Thursday, December 30, 2010

When You Show Up, So Does Everybody

How old were you when your life was first rocked by a public death? If you were rocked on 3/02/59, the "Day the Music Died," when Buddy Holly and two other guys died you were at best 12 if you were born in the Baby Boom. (If you need numbers here's mighty Wikipedia on the "Baby Boom," a period when people were having more babies that lasted from 1946 or 1947 until 1961. Or 1964. Or 1966. Hey, I bet sending some demographers into Thunderdome would be even more fun than economists!)


Not a boomer in the room. If you're a late boomer, like me (24 July 1964, so no need to shop for presents yet!), these might even be your parents. My mom, for sure, if she didn't prefer "cowboy" music back in the day, that is.

So here's the thing. When we talk about the Baby Boom and the 50s, we do so in .. oh, heck. They've got a TV show now that says it better than I ever can. Comfort, prosperity, and shorter work weeks. Sort of compensation for all that racism and misogyny, stuff with anyways a flipside aura of prelapsarian innocence. (Well, yes, it was all unjust and unfair, but it was happening to history dudes, not real people!)

The good stuff happened to pre-Baby Boomers! What happened to actual Boomers, at least late Boomers, was "whenever you show up for a job, so does the rest of the world."

In demography, apparently, effect can precede cause. Well, no, not really. Because we have the Baby Boom as a cultural artefact, and we have it as a demographic one, and they don't have to be the same thing. Consider the Fall of the Roman Empire. We have basically two accounts of the fall of the Roman Empire. Either things were going okay when, out of the blue, Emperor Valens got whacked at the Battle of Adrianople and the Goths overran the (western) Empire in 378AD. This sounds likely, because after all the eastern Empire went on just fine until it got its own whacking, by the Arabs in the 630s. That's 200 years, oopsie free. 

On the other, you have a story about how it was all going to hell in a handbasket long before the Battle. That sounds convincing because of, you know, stuffed cow's udders and horses being appointed consul. But, again, there's a history thing: all of that happened in the noughts, AD, three centuries before Adrianople. The decadent people lived and died, had decadent children who fought over the last pickled dormice, and their children had children, and so on.... History. Takes as long to bloody well get to the point as a Tarantino film. (Or is it just me that thinks the damn things take forever?)

This isn't actually an original insight with me. I'm too late by two hundred years. Eighteenth Century guys, they were smart. (So smart that we've forgotten what they had to say, their books were so long and hard to read. Familiar?) They said that it must have happened in the 300s.

What happened? Christianity happened! That's what they said, anyway. No, not the stuff with the Jesus and the crucifixion and the taking away of the sins of the world and that; Popes and bishops and monks. (Also, homosexuality all up in the abbey, but if you're an Eighteenth Century "Enlightenment philosophe," you sort of nudge nudge wink wink that one.) Everyone became monks (well, the girls became nuns --sexy!), and they stopped having babies. So by 378, there were no soldiers, no taxpayers, and so Emperor Valens had no army. We've forgotten that theory out here in the Anglosphere due to one Reverend Malthus coming along and offering a slightly different picture of how  history works, but it's huge in France!

Well, here's the thing. Archaeologists seem pretty clear that there were a lot less people around in the 400s than in the 300s. Maybe they were all living in camps and breaking fewer pots, so that the archaeologists can't find, and I think for various reasons that there's something to that, but, still, point. So what happened to everybody? Maybe the Goths killed them all --but people run away a lot when you try to kill them with hand tools. You really want to lock them up, tie them down, and otherwise arrange things for more efficiency and better box office. And that's work. Maybe it was indirect --the Goths ate or devastated all the crops. But, again, if you've ever hung around a dumpster, you know that people eat interesting things when they're hungry. Or meth-heads.

