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Sunday, 25 November 2018

Who Could Be The Bat

If you aren't familiar with Movies With Mikey, you ought to fix that, but relevant to this specific post is this video right here, in which he addresses The Batman Question.

That question is: Who's your dream casting of Batman? No restrictions - could be anyone.

Well, that's inspired a bunch of thinking and a lot of conversation, around these parts.

We all have our ideas as to who Batman is. Mostly informed by our favourite Caped Crusaders in the past. Speaking personally, while I think the best media he's presented in is Dark Knight, the best Batman to ever exist is voiced by Kevin Conroy and looks like this:

Right, there's all my folks who grew up in the 90s.

Here's the thing. My dream casting of Batman relies on several other bits of information, first, as there's been so many different types of Batman. So are we talking Dark Knight Returns? Are we talking his appearance in Superman: Red Son? Are we taking an entirely new rebooted approach? A campy sixties movie? A Heat-style Batman/Joker crime thriller? Justice League satellite action? Each one of these, I think, deserves a different batman.

None of which necessarily need to be white, and none of which necessarily need to be male.

I am gonna catch some shit for that, I am sure, but hear me out.

Batman was conceived in 1939. A LOT of the current popular crop of superheroes were conceived way back when. Superman came the year before, The Phantom two years before that - and if you don't know about the Phantom, know that there would BE no Batman without the Phantom, cringey Billy Zane movie adaptation notwithstanding. Flash, Captain America, Wonder Woman, Aquaman - all conceived during the Second World War.

I'm pretty sure you're aware of this, but - back then, it wasn't terribly popular in the West to have a non-white central protagonist. It took until the sixties for Black Panther to make an appearance - and even then, his first showing is to invite the Fantastic Four (ugh) to Wakanda and try and beat them all up to prove himself.

I like to think we've moved on a little since then.

I think you could basically run the exact same story with Batman, with very few modifications, if he was played by Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Ruby Rose (see what I did there) or Janelle Monae. I mean, what's a better way of concealing the fact that Miss Wayne is a vigilante superhero than to convince the world that the vigilante is a man? After all, as Batman: The Brave And The Bold taught us...

The thing is, though. The thing is. I don't want to just... recast Batman.

I used to love Batman as a hero. Who wouldn't? Then you get to the kind of age where you start asking awkward questions, like - why is Arkham Asylum so easy to escape from, and could maybe a multimillionaire who can afford to fund a satellite for his super-friends to hang out in perhaps afford to help make it more secure? You know. Things like that.

It's after that stage that you get a little bit bored of it. Dude going around punching crime until it stops criming, until it inevitably starts to crime again. The brooding, the anguish. He's so cool. He's a ninja. He's the goddamn Batman.


So let me instead introduce to you a different way that Batman can go. A different breed of Bat, let's say.

We go back to his origin story (and oh my god am I sick of having to see his origin story but that's another thing altogether), wherein we see the Wayne family leaving a cinema. They're happy, laughing. They were invited along because it was through the arts foundation funding provided by Thomas Wayne that the movie was made at all. They decide to cut through the alleyway to where they are parked - Thomas, his wife Martha, and their daughter, Bruce.

Yes, Bruce. It's a great name.

They are intercepted, as always, by a dude with a gun - classically a chap named Joe Chill. Except. this time, it runs a little bit differently. You see, the Wayne family are different, now. Thomas in particular. So when he sees the gunman - who is twitching, sweaty, eyes huge and wide - he doesn't immediately get on the aggro defensive. Instead, he calmly tells the man he'll give him all the cash he has. As long as he gets help. And he means it, too.

Bruce, however, isn't having it. Bruce gets shouty and aggressive, puts herself between her dad and the gunman. Joe Chill starts getting twitchy. Martha tries to calm her daughter down. It doesn't work. In the end the nerves get too much for Joe, and he pulls the trigger.

In the ensuing carnage, Bruce gets hit in the back. Her parents both get shot pretty bad - Martha midway through going for Joe at the time. The last thing that Bruce remembers of that night is her dad leaning over her, telling her that the police are coming, and her telling him she can't move her legs.

The funeral. The husband and wife being lowered into their family plot together. Bruce in a wheelchair, with her uncle Albert stood beside her, holding an umbrella over her head.

After the funeral. Bruce asking Albert how this happened. Why this thing happened. Why people do the things they do. Learning fast, learning early, the state of play of the world.

