December 26th, 2010

Peter G

'Tis The Season To Hack People Off

Here's the dichotomy -- if you believe in Freedom Of Speech, if you honestly, really, and truly believe in Freedom Of Speech, then you have three types of speech you must defend.

1)  Speech you agree with.  This is easy to do.

2)  Speech that makes no sense.  If someone is talking about some whacked out conspiracy, like Obama being in league with extraterrestrials to prepare the world to be run by sasquatch, all you can do is shrug.

3)  Speech that you don't just disagree with, but it pisses you off or offends you.

That last one is the hardest one, but the most important one.  It says that your rights do not exist at the listener's whim.  We must defend even those we disagree with.

But then, there's the question of appropriateness of time and place.  It's one thing for a person to espouse a point of view that triggers anger.  It's another when they intentionally try to trigger anger, as much anger as possible.  And it gets slippery because how you react to such things, you aren't sure if your response is the correct one.

On Veterans Day, the Garfield comic strip ran a piece where Garfield was about to smash a spider (Jim Davis REALLY needs to retire the strip) and the spider said he would be remembered, commemorated, and become a symbol to his people.  The scene then cut to a schoolroom for spiders and the teacher saying, "...and that's why we have National Stupid Day."  People took this to be a slam on soldiers and their sacrifices.  Davis stated that it was coincidence, the strip just happened to run on Veterans Day, he didn't mean offense.  And I remember they supposedly found proof that he planned it, blah blah blah....

I didn't give it all that much thought, mainly because I can't stand Garfield anymore.  I simply didn't care.  Admittedly, it smelled like an insult to troops, which is a really sore spot for me.  But ultimately, I couldn't allow myself to get really offended.  Davis made a statement that bothered me.  All I could really do was shrug it off.  It's his opinion.  Nothing more.  I express incendiary opinions in my comic strip all the time.  If there was anything to be offended about, it would be what seems to be a blatant trolling attempt, but that's not a question of Freedom Of Speech.  It's a question of him being an asshole.  So I objected to the timing, but not the sentiment.  After all, he isn't the only one who thinks war is a waste of human life.

Why am I bringing up a stupid irrelevant comic strip from almost two months ago?  As an illustrating example.  Yesterday, another strip did something incendiary, and there are some people up in arms, and I notice my reaction is a little bit...different.  The perpetrator?  Doonesbury.  I used to read Doonesbury all the time, and I even have the animated special on VHS.  I didn't really quit for any particular reason, it just sort of fell away from me (I loved Zonk).  It was an exploration of ideas, not a high and mighty critique of them.  The animated special in particular, where the Walden Pond gang wonders where their activism went as they got older, was something I really got, having wondered about my own trajectory at times.  Every once in a while, whether in response to a news article or just reflecting on myself, I will hear Thudpucker's "Do You Remember What The Winds Of Change Were Like?" playing in the back of my head.

So, what did Gary Trudeau do that was so bad?  Here's a transcript of the relevant parts of the strip that ran yesterday, Christmas Day:

SOLDIER:  Yes, ma'am, I talk to our chaplain.

SOCIAL WORKER:  Good.  A chaplain can be a good resource.

SOLDIER:  Mine yells at God a lot.

SOCIAL WORKER:  He deserves it.  In my extremely humble opinion.

Okay, we are going to assume that this is something Trudeau is saying using a character as a mouthpiece instead of something the character would say.  There is a difference.  I have characters who say and do things I don't, but the character is supposed to.  There's a difference between self-inserts and true characters.  Or even using a character, not as a mouthpiece, but because they would say something he agrees with and gives them the spotlight.  Bottom line:  we are going to assume Trudeau has a problem with God and this whole thing was planned.

Ultimately, I can't get upset.

I mean, what's next?  You can't say anything like this on Sunday because that's the Sabbath Day?  You need to book an appointment to speak your mind?  Not everyone believes in God, and even among those that do, not everyone loves Him.  There is a very vocal section that feels anger, that God has basically turned his back on the world and if He truly loved us, why isn't He doing something about the wickedness of the world.  After all, He's God.  It's not like He has to put up with this.  Trudeau is actually voicing a relatively common opinion about God, one that can be said any other time of the year.  Did he time it for Christmas just to hack people off, or did he do it because that was when the idea he had to communicate would have the greatest impact?  Does it matter?  If he can't say such things, then no one can.  And not only does that mean we have to patrol people's thoughts, but it violates the very liberty God granted us when he brought us to life.  It's a different philosophy.  Can't we just let it be?

