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Holiday Gift Bag: Some Goddamn Compassion and Empathy


We can return to the standard here’s-gifts-you-can-buy Holiday Gift Bags another day. I’m not going to do it today, though. Today, I’m too mad.

I’m sick of mass shootings. I’m sick of politicians and pundits and social media sociopaths shrugging off white men bombing clinics one day and howling for mass incarcerations for brown people the next. I’m sick of listening to an organized crime cartel that masquerades as a gun-rights group demanding that guns be given more rights than actual living humans. I’m sick of members of the most bankrupt religion on earth offering “thoughts and prayers” — and nothing else — and then pretending to be oppressed when the rest of the world calls them on their faithless cowardice.

I’m sick of racists and sexists and homophobes and transphobes. I’m sick of people using their power, no matter how strong or petty, to bash people with less power. I’m sick of people who sneer at retail workers and baristas and waitresses and old people and young people and poor people. I’m sick of living in a nation and world where assholes are rewarded and the innocent are abused.

And I know most of y’all aren’t the problem. I’m lucky that the relatively few readers I have are good people. And I’m not asking you to go out and single-handedly fix the goddamn world.

But could I ask that, for this holiday season and every season after that, you work to foster as much compassion and empathy as you can in the world around you, in your coworkers and friends, in your children and family, in casual acquaintences and strangers?

We live in a world full of monsters, there is no doubt. We’ve been a world full of monsters for decades, centuries, millennia. It’s likely impossible for us to reverse that. But every time we light a match against the darkness of the world’s rampant assholatry is, frankly, a damn good day all on its own. It’s a good thing to do, and it makes you feel good to do it, too.

Most of us reading this damnable blog are superhero fans. Yeah, yeah, indie comics rock, there are lots of cool genres, superheroes are all flash and fight scenes — but still, pretty much all of us got our starts with Stan and Jack, with the World’s Finest and the Brave and the Bold, with Spider-Man and Ben Grimm teaming up with every dang superhero they met. And I want us all to be the heroes, in big ways and small, instead of the villains populating the world around us. Let’s be heroes this year and every year.

Thanks, and happy holidays.

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Please Exercise Your Compassion


I don’t know what it is about this time of year. We’re told that Christmas is, to quote my pal Charles Dickens, “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

And with all of that ringing in our heads, it’s also the time when the hard-heartedness and meanness and cruelty of our species really seems to start working overtime.

I mean, I don’t care what your politics are, when you hear that someone’s shot up an elementary school and killed 20 first-graders, the right response is never to start whining that libruls are comin’ to take yore guuuuuuns, or that the real problem is that pretend guns in video games are the real killers. Seriously, if you’re ever tempted to do that, just keep your fool mouth shut. Try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who have really been wronged here — it’s not you, it’s the victims and their families, and no one wants to listen to gun-worshiping silliness at a time like that.

Heck, it’s not even the only symptom we’ve got of Christmastime cruelties. People want to cut off aid to the poor, they scream at waitresses and store clerks, they fume about every imagined slight, from the entirely mythical War on Christmas to big crowds at the malls. I know it’s not everyone — heck, it’s not even most people — but it sure seems like there’s more of it at this time of year.

My preference would be for people to be compassionate for those who are suffering or less fortunate all the time, but it particularly seems like they should try to be more empathetic around the holidays. I understand that it’s a stressful time, everyone wants everything to be perfect, and there’s enormous pressure on just about everyone — and sometimes folks just snap and let that stress come boiling out on someone else. But it happens too dang often, and it’s really, really messed up.

It’s not like I want everyone to go volunteer at soup kitchens. If that’s your thing, sure, go ahead — but it’s just not for everyone.

But fer cry-eye, be nicer to employees in stores and restaurants. They don’t get paid enough for doing nice things for you, so smile, thank ’em, and wish ’em a merry holiday. Be a bit less aggressive on the highways. Don’t be snippy with friends and family. Try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and remember that there’s pain out there greater than yours, no matter what some angry douche on the TV or radio tells you.

Do it for Christmas — and heck, do it every dang day you can — but be more compassionate, caring, and patient, okay? It’s good for all of us.

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Leave Me out of Your Stupid Fantasies

I shouldn’t EVEN be talking about this, but it’s been bugging me for days. In the past few days, I’ve been hearing a lot of monumentally stupid stuff, so we’re gonna drag it all out and kick the tar out of it. COME ON, KIDS, IT’LL BE FUN.

From the rightward side of the political aisle, we get people talking about wanting to move to Texas and secede from the union, exemplified by this idiot who makes his living being a moron on the radio:

I would SERIOUSLY consider moving to Texas if it would secede from the union and re-form as The Republic of Texas. It has that power.

There are SO MANY THINGS wrong with that.

