Sunday, January 26, 2014

Harry Potter - Education, Population, and Socioeconomics

As quaint as they find Muggle society, Witches and Wizards in Harry Potter seem to have a very peculiar culture of their own. After watching the films and some exhaustive online research, I find myself asking a few fundamental questions. Generally, my roommate has silenced these queries with "Oh my god shut up its just a movie you're ruining it for me," but she's not here right now, so ha!


Christmas is still celebrated, granted in its most secular aspects but still the modern form, yet what are miracles in a world of magic? Excepting resurrection, which is achieved only through the legendary resurrection stone or the blackest magic of horcruxes, every miracle traditionally attributed to Christ is taught to the average third-year. Water to wine, levitation, aparating food. These are straight-forward. (Apparently food cannot be created, only moved. This is one of magic's few fundamental restrictions, so maybe Jesus was simply an epic chef?)

There is an afterlife. Whether you've personally seen it and talked to your dead relatives and headmaster aside, ghosts are a common sight during lunch period. This … has got to put a damper on the bible and organized religion in general. If nothing else, it should codify it somehow. In the wizarding world, has the public knowledge of existence after this mortal realm simply anesthetized the more fanciful aspects of religious fervor from our hearts? Are there no Jews, no Muslims, Buddhists, or Sumerian worshipers? Since Hogwarts was founded half a millennium before the breakaway of the Anglican church, I'm going to assume they were originally Catholic at best, if not outright Pagan and animists. Perhaps they simply adopted the trappings of Christmas out of English cultural camouflage.


Which brings us to Wizard-Muggle interaction.

Apparently, the upper echelons of the Muggle world are aware of and work with the wizarding community, but it should be universally recognized that with their own history, technologies, cultures, government, and penal systems, the magical world remains completely autonomous from its mundane counterpart.

According to my roommate, a subplot from the books which never made it to screen involved Mr. Weasely's hobbyist fascination with Mundy technology, outfitting a car with levitating ability and accruing a collection of batteries. According to her, magic and muggle devices do not play well together. Sure. Fine. Don't cross the streams. I got you.

However at what point did wizard give up on technology and become complacent? Steam engines and rail cars certainly caught on for long-distance mass transport, but fireplaces, toilets, brooms, and just general aparating seem the de facto methods of transport for small groups. Streetlights are usable, but not common to the magical realms. It would not be unreasonable to say a eternally burning candle is more efficient, but this raises so many conservation of energy questions I'd like to set it aside for a moment.

At what point did wizards stop developing better equipment for daily life? The only innovations seem to be in the scope of brooms, candies and jokes, and odd personal tinkering. Culture itself seems to have stalled out some time in the early 20th century, fashion-wise, and earlier still in regards to non-magical items of utility. Perhaps we're only missing a larger picture, missing the long and varied history of magical computational tools and dictating devices. The movies do take place from 1990-1997, mind you. It's unreasonable to assume Hermione would have brought a MacBook along with her cat.

Perhaps the complete lack of awareness to modern Muggle technology and society is indicative of how we ourselves remain predominantly unaware of customs and standards in even nearby foreign nations. Is it better, then, to consider Wizarding Britain a country unto itself, occupying overlapping though quietly ceded territory with the U.K. proper?

Money, Economics, and Government:

All these items come together in a disastrous head: How the hell do Hogwarts and the wizarding community even function?

Hogwarts as a school was founded in the year 990, by the four most prominent and talented magicians of their era, somewhere in Scotland. This predates England as a unified kingdom in any semblance, and thus establishes it as a separate, non-governmental entity.

Jumping to modern usage, Hogwarts prepares all students for their O.W.L. examinations, a government-approved standardized test for budding wizards roughly akin to a combination of the SATs and a drivers test. The Ministry of Magic maintains a close relationship with the school, but it is officially a private institution.

Since only the philosopher's stone–at very, very great cost mind you–can actually create gold, actual work must go into creating the wealth by which Hogwarts is kept functioning. Wizarding families have varying economic classes, and Harry Potter himself is of no small fortune, a capitalist economy, albeit mitigated by the ability to essentially create most objects given the right materials, talent, and time–so, life–is evident. Three types of currency are also noted, exemplifying this system: 29 bronze Knuts to a silver Sickle, 17 Sickles to a gold galleon. (It's like the Imperial system on crack.) So who pays students' tuition?

It should be recognized that Hogwarts admits students very oddly. They are granted placement, and though expected to procure their own supplies, tuition, room and board, even transportation costs seem to be gifted by scholarship. It is a huge honor to be accepted to Hogwarts.