So maybe it is a supply issue. Fewer were being born. The thing is, the only way for that to affect events in the 400s, as opposed to outcomes, is if they weren't being born back in the 300s. Again, I'm just following in the tracks of old, old thinkers. The most I can do here is offer another explanation in place of the one that's all tangled up in Eighteenth century Catholic sphere politics. That is, I don't think that the idea about people all becoming monks is going to work, but this is a pretty persuasive premise on its face. Something that the Roman Empire did wasn't working to put people in the family way. Perhaps it wasn't working at all --making people not have babies is a pretty fundamental failure of state policy, and I don't just say that as someone who would really like to have had a cushy job teaching at a university, and could have had one if people had gone on making babies at a Baby Boom rate for a few more years in the 60s and 70s. This mean that we're back to the "Adrianople was the consequence of a longrun process" story. We just need to find the Roman Empire's wrong turning.

So when do we look? In the real world, effects follow causes. If grownup taxpayers are in short supply in 378, it could be because they weren't born, putting the problem back into the 350s. But then we'd have a crush of childless people in their 40s. Arguably, they'd be more productive, and make up for the lack of 20-somethings. It seems more likely that the problem lies in the absent kids' grandparents' day.

So if the Roman Empire fell due to being in the grip of a labour shortage in 378, the problem is likely to be found in a crash in the birth rate 40 years before. It's an old theory, just wanting a new explanation. And it suggests an analogy.....

Oh, hey. Look at the time. Gotta go to work! I have some pretty grim shifts, because at 46 and with 12 years seniority, I'm still one of the most junior people at my workplace. Funny, that.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

They're Called Carres: In Which A Secret Is Revealed, And I Don't Mean All That Foreshadowing Stuff

