Against the Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right by Michael Brooks

Full disclosure: I am a big fan of The Majority Report podcast. Watching their video clips online has become a daily habit of mine for keeping up with the political world, especially during these tense last few years.

Co-host Michael Brooks (who also hosts his own solo The Michael Brooks Show) always has a very poignant take which I enjoy listening to, with the ability to summarize complex issues in a way both intelligent and entertaining.

The news market nowadays is indeed very oversaturated, particularly when it comes to opinions on YouTube, yet there is a reason I find myself drifting towards the Majority Report more than sources like the more independent and objective Democracy Now. Because in this current climate, it’s not just about getting the most facts. Anyone can do so if they want.

The battle over messaging has really become about being able to fight back against misinformation as much as anything else. And that is what I truly love about Sam Seder and Michael Brooks, that they aren’t above the fray at all—unlike that example I’ll use again, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. They fully take on the trending online garbage of the extreme alt-right, refusing to cede the internet world over to those charlatans.

For whatever reasons of history, social media’s biases tend to reward the worst of the worst when it comes to extreme political rhetoric. Even the old medias of cable news and talk radio can’t compete with the unfortunately powerful trolls of today.

But at least some people are fighting back, and are damn good at it. Therefore, I was very intrigued when I heard about Michael Brooks’ book project titled Against the Web: A Cosmopolitan Answer to the New Right published by Zero Books. The book is slim at only a hundred pages, which fits well as an e-book for those more low-attention spanned readers struggling to keep up with the information overload of the times.

The main focus of his critique concerns the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web,” the IDW, which is truly one of the dumbest names for the cheap yet successful motivational speakers who now pervade the gross right-wing. He starts of with an analysis of Sam Harris, who rose in fame as one of those New Atheist war-mongering neo-cons during the Bush era. Brooks lays out the laziness of his debate, which never truly was very intellectual at all. Particularly embarrassing is his email spat with Noam Chomsky, in which he actually says: “The history is completely irrelevant.”

And that’s it right there. These grifters cash in by presenting themselves as deep, yet don’t care to analyze how much of the state of the world is a product of historical context. Again and again, they are proven to have an authoritarian mindset, “a penchant for defending hierarchy” as Brooks expertly sums up. Even the late Christopher Hitchens was able to mock the “IQ obsessed.” He may have been wrong on Iraq, but I can’t imagine Hitchens today tolerating the logicbro nonsense of his old contemporaries.

Much of the book focuses on Jordan Peterson as well, the very definition of a self-help hack trying to cash in on the zeitgeist. Clearly, Peterson is not very good at being an academic as he flames the campus culture wars with his overuse of the term postmodernism—that catch-all nebulous term which is usually conflated with Marxism for no reason whatsoever. Peterson famously crashed and burned in his big Zizek debate, and has since gone so off the deep end that he is now in some of kind of rehab and/or in a coma in Russia of all places after hawking a bizarre all-meat diet. You can’t even satirize this stuff.

As Brooks says, “the Petersons of the world want to naturalize or mythologize the injustices we see around us instead of analyzing them as a function of historical process that, because they are human-made, can be rectified in the future.” They never were very interested in honestly learning what makes the world turn and, God forbid, trying to make the world better. The truth is, they only want Patreon subscribers.

The way they pretend to be victims and underdogs while growing in power is particularly infuriating. As he says, “The IDW and right in general love to have it both ways with free speech. On the one hand, if a reactionary is criticized for something they say, Free Speech is Under Attack. On the other hand, if a left-wing professor says something they find objectionable, or if too many faculty members have political views they dislike, they have no problem asking the government to step in to examine the curriculum and impose ‘balance.’” (Hell, check out the presidential Twitter fact-checking controversy happening right this very moment…)

“Still, right-wing media is one of the easiest gigs in the world.” You said it, Michael.

