Friday, July 31, 2009

Corporations: Like an Angry Dog, Useful But Best Watched

Reader "Geoff" writes an excellent question that more or less stumps the "expert" today.

Been reading through your blog, must say I'm a fan! Here's my questions:

Especially during the recession, we keep hearing how awful large corporations are, and how their recklessness and greed has brought unspeakable harm to taxpayers. From finance to the auto industry, even the food industry, everyone seems to be in it for a buck at the expense ... Read Moreof everyone else. Are there any rays of corporate hope out there? Any large, for profit companies who have maintained business ethics, remained transparent when dealing with consumers and have generally not been evil? Or is capitalism really this bad...

Well, ok. It is the way of James Call: Expert to smarmily summarize the answers to questions about which a lot can be written. So I'm going to do just that.

In terms of our current crisis, which is a big one, the truth is that most corporations are actually just fine. Or rather, no worse than usual. Corporations, after all, allow economies of scale that tend to raise our standard of living and employ buttloads of people.

I would argue, and many Keynesians and socialists would as well, that our severely crippled Labor situation in this country is the big problem, NOT the size and scope of corporations per se.

One needs to distinguish between Finance and Industry. Finance has been out of control, and is the "villain" of our current times. People tend to get up in arms and conflate auto manufacturers, for example, with big finance. The two are extremely different. Big Auto actually manufactures a product that is sold on the market. Maybe it doesn't do so very well, and maybe we should be relying on mass transit instead of the automobile now that it's the 21st century for fuck's sake, but still, until the government steps up and invests seriously in mass transit on a national scale, which it seems to lack the will to do, we're still going to need cars. Therefore, the auto manufacturers are making something we need. And employing people at pretty decent wages to do so. I'd consider the Big 3 auto manufacturers, as flawed as they are, "useful" and even "not evil".

Not so much Finance. Of course, without loans from banks business couldn't run. But Finance has been involved in a series of escalating shell games for decades now, essentially one financial institution at a time combining assorted loans and selling them to OTHER financial institutions, and claiming a profit. They aren't actually -producing- anything, they're just shuffling loans around.

And they're also -mixing loans up-, so that the good cannot be distinguished from the bad. So now ALL the major financial institutions essentially have money in every aspect of the economy, rather than having more limited portfolios. This is why institutions become "too big to fail".

So the challenge of our times to is to make financial institutions, moreso than other corporate entities, specifically: 1.) More transparent, and 2.) Smaller, so that when they fail, they don't pull down the whole fucking economy with them.

I could go on, but honestly, there's a much better source for easy-to-understand financial and economic analysis on the internet, and it's The Baseline Scenario, which I read daily, and has great introductory articles on how modern finance, and our economy as a whole, works. Still, in a nutshell: regardless of the very-difficult-to-follow complexities of finance, it all kind of boils down to a shell game and a ponzi scheme played with the entire economy as the stakes.

Finance used to be fine when it was regulated, and the government explicitly forbid severe gambling with the lifeblood of the economy. I can get into this further, later, if you'd like... I'm trying to keep this short and simple.

One last point on finance: It used to be a much smaller portion of our overall economy. Financial earnings in 2007 constituted 40% of GDP, I believe, but don't quote me on that. Used to be in the ballpark of 10-15% back in the 50s-70s.

As for whether corporations are evil, in general? I'd have to say that the corporation is geared towards maximizing profits for the shareholders, and that social concerns, externalities, etc., simply don't matter to the corporation, and that is why the government must IMPOSE such considerations on large corporations. This seems to be true across the board. I'm flummoxed to think of an example where this is not the case.

That's not to say that Google, General Motors, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, etc., can't be useful. It is to say, however, that whether or not they're Good for Society is of no concern to the shareholders, and that's why they have to be closely watched, and swatted down upon occasion.

Even a worker-owned company like Saturn (which I wish I knew more about, honestly) still produces cars, which may not be in the best long-term interests of society, right?

I'm rambling at this point. It's an excellent question and I wish I had a more concrete answer. If you take away anything from this blog post, make it this: at this point in time, the corporations that make your cars and computers, despite the sheer amount of oil they consume, or the companies that manufacture your tennis shoes, despite the child labor they may be employing, are less destructive to the world than Finance, which has us all by the nuts and really seems to care not one jot.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

My Top 5 Congresspeople, and Luthor vs. Cheney vs. Corleone

Welcome back to James Call: Expert, where today we have some questions! Again from reader "Damian". Who is this mysterious seeker of knowledge???