And yet every Weasley for three generations, ass-poor, has been admitted, up to four at a time. That's not fiscal prudence, that's legacy. A possible theory is that, due to its prolific nature, Hogwarts has, over a full millennium of scholarship, amassed an insane fortune from endowments, invested it wisely, and uses the proceeds to pay the way for every student who walks through its doors, likely with a not small government subsidy for adhering to O.W.L. guidelines (which they likely developed, mind you).

While other countries' schools are mentioned (never in the New World, mind you; it's quite curious American wizards never had anything to say or intervene about with the whole 'dark lord starting an ethnic cleansing' thing), Hogwarts appears to be the only Magical school in the whole of the UK. Unless they're homeschooled, every British child of hocus-pocus blood goes through those doors. These numbers cannot possibly add up, at least at face value. We know there are at least several thousand adult magic users in London's magical shopping districts alone. We've seen international Quidditch matches attended by the tens of thousands, with thirteen professional teams in England and seven different newspapers reporting on their seasons.

Or, just maybe, there is simply a wizarding version of public school, and once again we have simply viewed the lives of incredibly lucky or incredibly wealthy, predominantly white kids in high school, with a dash of alluding to racism and a whole lot of elitist class bullshit just like every other British story of the last 60 years.

But perhaps not.


How many students are there, really? J.K. Rowling initially claimed there to be about a thousand students at Hogwarts, though later revised this to about 600 as she had only written around 40 characters in Harry's year. The internet seems to have settled on three-hundred. My roommate, though I can find no mention of this number, insists there are 50 students admitted to each house, each year. That's 200 students per grade, with 7 years of schooling between them. Rounding up for error–assuming fifty is an approximate average, that's at most only 1500 undergrads at any given moment. Roughly a small community college. So somewhere between 300 and 1500 is our answer.

According to, in 2012 there were 10,466,700 schoolchildren in the whole of the UK, roughly 18.7% its total population. The population in 1998 was roughly 50 million in total, so assuming relatively stable matriculating rates over the last 16 years, that would provide Harry Potter's United Kingdom just about 9.35 million children on the high end. Comparing these two figures, we arrive at a Wizarding student, and therefore total population that is approximately 1.6% of the total British commonwealth (about 800,000 in 1998 and just about 900,000 today). On the low end, that leaves us only 1600 wizards in 1998. Spread out over the whole of the United Kingdom, this number is, at face value, insubstantial to maintain the communities seen, so the larger of the two is more likely.

That said, Hogsmeade, the closest town to Hogwarts for many miles, is the only all-wizard village in all of Scotland. What we see in London is Diagon Alley, a single street crammed full of every magical shop imaginable, and the only openly magical thoroughfare in London. While there may only be upwards of 40 or 50 shops, since we know magicians can play with spatial relations, both of people and objects, it is entirely possible that this community is displaced from the natural world to some degree, squished into less volume than it appears, or that the entryway to the Alley is in fact merely a gateway through which one is 'adjusted' to a new, more fitting, width.

The short of it is, there is a sizeable Wizard community in England–albeit a sliver minority in the total human population–and the vast majority of these magic users must go without formal education. They must take vocational training, go into family businesses, or otherwise become menial laborers. There seem to be no repercussions for dropping out after passing the O.W.L.s, as two of the Weasley clan did, though doing so before passing the follow-up N.E.W.T.s would prevent a student from landing government  and private sector jobs in certain fields.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Filial Piety: Max Goof, Stevo, and Reconciling Individualism with Parental Values

So the other day, I was naked with a finger wedged deep in my ear and snacking on rice cakes soaked in soy sauce while balancing on one foot on a pyramid of delicate china cups and saucers, and I thought to myself, 'Oh my God, I've become my father!'" - Bob Roth

'Do we inevitably become our parents?' It's a question that plagues my dreams at night, somewhat less frequently than the zombie apocalypse but drastically more terrifying. I'm at least prepared for the zombie apocalypse. I own large knives, I can theoretically use a firearm, I am learning to ride a motorcycle (towards and away from explosions), and frankly I'm prepared to die a meaningless death because I don't have the stamina or cajones to survive the fall of civilization. I'm barely prepared to survive the fall of my wireless coverage.
What I'm certainly not prepared for is giving up my humanities degree and becoming a project manager for a huge, multinational telecommunications company. That's what my parents ended up doing. Three bachelors and two masters degrees between the two of them. And what was my father's choice career advice? “Be a stock broker. Work your butt off for fifteen years and retire by forty.” Sage wisdom from a Philosophy/Psych major.
Yet is it natural, after asserting our independence and striking out on our own, to return to the traditions and behaviors on which we were raised? In exploring this notion we have to examine values of both parent and child, and I can think of no more entertaining and accessible way to do this than through the lenses of two films vastly separated in genre and audience, but closely related by the theme at hand: 1999's SLC Punk! and Walt Disney Pictures' 1995 “Goof Troop” spinoff, A Goofy Movie.