While it’s easy enough to dunk on the shallow Dave Rubins and Ben Shapiros of the world, that standard conservative trying to rebrand as wannabe intellectuals all of a sudden—and dunk he does, who couldn’t not reference Shapiro’s disastrous BBC interview with Andrew Neils—Brooks’ real point goes far beyond such critiques. The true core of his thesis is that it’s time for the left to do better in winning over that angry young man demographic these guys so easily convert.

Don’t let them use fake terms like “classical liberal,” don’t let them have free reign on Joe Rogan and then just hope the moral superiority of the left will actually win elections and change hearts.

In his final criticisms of the “ultra-woke” left, Brooks has much to say on why we should encourage moral growth instead of shaming and canceling, of which the latter often adds fuel to the bad faith arguments of the right. Personally, I think the apparent craziness of the university protest crowd has always been exaggerated and never was as big a deal as the clickbait merchants would have us think. But Brooks does have a point.

Like it or not, this new crop of right-wingers is a loud voice today. It’s time to understand them, so that the good guys can win. The end goal is a fair and just society, a cosmopolitan socialism as Brooks concludes which is able to express itself successfully in the modern landscape and that can unify the positive traditions of cultures from all over the world. That’s the fight worth having.

It is time to form an international message of solidarity, and the path forward with be both for the left to get it together and also to finally defeat the manipulative new right of the web.

So let’s do it!

 

Speaking of China: ‘Always Goodbye’ Ups, Downs in China, US and Beyond in Graphic Novel by Ray Hecht

https://www.speakingofchina.com/bookreviews/always-goodbye-graphic-novel-ray-hecht

In this midst of this worldwide pandemic, I’ve found myself passing on those dystopian novels I used to adore and instead seeking out a little more “comfort food” in the books I’ve read this year. Lighthearted, humorous and even self-deprecating stories of people grappling with everyday problems that you wouldn’t find in a disaster film have offered me much-needed refuge in these unusual and challenging times for all. Bonus if they touch on experiences I’ve had living here in China and Asia, including cross-cultural dating and relationships.

Thank goodness Ray Hecht sent me his new graphic novel Always Goodbye, which really hit the spot on all fronts.

The graphic novel spans Ray’s life from birth up to 2019, and it makes for a pleasant read, thanks to its honesty. As much as it charts the highs in his life, the novel also delves into those lows and failures too as he pursues a variety of different careers, not always with success. Ray approaches even difficult topics and moments with a refreshing sense of humor, and we could all use a laugh these days. And Ray’s experiences in moving to China and dating locals will resonate with those of us who have visited or lived here.

I’m honored to feature this interview with Ray Hecht about Always Goodbye.

Here’s Ray’s bio from Amazon:

Author Ray Hecht was born in Israel and raised in the American Midwest. He currently lives in Taiwan.

You can learn more about Always Goodbye on Ray’s website. The graphic novel Always Goodbye is available on Amazon, where your purchase helps support this blog.


Why did you decide to create this graphic novel?

I’ve always loved the comics medium. I worry I”m not quite good enough at drawing, and that’s why I’ve been focusing on prose writing for most of my creative career, but after a bit of a dry spell in book publishing I decided to return to my first love…

The decision was partly due to me just trying to practice the art of cartooning again. Focusing on myself has worked well with my writing before, so why not? Autobiography/memoir has been an indie comics tradition for many years, and it simply felt right for me to share my perspective that way. When I sat down and thought about the whole of my life, with the second half focused on being an expat in China until in the “climax” finale I moved to Taiwan, it seemed like a story worth telling.

What’s the story behind the title?

To be honest, I struggled to come up with a title. At last, it came to me.

Perhaps it’s a somewhat dark interpretation, but the one constant in my life seems to be that I always move. I moved from Israel to Indiana to Ohio to California to Ohio again to California again to China to Taiwan.

That’s a lot of goodbyes. So what else could I call this, other than “Always Goodbye”?