Who are your top 5 congresspeople?

What a good question! It's pretty easy to answer this one right off the top of my head.

1. Representative Barney Frank

Barney Frank is just fucking AWESOME. He is, without question, one of the funniest dudes in the legislature, period. He has made numerous guest appearances on Fox News, where he gives those fuckers better than he gets. He is loud, brash, consistently funny, and openly gay, with a "Yeah I'm fucking gay, deal with it assholes!!!" attitude, which is, to my heterosexual ears, the best way to go about it. Not only that, he's very progressive from your average American standpoint on fiscal regulation. He gives a bit politically, but he seems to know who the bad guys are and how to corral them up. Along with Sen. Chris Dodd (not one of my faves, but still, not bad), he has produced fairly progressive, strong, proposals for regulation of the financial sector, which have, of course, been watered down by the Obama administration. :(

Conclusion: Barney Frank is like the gay Guy Gardner of Congress. He's funnier than a good number of stand-up comics, and in fact, if he had a stand-up routine, I think I would pay up to $50 to see that shit.

2. Representative Dennis Kucinich

Dennis Kucinich is Our Hero, the only Real progressive in a sea of phonies. Bill Clinton declared the party of FDR dead a long time ago, but Kucinich didn't seem to get the memo. It's easy to figure out what's wrong in American politics, but rarely do we hear articulated what is right. The media decided early on that Kucinich was not a viable Presidential candidate, but go back and watch the primary debates from the past 2 elections and ask yourself which candidate you'd vote for, which one is saying the right thing. Obama may be the official Hope candidate, but Kucinich really is the candidate of someone who wants this country to be the Best it can be, to stand up for liberty and justice for all. To stand up for the working man. Sounds corny, but it's true. It's too bad he's written off without a hearing.

OH, plus, his wife is steaming hot, and like 6 foot something. Whereas Dennis is this real small eccentric. Gives us single idealist males hope for the future.

Conclusion: Kucinich represents the best strand of American political thought, and so therefore, naturally, nobody listens to him.

3. Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Nancy Pelosi is not without the taint of corruption, just like all powerful politicians are. However, she's on our side, and she DOESN'T PUT UP WITH SHIT. While Harry Reid putters around in the Senate, Nancy gets her way every damn time. She is also happy to play the bad guy, which is refreshing, since President Obama (understandably, perhaps) isn't. We'll see how health care reform, cap and trade, and all the other major issues shake down, but if it wasn't for Pelosi, a strong progressive option might not even be on the table.

Recently, Cindy Sheehan, who was an awesome demonstrator and hero of sorts during the Bush years, ran against Pelosi out in California. Look, it's understandable from a purist liberal viewpoint why one would object to Majordomo Pelosi and go with Sheehan, or someone more "clean". But come on, she's a fucking warhammer, and she's on our side on the major issues. I'd never vote for Sheehan over Pelosi, much like I'd never launch a Senatorial campaign against this guy...

4. Senator Chuck Fucking Schumer

Schumer unseated D'Amato, who was a fairly notorious and powerful Republican pig, out here in New York about a decade ago, and he's kicked ass ever since, the Machiavellian way. Naturally he's largely in the pocket of the hedge funds, which is, of course, very depressing. But he has positioned himself, as LBJ did, as the only man who can tell powerful interests how it's going to be, because after all, he is their defender. He represents Wall St. in the Senate, but he's also consistently for notably stronger regulation of finance, to a pretty surprising extent given his financial backing. And when he talks, finance has to listen. He's a strongman and he's got that evil look on his face that makes you think ice runs through his veins and that he wrestles snakes for fun. My kinda guy.

Conclusion: Pelosi and Schumer aren't saints, far from it. But they're badasses who don't put up with any bullshit, typically very canny legislators, and they're on our side. I'd hate to run into either of 'em in an alley.

Senator Bernie Sanders

Finally, I have to go with Bernie Sanders, who is a fucking SOCIALIST. And OUT socialist. Forget being gay, that's like calling yourself a communist!!! He is an independent from Vermont who caucases with the Dems, but in the end analysis, he's a socialist. That's even better than Kucinich! His AFL-CIO rating is 100%, which is a very good thing.

Conclusion: Vermont is the best state in the union.

