Monday, December 20, 2010

A Manga to Make Carl Sagan Weep

I read somewhere a while back that Tite Kubo, author of the obscenely popular manga series Bleach, made a statement to the effect that he's only halfway through penning that title. It's almost difficult to fathom another TEN YEARS of Bleach. Mind you, that series is basically about teen ghosts that fight each other with spirit swords, so I'm intensely curious--though not enough to actually buy any--about how much plot juice one can wring out of such a banal premise. Madness.

Well, from a critic/sensible reader's perspective it's loony. From that of the accountant it makes perfect sense. In fact, from that angle it's tough to begrudge it since a cash cow like this enables publishers to take risks with other, perhaps more artsy, niche titles.

Back in my Viz days that company occasionally took a gutsy risk thanks to such lucrative series. Carl Horn's great work on Eagle, about a Japanese-American who makes a bid for the White House (this is waaaaay before anybody'd even heard of Obama) was one of them. They promoted the fuck out of it--I know because I helped write and distribute lots of its marketing materials--and it sold like dog poop in a box even though it received critical acclaim.

Before that, though, my favorite risky title had to be Hoshino Yukinobu's 2001 Nights, a hard sci-fi collection of time-skipping vignettes that philosophically approaches the subject of mankind's future endeavors in space. Every year or two I come back to it, read it over, and remember the way it was. You know, back in those good ol' days that don't actually exist except through the rosy glasses in our heads.

It truly is a masterpiece of sci-fi manga, despite my obvious leanings. Like a skilled surgeon Hoshino takes so many of the familiar conventions of the genre, dissects them and presents them back to the audience with that thing the Japanese so love to cite--heart. Take the KARK 9000 storyline, in which a remote probe with a sentient AI at its core is sent shooting off on a nuclear rocket at twelve percent light speed towards Barnard's Star looking for alien life. Hoshino takes the story of a fancy computer and its human programmer and, in two parts, transmutes it into a genuinely piercing tragedy that pulls readers in with tremendous emotional gravity.

The grand question Hoshino presents to readers throughout hundreds of pages of meticulously illustrated panels is this: Will humanity every truly be ready to not just gaze into infinity, but step into it willfully? Serious food for thought as we retire space shuttles, slash NASA funding and move further and further away from the glory days of triumphant moon landings.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Deathrace 2011

So we're ten years (give or take some months) past the dystopic future depicted in Deathrace 2000 and I for one am furious there isn't more--or any--bloody high octane death sports out there. Meanwhile, the Phillies just spent something like $140 million on a single player. That's money that can be better spent on spinning wheel spikes, oil slick shooters and fuzzy dice.

And you know, that plus the shitty weather recently has got me thinking of getting back onto four wheels.

There, I've said it and already I feel dirty.

Christ, I've owned a lot of vehicles over the years: a 1983 Audi C3/5000; that wonderfully named 1989 Mitsubishi Starion; my first bike, a 1991 Kawasaki EX 500; the salvaged 1996 CBR F3; and finally my Mille "Highway Star."

Will two-wheel transport continue to dominate my life? Yes, certainly, but even I need to admit that it's not always practical. Take the coming week, when it's supposed to rain continuously for days and I need to be at a client in Novato. It's not suicide to ride in the rain but even I, a stalwart, stubborn motorcyclist, can't deny the risks are higher. Not to mention it's just so much more uncomfortable. I'll need to take an extra pair of socks and shoes, find a place to dry out the suit, come up with a whole bunch more gripes. Way too much work.

The plan is really to drive it as little as possible, only in inclement weather, on cold nights and trips with friends out of the area. So, as you can see, I've already justified it like an addict rationalizes that next hit of the crack pipe. Just a matter of saving up a bit more money and choosing the right car. Used, of course. By the numbers, when one factors in all the energy costs of resource extraction, transport, refinement and vehicle assembly it's more environmentally friendly to purchase a used car than a brand new hybrid or diesel. At least for a while.

Or until I can convert it to run on blood.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

I'm Seceding From the Union. Who's With Me?

You know, I could go on all day and night about the good and bad aspects of my former English teacher position, but definitely one of the best aspects was the mobility. Every day a different school--hell, sometimes two!--which ensured that nobody ever got too big a dose of gaijin Matt and his foreign devil ways, and vice versa. Well, here I am in this IT gig doing the King of the Road thing once again. No desk, no roots, no problem.