Within A Goofy Movie there are two father-son relationships: predominantly Goofy and Max, but also that of their next door neighbors, Goofy's time-honored foil Pete and his son P.J. (Pete Jr.). While Goofy is a caring and loving father, Pete is the martinet, keeping his son in line through fear and discipline, prescribing an endless series of chores throughout their vacation, which exclusively serve either Pete Sr.'s personal extravagances or to reinforce his supremacy. In giving Goofy parenting advice, he refers to this as “Keep[ing] them under your thumb.” P.J. stands at attention before his father, comes when called to perform tasks, but otherwise avoids spending time with his father, in private company going so far as to openly resent it. Pete's strict mode of parenting does not create the same kind or strength of bond that Goofy and Max develop throughout the picture. Contrarily, Pete doesn't even give his son a personal name, instead bequeathing P.J. his own name in attempt to forcibly mold his offspring into that same identity.

Quite similarly, in SLC Punk! we are introduced to protagonist Stevo's father, who–representing a traditional upbringing–encourages Stevo to go to law school and finish his education, particularly the very college and law school he himself intended. His seemingly lax attitude and post-graduation recommendation of “and then do whatever” is counteracted by the on-its-face ridiculous notion to first “try it for four years and if you don't like it, quit.” Stevo's parents duet an advisory call-and-response: “Be free,” “Be practical,” “Go to Harvard,” “But have fun,” “Be an individual,” but he should get a haircut. Politely and honestly, Stevo begins to criticize his parents for abandoning the “Cultural Mecca” of their former home in New York City and with it the ideals of the 1960s, exchanging them for a white picket fence lifestyle in Salt Lake City, Utah. He later calls his father a hypocrite for being Jewish yet driving a German Porsche, for applying to Harvard Law School under Stevo's name and, more seriously, for getting divorcing Stevo's mother, saying “Y'know, you gave up a good thing in my mother, Sir.” Though he admits to “just busting his balls,” Stevo's disagreements with his father's values are sincere.

The major problem with the question “Do we become our parents?” is it inherently holds a bias towards the child's perspective. That is, it assumes becoming like one's parents is of necessity a bad thing: losing aspects of one's personal identity, becoming subservient and filling assigned roles is a loss of both freedom and self for an individual and (partially) a psychological death. It is an imposition few children appreciate as they grow into adulthood.
But rather than accept this value judgement, we should first examine the values of our parents. If, like 98 percent of children in the United States, a child is not abused, his parents can't have been too morally reprehensible. Likewise, if a child lives in the suburbs like roughly half the U.S. population as judged by the 2006 census, she probably does not have much to rebel against other than being as drearily average as P.J. or Stevo's families.
While these are certainly certain parents not to use as role models, that is not to say becoming like one's parents is universally a poor life. Max Goof shares equally with P.J. and Stevo an apprehension becoming anything like his father, or at least fearful of acquiring the genetic and personal traits he has grown to view as embarrassing, unhip or otherwise unenlightened. The film opens, in fact, with a nightmare sequence in which Max's idyllic pastoral plane is morphs into a grove of thorns as he frightens away his love interest, Roxanne, by undergoing a werewolf-like transformation into his own buck-toothed and clumsy, HYUCK!-ing father.
Throughout the movie, though, Goofy's values are not so terrible. Much the opposite, he prides himself on leniency and understanding of his son's feelings, preferring over Pete's rules and harshness family togetherness and traditions like father-son vacations and the family's secret fly fishing “perfect cast.” Excepting perhaps his father's taste in music, Max's greatest issue with Goofy is not his ideals or even his clumsiness, but rather that he feels smothered under his father's constant and frequently embarrassing presence in Max's personal. This, Max feels, hinders his development and growth as an individual and so he comes to view Goofy's ideals, though wholesome, as an imposition of parental will as antagonizing as Pete's.