In your graphic novel, you chose to organize it chronologically, through your entire life. Why did you choose this approach?

Good question. Indeed, such a narrative doesn’t necessarily need to be chronological. Nor must it start at the beginning. Authors more clever than me may have taken a non-linear approach, but I went with being direct.

Back when I first thought about how to explain my life in a way that made sense, taking notes and interviewing my mom, I realized I didn’t just need to start with my birth; I actually needed to start with my parents. So the first years covered were 1954 and 1956, in Chicago and in the Ukraine of the former Soviet Union. From there, naturally it led to the year that I was born, and so on.

Plus, it was fun to map out a pop cultural or technological marker. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. 1982 to 2019, every year needed at least it’s own little chapter.

What was your favorite year to detail and why?

That would probably be 2008. A seminal year for me.

It was of course the year I risked it all and moved to Shenzhen, China to do the expat thing. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be in the China blog scene at all! But even before I moved, over in Southern California, a lot changed in my life. Maybe in a way that was the year I finally grew up. The crazy Burning Man festival part of that story was pretty interesting as well.

Your graphic novel gets very personal, including in how it portrays people close to you, such as family and friends. How have family and friends responded to your book?

I’ve been very fortunate to so far have almost no negative criticism from anyone portrayed in the book. I feel extremely lucky and grateful for that, otherwise it could have gone awkward.

Even if someone did respond negatively: My philosophy is that they were my experiences and I have a right to express what happened as long as I was involved (so long as I don’t literally libel someone, or expose some deep dark secret or anything). There was a common sense balance to the portrayals. I also didn’t include any last names for obvious reasons.

I needn’t have worried. For the most part, I have found that a lot of people are flattered to be caricatured in a graphic novel by me!

What do you hope people come away with from reading your graphic novel?

I suppose the main hope is to increase readers’ empathy.

If you’ve met me in person, please read to get a better understanding of who I am and where I come from. If you haven’t met me in person, I do hope that my life stories around the world are interesting and entertaining, and can also give some sort of deeper window into a different person’s perspective.

After all, isn’t that ultimately what all art is all about?


Many thanks to Ray Hecht for this interview! You can learn more about Always Goodbye on Ray’s website. The graphic novel Always Goodbye is available on Amazon, where your purchase helps support this blog.

Review: An American Bum in China

https://chajournal.blog/2020/03/07/american-bum

[REVIEW] “A PERPETUAL HARD-LUCK CASE: AN AMERICAN BUM IN CHINA” BY RAY HECHT

{This review is part of Issue 46 (March/April 2020) of Cha.}

Tom Carter, An American Bum in China: Featuring the Bubblingly Brilliant Escapades of Expatriate Matthew Evans, Camphor Press, 2019. 132 pgs.

An-American-Bum-in-China-cover-1113x1800-917x1483

“Disparate as they sounded back then, however, I realize now that the arc of his adventures share the same timeless threads that, throughout world history, have driven other immigrants, expatriates, and refugees to the United States, only in reverse. His singular story has all the makings of an un-American folk tale…”

So author Tom Carter tells the story of his friend Matthew Evans, a perpetual hard-luck case who might just be the oddest expatriate you’ve ever heard of (and if you’ve been around a good number of expats, that’s saying a lot). The full title of this tome is An American Bum in China: Featuring the Bumblingly Brilliant Escapades of Expatriate Matthew Evans, and it is a fitting title indeed.

Evans’s tale begins in the small town of Muscatine, Iowa—where Xi Jinping actually visited in 2012. The comparisons of rural America to rural China are vivid and foster much conversation. In a way that makes it only natural that such a person would be driven to Shanghai and elsewhere as he seeks a better life. Spoiler alert, he never does get that better life.

He does try. Sort of. As he drifts from one town to another, somehow surviving while apparently making no money, it’s not always clear how bumblingly brilliant the man’s so-called escapades may be. The lingering question is never fully answered: Is he an idiot savant or just a slightly-luckier-than-average idiot? In this sense, there are several ways to interpret the book.