Twilight [Anita Guzman]: "Okay, one more time, Billy. Follow the lights, set your feet. Your shoulders will follow and you won't.... Ouch! Next time I'm wearing my Bloodstones!" 
Captain Super-Ultra [Billy Washington]: "How do you think my head feels? Look, I don't know what the fuss is. That girl's waterblast was like a firehose. No-one could have kept their feet."
Anita: "The waterblast, maybe. But that wasn't the blast. It was some kind of stunt where she divided it up like a sprinkler. Billy T. stayed up. You just have bad posture. I mean, how are you gonna get the boys like that?"
Billy W. "Don't you worry 'bout that, girl. She was toting a stuffed animal and stealing Princess Barbies. How are you supposed to take that seriously? Honestly, she needs some girlfriends more than she needs a superhero intervention."
Anita: "We were not having a pyjama party. We were trying to stop a store from being torn apart, so that some nice small business-type person doesn't lose it because they can't afford insurance. And, mass destruction-wise, we could have done a little better on that one."
Snakes On A Plane [Jenny Wong]: "Juvie is a terrible place, and Riptide is obviously a damaged little girl. Maybe we should have taken an interest. There's not much hope for the world if people who can, do nothing."
Anita: "Jenny, remember that
 Simpsons rerun we watched last week? Malibu Stacy? "Being serious gives you wrinkles?" I wasn't going to tell you this, but it's true. Never be serious again."
Anita: Oh, real mature. Is that the furthest you can stick your tongue out? If you ever get a real boyfriend ...hey!"
Mighty Chief, Red Rock of Rectitude, Sachem of Strength, and Tomahawk of Justice [Dr. Georges Stonechild, Ph.D]: "How's it going, team? Hope you're getting your routine down. I have to open in an hour, and Twilight hasn't refit my other outlets yet. And I..... Oh, Holy Mary, Mother of God, Miss Wong, you look like your mother ...did. And that was a remarkably stupid thing to say. I'm glad to see that I still have the gift."
Anita: "She knows you didn't mean any offence, Dr. Stonechild, and she doesn't know how much your little superscience dialysis gadget affects you, either. I'll go bring her back. We need to talk, anyway."
Dr. Stonechild: "Hold off. You guys do know that I'm compromised by Zerstroiten? Kidneys full of nanotech shrapnel, all that? I know he never took an interest in the
 l'affaire Wong before, but this "Shadow Destroyer" worries me, and I'll keep my distance from Miss Wong for the moment."
Amazing Spleen (Brad Neilson): "If this is important, we have to know!"
Wolverine Boy (Billy Tatum): "Dude, foreshadowing doesn't work that way."
Brad: "Not all that Wong stuff. I've had as much of that "keep it on the down low" as anyone. Who says that any more? I mean, what about Juanita!"
Billy W. "What's to know? She's hot, your cousin, and a freak and [urkh]!"
Billy T.: "That was one sweet move, Brad. But you'd probably better let him go before he remembers that superstrength beats leverage."
Billy W.: "Urkh?"
Billy T.: Sure, hands here, legs here, pull your head out. It's a cinch."
Billy W.: "I wasn't insulting your cousin, Brad. All I'm saying is that she's 6 foot 4, smarter than Stephen Hawking, and more emo than Buffy Season 7. And it's not healthy using your chemical powers to give yourself adrenal strength and reflexes like that."
Brad: "Wow. You think I could use my powers like that? About Juanita... Look, I know she's a pain in the arse right now. But she's going through rough stuff. And it hurts me, too. Like, how clear are your first memories, from when you were 3 or something? I remember Juanita. She told me to look through this pipe and I would see something cool. I did, and, wham, she rammed it into my face. Raccoon eye, I guess, but I feel happy just remembering it now."
Billy W. "That's our Juanita. Going Taylor Mommsen on her cousin before she solved her first equation. Oh, hey, Twilight."
Juanita: "The who the what now? Okay, Jenny's invited you guys over to her place to watch DVDs tonight. Brad, you're included, no matter what you think Mr. Wong says. We wrapped up here? I want to hit the library, and Billy's due at work in an hour, right?"
Doctor Stonechild: "Just a minute, there. A buddy of mine's worked out a routine for you, too, Twilight."
Anita: "Me? I've got the owie going on!"
Billy T. "Didn't that happen a month ago? Yeah, last week of exams, just before Jenny went on vacation. Mr. Wong splinted you up, we had Indian, watched 10 episodes of Futurama back to back, Mr Wong yelled at us for getting sauce on his pool table. Heh. "Bite my shiny metal..."
Anita: "Substitute "me" for "us" there a few places, and your recall is perfect, Billy. But a month is not a long time for a broken arm to heal completely."
Billy T. "Nita, I been a teenager since 1985. Things fade. Maybe not so much butter chicken stains, but stuff."
Doctor Stonechild: "So how did you break your arm, Twilight?"
Anita: "I was rescuing a cat stuck in a tree. Trying to. End of story."
Billy W: "So the part where your boot jets flipped you three times in mid-air and drove you into the ground, and you cushioned your head with your arm, and the cat climbed down just to check if you were all right? That's not in your story? Because it would be in my story."
Anita: "So the stability equations were a bit glitched. I still can't do any exercises right now."
Billy T: "A glitch like when you tried to capture Lash in the 'The Vampire's Teeth?'"
Anita: "It's a miniaturized wire entangle. So I called it a dramatic name before it activated. That's real superhero stuff, right? Anyway, it was supposed
 to be jaggy and pointed, not all ...loopy and stuff."
Doctor Stonechild: "And this isn't the physical workout you're imagining. It is what you actually need. It is no coincidence that your gadgets are having problems with directions. Directionality is a key attribute to the quantities you are tying to manipulate. These are vectors, and they need to be treated as such.'
Anita: "Oh, this is like that introductory chapter of my calculus textbook, with all those xs and ys and zs with hats and arrows on variables. I just ignore that stuff. You can do the exams without them."
Doctor Stonechild: "Heaven save us from high schools teaching calculus. Clearly, you cannot, in fact, do without these vector things. I may not know how to solve calculus problems in my head on the spur of the moment, but, dear child, you may not be doing it as well as you think you are, either. Which is why my colleague, who shall remain nameless lest
 someone be listening, has suggested some reading for you."
Anita: "A Condensed Primer of Vectors, Tensors and Quaternions? Who buys books like these?"
Doctor Stonechild: "Mostly smart kids who choose to learn their advanced maths from TV. Formalisms exist for a reason. Be ready for an exam before you fix up my Camden store for me on Tuesday."