The issue at hand is really a value judgement placing a child's accrued morals and experience over those impressed upon him by his parents earlier in life. Learning that our parents might be in possession of values not openly hostile to our own, perhaps even well-conceived and tested by decades of experience beyond our own, the question takes a different shape: “Are our values, if different, really any better than those of our parents?” If our values are no better than those of our parents, even in line with theirs, what can be said of our growth as individuals?
Max Goof feels like a nobody in his high school, at worst a loser to be picked on, at best fading into the background. However he also believes that he does have some innate coolness. If he can do something outlandish and cool he would win the heart of Roxanne.1 The act he chooses is to interrupt a school assembly with a pyrotechnic-laden lip syncing performance while dressed as Powerline, his world's most popular pop star among children his age. Quite literally, Max abandon's his own identity and adopted a preexisting, sauve, well-liked persona which is at once rebellion against the role of his father's son and conformist in regards to his peers, which does manage to impress the latter at the expense of the former.
This is of course the impetus for story's main conflict, wherein Goofy attempts to “save” his son's soul from a life of delinquency while Max tries to maintain his own independence and coolness. Yet Max maintains a relatively stable moral framework, managing to enjoy time alone with his father away from social constraints. When Max alters his father's road map to culminate not in a father-son fishing vacation, but at Powerline's rock concert in L.A., it is for him a devastatingly conflicted choice, but one he feels necessary to preserve his identity from crushed under being his father's will. It is an open deception of his father, something Max is not at all comfortable with and its exposure opens an emotional rift between the two.3

SLC Punk! features a protagonist much more openly dislikable by mainstream society. A punk rocker and anarchist in 1985 Utah, Stevo's values are frequently directly opposed to the ordered society to which his parents belong, often seeking it's partial or total dismantlement. He rebuffs his parents' advice for living a normal collegiate life, calling them hypocrites for leaving a societal hub of counterculture, for exchanging their ideals for high-salary jobs and expensive cars, for rejecting through the dissolution of their marriage even the very notion that true love can conquer all. In one of the film's most quotable moments Stevo asserts his contrarian lifestyle: “I am the future of this great nation! … I love you guys, don't get me wrong … but for the first time in my life I can say 'Fuck you!'”
When asked by his father why he even bothered to major in pre-law at community college, Stevo replies, “I studied law because I wanted to learn how completely full of shit your life's ambition really is.” Yet Stevo's actions undercut his mission statement of no-rules rule. The very fact that he did attend college is evidence of this and, as his father points out, even if he achieved success by cheating for four straight years, Stevo cared enough about grades and his status in society to desire and receive high marks in all his classes. Becoming conscious of this duality, he thinks to himself:
My dad was right about one thing. Why'd I do so well in school? I didn't want to. I mean, I tried. I tried not to give a shit. I knew it was all bullshit and they were trying to mold me into cannon fodder for their wars. And I knew that meaning lie elsewhere, but somehow I studied. Somehow I got the grades and now somehow I was accepted to a fucking Ivy League school–the last place on the planet for a guy like me. I mean I wouldn't even go there unless it was to set it on fire.

Stevo further muses that when he actively takes part in fighting the local rednecks he is partaking in a hierarchal system that is in essence a scaled-down version of war, creating the same Us versus Them mentality underpinning nationalism, colonialism and the irrational, self-propagating discourse surrounding Edward Said's “The Other.” He recognizes that this is a system very similar to the one he rejects as being antithetical to his anarchist doctrine, admitting he can offer no explanation for this. While actively engaged in a fight he concedes, “Everything has a system, even me. I was following nature; nature is order and order is the system.”

So what happens if a child's alternative value systems collapses?
In Max's case the act of duplicity he was already feeling guilty about is discovered, resulting in an impassioned argument with his father, wherein Max argues that his negative actions come about only in trying to distance himself from his father and grow as a person. Their argument grows so heated that they begin to ignore the physical world around them that the two, along with their car, tumble over a cliff and into a rolling river. Surrounded by water and cut off from any other 'human' influence, Max and Goofy are forced to deal with each other directly:
Goofy: You even lied to me.
Max: I had to! You were ruining my life!
Goofy: I was only tryin' to take my boy fishin', okay?
Max: I'm not your little boy anymore, Dad! I've grown up now! I've got my own life!
Goofy: I know that! I just want to be part of it!

It is at this Max realizes distancing himself from his father is causing as much turmoil in their relationship as Goofy's attempts to forcibly bridge the divide. Father and son then come to a mutual understanding via a stirring musical number we shall address shortly.
Stevo, however, is a bit older. Having graduated from college and now living outside his parents' homes, we get to see his alternative values play out in the larger world. Out with his casual girlfriend Sandy, Stevo runs into a fellow punk from high school named Sean, who has since accidentally overdosed on acid and, thinking his mother to literally be a Satanic monster, attempted to murder her with a kitchen knife. Following a brief incarceration in a psychiatric facility, Sean is now panhandling on the street, “FUCK YOU” scrawled across his torn clothes and incapable of the basic human interaction necessary to support himself. Sandy's immediate advice, to which Stevo readily agrees? “You should get a job.”4 When faced with real hardship, the punks' first instinct is not to thrash the system and take what they need to survive by force, but to accede to that system's structure.
Seeing what can happen to people close to him who follow his same anarchistic doctrine to the extreme, Stevo muses:
“I couldn't even look at the guy. I felt a pain in my stomach. I couldn't take it so I turned my back, just like everybody else … It really fucked me up. Not Sean, but turning my back. Ignoring the truth. So what'd I do? I dropped acid with Sandy in Highland Park as to further ignore the truth.”

