24 July 2014

On the new Thor

Continuing my series of thinking about trivial matters so as not to go mad.

I heard the other day that Marvel is doing a revamp of Thor.  Thor will now be a female who holds the mighty Mjolnir.  I saw a post over at John C Wright's, who, being a science fiction author and someone who, inter alia, covers news about the realms of the fantastic.  It did not surprise me to see it there.  Indeed, I would have been surprised if he had not posted on it.  He was against the change, which he views as more PC interventions onto all that is good.  It wasn't a surprise, and I tended to agree with him.  So, at first, I did not think much of it.

Then I saw a post over at Fr Z.'s, of all places, wherein he viewed this as an attempting at queering a character, and therefore another sign of further PC interventions into all that is good.  I was surprised, a little, that he would discuss it, but then I remember that he had reviewed- even positively- a few superhero movies on his blog, so perhaps father has an affection for the lowly comic book. 

Then I saw a picture on Frank Cho's site, an artist who draws for marvel at times, wherein he spoofed the idea, and then, this morning, The Toronto Star had a teaser on the top of its front page for an article on the matter inside the paper!  Obviously, this was very big news.

Okay, so why now?  Well, among other things, the San Diego Comic Con, the big con, is set to begin.  It is time to get some hype rolling.  A change in gender of a major character- especially with the Avengers and Thor movies- -and announced on The View, no less- is just the ticket.  The comic creators and supporters of this change are touting it as making the comics more diverse and reflective of their audience, just as when Ultimate Spiderman replaced Peter Parker with a hispanic boy, or when Marvel made Nick Fury a black man (and played to perfection by the awesome Samuel L Jackson in the movies, by the way), or Captain America a black man..  Is this true?  Perhaps. Or is Marvel they engaging in social engineering, as some allege?  harder to say, although conservative critics have already weighed in with a resounding yes.

I will make a few points here, but I will begin with saying what the new character is most likely not: she is not a transvestite or transgender Thor.  Long time fans will remember the inscription on the Hammer:  He who holds this hammer, if they be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.  Years ago, when Walt Simonson took over the helm of Thor- and created my favourite series for the character, he began by exploring that idea.  That anyone who was worthy of the hammer would have the power had always been part of Thor's code, but no one had ever done so up until that point.  Simonson thought of how a character could be worthy of that terrible power.  Superman (who was from DC, not Marvel) would never be able to pick it up because the hammer is a killing weapon, and Superman does not kill (at least until last year's disappointing movie).  Hulk is incredibly strong, but he is a rage monster, so he would not be worthy.  Captain America is an American patriot, and his patriotism would interfere with or control his use of the weapon, so he couldn't hold it either.  So Simonson created an alien and gave him a noble backstory of terror and stoic heroism, and made him worthy of the hammer and its power.

What has happened now is that the original Thor has somehow become unworthy, and someone new- a woman- has become worthy.  This isn't Thor getting a sex change, per se.  I actually find this idea intersting.  What could Thor do to demean himself and lose the power of Thunder?  And how would the worthiness manifest itself in a woman?  This is an idea that could have potential, if only for a little while.  (These are comics.  Sooner or later, everyone comes back) When it comes to writing, any idea, in the right hands, is a good idea.  Similarly, any idea, in the wrong hands, can also be a terrible idea.

So, what about these hands?  What do they have to say for themselves?

This October, Marvel Comics evolves once again in one of the most shocking and exciting changes ever to shake one of Marvel’s “big three” – Captain America, Iron Man and Thor – Marvel Comics will be introducing an all-new THOR, GOD OF THUNDER.

No longer is the classic male hero able to hold the mighty hammer, Mjölnir, a brand new female hero will emerge who will be worthy of the name THOR. Who is she? Where did she come from and what is her connection to Asgard and the Marvel Universe?

“The inscription on Thor’s hammer reads ‘Whosoever holds this hammer, if HE be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.’ Well it’s time to update that inscription,” says Marvel editor Wil Moss.

“The new Thor continues Marvel’s proud tradition of strong female characters like Captain Marvel, Storm, Black Widow and more. And this new Thor isn’t a temporary female substitute – she’s now the one and only Thor, and she is worthy!”

Series writer Jason Aaron emphasizes, “This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR. This is the THOR of the Marvel Universe. But it’s unlike any Thor we’ve ever seen before.”