Who would win in a fight: Lex Luthor, Dick Cheney, or Michael Corleone?

WOW! What a battle. This is a real tough one, so let's assess each of the participants.

Lex Luthor

Luthor is a genius inventor and a very wily schemer. He has no problem acquiring a bunch of kryponite or even inventing a kryptonite variant of his own, fusing it into some insane battle armor, and going toe-to-toe with Superman or Darkseid or any other insanely powerful beings, yet at the same time, he prefers to destroy his foes through intrigue and wiles.

Still, his ego is his downfall. Luthor, like Doctor Doom and plenty of other villains we can name, wants to concieve THE most treacherous plot imaginable. He wouldn't just walk into a room and shoot Superman dead. No, he'd have to dangle his superiority in front of his victim and gloat for a bit first, leading his plots to become unnecessarily weighed down by convolutions, and thus, vulnerable to exingencies. This is why he's bested time and time again, despite often having basically insurmountable advantages.

Dick Cheney

Dick Cheney, moreso than Luthor and just as much as Corleone, is willing to bide his time for DECADES to attain his goals. He simply never goes away and never loses sight of his ultimate objectives. And he has a big leg up over any opponents by allying himself with the most powerful facet of modern society - the military/industrial complex. By being on this side of history, he guarantees himself rock-solid support and far more resources than his opponents. Further, he is a saavy wielder of these resources. And his moral clarity and total lack of insight allow him to sleep at night while preparing torture plans during office hours.

Still, Cheney has one critical, Machiavellian weakness: he does not make himself beloved by the public. It must be said he is a plain-dealing villain. The public perception of heroism, which Luthor often has, is a huge boost to the schemer, who is able to operate in the night so much more effectively than someone who actively inspires distrust, as Cheney does, and who seems to actually revel in it. Because of his outwardly evil persona, there will ALWAYS be someone watching Dick Cheney, which limits his operations considerably.

Michael Corleone

Finally, we come to Michael Corleone, a man who took up the mantle of his father and brought himself, without tears, to a position totally unlike himself, never once looking back. Willing to kill his own brother in cold blood. A man to whom no-one can ever truly be close. Willing to expand his business and his empire using conventions that the old guard would consider shameful, off-limits. And yet, not a man who makes a scene. Corleone tends to pick battles he knows he will win, and he doesn't yap off about it or need public victories to satiate his ego. He walks softly and carries a big stick.

He also eliminates his enemies all at once, not piecemeal.

And that is why MICHAEL CORLEONE is the winner of this epic battle. Because the schemes of Luthor are too convoluted, and the schemes of Cheney are not well-hidden. But Corleone's hand cannot be seen in his actions, and his has no ego to satiate; his ego was killed with his soul years ago, when he adopted his father's role (much to his father's dismay, sadly, which is why the Godfather is such a great flick).

Still: what a fucking battle!!!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where's Ya Plan At?!? and Sally Floyd

Welcome back to James Call: Expert!

Today in Health Care Reform

Well, since Baucus still hasn't moved his plan out of the Finance Committee, even though everyone knows what's in it, more or less, Pelosi and Hoyer in the House have decided that -they- can't move -their- bill, and might not do so before the August recess.

That's going to mean the Dems will have no plan to hype during the August recess, whereas the GOP will be able to spend extra time railing against "socialism," and folks, they're ahead in the polls...

More predictably great writing by Nate Silver on the subject today, definitely a "Must Skim" even if you don't want to read the whole thing, and I also strongly encourage you check out David Leonhart's article in the NY Times on why we have to tax health benefits is also revealing, although I don't see why we don't just -mandate- a fee-for-results rather than fee-for-service system (which is what we have now, wherein doctors prescribe expensive and often pointless treatments in order to rake in the scrilla, as opposed to earning money for actually fixing people's health).

Reading about health care reform everyday makes me nauseous.

Today In Housing Figures

Apparently the decline in housing costs is ending. Could be illusory, though. This is probably good for the economy, although the housing bubble was a big part of what got us in this mess in the first place, so...

Today in Comic Books

Reader "Damian" asks "Hey what the hell ever happened to Sally Floyd?"

Sally Floyd was this alcoholic chick reporter who had had a miscarriage who debuted in this "Decimation" mini-series, in which she interviews mutants who have lost their superpowers as a result of "M-Day" (wherein mutants lost their superpowers. You can google it. It was big shit.).