Stevo openly admits to running away from the harsher elements of his lifestyle, implying that he might be cognizant of his desire for some of the protections offered by an ordered society. As Stevo's personal relationships begin to crumble, he sarcastically mouths off to his best friend and roommate Bob for falling in love and considering marriage and a family and running a business. “You're a poseur,” Stevo says. “Only poseurs fall in love with girls. You're a poseur.” While he quickly reneges, the thought has been vocalized. Stevo cannot reconcile his own desires with his current lifestyle.
The final death of Stevo's ideology comes with the untimely loss of Bob, at which Stevo expresses denial, grief, guilt, anger and bargaining all in the space of about ninety seconds. He insists, “Only poseur's die,” but this is a clear fallacy in his belief structure and an argument that cannot resurrect Bob. As realization dawns over Stevo, he laments that he has lost his last real friend, muttering simply, “Oh man. Oh jeeze. Oh my God. I wasn't ready for this. I wasn't ready.” It may be quick, but in this short line of dialogue Stevo has completely discarded anarchism, invoking first Man, then in minced-oath Jesus Christ, then finally God.
Stevo's penance as the prodigal son of family and tradition is to shave his perpetually blue, spiky hair down to a Spartan buzz cut for Bob's funeral and don in place of his usual t-shirts and razor blades a mournful, black suit. “If the guy I was then met the guy I am now,” Steve says, “He'd beat the shit out of me.” In the final voiceover he openly repudiates his former values and agrees to return to traditional society5:
So there it was. I was gonna go to Harvard, be a lawyer and play the goddam system … I was my old man. He knew….We were certain that the world was gonna end, but when it didn't I had to do something, so fuck it. That was me: a troublemaker of the future … You can do a lot more damage in the system than from outside of it … I was nothing more than a goddam trendy-ass poseur.

Though Stevo is pushed through only the most begrudging reconciliation with traditional family values, Max comes to terms with his father in a much happier, prototypically Disney fashion. Following their shouting match atop the barely-floating car drifting down river, Max and Goofy sing a duet through which they learn to respect and even admire each other's differences. Max chimes in regarding his father, “Though he seems intoxicated/He's just highly animated,” to which Goofy reciprocates with, “Your moodiness is now and then bewilderin'/And your values may be–so to speak–askew.” Max concedes that his father acts only out of love and he will honor that, while Goofy agrees to respect his son's emotional space and allow him to experience parts of life on his own. Newly reconciled, Max and Goofy have an (assumedly) cherished heart-to-heart between scenes in which Max catches his father up on his teenage angst and the Powerline predicament. Goofy then decides that the only appropriate way to end their ordeal is to get Max onstage at the Powerline concert in L.A. as promised, thereby negating his son's lie to Roxanne and getting Max some sweet, sweet dog lovin'.6
However, before Max can gain any real reward from this new acceptance and openness with his father, he must first be tested to see if he is deserving of his father's boon. Max needs a trial-by-fire. Or waterfall. A trial-by-waterfall. That works too. They're already floating downstream through a canyon, after all. Goofy cements his place as a good father by getting Max to (relative) safety fairly quickly, but Max has to find a way to save his father from tumbling over the falls. With only a fishing poll and tea set floating nearby, Max saves his father by correctly executing the family's secret “perfect cast,” despite how ridiculous it makes him look in the process. The adoption of family tradition over 'looking cool' firmly plants Max's morality back in traditional Disney soil. Alive and safe the loving father-and-son duo can now go break into a stadium, sneak on stage, ruin tens of thousands of dollars worth of electronic equipment and then utilize the perfect cast as an original dance step, bridging old and new generations in mutually destructive and illegal havoc broadcast over national television.