This is the first in a series of fan fictions set in the Champions Universe (a property of the Cryptic Games Studio licensed to DOJ, Inc. for the pen-and-paper Hero Games RPG line). It features the adventures of the teenaged descendants of Philadelphia's superheroic defenders of the "Gold" and "Silver" Age, the Liberty Legion. The new Liberty Legion has been operating for several years now as a mostly self-described auxiliary of Philadelphia's real superteam, the Liberty League. 

Dr. Stonechild really went by all this nicknames back in the day. Because comics could be a little childish back in the day. What? No! It's a valid expression of enduring themes of identity and self-actualisation in North American culture! So you shut up!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rudolf's a Commie, and Other Christmas Epiphanies

(I really like the lip gloss. It's not weird at all. And it's cool that the marionettes have boob jobs and borderline  eating disorders. Or possibly coke habits. That can be the new normal!)

Let me get this straight. There's Dasher and Dancer and Prancer, Cupid and Comet and Vixen (unh, woah?), and Donner and Blitzen. ...And Rudolf? Now, I'll grant that the last two are kinda Teutonic, but they're still all adverbial or nouned verbs, or what have you. Horsey names, I mean. Rudolf, though, is ...well, it's an immigrant's name. Maybe even Yiddish, but certainly the kind of name you associate with people with heavy accents who like to talk about "the working class" and organise for the union.

And he had a red nose. In fact, he was Rudolf the Red... nosed reindeer. So, while he had a funny name, that wasn't the reason that he wasn't allowed to play any reindeer games. The greatest triumph of false consciousness comes when the vanguard party is isolated from the workers' movement.

And then, one low-visibility day, Santa came and asked Rudolf to lead the team. Now, Santa is a fat, jolly old guy who is hard working to a fault. No matter how hard it gets, he always finishes his rounds. And if he likes him some milk and cookies, or even a rum and eggnog or two along the way, well, that's the kind of guy he is. He is the broad masses of the working class, that's who he is. And, unlike the leadership of what is laughably called the labour movement, he sees that only the illumination of the Marxist dialectic can penetrate the fog of late capitalism.

And so it comes to pass that the labour movement, now under Communist leadership, successfully delivers the gift of revolution to the world. Rudolf's name can now go down in history. Of course it can! This is the end of history.

Or, rather, I feel like ending history every time this song plays at work. Admittedly not as much as with "Winter Wonderland." I hate you, (smug) perspiring conspiring lovers by the fire! I don't hate you like I hate that awful couple going to the Christmas party at Father Whatsisname's. Them I want to bury alive in a horrible death pit filled with hot chestnuts. The thing is, your life is too easy. I want to break you up so that you can experience real pain and scarring rejection.
Honestly, it'll be good for you in the long run. You'll be too chicken to ask anyone else out ever again, and while you'll die lonely, at least your cats will have somewhere to live. Why aren't there any Christmas specials about aging cat-batchelors regretting all of their missed chances?

In other words, these songs trigger self-loathing, and while self-loathing can motivate you to get out there and do your Christmas shopping, it's still a mean trick to play.

And since it has been asked, not by anyone I remember and not this year, why all the characters in children's Christmas songs are male....

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Smoke Screens: The Other Signals

I'm behind the front desk, going through the paystubs as she's leaving. Ostensibly, I'm getting mine. In fact, I crave contact without having any plan for what comes next.

I take out one of hers. She says, "I can haz moar?" The whole "I can haz cheezburger" thing is a sad, feeble, workplace joke between us.

I say, "I can't find any more. But you can haz cheezburger." Because it makes the words to fill up the not-talking.

She waits a long moment, then says, "I do like cheezburger."

I say goodbye, and she leaves for whatever she's doing after work.

Later that night, my brain woke me up and reamed me out.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Because in comics, you probably could learn to fight on a Dance Dance Revolution table.