She was a fairly relatable protagonist at the time, but unfortunately her next appearance was in the severe hit or severe miss "Civil War: Front Line," in which Sally accosts Captain America, who was leading the resistance against a Patriot Act-like "Superhero Registration Act," for being out of touch with America by not having a myspace, and not supporting Bushism, essentially.

Paul Jenkins, who scripted this scene, got a lot of flack for Sally's extremely vacuous argument, although honestly, I found her vacuuity alarmingly similar to much of what I hear from my fellow Americans, and therefore, not unrealistic. Still, it did make the character look (cue Larry David voice) pretty, pretty, pretty stupid.

Next, Sally popped up as a reporter at the Front Line newspaper, which veteran Daily Bugle ex-reporter Ben Urich (the feller who figured out that Daredevil was Matt Murdoch, back in the day) founded in opposition to Dexter Bennett's The DB! (which took over from J. Jonah Jameson's Daily Bugle). Or maybe he founded it in response to some anti-Spider Man editorial of JJJ's... I can't remember, and it really doesn't matter. The point is, Front Line is the Marvel equivalent of the Village Voice, I guess, with The DB! being more like the NY Post.

And that's what Sally Floyd is up to. I can't remember if she's working on anything specifically herself these days, and really, who cares?

Sally Floyd is still, as far as I know, hungover.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More Shitty Health Care News and the Metal Men

Welcome back to James Call: Expert. For the record, I'm not really an expert in anything, just a cranky guy with the NY Times and a blog. Rock on!

Today In Health Care Reform

SUMMARY: The Baucus health care bill sucks and is a political loser.

Well, looks like Max Baucus moved the Senate bill out of the Finance Committee, so we know what it will look like.

It should cost less than $1 trillion, but it includes no public plan and no mandate for employers to purchase health insurance for their employees. It DOES, however, provide an individual mandate, so that you, the consumer, have to buy health insurance. And some, but not all, employers are required to offer subsidies to you to help you buy your health insurance: but only up to 300% of the poverty level, or $32,490.

In other words, if you're earning more than $32,490 a year, you won't get a dime to buy health insurance, oh, and by the way, there's no public plan, meaning no cheap alternative to the private plans floating around. So if you're like most people, earning around $50k a year, you now -have- to buy health insurance, but it's not going to be any cheaper than it is today.

Oh and hey, by the way, with the employer mandate not present but subsidies now offered, a lot of employers are going to drop their traditional insurance plans.

This bill sucks donkey dick, and is estimated to cover only 16 million uninsured.

Now throw the public option and employer mandate back in, and the total cost of the bill comes to about $1.024 trillion. However, it now covers 37 million uninsured. But of course, you're now over the mystical 1 trillion USD price point.

Funny how these "bipartisan" assholes didn't worry about the 1.3 trillion USD pricetag for the Bush tax cuts, which generated a miniscule amount of economic activity (about 30 cents to the dollar).

Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer aren't getting the House plan out there this week. But when they do (next week?) they better damn well have a public plan and an employer mandate in there.

Dems are placing a losing bet on bipartisanship, given that the result of bipartisanship is something like the Baucus bill. Good ol' Nate Silver puts it pretty damn well:

** Just to underscore this point: when it scored a similar bill, the CBO estimated that 15 million people would lose their employer-provided coverage. Most of these people are likely to be lower-to-middle income persons with somewhat tenuous employment situations, a group that tends classically to be swing voters.

Now, how are those 15 million people going to feel about health care reform when they find out that:

a) Although the bill was supposed to guarantee access to health insurance, they've in fact lost theirs;
b) They're required to buy an expensive, private plan on their own, or to pay a fine;
c) They're probably not getting any government assistance;
d) They certainly don't have any Medicare-like alternative to fall back upon;
e) All of this cost the country about $1 trillion dollars.

You think those 15 million people are going to vote for the Democrats again, like, ever?

Today In the Taliban Kicking Our Ass

Here's why the Taliban is kicking our ass. From the NY Times front page. Emphasis mine.

"About four dozen landlords [from the Swat valley in Pakistan, scene of recent heavy fighting] were singled out over the past two years by [Taliban] militants in a strategy intended to foment a class struggle. In some areas, the Taliban rewarded the landless peasants with profits of the crops of the landlords. Some resentful peasants even signed up as the Taliban's shock troops."