THOR is the latest in the ever-growing and long list of female-centric titles that continues to invite new readers into the Marvel Universe. This female THOR is the 8th title to feature a lead female protagonist and aims to speak directly to an audience that long was not the target for Super Hero comic books in America: women and girls.
From where I stand, without going into a detailed fisk,this announcement can be read as new story idea, cheap hype, or new attempt to send a message.  Or it could be what they say it is: an attempt to draw in new and varied readers.

I am curious at this point as to how big a percentage of the readership of the comic books are young women?  The books girls and young women tend to read are romances- Twilight, or Shades of Grey- whereas it is the boys who tend to read about people in spandex smashing things with their way-cool powers.  Will the girls come to this new Thor? Maybe.  Will the boys leave?  Maybe.  Probably, but they may stay if the new Thor's boobs are prominent enough.  So marvel is taking a big risk here:  They may be alienating a large part of their readership with no guarantee they are attracting a new one.  And, from what I have read elsewhere, Marvel, despite its success at the movies, is losing readers of its comic books.

I see this radical shift as an attempt to stir up some hype and temporarily gain a few new readers, but other see more sinister (as in Left) (that's what sinister means-left) motives.  John C Wright quotes Sarah Hoyt on this point:

I have, some years ago, identified the process by which left-leaning institutions die. Someone had asked me why an sf editor I will not name, having killed three magazines, got given yet another to kill, and why each magazine was successively more leftist. This was compared to the process by which news magazines and media when in trouble because too leftist for the general public, go hard left just before they die. (Also known as the left-leaning-death-roll.)

Because I was in a field where this (then)worked, I had to explain to the people I was talking to that this happens because in fields that are 90% or more left, this works. See, if your magazine/newspaper/tv station goes under because you’re incompetent, no one is going to give you another job.

But if your magazine/newspaper/tv station goes under because you’re “too far left” then the left – aka the rest of your field. Aka those who give awards and jobs – perceive you as a hero, suffering for your convictions, and promptly give you another job.

So, if you’re an incompetent idiot, and your business is failing, your best way to cover it up and assure your survival in the field, is to run as far left as fast as you can. This has been trained in at the back of the brain of most people in the media and entertainment by DECADES of this strategy working just fine.
What did you expect of Marxists? Contact with reality? If they had that, they wouldn’t be Marxists, a theory that requires you to be a blind fool who believes in wishcasting.
There are many who wonder why Marvel doesn't create a new character if they want more strong female characters,  or hispanic or black characters, or doesn't play up another strong female character from the Thor stories, like Brunnhilde, or Sif if they want more varied heroes for their more varied audience..  The answer is that they are secondary characters, and this is Thor.  It's  sort of the reason why authors write about whether or not Shakespeare wrote his own plays, rather than arguing whether it was Tourneur or Middleton (two of his contemporaries) who wrote the Revenger's Tragedy.  They're not big enough for anyone other than a few scholars to care.  But any news on Shakespeare is Big News Indeed.  And so it is here.  Thor continues being a blonde guy with a hammer? no hype.  He's a woman.  Now that's news.  And, what the heck, if the idea tanks, someone else will give you a job, because ti was no fault of yours and wasn't because your story sucked that you failed, it was the neoposteurocarnivorophallologocentirc hegemony that stopped you, and it must continue to be fought at all costs, even if every title in the Marvel canon must go belly up for the cause.

Are they trying to do social engineering?   It's possible. I find it hard to say without an actual couple of books in front of me. They aren't inclined to leave well enough alone and have decided to change Thor's code in the language on the hammer.  I am not a mind reader who can say why they undertook this risk.  Whether it is because they thought it would be a cool story vehicle, or cheap hype, or  to send out a message, only time will tell.  If they put story first, they may be successful.  If they put message first, they will almost certainly fail.  No one, neither male nor female, likes to be preached at, even if that is what passes for much fiction these days. And, as I said, this is comics.  If the idea flops (which I suspect it will, but I have been wrong before) a resurrection of the old Thor is but a pen stroke away.

23 July 2014

I always knew there was a reason I liked this guy

In dark times, it is sometimes pleasant to think of lighter things.  Here's Weird Al explaining grammar to the people who use Twitter, pinterest, etc.

15 July 2014

A question about the Knights of Columbus

I am considering joining the Knights. I meet their requirements. viz., I am male, over 18, with a pulse. I would like to hear from anyone out there who may read this and have some knowledge o experience with the Knights what their thoughts are on the organization. Did you find the experience worthwhile? Did it help you with your faith and your life? Were there unexpected benefits or drawbacks?