Either way, Evans most consistent trait is that he takes it all in strides. “Like everything else that had happened to him in life, from leukemia to being deported, Evans took his dismissal stolidly and as a matter of course.” That just about sums it up best.

Within this slim tome, we are quickly taken on this man’s journey around the world. First, he pushes himself to run away from his controlling mother’s shadow, even as she dismissed the “commies” in China. Usually, he does this by way of spending his loving grandmother’s money. Also, he gets diagnosed with cancer.

He arrives in China after some QQ flirtations. His first relationship is never consummated due to his terrible bad luck of hitting on a lesbian, but he keeps trying. He then gets his first kiss and the book is even so personal as to describe how he loses his virginity. Time after time, he bumbles and messes everything up. He gets deported a couple of times, returns, orders up a fake degree most unethically, and so on, and so on.

To be fair, it wouldn’t be particularly remarkable to describe an American who teaches English abroad. That sort of expat memoir has been done many, many times and wouldn’t make for much of an engaging book. Rather, An American Bum is more unique, and full of legitimate surprises. For example, somehow Evans actually briefly becomes a “professor” at not one but two prestigious Chinese universities!

Matthew Evans is certainly interesting, and at the same time, not necessarily likeable. He becomes increasingly hard to empathise with, specifically when it comes to how he obliviously treats his female university students. There’s no question this poor fellow was not equipped with the skills necessary to make it in the world, whether in the States or in China. But he does keep making it worse for himself and most readers will probably not quite root for him.

In the end, whether one approves of his character or not, it certainly can’t be denied that he keeps one’s interest and I suppose that makes this a successful book.

Author Tom Carter began as a photographer, and there is a large visual element to the book featuring illustrator John Dobson’s additions. The black & white artistic depictions round out the story nicely, leaving an impression that resonates with the scenes described. If it was only prose, the book would frankly be too short at only about one hundred pages.

Eventually, the narrative rounds out with a Burmese misadventure involving several illegal uses of a passport, and finally jail time and outright homelessness. At last, Evans is permanently exiled from China. Justifiably so, it must be said. He arrives in Hong Kong as many such people do, and he is unable to even make it in Chungking Mansions. However, it turns out that there were other options at the time. The year is 2014 and he finds himself teargassed during the Umbrella Movement.

It happens to be a very poignant time to tell this particular story right now. In Evans’s own way, he joins the encampments purely out of personal convenience while undeservingly receiving credit for his brave political stance. That’s one way to witness history in the making.

The book is certainly a page-turner. Carter philosophises from time to time, speculating on what it all means. An American Bum can be very introspective, analysing the state of the West and China and modern societies. It does feel bigger than merely describing one random person’s misadventures. It’s a bit difficult to sum up these musings, but there are things here worth thinking about. Where does a man like Matthew Evans belong? In just what kind of culture would he be able to live a life worth living?

The book is over before you know it, leaving the reader with a strange yet authentic taste of life in the margins of expathood. Honestly, the book may not be for everyone and certain people will be offended and turned off by Matthew Evans. Whether one reads with feelings of compassion and empathy, or just can’t look away from the train wreck, one way or another, it will definitely be worth the read for some people.

Review: ALWAYS GOODBYE by Ray Hecht — Comics Grinder

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Always Goodbye by Ray Hecht. 88 pages. TWG Press, 2019, paperback, $5.99. With great insight and humor, Ray Hecht shares his life with the reader in his autobiographical graphic novel, Always Goodbye. This is an ambitious work as Hecht takes stock of his whole life thus far. Hecht sums up his life, year by year, […]

via Review: ALWAYS GOODBYE by Ray Hecht — Comics Grinder

Video: Themes in comic book character design

Presentation on the subject of how to use mythological themes and other archetype systems in character design. Covers the Jewish experience, Greek mythology, historical allegories, and more. Subjects include Superman, the Justice League, Spider-man, Jack Kirby’s Marvel work, the X-Men, and also Japanese manga.