Don't fight a land war AND a class war in Asia, folks.

Today in My Foot

There's something wrong with my foot. I think I may need a new pair of business shoes. It's all sore on one side. I sort of think I should soak my feet in warm water at night, except my mom used to do that and I think that would be kind of weird. I also had blisters up the wazoo this weekend, but then, I did a lot of walking.

Today in Last Night's Dreams

More violent nightmares, this time involving a snake that I had to capture. One of my ex-girlfriends was there. Other details hazy.

Today In Comic Books

To get the taste of Zero Hour out of my mouth, I went back and read some of the "Showcase Presents: The Metal Men" book which I still haven't finished, but which totally rocks.

Marvel and DC have published a lot of these "Essential" and "Showcase" volumes, affordable black and white reprints of comics from the Silver Age (the late 50s through the 60s) with more than 20 comics in one volume for less than $20. This is a great deal for completists and nerds.

It has to be said, the Marvel Essentials hold up a lot better over time. Some are completely pointless - don't waste your money on Essential Ms. Marvel; Ms. Marvel has always been boring and pointless - but many of them are actually borderline-essential for the comic book reader. Kirby's Fantastic Four, Ditko's Spider Man and Dr. Strange, and Claremont's X-Men spring to mind. Lots of other good ones, too.

DC's Showcase editions are far more ridiculous. Try reading the Showcase Superman, Green Lantern, or Flash. Try it. I dare you. That shit was just completely ridiculous. These characters have all been revamped to be "serious," but while you can take Spider Man vs. Doctor Octopus somewhat seriously, there is no way in hell you can take the Flash vs. Killer Cloud seriously. Or Superman flying around with a lion's head instead of a human head. Try it.

Of course, some of the fun is in the total absurdity of these early Silver Age comics, but I digress.

The Metal Men Showcase edition is a different deal. Metal Men isn't really a superhero comic. It's a sitcom starting a bunch of robots (the Metal Men) with faulty "responsometers" built by the sexist Dr. Will Magnus. They do fight bad guys, but the point of the comic is in the interaction between the characters, especially Platinum, aka Tina, and Dr. Magnus.

See, Tina has a faulty responsometer and thinks she's a real girl, and Dr. Magnus knows she's "just a crazy robot who thinks she's a woman!" But Tina is always cooking him dinner, and crying, and doing other traditional hypersensitive-woman stuff that just drives Dr. Magnus nuts. And Dr. Magnus (who smokes a pipe, like a Real Man) in turn talks to Tina like men of that era talked to women, i.e., in a meanspirited and demeaning manner. But sometimes he does slip up and call Tina a woman (not a robot) and despite his sexist and anti-robot attitude, he does have a tender spot for her, and always rebuilds her with a "faulty" responsometer whenever she melts down fighting a giant robot or creature made of living chemicals, etc. Needless to say: comedy ensues.

While those two are the star of the show, there's also plenty of yuks from the mercurial (ha ha ha) Mercury, who's convinced he's better than the other Metal Men, and the insecure Tin, who is, in classic corny Hollywood fashion, far braver than he acts.

The linework, by Ross Andru, is great - the Metal Men are very expressive, moreso, I'd say, than characters drawn by Gil Kane or Ditko or Kirby or any of the biggies. And since it's pretty damn hard to take the concept of the Metal Men seriously from the get-go, it's much easier to enjoy the whole shtick, whereas those other old superheroes are supposed to be noble, actual heroes, in some regard.

Definitely worth your $15, but impossible (and unnecessary) to read in one sitting, as there is no over-arching story arc, just a bunch of Tina trying to get Dr. Magnus to take her out on a date, and Mercury bitching about the other Metal Men. OH, and giant robots from other planets.

Today's Recommended Download

"Requiem for Adam" by Terry Riley. Scary stuff! But interesting to listen to.

UPDATE: Today in People Are Fucking Illiterates

Just read this. It's only 3 paragraphs long.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Brand New Day for James Call Expert (BND for JCE)

Wow! It's been a long time since I updated this thing, and tried switching to the podcast format, which was difficult to keep up with week after week, especially with only a handful of devoted and lovely listeners. Being stuck in the toil and drudgery of this office, I'm going back to the blog, and hopefully I'll be keeping this sunnovabitch updated daily.

