The setting is the story: two examples

In his various books on writing, Orson Scott Card says the core of a story is usually one of four things: Character, Question, Setting or Plot. Both CRAZY RICH ASIANS and AIRPORT, which I read earlier this month, strike me as examples of books where the setting is the essence of the story.

In a setting story, we start with our entry into the world — the milieu of the super-rich of Singapore in Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, a bustling international U.S. airport in Arthur Hailey’s Airport. We end when we leave. The story doesn’t focus so much on the character arcs or the plot as telling us about the setting: how things work, why things happen the way they do, what’s going on behind the scenes. Both books are info-dumpy; both books wander away from the main characters and the main plot to show us the setting. That would be flaws if the plot or the protagonists’ character arcs were the center of the story, but they aren’t.

In Crazy Rich Asians, the nominal plot is a traditional romance one: can a poor-but-honest girl (Rachel, an economics professor) convince her boyfriend’s (Nick) fabulously wealth family that she’s not a gold-digger? Can she cope when jealous exes start sharpening their knives and setting out to humiliate her? The book starts when the relationship intersects Nick’s world: some of his Singapore friends spot the couple together, snap some photos and the gossip mill soon gets word to his mother, Eleanor. She despises American born Chinese, and would much sooner Nick marry a girl from a good, Singapore family.

The heart of the book, though, is the setting. Kwan introduces us to Singapore culture: slang, food, neighborhoods, customs and schools, which I found interesting (it’s not a place I know much about). And we get the time-honored fictional fixation of OMG, Look How Rich These People Are (you can find the same thing in The Count of Monte Cristo). Characters constantly drop designer names. We get detailed descriptions of their trips to Paris, or rides on jets bigger than Air Force One, spectacular jewelry massive yachts, insanely over-the-top bachelor/bachelorette events, huge mansions, someone bringing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to sing at their wedding … This is the kind of thing that normally bores me to tears, but the Singapore setting helped keep it interesting for 200-300 pages. Unfortunately the novel is 500 pages and it wound up being a slog.

The book ends when Rachel and Nick make it through the family gauntlet and leave Singapore. It’s also another info-dump as we learn a shit-ton about Rachel’s paternal family in mainland China (setting up Book Two, China Rich Girlfriend).

Airport starts with Lincoln Airport struggling to cope with a massive snowfall. Planes are delayed, passengers are pissy, everyone’s under stress. We soon meet Mel, the chief of operations, who alongside his right hand, Tanya, is struggling to deal with closed runways, a plane that’s frozen in place, and angry complaints from a nearby neighborhood about planes overhead (airspace is to crowded to stay away). Mel’s personal arc — his marriage is collapsing, he and Tanya are contemplating an affair — plays a role in the book, as does his brother Kevin (an air-traffic controller contemplating suicide due to stress) and Mel’s brother-in-law Vern (having an affair with a stewardess). But these are just the spine on which Hailey hangs the meat of the book, how airports and airlines work.

We get details of staff burnout, stewardesses slipping miniature drink bottles into their purse to stock their bars at home, how airlines handle pregnant stewardesses (back in the 1960s when this came out, they’d pay for the maternity care, then arrange an adoption), how you clear a snowy runway, conflicts between homeowners and nearby airports, the financial struggle to keep the airport equal to the boom in air travel, a discussion of airports of the future (that part didn’t age well), how stowaways sneak on board. Even the characters come with info-dump backstories that tell us more than we need to know — it’s like they’re another piece of equipment at the airport. The ending is Mel and Tanya leaving for dinner at her apartment while the snow finally eases up.

This worked better for me than Crazy Rich Asians because while the details did get to be more than I wanted to know, the various subplots do keep things moving a little faster. And it is an interesting time capsule back to the days when cockpits and business meetings were full of tobacco smoke, airlines serve high-quality delicious meals to passengers, abortion is talked about in whispers and someone can walk right onto a plane to give a passenger an item they forgot when they packed (there’s also a discussion about whether it’s time to tell passengers not to bring guns on board).

#SFWApro. Covers by Joan Wong (top) and Mimi Bark (bottom), all rights remain with current holders.