First, no, Texas is not able to secede from the union and turn itself into the Republic of Texas. In theory, the state could split itself into five new states (not four, not three, not two, not six, but five exactly), but that’s really never going to happen, because it would be stupid. There’s also nothing in the state constitution or in any laws anywhere that say that Texas can secede from the union. We tried that once, and you might remember how that got resolved. Your side got its ass kicked.

And if I may say, I got no patience whatsoever for scumbags who talk about seceding from the U.S. ‘Round here, that’s what I call treason. I don’t like it when my stupid governor talks about it. I don’t like it when my stupid legislators talk about it. I don’t like it when stupid people on the Internet talk about it. If folks ever wise up and elect me governor or even president, I guarantee there’s gonna be some whupass unleashed on folks who talk smack like that.

And it’s stupid anyway. You love America so much you want to leave it? You’re stupid, and your face is stupid. George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and Ben Franklin are gonna rise from their graves to kick your stupid face in.

So again, angry Republicans who are mad at the world and like to run your mouths without thinking: leave me and my state out of your stupid fantasies.

But wait, I’m not done!

From the leftward side of the political aisle, we get people (no major pundits or politicos, thank goodness, just idjits prattling on blogs and discussion boards) talking about they’re mad at the wingnuts and want all of them to move to Texas and secede.

There are SO MANY THINGS wrong with that.

I mean, come on, lefties, you spend the last few decades talking about improving the world for minorities, for women, for gays, for everyone, and you want to throw out a whole state full of people? Including vast numbers of minorities, women, gays, and just plain American citizens? And you want to give them over to the crazies and wingnuts and moral monsters who live in the fringe right, build a wall on the Oklahoma border, and just shrug it off when the nuts roll things back to the 1600s and start burning people at the stake?

Fer cry-eye, lefties, you want to just hand over the gravesites of LBJ, Molly Ivins, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Selena, Buddy Holly, and SERIOUSLY, do you have any idea how many of your late idols may have plots here? Are you really going to let the New Confederate Neo-Nazi Douchebag Brigade start taking care of those gravesites?!

Really, Texas barely counts as a red state nowadays. The last few elections, we’ve come down in purple territory. You’re talking about disenfranchising people when they’re starting to trend in your direction!

Ultimately, it’s really about as treasonous as the wingnuts who talk secession. Because you’re still talking about throwing perfectly good American citizens out of the country because you don’t like how your opposing party acts. And it’ll never happen because no one’s ever going to let any state secede again, no matter how much you don’t like its citizens. Even talking about it is stupid, and your face is stupid.

So again, angry lefties who are mad at the Texas GOP and like to run your mouths without thinking: leave me and my state out of your stupid fantasies.

In summation: Stupid people on the right and the left: shut up, stop being stupid, leave me and my state out of your stupid fantasies.

And read more Atomic Robo and Yotsuba comics.

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Holiday Gift Bag: Compassion and Empathy

This isn’t the usual Holiday Gift Bag installment. See, I’ve been re-reading Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” lately, which is something I try to do every few years, and I was marveling at how relevant it still is today. We see 21st century Scrooges almost everywhere we look. A lot of the anti-poverty programs that Scrooge advocated for during the first chapter of the book seem similar to programs that more modern wealthy misers have also advocated. The idea of working low-level employees on holidays is coming back into style. The scene where Christmas Present reveals Ignorance and Want was positively revelatory to me this year. Reading the book has got me thinking about a lot of stuff lately.

So in this installment of the Holiday Gift Bag, I’m not suggesting you go buy something as a holiday gift. I’m suggesting you do something to make the world a slightly better place. I’m asking that you try to nurture your senses of compassion and empathy.

The past week saw news stories about Christmas shoppers spraying other people with pepper spray, getting into fights, trampling employees, ignoring dying customers in the rush for bargains they could’ve gotten any other day of the season. Our politicians and pundits advocate for policies that would throw the unemployed to the wolves, that would send poor children to work in place of janitors, that would have poor people paying more taxes than the “job creators” who never seem to create any jobs.

There are people out there who cheer the ideas that private insurance should be too expensive for anyone but the wealthy and that people who can’t afford insurance should die of preventable diseases. There are people out there who look at the 10% unemployment rate, with hundreds of applicants for lowly burger-flipping jobs, and huff that the unemployed are just too lazy to work. There are people out there who think unemployment and welfare pay so lavishly that people choose to stay on the dole.

Sometimes, it seems like we’re trying to un-create civilization — like we’ve decided, as a culture, that having a sane society is just no fun anymore, so we’re gonna see how things work as a hellhole fresh out of Ayn Rand’s or Jason Voorhees’ wet dreams.

