'll get the idea what Jesus was talking about. Now, it would seem Jesus himself didn't have this lesson at first- when in Matthew 15 a Canaanite woman asks him for his help in exorcising a demon from her daughter, he initially refuses saying he's only there for the Jews, but she convinces him to do more, and he does. What's the lesson?

The tenants of faith don't just apply to the adherents of that faith. You don't just do unto other Christians as you would have them do unto you, you do unto EVERYONE as you would have them do unto you. I love my neighbor as myself even if he's a lowdown, dirty Samaritan. The Laws of God are good enough to apply to everyone, whether they believe in it or not. Regardless of a person's own belief or origin, Christians must treat everyone as they treat Christians, Jews must treat everyone as they treat Jews, and karma will get you if you are chubby Gautama or skinny Siddhartha (yeah, I know really they are the same guy, but it sounds poetic, doesn't it?). What does this mean to us today?

The philosophical edict of universalizability. Immanuel Kant in the 18th Century said the only way to judge an ethical philosophy was by its application; should it be applied as a natural law? If an ethic is truly right, it has to apply to everyone. So, Kant extends the idea of the “Golden Rule,” the great balance, beyond religion and into philosophy- if a set of ethics or rules are truly good, they must be applied universally, just as karma will catch everyone, not doing bad things is the whole of the law, and even the jerk who lives down the street is the neighbor to whom you should do good things. Kant summarizes the simple fact that our ethics, like our religion, aren't only for those who share our ethics but are for everyone.

Anyone who knows me or has read this blog knows I have a passion for the Constitution of the United States that borders on, and perhaps illegally immigrates into, religious fervor. I have literally sworn a solemn oath to support, defend, and bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution. Establishing a government ruled by the people, ensuring and enumerating rights held by the people, codifying the process for peaceful transfer of leadership as dictated by the people-- these are not just words to me. To establish Justice and ensure domestic tranquility, ensure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity is a mantra of faith to me. To whom do we do this?

If I truly believe in the greatness of our codified law, in the power of our democratic republic, I have a moral and ethical obligation to apply to protections of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights to everyone, regardless of their citizenship. If I truly believe the ideas of presumed innocence and right to a speedy and fair trial are morally right, I must insist on their application to everyone, regardless of their origin. Universalizability, the Golden Rule, makes it a moral imperative to grant equal protection under the law to everyone, despite their adherence to the law.

That's why we have to afford the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Holding Facility a trial by jury. See, I have faith in our system. I think our system is good enough to apply to terrorists as well as criminals. I think its good enough to apply to citizens and foreigners alike. I believe in America. I believe in the inherent rights of Habeas Corpus, and I argue here that those rights must be applied universally if we are truly to claim our system as morally just.

Should we proceed with these trials, is it possible some legitimately bad people will be acquitted? Of course, it happens in our criminal justice system every day. As Americans we accept the fact protection of individual rights is more important than locking someone up. “Blackstone's ratio” is a common edict in our courts; that is the idea that it is better for ten guilty persons to escape than one innocent person to suffer. William Blackstone was an English jurist in the 1700s, and author of Commentaries on the Laws of England, which heavily influenced our Constitutional framers and has been cited as recently as Clarence Thomas in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite the possibility some “terrorists” would go free, the majority will find justice in a trial by jury. Additionally, we would again show ourselves to be an example to the world as a nation and people who practice Democracy not as a convenience but as an obligation. We would demonstrate again the moral certitude and convictions inherent in a fair system which guarantees equal protection under the law. There is no better method of spreading democracy than practicing it.

That's really the key isn't it? The acts of these extremists are by design intended to change how we think. The definition of terrorism is the “use of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.” The political aim here was to hurt the way we conduct our nation. The unfortunate truth is, it succeeded. In response to their attacks, we adopted their methods rather than employ our own. We suspended our ideals of trial by jury, and legal representation, and presumption of innocence under the rationale of “they would do the same or worse to us.”

Of course they would. They're terrorists.

The Golden Rule doesn't say do unto others as they did it unto you, it says as you would have them do unto you. The fourteenth amendment while defining citizenship also states you can't deny equal protection to any person within the state's jurisdiction. Do we as a people really feel it's OK to circumvent these ideals by simply not bringing them within the borders of the United States? Why have we sought ways to avoid granting the guarantees of the system we seek to protect? The ethic of reciprocity dictates we must apply our laws to everyone, or else they are nothing more than words on paper, and not ideals of ethics and morality. I can't believe that's true. I didn't take an oath to protect words, I took an oath to protect ideals we as Americans should all share, despite our individual differences. Ideals which can light the world when properly exemplified.

You see, I believe in the Constitution. I have faith in its edicts, it protections and its punishments. I believe it was written for all time, and not just for times of expediency or convenience. I believe it is strong enough to survive any onslaught from a foreign enemy. I believe it is strong enough to withstand any testimony of a foreign fighter. I believe granting trial to the prisoners at Guantanamo will not weaken our Constitution, but rather will bolster it.

I believe, as with any system of faith, there is only one thing which can destroy the Constitution: its own adherents allowing it to pass away. We can do better. We can continue to ensure the blessings of liberty to our posterity. We only have to do what it says unto others, Samaritans and all.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Why I publish my own stuff!

According to this article, the Shazam movie I have been looking forward to for some time is dead in the water. Why? Because Warner Brothers is devoid of artistic recognition.

If you're not familiar with the Shazam property, it's the tale of a young boy named Billy Batson who can transform himself into Captain Marvel with a magic word ("Shazam" of course). Captain Marvel is as powerful (if not more) than Superman, and indeed he outsold Superman for the majority of the forties until National Publications (DC Comics) sued Fawcett comics for copyright infringement and ended up shelving the character for years. The comic itself though was always very tongue-in-cheek and played best when the authors understood such. Currently, one of DC's best titles is Mike Kunkel's “Billy Batson and the Power Of Shazam” which is published under the Johnny DC kids' line of comics. Please refer to me dropping Detective and Action below, but BBATPOS comes home with me every month. I LOVE the book.

So, getting back to my big gripe, it seems there was a script and early production on a movie version. Even Dwayne Johnson, the Rock, was attached in the single most obvious bit of casting since Downey Jr. played Tony Stark- Johnson was to play Black Adam, Captain Marvel's arch nemesis.

Perfect casting, absolutely perfect. The whole project however is dead because it was light hearted, and in the wake of The Dark Knight, WB believes all Superhero movies have to be dark and bleak to be successful.

I loved Dark Knight. However, I was afraid of this. Hollywood has this horrible tendency to want to clone things. It doesn't seem to occur to them TDK wasn't successful because it was dark, but because it was an appropriate setting for that character. The moody Superman Returns failed because it wasn't appropriate for the character. A dark Shazam will fail as well. Captain Marvel needs a little bald evil scientist with glasses jumping up and down calling him “the Big Red Cheese.” That's who the character is.

I assume now the next Superman movie will be dark, as will a Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, Flash, or hell, even Booster Gold/Blue Beetle movie (that sentence gives me an excuse to add Blue Beetle as a tag. I want him uncanceled).

So now, as much as I was trying to avoid complaining about entertainment and just letting myself be entertained, I now have to do a blog entry complaining about WB. Thanks guys, you're not only going to ruin Shazam, you're ruining my New Year's Resolution. Jerks.

PS- Can I get Patrick Warburton as Captain Marvel please? Please?

(My thanks to the skilled individuals who did these manips I stole from Google.)