Author Interview: Ray Hecht – Bookish Asia

http://bookish.asia/author-interview-ray-hecht

Always Goodbye is an excellent title for your book. It really captures the bitter-sweet emotions of constantly moving on, whether that be leaving relationships or physical locations. I could relate to the semi-nomadic upbringing you describe as I’m a first-generation Kiwi with few roots in my home country. On balance do you find that rootlessness liberating?

Why thank you. It’s different for everybody, but I guess I’m just used to being rootless and that helped me to first move to California and then to China. It’s the way I happened to be raised. Not recommended for everyone. Perhaps people who still visit the childhood home they grew up in aren’t my best audience, who knows.

In this increasingly globalist world that we now find ourselves in, more and more might relate to my lack of a homeland…

I know I’m old-fashioned but I find it remarkable that an adult has such an interest in superhero comic books. Aren’t they just for kids?

Ha, this is an old take. Weren’t comics pretty much proven to be a valid literary medium in the 1980s when Watchmen won a Hugo award? Even last year the graphic novel Sabrina was a contender to win the Booker prize.

By that logic Bob Dylan’s winning the Nobel Prize for Literature would make pop songs a literary medium. 

There was controversy about that wasn’t there, but I think an argument can be made that some songwriting is literary for sure. Well, maybe I can’t convince everybody. To me it seems self-evident to me that comics have writers and it is a medium of literature. They do have graphic novels at bookstores, right?

The superhero genre is as big as it’s ever been due to the phenomenal success of Marvel movies, although they are worthy of criticism. However, that criticism – as Scorsese might say – is about the corporate vs. art argument. There’s certainly nothing wrong with adults being entertaining by Superman or whatever.

That said, those black & white indie comics tend to be more literary. Superheroes are just a pop culture fun thing for me, serious or not. And yes, childhood nostalgia is a factor.

While superheroes (or fantasy, or science fiction) may not be for everyone, and that’s fine. My point is I’d passionately argue that everyone should give comics a chance as a broader medium.

Any kind of story can be told with both words and pictures.

You’re only 37 years old. Isn’t it rather a young age to be writing an autobiography? 

Perhaps I am too young and haven’t accomplished enough to be able to write a valid memoir. But it is what it is. I start Always Goodbye with an immediate admission that I was creatively spent at the time, and just wanted to practice the comic medium. Perhaps my personal experiment makes for a good read, perhaps it doesn’t.

There is a long tradition of autobiographical comics which can work very well in a slice-of-life type way, and I hope at best I tap into those sorts of stories in my work. If I can be 1% of Harvey Pekar, I’ll take it.

And I’m not claiming that my humble travels through Asia are that terribly special, but still some people may enjoy a window into my personal experiences.

I’m still not sure what to make of your book. It’s different from anything I’ve ever read. However, a friend whose judgment on literary matters I greatly respect was raving about it to me the other day. He said it was a work of historical importance, that it was “a Diary of Samuel Pepys for our times.” What kind of response have you had to Always Goodbye?

I’m honored to have such a comparison! I’ve been lucky to have a lot of positive reviews, even though some people certainly don’t know what to make of my book. Usually, those already into comics more “get it.” I’m still very pleased that others who are new to to the medium have found some things to enjoy about Always Goodbye.

Of course, I’ve had some fair criticism as well from both comics aficionados and novices. Usually concerning the work being overly wordy and rushed. The whole thing is an experiment, and those don’t always work.

The drawings work really well, and are consistent throughout the book. Over what period of time did you draw them (I have vague memories of reading a blog post from years back about you working on the memoir)?

The entire word took me a bit less than a year, about ten months. I did post early drafts of the pages online. For anyone on a budget who doesn’t want to buy a book, check out my blog!