I am debating this decision. I don't know if the Knights would be good for me, or if I would be good for the Knights. I am not a team player, nor much of a follower, nor much of a leader.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

14 July 2014

Anyone else find their job search site to be garbage?

So I'm trying to find work for when this place finally goes belly up. Several friends recommended I join a certain well known website that will aid me in my hunt for new work. I put in my education and work experience, with a few other things, and it finds me matches.

Except it doesn't.

For the purposes of background, education and job experience goes like this: Graduated High school. BA major in English and minor in history (although I could probably upgrade it today to a double major without taking any new courses). Masters in English, ABD on my PhD. I have been quality control lab technician, a teaching assistant at a university. I've built fences and decks and spent a time as a freelance cabinet maker. I even occasionally got hired by a friend who ran a painting company, so I suppose I have been a painter, although you would be foolish to call on me to do your house. And I have worked in this store (for far too long, really) wherein I have worked the information desk, cash, shipping and receiving, and, for a year or two, accounting.

So, what kind of positions do they send me, telling me that I would be just a spiffy fit? From today: Art teacher at a Montessori School.(no idea how they got that) Manager at college pro paint, (That's my university experience plus being a painter); Early Childhood Educator (???);Executive Director, Canadian Association of Research Libraries (no idea how that came up. For some of the other positions I sort of resemble their candidate in the way that a fun house mirror resembles a person- but this one is ocmpletely out to lunch.);Senior Bioinformatics Research Programmer (that makes the previous one look like a spot on match. What is a Bioinforwhatever the heck that is? And nowhere in my CV do I mention "computers" or "programming") Another time I was told I would be great to head up the Sociology department of a nearby university, and at another time, the chemistry department. Seriously.

I would shut down my account, except I find these colossal mismatches to be amusing. I have no idea what algorithm they are using to find these matches, but I think it is probably the wrong one. I would have more luck with a coin toss or a spinning wheel. The weathermen are more accurate in their forecasts than this state of the art program. Anyone out there have similar experiences with their job search engines? Anyone have a good one?

8 July 2014

It's tme for a book review...

...if you can call it a review when I only read about half of the first book of a long series.  Yes, I'm talking about Game of Thrones.

It is very rare for me to put a book down when I am half way through.  Either I stop reading within the first few pages, or I carry through to the bitter, bloody end.  The number of books I have stopped reading midway through are few and far between, and Game of Thrones (first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series) was one of them.  So: Why?

The answer is a little complicated.  I found much to praise about that book.  The writing was very good, the world building was excellent to the point that I can honestly say the only better world building was that of Tolkien himself, and that is very high praise indeed.  The plot was sufficiently complicated without being overly convoluted.  As a work of imagination, this is stunning.

It is a little harder for me to pin down what was off putting.  I suppose the sex had a hand, although not too much.  I am fairly inured to representations of sex, even strange sex, in literature.  (Getting stuck in courses with Sade on the reading list will do that to you.)  (Heck, Shakespeare is full of sex, too)I don't seek out books for the sex portrayed within, but I also don't automatically toss a book aside when it appears either.  In this book there was a lot of sex, much of what used to be referred to as deviant. .  It was incestuous, or paedophiliac, or prostitution.  (Again, two out of those three are also in Shakespeare) In the half of the book that I read, much of it seemed to serve little purpose in terms of plot or story.  It was just there because... There is, for example, a fairly innocuous scene where Catelyn leaps from her bed naked in front of her husband and the Maester.  A few lines of dialogue follow to drive home the point that she is indeed naked.  Her lack of clothing does nothing in terms of adding to the story or the plot or the character.  It's just there.  Does it make the story more real to the reader?  Maybe.  For me, it stuck out for its sheer pointlessness.

But it wasn't just the sex that I found pointless.  It began to dawn upon me that the story as a whole was pointless. Brilliantly written, but still pointless.  Almost all the characters in the book are not good people. There is no hero in this book, someone for whom I am cheering to take over the throne.  And yes, I am aware that most people like Tyrion.  He is a good character, but he does not have a good character, if you understand.  It is just a bunch of not too admirable people involved in a long power grab and struggle to survive.