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Links about people behaving badly.

I’m always amazed how much anti-gay pastors turn out to be bottling up either a closeted gay side or something actually horrible For example, anti-gay preacher Ken Adkins and his taste for underage sex.

Being a conservative talking head is sometimes just a way to scam your followers.

Rep. Steve King, who insists white supremacist didn’t use to be an offensive term, doubles down.

Speaking of white supremacists, Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute is falling on hard times.

The right keeps talking about civil war if they don’t get their way. For example.

How corporate culture crashed the Boeing 737 Max.

Global warming has Australia on fire. But media magnate Rupert Murdoch wants everyone to know it’s arson and environmentalists.

Eric Metaxas argues that as we’re all sinners, Christianity Today shouldn’t call for Trump’s impeachment.

Jamelle Bouie on why Trump is a Lovecraftian monster.

“Chauvinist American commentators always presume America has the best intentions, and that the American military is composed of saintly warrior-poets. The reality is that the lumbering American colossus has unleashed a Thirty Years’ War-level of violent chaos all around Iran for no good reason at all. ” — Ryan Cooper on why if Soleimani is a bad guy, so are we.

It’s not the first time I’ve heard bullshit that if Democrats win, Christians will be the new Jews.

Harvey Weinstein’s lawyer warns women that if #metoo keeps up, they’ll never get another date!

And right-wingers complain about liberal political correctness!

Incels freak out that even if they sleep with prostitutes, the sex workers have had other lovers.

5G cell service may be a major problem for weather-forecasting satellites.

Chuck Todd of Meet the Press is stunned to realize Republicans tell lies.

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Scooby-Doo, Smash and Robert Bloch: books read

SCOOBY DOO TEAM-UP Vol. 2 by Sholly Fisch, Dario Brizuela and Scott Jeralds continues in the spirit of V1, except broadening the range: rather than sticking to DC superheroes, they time travel back to the “modern stone age” of the Flintstones, forward to the age of the Jetsons, then encounters with Superman Jonny Quest, Secret Squirrel and Harley Quinn. A lot of the fun is the in-jokes (“I’m glad you kids won’t be here for breakfast — Barney keeps trying to steal my cereal.”) so the weakest installment is with Secret Squirrel — he simply doesn’t have enough of a history to contribute much material. Second weakest is Superman, because while funny, the kids really don’t affect the plot any. Still, a pleasure to read.

SMASH: Trial by Fire by Chris A. Bolton is a graphic novel in which pre-teen Andrew accidentally acquires the powers of the world’s mightiest hero when the villainous Magus’ attempt to steal the powers of the Defender goes slightly awry. The results as Andrew struggles to live up to his new powers are funny, but the art got too confusing in the action scenes.

THE BEST OF ROBERT BLOCH is a collection of short stories ranging from Yours Truly Jack the Ripper (which Bloch himself considers somewhat overrated), to the pastiche The Man Who Collected Humor the gentle humor of All on a Golden Afternoon (easily his gentlest mockery of psychiatry) to the utopian World Timers and the computer-terrorism story The Oracle. Not all A-list — The Learning Maze is a tedious Western Union — but overall excellent. The cover comes from Bloch’s Hugo-winner That Hellbound Train, a funny but pointed story about our inability to know how good we have it.

#SFWApro. Covers by Dario Brizuela (top) and Paul Alexander, all rights remain with curren tholders.

 

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From the Red Forest to Eternia, from 2007 to now: TV viewed

Hulu finally streamed the last season of SyFy’s 12 MONKEYS and it was worth waiting for (I binged while all my regular shows are on Christmas break). As someone who’s seen a lot of time travel stuff — hey, I wrote the book on it — it’s hard to impress me any more, but the show did.

At the end of S3, we learned that the murderous Olivia (Alison Down) of the Army of the 12 Monkeys was also the Witness, the antichrist figure who would destroy time and bring about the Red Forest, a timeless world in which we’d all experience our most perfect moment, without end — but without change or growth. As Cole (Aaron Stanford) says, “we can have forever or we can have now” but not both.