Now, admittedly, my opinion could be absolutely wrong.  What's more, it could change, sometimes quite rapidly.  My opinion of the Ground Zero mosque, for example, flipped instantly from "Let them build it" to "They shouldn't build it" after a very reasoned discussion with an Iraqi War veteran who put the whole debate in a new light, one I couldn't just ignore.  I used to be a "ban the guns" type person.  Mornblade sat down with me and addressed all my concerns, treated me with respect, and presented his ideas.  Result:  I flipped, and I no longer want to ban guns.  So it's not like my stances on anything are truly absolutes.  There may be some details about Trudeau and the strip that I am unaware of, and things could change later.  But frankly, whether it ran on Christmas or not, Trudeau has ultimately voiced an opinion, and unlike the Veterans Day one (which only happens once a year), this opinion is very dangerous to restrict when it can be expressed.

A lot of us disagree with Trudeau's opinion.  Some agree with it.  He's not advocated hateful action, he's simply stating something.  Given the true evil in the world, the things that really require opposition, the things that really cannot stand, why waste time on a stupid comic strip known for radical and unrepentant opinion?  That's what Trudeau does -- expresses opinion, whether they are agreed with or disagreed with.  Allow him the freedom of opinion we give ourselves.
Peter G

The Road Goes Ever On And On

The classic movie It's A Wonderful Life posits that each of us has more impact on people's lives than we realize.  It's an interesting thought, but I was never quite sure I bought it.  Life does go on, you know.

So it's kind of a shock to find out I do have some sort of impact, one I never expected.

I'm chatting with my teacher online (she does keep tabs on me around the holidays).  And she's talking about how far I've advanced.  No student of hers has developed as much as I have, and in such a relatively short time to boot.  She is proud and honored to know me and to have me as a student.

I ask her how much further I have to go.  I have to be getting near the end of the ride, right?

She tells me we never stop learning, the journey never ends.  "Even me," she says.  "I still learn something new every day."

That surprised me.  The depth of her wisdom is amazing.  You're still learning? I ask.

"Every day, I see or hear or experience something I never had before.  Or see how people react to it.  Or how people connect.  There is always something to learn."

I think about how much I've learned from her.  I steel my nerve and ask, Have you learned anything from me?

"Yes."

I was stunned.  My mind just couldn't grasp it.  I'm just some pesky renegade Christian, Polish mangaka, and sarcastic jackass.  I must have really been thrown, because she typed, "Hello?"

I'm still here, I type back quickly.  Then I type, I don't get it.  You're the teacher, not the student.  You have the answers.  What could you possibly learn from me?

"Determination."

I shook my head.  I'm just trying to move forward.

"Against more obstacles than most people face, metaphorically and realistically.  And you always find a way."

I don't remember much of the chat after that.  I just can't get over it.  She would never lie to me, but the idea that I am teaching her ANYTHING just makes my head spin.  It's humbling.  And it's inconceivable to me.

We all want the same thing out of life -- we want relevance.  To know that, on some level, we matter.  To find out I matter to someone I admire so greatly...I just don't know what to think.  Other than I want to keep advancing, to be worthy of her respect.  However long that may take.
Enchanting Mermaid

Angels, We Have Heard Are High....

Another Christmas in the books, another successful year for me.

As usual, I hit home runs with every gift.  My sister and her husband are huge Jeff Dunham fans.  I got them a talking Peanut doll.  My sister must have played with it for a half hour.  Aces.

My parents called from Florida to say how much they loved the gifts.  Daddy got Inception.  He had heard of it, but he hadn't seen it.  He wasn't sure he'd enjoy it, given that my tastes tend to be a little more...involved (he likes Adam Sandler movies, I could do without them).  I told him to give it a chance, just like he gave the Star Trek movie a try last year and loved it.  He did.  He said it was awesome.  One of these days, he's gonna have to know to listen to me.  Mom's big gift, besides Yet Another Glass Knickknack For Her Collection, was Mamma Mia on DVD.  I can't stand ABBA (my parents played it nearly continually when I was a kid, so I'm a real burnout case), but this wasn't about what I like, it's about what she likes.  She loves it, although Daddy is a bit pissed because she's watched the movie at least twice and sings along with it.  So maybe that's a split.

Mornblade and his lovely wife also loved what I got them, the Daria perfect collection.  That was their gift to share.  Mornblade got an ELO live in concert DVD and a Caf-Pow! travel cup.  His wife, meanwhile, got Mad Science by Theodore Grey.  Here's what you need to know -- it tells you how to make heavy water.  She was looking through the book with an expression like me looking through an Italian cookbook.  Now I know why Mornblade's favorite character in Stress Puppy is Holly -- she probably reminds him of his wife.