The format's going to be a little different: y'all can email me questions which I will comment on, but if I don't get any questions, I'm going to plow ahead with a few default categories.

Today In Healthcare Reform

SUMMARY: People incorrectly think that the government is going to take over their individual health care, and that it's going to cost a lot of money. Both points are wrong, but that's the new conventional wisdom, and that's why health care reform is most likely doomed.

There isn't actually any new news today, Monday July 27, but in terms of "current affairs," as it were, I think you can mark healthcare reform as either "completely doomed" or "severely fucked".

Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight thinks the August recess may actually provide a cooling down period for the news cycle, allowing it to shift to some other topic (maybe another slieugh of celebrity deaths, hopefully) and for the "the government is going to take over your healthcare" meme to die out. But as smart as Mr. Silver is, I think he may be suffering from Hopeful Democrat Syndrome, which afflicts all of us from time to time, and may be overestimating the intelligence of the American Public.

Health care reform was favored by a majority of Americans, but now, according to Rasmussen Reports (tied with Quinnipac as the nation's most reliable pollster), a narrow majority opposes health care reform, for the classic (incorrect) reason: that the government is going to "take over" health care, and take away your insurance (provided you have it, which fewer and fewer people do each year). It is irrational, but the power of Fear is greater than the power of Hope.

Let's get one thing straight: the only thing the Public Option will do for you is
lower your health care costs. It's a government-run program that competes with private plans. Your health insurance, if you have it, is not going to be "taken" from you. However, if the public plan, comparatively, kicks fucking ass compared to your expensive private insurance plan, then you might indeed switch over to the public option. And if enough people switch, that might mean the end of your insurance company.

And you know what? Fuck your insurance company.

If your insurance company wants to shape up and insure the sick as well as the healthy, and charge you a cheaper premium, well then, great. Good for them. If they're incapable of offering a better deal than the government, though, one has to ask: do they deserve to live? Isn't the spirit of capitalism that the weak and inefficient die out?

Another fallacy that's floating around and gaining credence - in fact, this is the dominant belief, even amongst seemingly intelligent people (who need to read a bit fucking more... if you have a spare half hour a day and an internet connection, the NY Times is online for FREE) - is that health care reform is really, really expensive: more expensive than doing nothing. It's going to lead to higher taxes, and, well, nobody wants that.

TRUE, except that right now your business is most likely paying for your health care. And because your business is paying for that, it is NOT giving you that money in the form of raises. Instead, you're getting health insurance. So: lift that burden from business by offering a public plan, and your business now has extra money to raise your salary. You pay more taxes, but you earn more money, as well.

Of course, really, the rich need to pay more taxes than the middle class for this to work. This, again, is anathema to a lot of folks, who fail to realize that the rich, especially the ultra-rich, are a pernicious class who should be taxed on general principle, the principle being to stop them from using their money to perpetuate a perenially stratified society. But I digress...

One benefit to the wage-tax (price) spiral outlined in the scenario above is that it is inflationary - just what the doctor ordered given our current deflationary spiral. That's another huge fallacy that's floating around and seems to have credence these days: that inflation is a huge threat. Inflation is the LAST thing we need to be worried about right now. The precise opposite is true: deflation is out of control, as people purchase fewer things, businesses have less money, which leads to them cutting jobs and wages, which leads to fewer purchases, etc.

Alright, I've already rambled on enough. The point is: Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, and the Blue Dog/"moderate" Democrat Senators in general, are your new enemies, for life, and they are the problems, not Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, no matter what the assorted dipshits of the world might tell you.

Today In Obscure Comic Books You Really Don't Have to Read

Other than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Uncle Scrooge, I didn't really read comic books as a kid (comic strips, that's a different story). I actually got into the habit of reading Marvel comics in my early/mid-20s, aided by the notorious Dr. Damian Lanahan-Kalish. It all started innocently enough, with Brian Michael Bendis' Daredevil and a little X-Men on the side, but years later, my habit is totally out of control, as I read around 15 comics weekly, mostly stuff from Marvel (Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk, etc.) and DC (Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, etc.).

It's part of hipster nerd catchet to read comics, so I can do so without any outward shame, but one does have to have to draw the line somewhere, and one's knowledge of "continuity" can only go so far before one has to recognize that one has a problem. "Continuity," in comic book lingo, refers in essence to the minutiae of where a comic book character is at any point in time, what their status is, whether they're good or evil, still going by Green Latnern or perhaps Warrior, etc.