Basically, from mid-2018 to 2019 I drew two pages a week. I interviewed my parents for the early portions, I sorted old photos, I reread my journals, dug through ancient social media. Then day after day I wrote a script, penciled, inked, and lettered.

It was honestly the hardest I’ve ever worked on anything in my life.

One of the things that comes through Always Goodbye is the importance of pop culture in your life. What do you think provides the backdrop to one’s life – is it the big moments of history, the likes of Operation Desert Storm, 9/11, the Olympics, or is it the television, music and movies we consume? 

I find that these images of the big thing of each year are a good way to anchor a moment in time. It can be personal, like when Jurassic Park came out. Or tragic, like 9/11. Sometimes they didn’t have much to do with me, like say the fall of the Berlin Wall. I suppose everything indirectly affects us all if it was sufficiently impactful, especially the political ones or even the technologies of the ages. Both are valid, but the music and movie portions do tend to have more of a personal spark even if it’s more arbitrary objectively-speaking.

As you’re flying to China to take up a teaching position in Shenzhen, you reflect on how it all started: “I’d been interested in China ever since I saw Farewell My Concubines. Anime –> Kurosawa –>Fifth-Generation Chinese cinema, that was my journey.” Can you say more about the attraction to East Asian culture and also why you chose China over Japan?

Well, obviously Japanese popular culture has been more open to the West for a longer time. And with regards to my nerdy youth, I did love me some manga and anime. But as I got older I was also more interested in “serious” film as well and then Chinese cinema was my entry-point.

And I’m not even into martial arts.

Maybe the real reason I liked Asia was because it was as far from my homelands as possible. I always did want to get away.

Japan is a great place I love to visit, by the way, but how Rising China is both developed and undeveloped suited me better. It’s been quite the adventure learning about this massive part of the world, even considering the negative factors of living in a communist dictatorship. I was lucky I happened to end up with a job in China after that momentous Burning Man conversation…

You went to China in 2008 to teach English. Those days were pretty good going for a young Westerner. What’s it like now?

From what I understand, the standards are much higher today. More expenses, less breaking of the rules. Not quite as worth it.

To be frank China isn’t so desperate for random white teachers anymore, and a lot of unqualified people are getting kicked out. Fair enough on that. I wouldn’t recommend others to movie the mainland anymore, at least not to teach, but for a real professional it’s not a bad deal to live in places like Shanghai or Shenzhen. I do still like visiting on occasion, even if it is less wild.

As well as teaching English you also worked for the Shenzhen Daily, first writing articles part-time and then full-time as a copy editor. How were those experiences?

I enjoy a bit of journalism, writing little restaurant reviews and the like. I still do full-on film and book reviews all the time basically for free. Overall it wasn’t my particular dream or anything.

As for working as a copy editor in the office, I absolutely loathed it. Eight hours a day drained me of all my creativity. It was a good day job for a while, and I gained valuable experience (I still work as a freelance editor on occasion), but most of all that time in my life taught me that office jobs are not for me. Chinese offices in particular are so boring.

How are enjoying Taiwan so far?

Taiwan is perfect for me! A mix of Japan and China, but not crowded and very chill – in particular, the literary scene in Taiwan has been good. Most of all, I’m happy to live in a free country that speaks Mandarin. No more VPNs for this guy.

Yep, a mix of Japan and China – that’s the short-hand I often use for describing Taiwan to people back home. Hopefully, you’ll stay here a while and write something about the country. 

I hope so. My current goal is to stay here for at least five more years and then get a permanent residency status. After that, shall see what’s next.

Indeed, one day I hope to write something important about Taiwan and it’s precarious position in the world…

…….

Always Goodbye is published by TWG Press and is available from Amazon.com for a very reasonable $5.99 for the paperback and half that for the ebook.

You can find out more about the Ray Hecht and his writing at rayhecht.com.