So, that's the giving end.  Usually, I don't talk about the receiving end, but given the adventure the gang went through, I have to write it up here.  Us Christmas pros have a technique we call "piggybacking".  You have someone you want to give a gift to.  You want to give them something they like, but you have no experience whatsoever and want to get them something worthwhile.  So, using a bluff (it's for a friend, I just bought this what do you think?, etc.), you let them check it out, tell you where the bargains are, or if what you are getting is any good.  I don't question my friends, so I don't realize i'm being piggybacked until it's all over.

I want an Android tablet.  This is no secret.  One day, an Augen Gentouch76 is spotted at Kmart.  $160, right inside the price range (everyone pools their gift money for each person together so that not only are the options greater, but the gift is from everybody).  The gang is excited.  The search is over!  Peter will love this!

Well, maybe not.  Vera reminded them of the bullshit I went through with the Everex Cloudbook, the first Linux computer I ever found that wasn't actually Linux compatible.  So, they grab one and hold onto the receipt.  Vera then says to me that she got this Android tablet for work, but she's not sure it's working right for what she needs.  Can I check it over for her?

It doesn't take long for me to dismiss the Augen as a rip-off.  It's running unauthorized Android, so you have to sideload apps, two hour battery life (ON AN ARM?!?  ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!?), the microSD card got jammed, it has a poorly responding resistance screen instead of a nice capacitance screen, and it got uncomfortably warm.  I told her she should take it back.  I wouldn't even be happy with it.

Well, that settled that for a while.  Then, Jimmy spots an Archos Android tablet at Sears.  They decide to try again, with Vera acting the part.  Amazingly, it was even worse than the Augen.  The sound driver not only wasn't tested, the sound chip hasn't been adequately researched yet.  Sound was hit and miss, video was lousy, another resistance screen, lousy battery life...other than basic net surfing and reading e-books, horrible.  She thanked me for helping her out and took it back.

By this point, they were starting to panic.  They had basically figured there was no way this could go wrong, and here it was, flaming out so spectacularly, Lakehurst, NJ was noticing.  We were supposed to exchange gifts real soon, and they had nothing.

Chester calls me up and says they are having trouble finding a gift for me.  Do I have any suggestions?  I say, yeah.  You can't go wrong with video games with me.  Or just get me some mermaid stuff.

A day later, I get a call from Jimmy.  "Okay, where exactly did this mermaid thing come from?"

I don't know, I tell him.  I have no idea how it started.  I mean, it wasn't there last year, or I would have asked for mermaid stuff last year.

I tell him that we can still meet on our schedule night, I can wait.

Jimmy drops the hammer.  "No.  We're family, we celebrate together, and that's that."

They do manage to uncover some gifts for me, so off we go to gather just before Christmas.  It's while the gifts are going around that the story of the Android tablet comes out.  I apologize, I didn't mean to make it rough on them.  They tell me not to apologize, at least they know I'll enjoy what I got, as opposed to the tablet, which would have driven me bonkers.

So, my gifts come around.  What's my loot?  First, they got me a gift certificate for boots and such when I get diving certified this summer.  I'm guessing they know there's no way I'm not going to Jules' Undersea Lodge.  Next, they got me this.  This is, obviously, a Little Mermaid keyboard.  It lights up and Ariel twitches her tail in time with the music.  It is obviously not intended for grown-ups, but I don't care.  I'm playing, as well as I'm able to, some of the jazzy tunes from Bonanza Bros.  I draw the line at Christmas carols, though.  I ain't torturing myself with that.  They also got me this mermaid plushie here.  20".  (Side note:  one of the things Mornblade got me was the anime series Mermaid's Scar.  So I had a very mermaid Christmas. Beats the hell out of fruit cake.)

That, however, wasn't the end of the aquatic theme from the gang.  I've been wanting a new camera to replace my old digital camera.  It's about twelve years old and uses floppy disks.  Still works, but the batteries are getting harder to come by and it's just cumbersome.  So the gang got me a new digital camera.  This baby comes with a plastic housing that is waterproof up to 45 feet.  Jules' Undersea Lodge is 30 feet under the water.  Also takes video.  They want pics.  It can support an 8G memory card.  They'll get pics, all right.

From Mornblade and his lovely wife, he got me the aforementioned Mermaid's Scar (what is it going to take to convince you people I don't have mermaids on the brain?), the Cinematic Titanic version of Terror On Tiki Island, and The Good The Bad And The Weird (I watched a few minutes of it, and it will wait until this weekend when I can really sit down and enjoy it, this thing is a hoot).  He also got me a set of Neil Peart signature drum sticks, so now I can practice the Drum Solo Of Life (ring a bell if you got that reference).

So, I gave awesome presents, and I received awesome presents.  Another great Christmas.