Friday, January 23, 2015

5 Things on a Friday: YES and Secret Wars

Happy Friday!
Does it feel like  it’s been a long week?  I only had to work four days, but I feel like it’s been a slog.
Regardless, there’s a lot to get to today.  Ready?  Here we go.
Mr. Obama declared in his sixth State of the Union address that “the shadow of crisis has passed,” and he vowed to use his final two years in office fighting for programs that had taken a back seat.
He called on Congress to make community college free for most students, enhance tax credits for education and child care, and impose new taxes and fees on high-income earners and large financial institutions…
[T]he president used the pageantry of the prime-time speech for a defense of an activist federal government. He vowed to continue a foreign policy that combines “military power with strong diplomacy,” and he called on Congress to lift the trade embargo on Cuba and pass legislation authorizing the fight against the Islamic State.
With nothing left to win and little left to lose, we’re finally seeing the President as I suspect he has always wanted to be.  Perhaps he would have been more effective if he’d just gone out like this from the start, without the near-constant focus on election and re-election, but what can you do?
That said, at least part of the State of the Union appeared calculated to set the stage for the next election cycle.  The call for such a narrow range of tax rises—only on income-earners above $500k/year, for the return of the inheritance tax, and for an increase in the capital gains tax—is an interesting litmus test that is already forcing would-be candidates to bend over backwards justifying their positions.  All of the major Republicans came out against the President’s plans, with varying degrees of sensible and nonsensical reasons why it was bad.  For example, Jeb Bush said via Instagram that he feels that it’s unfortunate that the President has chosen to “divide” us with this tax proposal.
I like Jeb, but this was a terrible response.
Saying that we’re going to divide the country along the lines of who does and does not make $500k/year or who earns their primary income from capital gains versus earned income is a bit like slicing cheese at a deli.  Those are very thin slices of society.  If you’re on their side of this debate—the 1% side—it is functionally impossible to also be a populist candidate.  But Mr. Bush has so far staked his entire candidacy on being exactly that.  He wants to be a different kind of Republican; that’s been his concept from the beginning.
For the record, I don’t make $500k/year, which is why I support absolutely the government’s intention to tax those who do.  This is self-interest.  Yes, I am perfectly willing to spend your money, 1%ers, especially if it helps me and my family in material ways.  The President wants to provide all students with two years of free college via the community college system, and since I have two girls who will need to go to college soon, that sounds great to me.  It’s brilliant because its likely to put substantial downward pressure on university tuitions via direct competition, and that, I think we can all agree, is something this country sorely needs.  In fact, I’m surprised the proposal hasn’t gotten more press for that very reason.  However, we don’t seem to live in the kind of country that cares about its future or its young.  
That is a huge part of the current debate.  Bush and others want to pretend that Democratic proposals are class-based, and perhaps to an extent they are, but they are also demographic-based.  To put it bluntly, young people are getting screwed.  Their education costs more, is worth less, and allows them fewer prospects, and on top of that, the country they’re going to inherit is spending their money before they even have a say on the nature of the expenditures.  I get that people want what they want, but they don’t want to pay, and lots of them seem ready to believe anything as long as it results in lower taxes in the here and now.  That’s fine if you’re a Boomer, but if you’re a Millennial, you probably ought to start protesting right now.
While we’re on this subject, it’s perhaps worth noting that Hillary Clinton has said nothing whatsoever about Obama’s proposals, so if you’re looking to her to be your salvation, you probably need to keep looking.
The powerful speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, was arrested on federal corruption charges on Thursday and accused of using the power of his office to solicit millions in bribes and kickbacks, according to court documents.
The arrest of Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan who has served as speaker for more than two decades, sent shock waves through the political establishment and upended the new legislative session…
In a five-count criminal complaint outlining the charges, Mr. Silver is accused of “using the power and influence of his official position to obtain for himself millions of dollars of bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.”
This is amazing news.  Silver has been like an emperor in the State Assembly for as long as I can remember.
According to the indictment, this looks like a standard “pay to play” scheme.  If you wanted to build something in New York, you had to pay his pet firm, ostensibly for them to look at lowering your property taxes, and that money would then funnel back to the Silver.  If you refused to pay, he came after you, and your project was dead in the water.  That’s extortion, using the power of the Speakership of the State Assembly to keep people in line.  Granted, the Feds still have to prove their case, but the FBI is involved, and I would imagine that they have a solid game plan.
3.  Friday Hair Metal: Yes!
The band Yes followed me on Twitter this week.  It turns out that they sing one of Sally’s favorite songs.