Part of the problem is certainly ignorance — people just don’t know how things are outside of their bubble, and their assumptions are deeply uninformed. But another part of the problem is that there are an awful lot of sociopaths running the political world and the mass media, and they’ve spent the past few decades getting paid very well to make sociopathy look sexy and fun. They’ve done a very good job of promoting the idea that it’s patriotic to dehumanize 99% of their fellow people because they don’t have the right politics or the right culture or the right level of wealth or the right level of personal attractiveness.

In the past few years, we’ve even seen people in the media and in our Congress claim that empathy is a bad thing to possess. Sure, maybe it is for psychotics and serial killers, who need to have no sympathy for the random people they’re trying to kill. But for the rest of us, if someone said you didn’t have any empathy or compassion for others, you’d think it was a huge insult. And you’d be right.

So seriously, make an effort to remember that not everyone has your advantages, and just because someone doesn’t have those advantages, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it doesn’t mean they’re lazy, it doesn’t mean they’re taking anything from you, it doesn’t mean they’re destroying America, and it doesn’t mean you should be happy when bad things happen to them.

This is the type of thing you usually hear a lot of around the holidays. And it’s a good message, it really is. Compassion during the holidays is one of the best things about the holidays — opening your heart to all your fellow creatures is what gives this time of year the power that it still holds over us. But I hate it when those compassionate urges disappear after December 25th. And I hate it when people use the holidays as a weapon to attack others — either using a holiday greeting that the TV blowhards don’t approve of, or letting consumerism take over our good sense, or proclaiming that people who celebrate other holidays at this time of year — or none at all — aren’t deserving of the goodwill we offer to our own tribe. I wish compassion and empathy were the standards year-round, not the exceptions.

It’s a rough economy, I know, and I don’t think everyone should go out and spend all their money on charities. Please feel free to give to a good charity, if you’re able. But these days, you gotta keep your head above water first.

But even if you can’t contribute money to others, if you can’t give to the local food pantries or coat drives or toy drives or whatever, if you don’t sling soup at the homeless shelter or take boxes of cookies to the nursing home or go caroling at the hospital, please don’t let yourself devolve into the kind of thuggery, resentment, and hatemongery we have to see on the cable news channels. The only people who benefit from that are the cable news channels themselves, not you, not your family, not your neighbors.

It’s a hard life for all of us, but it’s a lot harder for some folks than others. Please remember that we’re all in this together. I mean, we’re all comic book people ’round here, right? Let’s try to be the heroes and not the villains.

Compassion and empathy: They’re free, and they make us all feel better. Please go pick some up.

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Why the Comic Book Guy Cares about the Wisconsin Situation

Some of you may have been watching news about the craziness in Wisconsin — some of you may not have. It hasn’t been all over the news the way I expected it to be, but here’s a short summary.

Wisconsin’s new governor is named Scott Walker. There are two things he really, really doesn’t like: unions and state employees. So his new budget essentially outlawed public employee unions in Wisconsin and stuck it hard to most state employees, forcing them to pay more out of their salaries for insurance.

Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t well received. What was surprising, however, was that protests took off like a rocket. Thousands of people protested at the state capitol for most of last week. The Democrats in the Wisconsin state legislature pulled a vanishing act to give protests time to sway more Republican legislators away from the governor’s POV.

Since then, we’ve learned that Walker actually cooked the books to make the budget shortfall look worse because he hoped to use against the state employees.

So why do I care about this? I don’t live in Wisconsin, no one in my family lives in Wisconsin, and the budget doesn’t affect comics.

Well, for one thing, I work for the state now, and I’ve worked for the state multiple times in the past. My brother and sister both work for the government, my dad worked for the government, and I’ve got cousins who work for the government. My granddad worked for the government. The idea of a governor — any governor — with a mad-on to screw over state employees strikes me as deeply irrational.

I don’t belong to a union, but I’ve got no argument with ’em either. I like the fact that the unions got us the 40-hour work week and the weekend. I like the idea of minimum wages. I like workplace safety. I like the fact that there’s a check on the power of corporate management. I know there are lots of good businesses out there who’ll bend over backwards to make sure their employees are getting a fair shake… but at the same time, I’ve worked for too many low-down snakes who cheated customers, employees, and everyone else they could. I’m under no illusions that our corporate masters are blameless geniuses who serve only the glory of the Invisible Hand of the Marketplace, a’ight?

I don’t understand the current rage at public employees for either existing or for receiving decent wages and benefits. I know some pundits out there think that, if things are tough for private employees, they should be tough for everyone else, too. (But never for the bankers, CEOs, and con artists at the top, have you noticed that? If they get less than their usual multi-million-dollar bonuses, it means the terrists have won. Trillions of dollars to bailout the corporate goons who wrecked the economy, but heaven forefend if teachers or state employees get paid enough to make the payments on their homes.)

So why should comic book fans care?

Because management at DC spent years screwing Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster out of the profits for creating Superman.

Because management at Marvel screwed Jack Kirby out of money, and health and employment benefits for years.