In denouement, Max reveals to the disturbingly nubile Roxanne7 that he does not in fact know Powerline, whereby she informs him that she was instantly attracted to not his faux-suaveness or his looks, but to his hereditary HYUK, the very laughter Max had feared, loathed and attempted to hide from her. This happy Disney ending validates Max's choice of family tradition over contrariness for its own sake, whereas SLC Punk! takes the darker approach of effectively punishing Stevo's reluctance to accept his own parents' values. Though Disney understandably portrays this choice as thoughtful and worthy of praise, and though SLC Punk! rather callously defines parents' values as being akin to the 'lesser of two evils,' both convey the solid warning that values which are old and not well understood by some does not make them necessarily wrong in the long-term. More often than not these values endure because they are things we too will come to believe in time, when we better understand the world and are not immediately terrified of possibly, maybe, slightly, even remotely becoming even a smidge like our parents. But Zeus help me if I turn out anything like my father.
1A small sampling of appropriately aged heterosexual middle-class males seems to indicate that Roxanne is by far one of the most common cartoon characters to give little boys funny feelings for the first time. To my knowledge, however, none of these participants have actually engaged in romantic relationships with real dogs.2
2Sub-footnote: Yes, everyone in the Goof Troop universe is a
Goofy's “raucous laugh” predates his screen debut, but he was in his first appearance credited as “Doofy Dawg.” You see that “W” in “dawg?” Yeah, Walt Disney was a real O.G., son. Word.
3A rift that can only be closed with a car-rafting musical duet.
4Officially the third most parental saying in the English language, right after, “When are you getting a haircut,” and “Ask your mother.”
5So long as he can cause trouble by pissing off judges as a lawyer.
6Remember: they're dogs. Still. This hasn't changed in the last four footnotes.
7Seriously? What's up with that? I haven't been this confused since Clueless. (Paul Rudd is just too awesome. Every man bro-crushes on Paul Rudd.)

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Travesty and Tragedy of George Zimmerman

The tragedy of George Zimmerman is that he probably really did feel threatened by a seventeen year old black man wearing a hoodie, walking through his neighborhood.

At its most banal retelling, George Zimmerman was a passably inept member of his neighborhood watch, who thought it was suspicious that a dark-skinned teenager would be in the area, walking calmly through the rain. He stalked this man, was confronted by this man, and this resulted in George's gun going off at close range, killing Trayvon Martin.

Media and the public at large are furious that Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges, but trying Zimmerman for murder now in a federal court with hate-crime statutes attached is not really going to make anyone but Trayvon's family feel better. It does not guarantee that actual racists will think twice before casually murdering anyone and then relying on "good ol' boy" regional politics to claim self-defense.

George Zimmerman is actually proof that our society is evolving to hold its members to an ethical standard higher than the bare minimum of the law.

By all accounts, George handled his situation … badly. Let's just say that. He unnecessarily engaged in pursuit of a "suspect," entered what he believed to be a dangerous situation against police advice, and then failed to identify himself while accusing the victim in a generic and contextually racist [in hindsight] manner. George Zimmerman was something of an idiot. I think that's a fair judgement to apply.

But George Zimmerman did not commit a hate-crime, he did not seek to murder a young black man, at least as far as anyone involved in the case can really discern. He was, for all the condescension the phrase lends, playing cops and robbers like a fucking child.

I mean to be profane, I am sorry, for the case calls for such. It is profane that a grown man who claims to suffer from Adult ADHD and require medication to remember things such as the street he lives on can acquire a firearm, or that he be allowed to join even an amateur, volunteer organization dedicated to safety. It is profane that he has come to perceive through media and social stigma a black man in a hooded sweatshirt as "suspicious" for his neighborhood.

I will now stoop to prove a point:

George Zimmerman is half Peruvian, that half being one-quarter African-Peruvian. His father is German Catholic. He is a registered Democrat. A twenty-eight year old Afro-Hispanic Democrat thought that a sweatshirt makes a black man suspicious enough to warrant investigation for recent burglaries. This is a simplification, but the disgusting fact is not by much.

George Zimmerman might have watched a lot of Law & Order, or The Wire, or Saved By the Bell for all we know. For whatever reason, this man thought another man was behaving suspiciously at the very best because he was out looking to find people behaving suspiciously, at the worst because Trayvon's being black was suspicious enough.

The sad truth is George probably really did feel threatened by a seventeen year old black man wearing a hoodie, walking through his neighborhood. He put himself in a stupid situation, handled it poorly, reducing the number of possible outcomes to the one wear he ended up on trial for murder, because what seems to have happened was staggeringly less likely than the idea that he was simply a violent racist.

George Zimmerman did behave like a racist when he profiled Trayvon Martin as "up to no good." He internalized every image of gangbangers or hoodlums or early '90s gangster rappers and he broadened that imagery to include a young black man when he assigned himself the role of a police officer.