Captain Super-Ultra [Billy Washington]: "One-half impulse, and...unrep begun! Best parallel park ever!"
Wolverine Boy [Billy Tatum]: " "You burked the ship!"
Twilight [The Girl Currently Known as "Mistress Penance"]: "You two are such nerds. And you're mashing up Star Trek and Galaxy Quest, which is just some kind of wrong."
Billy T: "Oh, give us a break, Juanita. Just because Jenny gets back today..."
Anita Guzman: "I am not jealous of Jenny! And don't call me Anita! It's my muggle name!"
Billy W: "Of course you're not jealous of Jenny. Heck, Bulldozer couldn't even tell she's a girl. And what are we supposed to call you, now? And, no, Mistress Penance is not on. Not after Brad found that OOTS strip."
Anita: "It was nothing to do with that!"

Billy Washington: "And the reason you cut that comic out of Brad's book was..."
The Amazing Spleen [Brad Neilsen]: <strangled breath>
Billy Tatum: "Sorry, dude, didn't mean to stab you there."
Brad: "No, you didn't get me, Billy. I mean, it was nothing."
Billy W: "And the reason you cut that comic out of my book was...."
Anita [quickly]: "I, unh, I'm Siobhan, now. It's Celtic, and Celtic is cool."
Billy W: "I do not think that name is pronounced the way you think it is pronounced."

Anita: "And, the reason that your man-crush couldn't tell that Je-Jenny is a girl is because he won't admit that he needs glasses. A lot."
Billy W: "Bulldozer is not my man-crush. He's our nemesis! Our sexy, sexy nemesis."
Siobhan: "Bulldozer isn't our nemesis. Mechanon is."
Brad: "Mechanon isn't our nemesis. Maybe his robot dog is, but we got that little dog, and I don't think Mechanon was paying attention, what with the tree growing through him. Which is the coolest thing I've ever seen."
Billy T: "Call it, then. Who's our nemesis?"
Brad: "So far? Foxbat was pretty seriously pissed at us."
Siobhan: "So, yeah. The Liberty League defeats Mechanon's attempt to take over all the DRMs on Earth by growing a tree through his torso. And we cheese Foxbat by failing so hard he can't take us seriously. Go team!"
Billy W. "Which is why we're here for our first session at your Danger Room, uhm, See Rayban. Speaking of which, is it, like, a hidden sub-basement of Mr. Stonechild's arcade, from back when he was a superhero?"
Siobhan"It's Doctor Stonechild. And it's not under the arcade. It is the arcade!"
Billy Tatum: "Seriously? An arcade? Maybe it's got a pinball machine!"
Snakes On A Plane [Jenny Wong]: "Pin...<something> <interrogative tone, or possibly an attempt to talk like a teenager while breathing sixty times a second> Retro....Billy, how <something, long pause> ever,<something>.stare"
Brad: "Jennifer! You're so sweaty, it makes your hair different!"
Everyone but Brad: "Hey, Jennie!"
Jenny [A little closer to being in breath]: "Nearly caught up at DQ. Out for run. Followed you down. Did wind sprints. Need go... die now. Shirt you look good. Br-bye. Back soon."
Siobhan [To Jenny's departing rear]: "Oh, hey, Jenny, why not start doing some serious aerobics? There's got to be some fat left on your body. I mean, besides..."
Billy W. "So who was it again wanted us to keep working on developing our powers? Jenny's just tired of spending our battles unconscious. By the way, Brad, that shirt is a huge improvement. Did my auntie pick it out for you?"
Brad: "Her and the salesguy. Said he wouldn't let her dress me like some guy named Arsenio Hall."