Learning there’s a weapon to stop the Red Forest, Cole and the rest of the cast hunt through time to recover it. But when they do, it appears even if they make it work, the solution will erase Cole from reality (as the first person to time travel, erasing him restores causality). What results is a grim race against time to save time, with several surprises and some paradoxes from earlier seasons resolved. The ending shouldn’t have worked for me: the twist of “we must restore the original timeline … but we’ll change just this little bit so it ends happy” normally doesn’t work but they pulled it off. And the cast remains great, particularly Emily Hampshire as Jennifer. “Save Hitler? That’s not what you do with a time machine!”

I also binged the fourth season of SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER and damn, that was good.  As Katra and the Horde increase the pressure on the Princess Alliance, friendships start to fracture, abetted by the conniving shapeshifter Double Trouble. This mirrors what happens in the Horde, as Katra’s arrogance and ambition alienate even the people close to her, such as Scorpia. And Adora learns there are secrets about She-Ra that she has no idea of yet … It’s good both as action/adventure and at the personal drama level. “That’s why nobody comes to games night any more.”

As I bought TYG the WILD PALMS DVD set, we naturally watched it last month, and I was started to realize this 1993 miniseries took place in the near-future of 2007. Fortunately we live in the real world where we don’t have to worry about authoritarian extremists using the threat of terrorism to chip away at our freedom —oh, wait.

Jim Belushi plays Harry, an attorney swept in a mysterious conspiracy when his former lover Paige (Kim Cattrall) asks for help, though it turns out he’s been unwittingly entangled in things for years. What is the “Go” chip? Why is there a rhinoceros in the swimming pool? Who is Harry’s son really? Solidly cast with Dana Delaney as Harry’s troubled wife, Angie Dickinson as her vicious mother, Robert Loggia as an evil senator and David Warner as a scientist. Despite being 13 years in our past, it holds up well. “Death to the new realism!”

My reason for watching the Bonita Granville and Emma Roberts Nancy Drew movies was that I’ve become hooked on the CW’s NANCY DREW series. Much like Riverdale, sex plays a larger role than in the original books: Nancy and Ned sleeping together, Bess is gay and George was having an affair with a married man. The story arc for the first half-season concerns the murder of said married man’s wife, with Nancy and her friends all looking like suspects. Further complicating things is the ghost of “Dead Lucy,” a beauty queen from Nancy’s father’s generation who died mysteriously and wants Nancy to investigate. How does it fit together? We get an answer at the mid-season break, but I’m confident it’s not the real one. I’m glad CW picked this up for a full season. “I just banished a spirit from the mortal world, now I’m summoning an Uber.”

#SFWApro. Rights to images remain with current holders.

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Overpowered by pets! My week in review

I knew that with TYG out of town Wednesday through Friday, this week would be a little demanding. But like Don Blake beholding Dr. Doom’s scarred face, I never dreamt it would be like this!

First, the background: TYG has an alumni event around this time every year. Normally it overlaps with Illogicon, the local SF con, so we board the dogs for the weekend. This year, however, hotel issues led to the con skipping until 2021. Even though TYG was out of town last month, she left Friday; this year she left Wednesday. It’s been at least a couple of years since I had to cope with handling the dogs solo on a workweek morning.

(And this is not a complaint about my spouse: I’m glad she’s having fun, and it’s not like I don’t travel solo sometimes).

Knowing they’d want long morning walks, I figured I’d get up, have breakfast, and work until it was light enough to take them out. But Trixie and Plush Dog follow me downstairs when they don’t have TYG upstairs to snuggle with. That’s distracting, plus my brain kept insisting this was my warmup period before work, not a time for actual writing, and I couldn’t seem to get past that.

Plus Wisp, as I noted this morning, has been really keen on coming in for petting, and that took up some extra time. And so did the walkies. This morning I got back from the walk at 9:15, which is almost two hours after I’d normally start writing. And I just went screw it, and gave up.

Despite which I did get some stuff done. I’m getting close to the end of Sexist Myths Chapter Six, which is all I expected to finish this month (I may have been wrong). I got through another chapter of Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Contrary to my worries last week, I think I’ve figured how to progress through some key scenes in KC’s personal arc. Didn’t get around to working on it further, though.