That we as a public want George tried in a federal court after a jury found his actions to fall short of either second-degree murder (intentional) or manslaughter (even involuntary), shows that we are "uncomfortable" with this outcome, to say the least. Many wish him tried because they feel his racial profile led to the encounter which escalated into (in)voluntary manslaughter. Others will demand a retrial on grounds that the prosecution handled its case badly, or that local law enforcement was less than equal in the pursuit of justice.

Yet I'm pretty sure a great deal of this unrest lies in the nagging feeling that we have perpetuated even now a culture of casual racism and its acceptance that could allow an event such as the ending of Trayvon Martin's life.

The idea that "urban" means "Angry Black Man in Flashy Clothes."

The idea that "gangbanger" has any real meaning outside the most destitute, war-torn ghettos of American metropolises.

The idea that–let's just say it–black people are criminals. Violent criminals. That white men are gentlemen thieves stacking banking regulations against themselves, but anyone of relatively-recent African descent is automatically predisposed to acts of base ignorance, cruelty, inconsideration, and physical damage.

Trayvon Martin's death was not a murder, though that would leave us all more settled, having a wrong, racist, vile murdered to condemn as out-of-step with the rest of us. If his death was not a crime, by the letter of the law, then that means we have, as a progressive and just society, have allowed social perceptions to skew so terribly and so covertly that a hate crime can be committed in our eyes by accident.

The tragedy of Trayvon Martin was his horrible death. The tragedy of George Zimmerman is that he really was doing what he thought was right, and it was all legal.

Dave Zucker

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Man of Steel | A Half-Hearted Defence

Alright, it's been long enough. I think we can discuss this without upsetting anybody who planned on seeing the new Superman movie. As an added precaution, *Spoiler-Free* nerd beef with Man of Steel first:

In a flashback, little Clark wore a red towel like a cape and ran around with a dog. Without Superman in this universe since 1938, WHO THE HELL WAS HE PLAYING? Captain Marvel? A fictional superhero? Is this Watchmen, and superheroes were never popular comic tropes replaced by pirates? I know Superman wasn't the first superhero. Batman alone predated his publication by a full year. But if the child-wearing-a-cape-superhero trope every existed, it existed because of Superman. End of story.


Squinting because he's looking into a Lens Flare.

Superman gets his powers from a combination of Earth's yellow sun and gravity, and–more oddly–its atmosphere.

Apparently the yellow light powers him up a bit, but it's the gravity that makes him proportionately stronger and faster: Krypton is far more massive than Earth, so despite being the same approximate size as humans, Kryptonians are more rugged, denser, more resilient creatures. Fine.

Flight is also apparently possible, I imagine along the same mechanics as a mastery of one's bioelectrical field in conjunction with stated weaker gravity. Fine.

But the atmosphere is somehow important?

As a baby, Clark apparently had trouble breathing. But he adapted and is fine now. Bring him back into a Kryptonian environment and he hypoventilates, vomits blood, and then passes out. Not good. Cellular breakdown from toxins in the atmosphere, I guess. Alright, plausible. Same thing happens to Zod/other Kryptonians on Earth. Okay, at least that's internally consistent. Zod even adapts quicker than Kal-El, and even makes a point to note that as a bred soldier, he'd be able to. Thanks for the exposition, I agree.

But then once Supes is adapted enough to be conscious and not blood-spitting on the alien spacecraft, he still has no powers. None. No resiliency.

What? So that yellow sunlight is basically working on his cells, which are the least efficient solar batteries ever. They store now energy. His mitochondria must not exist, replaced by some alien organelle. By this logic, Superman is powerless without direct sunlight. He's a plant. And a lousy one at that. He should go into a coma every night. Or what if Kyrptonians simply have extra mitochondria that work only in the presence of direct solar stimulation? At least then he could move, but he'd still be powerless at night, just like his (Kevin-Conroy voiced!) Venture Brothers parody.

Oh yeah, and Superman has no issue with bystander casualties. Don't harp about that or killing Zod. He had to to save innocents, after so many were killed already. Superman used to kill recklessly back in the day. This horrible invasion, as the producers rightly said, explain easily why from now on Superman would refuse to kill and work tirelessly to save every single life.

Short version:

Man of Steel is a poor rendition of Superman, and the pacing makes it a pretty crumby origin story, actually.

However it's a fun as hell super-brawler, and that's all anyone should ever expect from Zack Snyder for any reason.