I grant that this is not hair metal.

"Once you hit 'Secret Wars' #1, there's no Marvel Universe, there's no Ultimate Universe. It's all Battleworld." Sr. Vice-President of Publishing Tom Brevoort
"The Ultimate Universe, the Marvel Universe, they're going to slap together. Imagine two pizzas: They're going to combine toppings, some toppings are going to drop off. And that is the Marvel Universe moving forward. It's more than the Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe, it's all the universes you can imagine. That is the Marvel Universe going forward." — Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso
Publicity banner for Secret Wars.
You wanna know what I think?  I think that the Ultimate Universe is ending, that this is Marvel’s way of bringing Miles Morales and the other parts of the Ultimate continuity into the 616 universe, along with some parts of the old New Universe from the 1980s.  Consider: Star Brand has been a part of the core Avengers team for a little more than a year now, and they’ve teased the return of a few of the other New Universe guys in several different pressers.  Meanwhile, Marvel’s been looking for an out on the Ultimate Universe for awhile now, and if they can bring the comics’ universe into slightly better alignment with the movie universe, nobody’s going to mind.
5.  Blogging Update
I’ve been trying to do more D&D on the blog lately, partly because my kids and I have been playing a bit more and this has me a little more engaged in it and partly because I’m trying to promote my book Sneakatara Boatman and the Priest of Loki, and I feel like the D&D/RPG crowd is a good potential audience for my work.  The good news is that the blog’s traffic is way up.   A lot of people seemed to like “The Mystery of Malvern Manor”, and we had quite a few come back to read this week’s D&D entry, “Adapting the Infernal Captain’s Pact”.  Both pieces got pick up by ENWorld, and that’s driven even more traffic in our direction.  
That stuff is awesome.
However, we’ve had trouble converting our new gaming readers over to regular readers.  It would have been nice, for example, if some of the D&Ders had stuck around to read “Heroes” on Wednesday—especially since “Heroes” is about my daughter Hannah’s D&D character—but so far that hasn’t happened.
I’ve known for a while that the blog would be more successful if it was just about one thing, even if that meant that I posted far less often, but for better or worse, that’s not the way I’m doing it.  It drives me mad to think that I would have more readers if I posted less, but what can you do?  The triathlon stuff is currently scheduled for Mondays, the D&D is currently scheduled for Tuesdays, and 5 Things is on Fridays, and you can come by on whatever basis you want and find whatever parts of that interest you.  And still, it seems like folks just cannot wrap their heads around it.  Fact is, I have a lot of interests, and this being my blog, I get to write about them here.  However, when you search for “great D&D blogs” and you get a return that says, “Swim, Bike, Run, Live, Love, Repeat”, you’re probably left scratching your head.  It doesn’t mean that my stuff hasn’t been good.  It means that we live in a world that’s optimized for specialists and sound-bite-sized explanations, and this blog has neither.
How do I pick up more readers?  How do I get readers interested in my fiction?
I knew self-publishing would be tough.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is that folks are coming by, that they seem to like what they see—whatever part of that is of interest to them, anyway—and yet, I can’t even get them to read the fiction that I write that’s free.  And that’s when it’s three pages!
Look, I realize that my book may not be your thing.  I get it, truly.  I would argue in turn that everyone who’s read it has liked it, that it’s worth trying because it’s cheap, but whatever.  It’s a competitive world, and if you’re like me, you’ve got a ton of demands competing for your financial resources.  I’m not asking you to take a chance, and I’m certainly not asking for a favor.  I’ve written shorter pieces specifically as a way to give you a chance to try my work, and frankly, that’s all I’m asking you to read here.  If you like that, and you want to read more, then fine.  There’s a TON of stuff here for you to read.  You can even buy my book.  
What frustrates me is not book sales.  It’s that in a week where we’ve had literally thousands of readers come through here to see what I’ve written about D&D, I feel lucky to have had twenty-seven try out the three-page short story I put up on Wednesday, and of those, more than half are probably regular readers, people that I know who already read my stuff because we’ve been friends for months or years or even decades.
What can you do for me?  You can read “Heroes”.  It’s eleven-hundred words and will take you all of five minutes.  Then leave me a note and tell me what you think, even if you thought the story was pointless and derivative.  That would really make me happy.

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