Bruce deciding to do something about it.

Of course, Bruce's first thought isn't to go off and become a badass ninja. No. Bruce has just come into a huge fortune, and that is her current and primary weapon.

No time to brood. Time to work.

Maybe I'll go into the further adventures of this particular Batman in another blog. I just think it would be a refreshing take on the standard lantern-jawed punch-man. And - yeah, this Bruce would definitely be played by Janelle Monae.

Either way.

Who do YOU think should play Batman?

Sunday, 18 November 2018

We Give And We Give

The other day a very close friend of mine in America asked me what the Pearly Kings and Queens were.

Now, anyone not from the UK - or maybe even from London - would be forgiven for not knowing, and then forgiven for further confusion when you google it and find pictures like this:

Aren't they great?

I'll spare you the significant gritty detail - tl;dr, back in the late 1800s, a working-class street sweeper named Henry Croft started to cover his suit with mother-of-pearl buttons, in order to earn money for charity. He raised a significant amount, and the eye-catching idea started to spread. Before the outbreak of the first world war, literally every borough of London had their own Pearly King and Queen.

They were all joined by two common threads: they were almost universally working class, and they all raised money for local charities.

According to the Charities Aid Foundation, citizens in the UK gave a total of almost £9.7 billion to charities in 2016, and 41% of the citizens of the UK gave.

That's quite a number. Even if you divided that amount amongst everyone in the UK, every single one of our 45 million or so adults, that's about £216 each over the course of a year - £18 a month or thereabouts.

I know there are other ways to help charity. Very aware of the fact. Volunteering for example - 17% of the UK volunteers their time in some way.

What I am thinking, though - is just how many charities there actually are, and just how much regulation of them exists. And each one of these charities has to organise, has to go fundraising, has to spend time and resources (including donated money, let's be adults about this) making sure they can remain in operation. That is before they even get the funds and help to the places they are raising the funds for. Never, ever underestimate the complexity and cost of logistics.

So what if...

...what if, if we had a government that we could actually trust not to ruin it... (yes, I know that makes it actually a nonissue)

...all charity giving and distribution was handled centrally - and a portion of it was raised by taxes?

I know I know I said the T word and everyone hates the T word, but hear me out, here.

A tax of say £20 a month sounds like a lot to a lot of the people reading this. Sounds like an amount to me, too. But then, that's because most of my friends are below the average earnings line. Back in 2015 that average was about £27,500, and spoilers - despite corporate and high-end income still climbing, it hasn't actually gone up very much.

So if we were to add an element of income-based taxation, rather than a flat figure, it would be a lot more progressive. Obviously. I mean if someone is paying at the 40% tax band then £20 is literally a drop in the ocean each month. Without getting into how I feel about upper-end taxation (and that would be a very long discussion, I promise) it would be relatively easy and also not terribly harmful to raise more than the current amount given to charity by taxation that would, in a year, be effectively unnoticed.

Then you realise that you aren't having to pay for the organisation of however many thousands of different charitable organisations there are. Each one doesn't have to spend anything on advertising or people on the street asking for handouts or anything of the like. I mean sure, for big causes you could still run the entertainment specials and such. You just don't need to shell out anywhere near as much on the logistics of the operation.

And seeing as we would have funded a significant number of charities, then people's lives would be made better, and more accessibility needs would have been met. More people would be capable of living better lives, which should be a reward in and of itself, but seeing as that is often not sufficient - guess what, they are now spending money and paying taxes too.

That is assuming we can'd find the money to fund those charities by making certain spending decisions with our current budget. I hesitate to bring up that other big T word, but... we're spending an awful lot of money on Trident for no apparent reason.

I know it isn't an ideal solution. It would require us to be able to trust those making those decisions, and be able to hold them accountable if they mess it up or act in their own self-interest. Two things which are, sadly, fairly unlikely.

Just a thought.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A Hundred Years From Compiègne

A century ago, in a railway car in the forest of Compiègne in Picardy, Northern France, an armistice was signed by several high-ranking members of the German military.

It was known as the Armistice of Compiègne, and one of its conditions was a termination of hostilities across the Western Front within six hours of the signing of the document; and as it was signed at around 5am local time, that meant that the fighting should end at 11am.

The negotiation process took days. Although Germany had precious little in the way of collateral with which it could force renegotiation, there were problems with the document - at one stage it demanded that they surrender to the Allied forces more submarines than they had actually ever manufactured.