I redrafted Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates part-way. It’s improving steadily; I hope my next batch of beta-readers agrees with me the title works even though there’s no longer a box of chocolates — I think it’s funnier if death comes from a box of Stuckey’s praline candies.

And I submitted three stories Monday to various markets, as well as reworking and finishing Rabbits Indignateonem (thanks to feedback from my friend Cindy Holbrook). I also revised Fiddler’s Black based on feedback from the last market I submitted it to, tdotspec. They thought one of my two leads was undeveloped, and that the opening needed tightening; after looking it over, I agree on both counts. I’ll go over it again before I resubmit it somewhere.

So pretty good, even if I didn’t stick the landing. And after all my dogs are worth losing time over. So is my wife.#SFWApro. Dog photo by me, cover by John Buscema, all rights remain with current holder.

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Wisp, the persistent

So Wisp’s thing the past week or so is that when I put down breakfast on the deck, she comes in and apparently doesn’t want to go out to eat.

She’s done that before, but not for quite such long stretches, or so consistently. I half-wonder if she’s thinking about becoming an indoor cat, but I kind of hope not, because we’re not ready for that yet (no scratching post, no litter box).

 

While it’s nice to get a little extra petting in, it’s also a problem because sooner or later I have to get up and do other stuff. I can’t just leave Wisp sitting there if the dogs are here too; they seem to get along almost okay, but almost is not good enough. I really don’t want to have to explain to TYG that Wisp took her claws and shivved Plush Dog. I do need to try getting up and leaving Wisp at times the dogs are out on walkies or in daycare and see how she does if I’m not sitting next to her. If she’s going to spend more time inside, she’s going to have to do some of it when I’m not petting her.

She also likes to follow us on walkies.

It’s a little scary when she crosses the road, but so far she’s had the good sense to retreat into her Wisp cave in the storm drains.

Over on the canine side, Trixie’s tummy continues to be a problem. We’ve switched her over to a different kind of kibble, but we need wet food to go with it and have had trouble procuring any. Still her reaction to the new kibble is good, so that’s encouraging.

Walks are getting longer in the cold, which is good for them. Good for me too, but it also cuts into my work time. Still, I won’t refuse them a long walk.

#SFWApro. Photo is mine.

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Sometimes we need a laugh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of Sullivan’s Travels, Preston Sturges’ film about a pretentious director who wants to make serious movies about man’s inhumanity to man and injustice and suffering so he sets out to experience suffering. Only without actually suffering, so it isn’t very effective. But then things change and in a startling twist, he gets some real suffering handed out. And thereby comes to realize that for some people a movie that simply makes them laugh and forget their troubles for an hour or two is a precious thing.

Which brings me to Michael Chabon, who says he’s stepping down as chairman of the art-centered MacDowell Colony’s board of directors because contrary to his early optimism, art isn’t saving the world: “Yet here we are, nine years into my tenure, and not only is the world not a better place—it has, in so many ways, gotten so much worse. I mean, really, what other conclusion is there? I’m sorry. Don’t hate me. I tried.” But in the end he concludes that even if art can’t stop the looming fascist night, it’s worth creating. Art connects us, art inspires us, art brings us together. “We’re just going to keep on doing what we do: Making and consuming art. Supporting the people who remind us that we are in this together. We are each only one poem, one painting, one song away from another mind, another heart. It’s tragic that we need so much reminding. And yet we have, in art, the power to keep reminding each other.”

An essay on the last decade in American theater ponders the same question: “Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day (his 1985 first play, rewritten and revived this year at the Public) is an extended meditation on how creativity can counter fascism, and he comes up with zero, bupkus, the big goose egg.” More optimistically the essay concludes that theater, being anything but a cash cow, has the freedom to push boundaries and open us up to the wild in us all: “What if we thought of theater as big wilderness corridors, cutting through all the polite, useful, domesticated stuff that makes up most of life? What if we stopped trying to tell people what not to do in the theater? What if we just abandoned all talk of how silly it is to spend time there instead of at a protest? Ecologically, we already know that we need wilderness so the world can breathe. Purposelessness is itself a kind of sacred purpose. A theater is a place for chaos, thievery, destruction, misrule, recklessness, imagination, adventure, courage, provocation, and possibility. Throw your MFAs into a bonfire! Forget the rules! The wilderness has always been the place for wild beasts—but also hermits on their pillars. Don’t despair if you don’t find an obvious mission there. Go back into the wild. It’s where saints go to study.”