Also, Jor-El and Zod pretty much acknowledge that the surpersuit is the Kryptonian equivalent of longjohns. Everybody has them under normal clothes and even armor. So even without the red underpants, Supes is still sporting his jockeys on the outside.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

10 Buzzfeed Lists I Never Want to See Again

1. Anything longer than 10 bullet points

2. Anything 90% videos with grainy, ambiguous stills I don't feel like loading

3. Anything I "Wish I Had"

4. Anything about the '90s that was more a personal than objective experience

5. Lists that say the same thing four different ways, just to get to the right bullet count

6. Lists that repeat themselves

7. Any reasons my mom was "amazing." I know she was amazing. I don't need a list. Shut up.

8. Anything that will "Inspire" me or make me "thankful"

9. Anything you think I didn't know about Disney, history, celebrities, Pokémon, but specifically Disney celebrities

10. Lists that go on so long I lose interest and pray the next scroll shows me the comments 

Friday, May 17, 2013

If I Am to Die on a Trapeze

I will be turning 27 at the end of this year. While 26 fell firmly into the camp of Good, But Dumb Years along with 22, 23, and 24, 27 has a special magic to it.

It's not the square year 25 was, a simple 52. No, 27 is 33. That's three to the third. It's perfect. You could write it in base-3 as 1,000. It's so mathematically beautiful I appreciate it without even comprehending its exact importance.

For the rest of the world, 27 means I am going to die.

No, this is not some preemptive strike à la Logan's Run. The Twenty-Seven Club is a collection of famous and sometimes infamous persons throughout rock & roll history–though it is often expanded to include film and other media–who have all died at the age of 27. Principally among them Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, and Brian Jones all within three years of each other, then later Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and a number of other musicians without a J-name.

Just as I had gotten over the nagging suspicion I would be struck to death by a bus before I turned 25, I have discovered a wonderful new sense of paranoia. And a deadline:

I must achieve fame and notoriety in the next 18 months so that my "untimely" death will include me among these delightful degenerates. I must also knock out my bucket list in this time, which means I have to make a bucket list.

Right now, the only thing I want to do before I die is take a $586 ten week trapeze workshop at the end of which I put on a "recital" for all my friends and family.

You heard me. I went for the first a friend's birthday recently and loved every terrifying minute of it, and it turns out I was pretty good. $586 is a lot to lay-out for a couple months of fun, certainly more than a gym membership, but my time is short and I certainly can't take the money with me when I go. However, this does pose something of a problem for me:

That is one hell of a good way to die.

I don't mean to imply any safety concerns, far from it. The class I had was highly monitored and seemed safe as anything else. Batman-level catastrophes would have to simultaneously occur to defeat the safety precautions put in place by this school. I mean to say it is such a fun way to go I almost want it to be my sign-off.

"Dave died? How?"

"Oh, it was an unfortunate trapeze incident."

Yes, please. It definitely sounds better than "drug overdose" or "drunk driver," the preferred methods of 27 Club alumni. You say, "Cancer," and people just make that pitying sigh. "Oh, that sucks." You know what to say about cancer. You know what no one shy of a ring master has ever had a prepared response for?

"Unfortunate trapeze incident."

If I get to heaven and they ask me how I died, and I said, smirking of course, "An unfortunate trapeze incident," they would usher me backstage with my VIP tickets and tour jacket, and tell me that Jimi wanted to meet me after the show.

Or they'd call me a bullshitter, because who ever dies in "an unfortunate trapeze incident"?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Of Things to Come

The Sound A Doggy Makes is no longer a daily.

With the exception of a few sick days which were made up for shortly after I regained conscious wellness, this page has been updated with something, ideally something comedic or amusing, for 1,585 days. That's just over four and a half years, and I figure four and a half is a good time for a kid to realize there's no Santa Claus.

So it's over. The daily updates, I mean. I took a weekend off and I feel better about it. Most updates have been a chore, and the better posts get buried under a pile of in-jokes and funny license plate photos. Here's a photo of a store I live near:

Click to embiggen.
Anything to get that sweet Top-Three listing in the phone book, eh?

… That's not a blog post. That's a tweet. An Instagram. At a stretch, a Tumbl. I deserve to be seen as better than that, and you deserve to have better content.

So now The Sound A Doggy Makes is going to have fresh content when it's damn-well ready and fully baked. Yeah, if I think "Aardvark Insurance" is hilarious, you'll probably get a whif of it on one of my social platforms. If I Photoshop something funny for work and it's a hit, maybe I'll share it here. But this is the last time you're getting "LOOK WHAT I FOUND YOUR GUYS! HURRR!"

TLDR: Sound A Doggy Makes is on hiatus while I work on other projects, and will resume more intermittent posting as I create new, worthwhile things that don't fall under their own banners.

Additionally, the long-term plan is to hopefully start up a new, larger platform that will curate the best material from these last 4.5 years into a more distilled form of awesome, minus the cat pictures and license plates.

I hope we had fun.