[One stop at Orange Julius later, at the The Stone Temple Pile-On Arcade]
The Mighty Chief [Doctor Delano Stonechild, (PhD. Columbia, 1963)]: "Juanita! And these are your friends? I'm thinking introductions would be inappropriate, here, but welcome!"
Siobhan: "Wow. Guys. It's The Mighty Chief, himself!"
Doctor Stonechild: "How, Children of Great White Father. Why not you in stripling's lodge, learning secrets of books? Has Great White Father ordained that you shall have summer vacation while corn is growing, deer are running?"
Siobhan: "Uhn, sir, why are you talking like that? And, also, if you could call me Siobhan? It's Celtic. Sir."
Doctor Stonechild: "Anita, I will not call you 'Shee-o-ban.'  And you will stop calling me "The Mighty Chief." What worked when I started my career is as hopelessly out of fashion today as believing there was such a thing as "'Celtic.'" 
Billy W. "It's just like my auntie told me: we're gonna get a lecture."
Doctor Stonechild: "If that's who I think it is, she has no idea what she's talking about. She never stood still for a lecture in her life. Except to give one out. Mostly well deserved, I might add. As for mine, according to my college, you're getting something of some small value for free."
Anita: "Not as much as you deserve, sir. That's why I'm going to Temple, next year. So I can take your contract course!"
Doctor Stonechild: "Fifty years late, I hit the big time! Oh, well, 1963 just wasn't ready for a tenured Injun history professor. Also, I probably shouldn't have scalped the Dean of Men on Harvard Commons that one time."
Billy W.: "I heard about that. He totally had it coming, trying to create science werewolves like that. Wasn't he a super-gorilla in disguise, anyway?" 
Doctor Stonechild: "You will find, someday, Captain, that just because something needs doing, doesn't mean that it needs doing the way you want to do it. As I look back on my life, I count that a lesson well-learned. And like most, from stupid, humiliating failure.  Speaking of which, here's the Dance-Dance Revolution table. You will find that Anita has programmed a routine for all of you."

This is the fourth in a series of fan fictions set in the Champions Universe (a property of the Cryptic Games Studio licensed to DOJ, Inc. for the pen-and-paper Hero Games RPG line). It features the adventures of the teenaged descendants of Philadelphia's superheroic defenders of the "Gold" and "Silver" Age, the Liberty Legion. The new Liberty Legion has been operating for several years now as a mostly self-described auxiliary of Philadelphia's real superteam, the Liberty League. Dr. Stonechild was a member of the Liberty Legion, and a very valued one, except he talked too much. Reverse stereotypes, kids!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Existential Struggles Are More Fun With Guns


No. Really. Orcs show up in a national park, and the rangers fight them. I mean, obviously. These guys aren't going to settle for putting people's heads on spikes. They're going to steal pic-a-nic baskets!
Right after they assault the fortified post full of guys with guns. Which...hey, War Chief Grumsh, could I maybe show you something?

That's single-shot Martini-Henrys that the Human Menace is wielding there. Look, I know that your mission statement ("We're going to eat human face!") has a certain zing, compared with, say, "we're going to hole up tight until we've invented breechloading rifles and maybe some artillery support") but trust a guy from out of the trenches of corporate culture. Zing can be counterproductive. So whatcha think, Grumsh?

No. That won't do at all. Someone put a lot of careful work into that chain mail shirt you're wearing. I'm sure that he wasn't a warrior. Probably more like a smith or something. What's he make? Sixty bucks an hour? Any openings?

I guess you're right. I wear my human privilege so thick I didn't even realise that it would be a problem. I totally see your point. We start by shooting some nice anti-colonialist militia in Natal, and before you know it, we've moved on to exterminating a bunch of inherently evil humanoids who've done nothing worse than created a fullscale medieval economy somewhere up a back valley in Yellowstone and then come down to share the fruits of your labours. Or at least the sharp, pointy bits.

And who can blame you? That couple down at the bus stop the other day seemed to find each other's faces delicious, so who can blame you for wanting the same. I want it too. But do what I do. Write long blogs about Grace Park. It doesn't really work, but it does create long blog postings. And instead you could build factories and create a military-industrial complex. And one day, you could have all the human face you can eat. Or whatever.

No, true, you, personally, would probably be dead by that time, and you'd never have eaten human face at all. But gruel's good, too!