About the Author:

John Grant Ross is the author of You Don’t Know China and Formosan Odyssey.

Always Goodbye: the graphic novel

https://www.amazon.com/Always-Goodbye-Ray-Hecht-ebook/dp/B07ZYFRYJK

 

I am proud to announce that my graphic novel Always Goodbye has now been published by TWG Press, and for a special promotion this week it is free to download for the Kindle app!

Please enjoy, and of course if you like you can share and review and just plain tell me what you think ~

 

Synopsis:


Life can take a man many places.

Born in disputed Israel, fostered in Middle America, and then finally driven into Rising China—Ray Hecht takes journey after journey as he tries to figure it all out. He goes down many paths from the years 1982 to 2019, attempting and failing at new identities with each passing decade: artist, filmmaker, journalist, and author.

Told in simple lines and crude forms, Ray’s graphic memoir Always Goodbye rushes through the milestones of a person’s life with harsh sincerity. Follow along these memories of a man’s travels across the globe as he tries to find himself, always saying goodbye but then reconnecting all over again, as many times as it takes…

 

Joker

Has enough time passed to post a Joker review? Or, is it too late?

In any case, I shall share some spoilers. Note that this review shall be divided into three parts below: on the subject of problematic issues, the actual content, and of the more comic book-ish implications.

On the *problematic* issues:

Firstly, there hasn’t been a real-life shooting inspired by this film. Looks like that criticism so much in the media brought up was extremely overblown. And to fair, there have always been violent movies about criminals with various degrees of controversy. Is 2019 really such a different time that society can’t handle a movie with such overtones?

There’s nothing wrong with criticizing a film or any work of art, for any reason at all. But to say that bad movies should be banned, because it may inspire violence, still feels like a stretch to me. If you just find the movie immoral and whatnot, then don’t pay for it or give it a low rating and move on.

It is interesting that Joker specifically says “I’m not political” in the infamous De Niro talk show scene. It’s a bit of a cop out, but I do appreciate that the themes are all over the place enough to be interpretable. One could just as much say that there’s a leftist moral lesson is about austerity–that Gotham shouldn’t have cut civil services and then all the tragedies could have been avoided.

(And as for the whole incel thing, while the character did fantasize about a girlfriend and couldn’t get any action, ultimately there never seemed to be a strong hating women theme.)

Last point with the controversies here. Director Todd Phillips has shown himself to be a douche with some of his “anti-woke” statements as a comedy director, which is very disappointing. If only he would let the work speak for itself, instead of lazily complaining about he resents that audiences don’t finding him funny anymore.

As for the actual content:

I happen to think the Joker is a vastly overused character. He’s supposed to be mysterious, not such a mainstream nemesis. There are of course many classic Joker storylines, but just because Batman is the most popular DC hero and he’s the main villain doesn’t mean they keep having to go back to Joker trying to top himself again and again and again. It’s an overplayed gimmick, at least in the comics.

I do appreciate Warner Bros-DC doing something different with the superhero film genre. A rated R villain film is certainly a different style than that Marvel Cinematic Universe formula.

Still, a definitive origin for the Joker is paretly of missing the point. The Dark Knight and The Last Laugh were simply smarter in exploring ambiguity. The Joker of the film is an unreliable narrator at times, but perhaps not unreliable enough.

Another valid criticism is how derivative of Scorsese this is. Both Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy? There is such a thing as too much homage. And Arthur Fleck living with his mother, that is pretty cliched.

However, I watched the movie and I’m still thinking about it weeks later. That is saying something. The arc of Fleck’s descent into madness powerfully told, I have to admit. From the beginning it can’t be denied Joaquin Phoenix is an absolutely brilliant actor, carrying every scene and pushing himself to the limit. As he descends into violence, first by killing in self defense and then immediately after by killing someone running away, the audience is sucked into his disturbing world until the body count rises enough to take down the whole city.