I like that (with the understanding that running wild does not excuse being a jerk). I’m not sure how I’d apply it in my own writing, but … I’ll give it some thought. Even if I apply it, I don’t think my art or my work will change the world or stop the world that may be coming. It’s still better to create. Better to write books than burn them, better to lessen pain or give an our of respite than make people suffer more. As C.S. Lewis says, in Norse mythology Ragnarok will destroy everything no matter what the Aesir or mortals do to stop it. None of that changes our duty to fight against the darkness, the Fenris Wolf, the frost giants. If the night is coming, let’s at least offer a few candles.

#SFWApro. Cover image by Arthur Rackham, all rights to image remain with current holder.

 

 

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Golden-Age Wonder Woman: Surprised by Joye

The second half of THE GOLDEN AGE WONDER WOMAN OMNIBUS, Volume 2 (click here for my review of the first half)marks the first time a woman wrote Wonder Woman’s adventures. After 1946, that wouldn’t happen again until the 1980s Legend of Wonder Woman. William Moulton Marston had Murchison, his assistant, ghost-write a couple of stories (according to Lambiek) when he was pressed for time (that was S.O.P. for successful comics creators in the Golden Age). Then he faced the double-barreled shotgun of polio and cancer, so Murchison, along with Robert Kanigher, took up all of the workload.

Murchison’s first story involves taking a group of warmongers to Venus, to be reformed by their winged female population (introduced previously in a Justice Society story). It doesn’t go well, of course. Like most of Murchison’s work, it’s very much in the Marston mold, so I’m guessing he was still providing a lot of plotting or at least ideas. Some of Murchison’s later stories feel less Marstonian, such as an encounter with Neptunians: they’re a unisex society with no women at all, growing new generations in test tubes, some of whom are literally bred to be slaves. With the emphasis on how the strongest Neptunian rules all the rest and their hatred of women, it’s like an early shot at toxic masculinity (the cover shows Wonder Woman battling a Venusian tiger/ape hybrid). Murchison also brings back the Cheetah for a return engagement.

Robert Kanigher’s stories tend to be more conventional crimefighting tales, or to throw in the random monsters he’d use during much of the Silver Age.

Marston does contribute a few stories during this era. One introduced Countess Draska Nishki in Sensation Comics. The countess is a spymaster who shows up to inform Darnell she has top-secret information to sell him: American secrets that he can buy back for a cool million. She’s very much a clone of the now-reformed Paula von Gunther, but Paula was a formidable foe, so that works. Regrettably, Nishki only appeared once more until Kanigher’s god-awful Golden Age reboot near the end of his run.

“The Lawbreakers’ League” in Sensation Comics #46 interesting because it shows even Marston’s Diana was capable of entertaining seriously the possibility of submitting to Steve and letting him be the boss (something I associate more with the later Silver Age). The eponymous crime cartel give Steve a device that channels brain energy into his body, the same technique Amazons use (this is the first we hear of this). The device will make him stronger than Wonder Woman, which Ferva, one of the League’s leaders, assures her cohorts will make the Amazon melt and submit to him: deep down, all women want a man who can dominate them (a claim I still hear today). And then she’ll marry him and become nothing but a housewife, no threat to anyone.

Wonder Woman does indeed find it thrilling to be in the arms of a stronger, more powerful man … at first. By the end of the story, she tells Steve she could “never love a dominant man who’s stronger than I am.” Without a second’s hesitation, Steve smashes the League’s device, which is cool — Kanigher’s Silver Age Steve would never do that.

I don’t know when I’ll pick up V3, but I’ll have more of the George Perez reboot to review soon enough.