One of the places the job has taken me is an Oakland labor law firm in a high rise at the corner of 12th and Broadway whose western windows stare straight into the never-blinking face of the Tribune Tower's illuminated clock. It's a lovely view to say the least and the lawyers there are good, kind people. However, from those heights looking down, I couldn't help but recall how Oakland's unemployment rate is hovering between seventeen-and-a-half and eighteen percent. That's approximately seven point higher than the regional average. A staggering level for a major American city that's not, say, Detroit.

How does it get like this, and what can be done to cut those percentages? Of course, Oakland has historically had its share of problems since at least the '50s thanks to White Flight and then the rising wave of crack addiction starting in the '70s. But the issue is bigger than one East Bay city, it's national, perhaps even international. In a speech at Boston University in late October--which I've read about three times just to solidly take it all in--former presidential press secretary and PBS newsman Bill Moyers made a good case for identifying a major contributor to the poverty and misery facing so many Americans these days as "wage repression."

I'd never heard of wage repression before but it's pretty intuitive once Moyers cites a prime example of it:

I must invoke some statistics here, knowing that statistics can glaze the eyes; but if indeed it’s the mark of a truly educated person to be deeply moved by statistics, as I once read, surely this truly educated audience will be moved by the recent analysis of tax data by the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. They found that from 1950 through 1980, the share of all income in America going to everyone but the rich increased from 64 percent to 65 percent. Because the nation’s economy was growing handsomely, the average income for 9 out of l0 Americans was growing, too – from $17,719 to $30,941. That’s a 75 percent increase in income in constant 2008 dollars.

But then it stopped. Since 1980 the economy has also continued to grow handsomely, but only a fraction at the top have benefitted. The line flattens for the bottom 90% of Americans. Average income went from that $30,941 in 1980 to $31,244 in 2008. Think about that: the average income of Americans increased just $303 dollars in 28 years.

That’s wage repression.

He goes on to explain how the top one percent who hold half the country's wealth, plus the companies they work for, pretty much only spend their money on luxury items and then squirrel away the rest or buy back stock to prop up market values. Little to none of their money makes its way to the local, regional or national communities. The trickle down economics that the Republicans tout? A myth.

And America just put them back in the driver's seat of government. Their message essentially seems to be "do what we say or we'll wrap this sucker around a tree." As a friend said yesterday, that branch seems to be run by twelve-year-olds at the moment. Twelve-year-olds with access to booze and DC hookers.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Workin' for the Weekend

I doubt anybody follows this anymore. Haven't posted in months after all, but what the hey--it beats written journaling, which I made a halfhearted stab at last month. Perhaps I'll still document some of my more personal thoughts in there. Perhaps.

A lot has gone down in the past few months. From losing a job or three to getting a salaried one to moving home to maybe moving back out to helping some friends through tough times to...other things. The position, a staff IT helpdesk grunt for my friend Kelli's husband's consulting firm, is more or less working out. That's nice and somewhat reassuring. Still, other parts of my life feel muddled, confusing and downright painful. What I'd give for the answers to some burning questions...

Maybe it's best to forget it and move on, but the matter's not in my hands anymore.

One thing that is certain though is this familiar feeling of work. Ah, how I've missed you! The dizzying highs of getting shit done, satisfaction of a good day's labor and the longing for it all to be over and the weekend to arrive sooner rather than later. On a scale of latrine scrubber to professional international Indian food taster I'd place IT well above average, definitely better than teaching English in a tiny Japanese mountain town (not that I don't have any love for Kusu and my friends there) but still below the Whiskey Media gig. Hey, we takes what we can gets, you know.

In any event, I'm learning new things everyday and enjoying some of the small luxuries and finer things a life of poverty and penny-pinching denied me. In fact, went by Remedy earlier on and had a cup of ridiculously fine coffee. The place's client base is so hipster and Apple-centric I expected all the young flannel-clad ones to break into song and dance if an MGMT track came on. Well, guess what all you hipsters not reading this: I was a regular at Remedy when it was just the owner, Todd, on a 2'x5' cart out front in the freezing weather until noon-ish. I was going there before it was cool to go there!

Oh, shit. That was something a hipster might say.

Goodbye cruel world!