Notable is the fact that such an Armistice could have been signed sooner. As early as the fifth of October, a clear thirty-seven days earlier, the new Chancellor of Germany communicated with President Woodrow Wilson a willingness to end the conflict, based around his famous Fourteen Points - a set of demands for German surrender.

Several governments - ours, one of them - thought the Fourteen Points weren't harsh enough. They disputed Point IV: Adequate guarantees given and taken that national armaments will be reduced to the lowest point consistent with domestic safety. They wanted that point to apply exclusively to Germany. No climbdown of the immense military machines they had made, no sir - only for the enemy.

Germany itself was falling apart, at the time. Two days before the signing, the country had become a republic, and Kaiser Wilhelm II had abdicated - though there was some confusion about that.

In the six hours between signing and ceasefire, 2,783 soldiers were killed. The last soldier to die, it is believed, was an American named Henry Gunther. He was shot while rushing a German position in the literal last sixty seconds of the war - apparently those German soldiers were astonished that the man had not heard of the Armistice, and was still willing to attack them.

That happened a hundred years ago. All these facts, all these notable facts, many of which aren't very widely known. While the fighting stopped, the actual war didn't officially end until the Treaty of Versailles came into force, on the 10th of January 1920.

We know how the war started, of course. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, 28th June 1914. A lot of people don't know why, or precisely, by who.

The Archduke's killers were members of the Black Hand - also known as Unification or Death - a secret military society attached to the Serbian Kingdom's own official army. While we can quibble over how effective the assassination would have been in achieving their goal, the stated goal of the Black Hand was to achieve a unification of the South Slav people under a single government.

What followed that, was a series of escalating aggressive postures between various nations, beginning with the Austro-Hungarian Empire deciding that it had played nice with Serbia for too long. In the course of two months, a man and his wife being shot leads to a significant swathe of the world rolling out the guns against each other in naked aggression.

Every year, we say the words, Lest We Forget. I agree. We shouldn't forget. We shouldn't forget that the reason why so many died - seventeen million is an approximation, more than that wounded - is because of politics, and empires doing what empires do. A lot of them died not because they chose to but because they had to - out of the 5.4 million soldiers in the British army, over half of them were conscripts. Almost an eighth of the male population were rounded up and forced to fight. One in eight. Imagine eight of your friends - one of them decided to go and fight for whatever reason, and one of them had to, no choice whatsoever.

We shouldn't forget, either, what the end of the First World War led to.

The economies of almost every nation involved were in absolute ruin. Those that weren't undergoing literal political meltdown exacerbated by the mass sacrifice of an entire generation had nigh bankrupted themselves in order to fight. Those that had been declared to be responsible, it was decided, would have to pay for the rebuilding of a continent.

The sum of money that Germany alone was asked to pay was eye-watering. Adjusted for current inflation, the total Germany was meant to pay - given that it was, as previously stated, an economic ruin - over $176 billion dollars. That's almost £136 billion. That's the entire economic output of the country of Algeria in 2017. That sum, it bears mention, is less than half of what it had been actually demanded to pay - there were concerns that public opinion would be against Germany paying anything less than $400 billion dollars, in approximation.

We should also not forget that, two days before the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Armistice of Compiègne, an event occurred in Germany that showed us that we had, already, forgotten. That event was known as Kristallnacht - or Pogromnacht, depending on who you asked. Kristallnacht, after the broken glass that littered the streets of Nazi Germany, when over 250 synagogues and 7,000 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed. Homes were ransacked, people were beaten in the street.

The sequence of events between the Armistice and Kristallnacht - the things that tie the two together in causality - get forgotten, too. To economically punish a country is to punish its citizens directly, and those who would use that punishment to further their own agenda will thank you for it, even if they scream about a betrayal at Versailles, or spread the lie promulgated by Erich Ludendorf that the army were stabbed in the back by elements at home.

And eighty years after that, we see synagogues attacked now. We see neo-nazis marching in the street, nationalists kicking in doors and assaulting people, ignored by police. We see arms and armaments being sold by domestic companies to aggressor nations, and we watch as they are used to kill and maim helpless civilians, causing a literal humanitarian crisis.