#SFWApro. All covers by H.G. Peters, all rights remain with current holders.

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Doc Savage, recycled: The Screaming Man, Measures For a Coffin, Se-Pah-Poo

We’re now in the post-WW II period. Hopefully the remaining years of Doc’s magazine won’t all be this unsatisfying. All three of the stories this time out are recycled from better ones.

THE SCREAMING MAN opens with Annie Flinders shadowing Doc around some POW camps in Manila as he talks to prisoners who haven’t been repatriated yet (it’s similar to a scene from Jiu-San). Annie is an interesting character, a dancer who got into war work because she wanted excitement but the WAACs stationed her far away from the front lines. She’s finally made it to the Philippines but the war is over; still, it’s obvious Doc’s up to something.

When she tries to cut in, the bad guys kidnap her to find out what Doc is up to (typical for this era, Doc is  ineffective helping her). Now Doc, Monk and Ham, who are hunting a vanished Johnny Littlejohn, have to find Annie too. The trail leads to an ocean liner repurposed to ship a bunch of POWs home. Both Johnny and Annie are on board.

Johnny, we learn, disappeared while investigating the mysterious Jonas Sown. Who may be an urban legend, because what are the chances a single man turned Japan, Germany and Italy toward warmongering  and fascism? But Johnny has confirmed he’s real, hiding on the ship; just as they caught Hitler in Violent Night, they have to stop Sown. The villain’s agents refer to Johnny as “the screaming man” without any explanation (he’s not screaming).

Trouble is, we know it’s important to catch Hitler; a made-up villain’s escape doesn’t have the same punch. We don’t see enough of Sown to make him believable as a John Sunlight-class monster. The man Doc finally unmasks as Sown is smart, but hardly Super-Evil Genius Worse Than Hitler smart. We don’t even know how he worked his magic; Johnny suggests it might have been some kind of mind-control tech but that’s just a hand-wave. Sown ends up as mere smoke and mirrors, though he returns in one of Will Murray‘s Doc Savage novels, The Frightened Fish

MEASURES FOR A COFFIN would have worked perfectly well as a straight detective story. It’s not strong enough for Doc, even given that Monk and Ham are the ones handling most of the action; it’s also a second-rate variation of Lo Lar’s scheme in The Feathered Octopus. It opens well as the ticket takers at a prestigious medical conference realize several of the tickets are fake — but who’d want to get in free? I assumed the goal was to kill Doc (the keynote speaker) but no, it’s to arrange an “accident” in which he’s hideously burned and has to be mummified in bandages. With Doc’s aides off overseas, nobody spots the bandaged figure announcing his retirement from adventuring is a ringer; he’s going into business, with an idea to helping people through building thriving businesses offering good jobs and useful products. Given his reputation, investors are not lacking.

When Monk and Ham return from Europe, the schemers blows up their flight to stop them interfering. They deduce this has something to do with Doc’s retirement, which looks fishy to them: would he really do that without talking it over with them and the others? In a relatively short span of time they’ve exposed the villains — competent, but not that formidable — and rescued Doc. In the aftermath, Doc reflects that his reputation is a valuable asset — a fascist coup in South America failed merely because he threatened to intervene — and that the scheme, had it gone through, would have destroyed it. That’s the best bit in the book. Second best is the book’s female lead, Miss Clayton. She’s identified as “an Intellect” whose work for a high-tech company entitles her to “the most impressive office in the place” and two secretaries. This doesn’t affect the story, but for that very reason I’m glad Lester Dent added the detail rather than make her purely decorative.

SE-PAH-POO should have worked better, as it’s recycling the pre-war SF style of the series: the villain has a deadly super-weapon, in this case a sonic-based heat ray that melts metal and burns flesh. However this element is buried in a mundane murder mystery involving the Explorers Club, a group of yes, explorers, who are currently excavating a fabulous ruin, a pre-Columbian cliff city in the Southwest. “Se-pah-poo” is supposedly the native name for a hole in the floor of their holy places that allows the god to enter.