I think I've reached my personal line in the sand with DC's now out-of-continuity but once-upon-a-time-very-important "Zero Hour".

I have almost Zero positive things to say about Zero Hour, but let me synopsize.

The whole thing starts at at Vanishing Point, which is a physical space station-esque facility at the literal end of time. Time doesn't move there (somehow). That part of the story is fine - Vanishing Point is a totally valid, cool, sci fi concept. It doesn't even matter that Rip Hunter (or some other dude named Hunter?) has been done up to look EXACTLY like Cable, who, you will see if you google, is one of the most ridiculous comic book characters of all time, or that the other protagonist present is the completely forgettable Waverider, who can ride the waves of time but still manages to never know what the hell is going on.

It's when you find out who the first villain of the piece is that the story begins to diminish in value in terms of how you, the reader, are spending your time. That villain would be Extant, who is - get this - a combination of one form of Waverider, plus the heros Hawk and Dove, but not normal, mainline Hawk, but a Hawk who knows that in the future he will become the villain Monarch, and seems just, uh, totally OK with that prospect.

Have you ever heard of Hawk and Dove? No, right? Or if you have at least heard of them, do you give two shits about them? I'm gonna guess "no" again, right? Then why in God's name would you care about a villain who is the combined, future form of both these characters? Unless you were, of course, given one, by cohesive writing. But Zero Hour doesn't bother with trivialities such as "establishing character" or "contextualizing story elements for the reader". Nope, it just plunges full steam ahead, as Extant begins destroying time, for some reason - both the past, and the future.

Of course, Extant isn't the REAL big baddie. That would be Hal Jordan in his Parallax guise. Hal Jordan, formerly Green Lantern, has gone all hella evil, and now exists in a somewhat Evil God-like state. But hey, check it out, he wants to atone for what he's done in the past by destroying the universe and recreating it as a kind of paradise. For this, he needs Extant (reason unclear).

He actually succeeds in the Destroying the Universe part of his plan, but then who shows up to stop him but Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, etc.: the Good Guys. But hey, get this... the Good Guys are trying to STOP Parallax. He's already destroyed the freakin' universe, but Superman puts his foot down: "No, Jordan!!! You can't play God!!! You're not God!!!"

Hey Superman: THE UNIVERSE IS FREAKIN' DESTROYED. Hal Jordan here wants to at the vert least create -a- universe. Wouldn't that be nice? And he has the power to create one without genocides, without war, without every unnecessary death and ounce of suffering that's even gone down. But in your book, that's Wrong. Because Good Guys Don't Play God.

It is the ultimate expression of soppy, moralistic, DC superhero writing, and a big part of the reason why there are just as many Punisher and Wolverine fans as there are Superman fans these days. LET HIM RECREATE THE DAMN UNIVERSE, SUPES. Please.

Anyways, needless to say, Parallax gets taken down, and then something happens - can't remember what, and who cares - and the universe gets recreated. Mind you, before he's taken down it's quite unclear that this is at all possible. At the end of the day, everything goes back to normal, with a few small exceptions, which are now completely irrelevant, as two later Reality Altering events have occurred ("Infinite Crisis" and "Final Crisis"), rendering "Zero Hour" moot.

Oh, and the Spectre and Metron are involved.

My conclusion: don't read this, even if you're a continuity obsessed nerd, like I am. It just doesn't matter at this point to any of the characters involved, it makes little to no sense, all the characters are written in a vaguely irritating and absolutely unlikeable manner, and they dressed Rip Hunter up to look like fuckin' CABLE.

For a much more gratifying Pathetic Nerd experience, read this article on Legend of Zelda continuity.

Today's Recommended Download

Make sure you have a copy of "Chase Me" by Confunkshun in your music collection. Might I also recommend, also by the woefully underrated Confunkshun, "Ffun" and "Got to be Enough". I even have a soft spot for the incredibly syrupy "Love's Train".

Today In Last Night's Dreams

Last night I had totally crazy dreams. It started out with my looking for a new apartment, I'm pretty sure, in this mythical part of town that's supposed to be Oakland, I guess? Except it looks nothing like Oakland. In any event, I can't remember most of the dream, except that at one point the Black Widow (a Marvel character) died an especially gruesome death, eviscerated by a madman with a butcher knife. I saw the whole thing in real time, and woke up sweating and horrified.