Because management at DC has never acknowledged the contributions of Batman co-creator Bill Finger as much as they did for Bob Kane.

Because DC pushed out Gardner Fox and a lot of their other creators, including Finger, Otto Binder, and Arnold Drake, in the late ’60s because they dared to request health insurance and employment benefits. And I can’t count the number of Golden and Silver Age creators who died, if not penniless, at least a lot less comfortable than they should’ve been.

I’m glad there are groups around like the HERO Initiative, which works to raise money to pay the expenses of creators who are too old or sick to work, but I also can’t help wishing that Siegel, Shuster, Kirby, Finger, Fox, and the rest of them had had a union on their side watching out for their interests.

Sure, it’s not like any budget in Wisconsin is going to allow comic creators to live better lives — this is strictly going to be for the betterment of state employees in the Badger State. Ultimately, it’s all down to compassion and empathy — we root for the underdogs like Siegel and Shuster and Jack Kirby, like Wisconsin’s state employees, for the same reason we always root for the underdogs — because we’re all underdogs. And when the underdogs don’t get crushed by the powerful, it means maybe we all have a chance.

We put our blind faith in business and corporations at our peril. It’s not that business is evil, but the purpose of business is to MAKE MONEY, and too many businesses will choose to prioritize money at the expense of, well, the rest of us. We’ve seen it happen dozens of times in the past, both within the comics industry and outside of it.

I see nothing at all wrong with being able to tell business and the modern breed of pro-business/anti-worker politicians that it’s okay to make wads of cash — as long as they don’t cross certain lines. I think Walker (and governors in other states, like Ohio, Florida… and maybe Texas? We’ll see…) are prioritizing megacorp/pundit ideologies over the welfare of their own constituents.

That’s a dangerous path to travel down, and I’m very happy that people in Wisconsin have been so enthusiastic about supporting their state employees.

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Fear of Falling

I try not to post about politics very often. Sure, I enjoy politics, but this is a comics blog, and most of its focus should be on comics. And I do more than enough whining about job-hunting as it is. Nevertheless, I found this graph online yesterday, and I felt like sharing.

Go ahead and click on that graphic so you can see a larger, more legible size.

And here’s a post from Time Magazine’s “Swampland” blog about the graph. The graph was put together by Nancy Pelosi (rolls fainting couch in) and prepared from numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The blue line represents job losses during the 1990 recession; the red line is from the 2001 recession. The green line is the current recession. It’s measured in months since the peak job levels and in thousands of jobs.

Now take a close look at that green line. Focus on it. Think about what that line means to you. It’s the first steep drop on a roller coaster, it’s Jason Voorhees swinging a machete, it’s the look on Wile E. Coyote’s face just before the anvil hits. It’s pulling the cord on the emergency parachute and getting nothing. It’s terminal velocity.

It’s scary as heck for me ’cause I’m job-hunting and there aren’t many jobs out here. But it should be scary for you, too. That’s not a line that’s suddenly going to bounce back up to normal levels. That’s a line that’s going to keep plunging hard for at least another few months before it starts to level off. If it starts to level off.

If you’re lucky, that line won’t impact you or your family at all. But even if you’re lucky, it is absolutely going to impact people you know. It’s looking like this is going to be a nasty time.

And if we’re not careful, it’s going to be dominated by nasty people, too. There are folks out there who apparently think that, if only the recession will go on long enough, their party can get back into power, or they can nab some big Neilsen ratings for their radio shows. There are Congressthings that want to cut food stamps, ’cause hey, the best way to fix the country has gotta be more hungry people, right?

The problem with this is, again, the green line. That green line is falling pretty fast, and it hasn’t shown a lot of respect for what party the unemployed may belong to. A recession that lasts 4-8 years and extremely steep job losses may be, in theory, a boon for some political parties, but in practice, it means millions of people out of work, falling into poverty, exhausting state and charitable resources. It means more people having to choose between paying rent and buying food, between keeping the electricity on and getting those chest pains checked out. It means more homeless families, more sick and dying kids, more shuttered businesses.

Anyone who says they want a long recession, for any reason, is either (1) not really thinking about what a long recession means, (2) lying for some stupid reason, or (3) a sociopath. And those people should either (1) start thinking, (2) stop lying, or (3) go away, never touch national economic policy or chainsaws, and start taking their meds.

So this is going to be an excellent time to crank your empathy and compassion meters up as high as they’ll go. The last thing I wanna hear is that any of y’all are kicking people while they’re down. I’m not saying y’all gotta give a ton of money to charities, ’cause a lot of y’all can’t afford even that. But I am saying it’s time for all of y’all to start thinking as compassionately as possible about your fellow human beings, regardless of their social status.

The jobless, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the oppressed — if you’re lucky, they won’t be you or anyone you know. But luck is an awfully rare item these days. There but for the grace of God, goes all of us…

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