The adventure starts off with Doc getting off a train and meeting Grunts. He’s the fourth Native American sidekick to crop up in this period and like Johnny Toms in Strange Fish, is college educated but talks in pidgin. Grunts also conforms to the superstitious and cowardly stereotype, freaking out when anything weird happens.

Doc calls for Monk and Ham, who wind up traveling west with Wanda Casey, who like Grunts inherited her membership in the club from one of the founders. Having a woman join upset the group enough they’ve changed the rules so that if someone else dies, the surviving members assume his share. This gives one of them a golden opportunity: kill off the rest of the club and he gets the sizable treasury for his own.

I like the idea of using a super-weapon for such a mundane purpose could certainly work, and it probably would have with some of the larger-than-life dash of the 1930s. Here, not so much.

#SFWApro. Covers by Emery Clarke, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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So we might be at war with Iran soon …

We killed an Iraqi commander with a drone strike. If it goes to war, the outcome will be ugly. And the treatment of Iranian-Americans too.

A lot of the responses, even from the liberal side, have included declarations that while the decision, and bragging about it so Iran knows we’re responsible, may be a mistake, Commander Soleimani was a bad dude who killed Americans and we shouldn’t feel bad for him.

Well, fair enough, though given that our drone strikes kill grandmothers, day laborers and good Samaritans, I don’t know that’s really a moral argument: if Iran or any Middle East group started executing drone operators, we’d be screaming about how monstrous it was to take them out.

More generally, we didn’t kill the dude because he’s bad. We take out people because they’re either threats or they’ve pissed us off (e.g, Chilean President Salvador Allende: Nixon didn’t want a socialist in office, so he overthrew Allende). If “bad dude” was the issue, we’d do something about the Saudis (repressive sexists who murder journalists) or Duterte in the Philippines. We don’t, because it’s not in our interests. We don’t take out North Korea’s Kim because the retaliation would not be in our interests.

Was killing Soleimani and then announcing it in our interests? Probably not. It’s good for Trump because he gets to strut and brag a lot, but as noted in that Vox link above, it makes it a lot harder to avoid a messy war (and we and Iran have a long history of misunderstanding each other). While the Trump administration is talking about stopping an imminent threat, I don’t believe that without iron clad evidence — we’ve entered into far too many wars based on similar bullshit claims.

In other news:

fA cop claims a server wrote “F–ing pig” on his receipt. Turns out the cop lied.

An NYPD officer staying in Nashville broke into the neighboring house, terrorized the residents and called them racial slurs. He got two weeks in jail.

The Trump tax cuts were very generous to big business. Under pressure from lobbyists, the Treasury department was even more generous about interpreting the law.

Incels are horrified that even hookers have probably slept with men before the incels patronize them.

White supremacist Augustus Sol Invictus was running for president. Now he’s been arrested for domestic violence.

A dispute over gay marriage will literally split the United Methodist Church in two.

Crackpot political paranoid Liz Croker argues that Tom Hanks appeared in The Man With One Red Shoe, red shoes are a symbol of pedophilia, ergo Hanks is a pedophile.

“We’ve been governed by idiots in eras and ages past, and occasionally we’ve gotten a break because men and women of good will decided to buck the tide, and we’ve still got a few of those despite the massive pressure our society applies to make them and all of us more idiot-friendly.” — Roy Edroso on not giving up hope.

“The rich often get what they want, even when most of the public want the opposite.” — Paul Krugman about the excessive influence of the wealthy in politics.

Alex Pareene looks at why the Obama years didn’t produce permanent liberal gains.

“Seeing this “Christmas spirit” at work is encouraging because it demonstrates that we’re capable of it. It proves that generosity and sympathy and magnanimity and charity are possible as a way of being together in this world. It shows that we can, in fact, choose to be overwhelmingly kind and gracious to one another.

But it also demonstrates that we’re not able — or perhaps not willing — to sustain such grace and generosity. We can heed the better angels of our nature, but only once a year and only for a very brief period. We tend to spend the rest of the year refusing to be generous or merciful because, come on, it’s not Christmas.” — Fred Clark on the paradox of the Christmas spirit.

Greece prosecuted a budget official for presenting accurate figures.

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