We still isolate ourselves. We still sink back behind our own borders, and point fingers, and distrust those outside. We still pose and posture and flex and frown. We still ignore the wants and needs of the actual people who end up fighting our wars. We leave veterans homeless and alone, lacking mental and physical healthcare. We disenfranchise people and care little about the repercussions..

My family - on both sides of the Levant - have had members in the military for generations. On the British side, my Granddad, his Grandad, almost all of their friends and relatives - they served in the Royal Navy. I respect the dedication it takes to put on the uniform and do the job. I respect the work it takes to do that job well.

And I resent that so many people were killed, for so little reason; and I resent the fact that we have still, apparently, not learned our lesson.

We say Lest We Forget.

I say that we have forgotten, and that we aggressively continue to forget.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

NaNoWriMo Thoughts - Between The Cracks

I'd like to preface this blog with a content warning; below, I am going to be discussing depression and suicide. If you would rather not read that, no harm no foul - I have other blogs on more wholesome topics. This one, for example, is about good music covers.

My National Novel Writing Month attempt opens with the words, Jimmy Drift Killed Himself.

I take a hop, skip and a jump over the initial arc. This is the inciting event. There isn't a day-as-normal beforehand. It is literally the first thing that the reader learns about the world: that a man whose name we are meant to know took his own life.

It opens this way because while this is new and unusual to the characters involved - the main character in particular, Alya K, a childhood friend of Jimmy Drift - this isn't new or unusual to the world the book is set in.

In a corporatocracy - the definition of which can be found here - the workers and citizens being ruled are essentially a resource.

Anyone who has worked in a business that requires a large amount of raw aggregate or materials for processing will know that there are margins of acceptable loss. That not every nut and bolt that comes into the workshop will be considered worthy or acceptable, and that if you find a screw that is damaged, you don't use it. You need a bucket of fine sand but this one got damp? Got to go get another one.

Stepping into a more modern setting, who hasn't been into a store with an automated check-out machine? Who hasn't found that out of the four machines available, one of them seems to be perpetually broken? All they are waiting for is a part, right? But there is a line of problems that leads to that part not being fitted. It has to be done by the company that put in the machines, and they have to clear everything, all of which is a very tidy earner for the company that makes those machines. Why sell someone a single unit, when you could sell them years upon years of continued service?

If the store could repair it themselves, though - no doubt they would just yank the unit open, put in the replacement part and throw the old one away immediately. Got to keep the store running, after all.

Under a corporatocracy, human beings who aren't shareholders or otherwise considered of primary importance to the company are either the consumers of the goods the company provides or part of the construction and delivery process. They are the nuts, bolts and screws. They are the aggregate. They are the bits in the self-service machine.

If they don't work according to the user or manufacturer's specifics, they get thrown out.

I've blogged before about Blade Runner - about how the treatment of the Replicants should be a warning to us, how it is a parable for an underclass considered too low or base to see as people. You know who I am talking about, what I am talking about. The Replicants - specifically the more advanced Replicants presented in the original movie - are built in with a limited lifespan because it is easier than giving them freedom or happiness.

So what do the people who made them and who used them care? What does anyone care? The usefulness of a person becomes the standard by which they are judged, and that isn't even something new. A great many societies have sought to minimise and marginalise those that they don't see as being useful in a societal sense. Can't work? No help for you. Can't do something we value? No help for you. Get into this camp. Get into this asylum.

When your only value or worth is tied to the work you do - when your life revolves around how your cogs turn as part of that great machine - then is it surprising that those who don't turn the same as anyone else would find themselves at a loss? Lacking in purpose? Would find the things that make life worthwhile harder and harder to achieve?

Especially knowing that, if anything happened to make an individual not useful - the individual would be replaced without a thought.

Businesses can't be trusted to look after people. It's like asking sharks to look after seal pups, bears to look after salmon. We are food. We are a resource. We are the grains of sand used to file down the imperfections of a surface. If we can't be used, we can be discarded. They don't really have to care very much about what happens if we discard ourselves, after the very environment they created opens the fissures into which we fall. Those fissures sell products - they are a thing held up as a place you will end up if you don't spend, don't save, don't do the things you are being told to.

Things we can't afford to do. So we fall down anyway.

And there's always another consumer, and always another worker.

Let's just remember that when those statistics come out - the amount of people that commit suicide every year - those are lives destroyed. Real lives. Not resources, as the shareholders would see them. Lives.

Just letting it happen is a monstrous but very everyday sin.