So there are few good characters, or at least, no one who is particularly good.  But the same is true in the opposite direction.  Even the bad characters aren't particularly bad.  There is no Sauron, no Smaug, no Dark Lord hovering over the horizon.  There is no one who will plunge the world into a new darkness should he win.  In the first book, the worst character was Viscerys, who, along with his sister Daenerys, is the last of the old dynasty to occupy the Iron Throne, the dynasty that was all but destroyed just before the beginning of the book.  Viscerys is evil, but not Hugely, Massively, Awesomely Evil.  He is a small evil.  He does not bring destruction, merely irritation.  His death is less a cleansing than it is a relief: at least we won't have to hear from this clown any more.

 It is obvious that the Iron Throne is to be fought over and eventually claimed by one character or another, but there isn't much difference between the characters.  In fact there was a scene with Daenerys and her guard, whose name I can't remember, where they discuss this very point.  Viscerys has been spinning a constant fantasy about how the people, especially the commoners, await their return to the throne.  How people have hidden banners and symbols of the old regime in anticipation for their glorious return.  Daenerys asks her guard when Viscerys is out of earshot if this was true,.  The guard sighs and tells her no, it is not.  It really makes no difference to the commoners who sits on the throne, he says.

I saw then that the guard was right.  It really makes no difference who sits on the throne.  It was not long after that point that I stopped caring.  There is nothing at stake in this book.  No world's fate hangs in the balance.  There is no lie to be overthrown because there is no truth to be found here.   In Lord of the Rings, to which I often hear this book compared, it makes a difference if Frodo succeeds or not.  It make s a difference if Aragorn takes his throne or not.  Here, one or another, it makes no difference.  It is a dreary world filled with dreary people.  Tolkien once said that he views history as nothing but a long defeat, although there may be occasional glimpses of the final victory.  The events of The Lord of the Rings was one such glimpse in his world.  Game of Thrones offers no glimpse of victory: from what I could see, it was merely the long defeat. At most it offers some little relief in humour of the kind found in taverns and brothels.  But it offers no light in the darkness.  Winter is coming.  There is no promise, or even hint, that Spring is coming in its turn.

As I said, there is much to praise in this book.  It is very intelligent, even brilliant at times.   And yet, in the end, or rather, the middle, I just didn't care enough to turn the page.  Instead, I laid it down and never picked it up again.

7 July 2014

I praise you, Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth,

...because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.

At work today, one of my coworkers (Pothead) has been in a foul mood and is complaining about the crummy work he is stuck doing, yelling at deliverymen and just being an ogre in general.  From his perspective, being asked to do something he'd rather not do for money to support his pot habit is an odious burden.

I say: from his perspective, but it is clear he lacks perspective.

For a better perspective, there is this story about a pair of best friends, all of seven years old each, tackling life's problems head on

Quinn and Braydon have been best friends since Kindergarten a couple of years back- forever, for kids at that age.  Braydon has cerebral palsy.  Whenever he grows, his muscles don't keep up thus making it harder and harder for him to walk and do basic simple things.  There is an operation not currently available in Canada, so they would have to travel to New Jersey and pay $15,000 for the operation, plus travel, plus rehabilitation and therapy, plus plus plus.  Braydon's parents were ready to take a loan for their son when Quinn stepped in- or rather, stepped up- and asked if he could help.  He got his parent's permission to start a lemonade stand with his friend to raise money for the operation. The two of them attracted a lot of attention with their matching blue shirts and the slogan "When Life hands you lemons, make Lemonade."  Generous patrons stopped by for a glass of the stuff, and frequently paid with a twenty and the words "keep the change."

 Quinn's mother started an online donation campaign which has surpassed its $20,000 goal.   Braydon will get his treatment and it will help him walk better.

I know a lot of people- myself being at the top of the list- who have a lot to learn from these two kids and their parents.

4 July 2014

Seventy Five Years Ago Today..

...Lou Gehrig said his farewell to bsaeball.

Knowing he was dying of a rare disease, he chose not to complain or indulge in self pity. Instead he spoke in simple, unadorned words of how blessed he was.

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.

I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn’t consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?

Sure I’m lucky.

Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball’s greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?

Sure I’m lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that’s something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies -- that’s something.

When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter -- that’s something.

When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body -- it’s a blessing.

When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed -- that’s the finest I know.

So, I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for.

Today, this speech is considered a masterpiece of oratory. In honour of the day, 30 of Major League Baseball's first basemen have recited his address. You can watch the video, and clips of the original, here.