Damn, what an ending. Incredibly pessimistic as Gotham is on fire, his minions in clown masks burning it all down in anti-1%er riots. It may or may not be happening in the titular character’s mind to some degree, but either way, geez what an effect as he dances to the tune! Finally, the world pays attention to one Arthur Fleck.

One leaves the theater affected for sure, and in some sense that means it is a successful work.

Overall, after giving it maybe too much thought, I conclude it’s a good movie. The Joker is well-crafted and leaves a deep impression. Very much worth watching as long, assuming you’re already into gruesome crime dramas.

Comic book implications: 

Lastly, here’s my take as a fanboy. It was an entertaining twist to speculate on Joker maybe-or-maybe-not being Bruce Wayne’s illegitimate brother. (Glad it’s left open; those ambiguous factors are always the strongest.) Thomas Wayne as an out of touch rich asshole, who is partly responsible for the iconic orphaning of his son, now that sure is an original version.

Continuity-wise the age difference is too wide to have this be the same villain who will one day fight Batman. Bruce was only a child right, so it would have to be twenty years later at least. It is fun to see some of the Batman origin, however overdone, even if it doesn’t quite fit.

Plus, the Joker should be a genius. I don’t see this guy inventing chemical compounds or even planning any intricate crime sprees. His only ‘power’ really is that he acquired a gun, and that some his murders are big deals. Also, he’s not funny. There are several dark humor scenes to be sure, but Arthur Fleck’s tragedy is that he’s not even good at being a comedian which just isn’t really the Joker in my view.

Hence… the only way this could work in any DC universe is if Fleck isn’t so much *the* Joker as much as he is *the first* Joker. The comics do say there were three. Like there have been a series of Jokers, and Arthur Fleck inspired them. Maybe that’s the point?

Even if so, let’s still repeat that it’s just a movie and please don’t be inspired to be super-villain in the real world. So long as that’s clear, enjoy 🙂

PROFESSIONAL EDITING SERVICES

As a longtime author and editor, I’d like to offer my services in the fields editing, copyediting, and proofreading. A detailed summary of my experience and rates are below. Feel free to click on the links for further information.

For journalism writing samples, I have worked extensively at the Shenzhen Daily, South China’s only daily English-language newspaper. I have also been published a number of times by the reputable Wall Street Journal.

In 2016, my novel South China Morning Blues was released by Hong Kong-based publisher Blacksmith Books. I have also had fiction published by TWG Press in Taiwan.

As for my credentials, I have enrolled in the University of California San Diego’s advanced Copyediting Certificate program.

I have since worked with a number of high-profile clients on a regular basis, including China-based translation companies CEPIEC (China Educational Publications Import & Export Corporation Ltd.) as well as Grouphorse. I have also contributed education material for Taiwan’s AMC.

My most notable editing work may be the novel Death Notice by Zhou Haohui, which was published in the United States by Penguin Random House.

My starting rates are as follows for these currencies:

.03 USD per word (United States)
.25 CNY per word (China, PRC)
1 NTD per word (Taiwan, ROC)

Please contact me via email at rayhecht@gmail.com for any inquiries.

2016 – 2019: Goodbye China, Hello Taiwan! THE END

Previous: 2014 – 2015: Love and Publishing

Read all at Webtoons.com

2016 – 2019: Terrible politics, book tour, leaving China and coming to Taiwan! Various family trips from Israel to South Africa and California. Art and comics and Burning herein. At last, we catch up to now (so meta) and I reflect… Thus, an ending. 

Thanks so much to you all for reading this, my humble life story!

 

2014 – 2015: Love and Publishing

Previous: 2013: My epic clusterfuck drama year

Read all at Webtoons.com

2014 – 2015: After recovering from some heartache, I reinvent myself yet again (tattoos, grey hair). Then family, family, and more family; meeting the next generation.
And at long last the love of my life, and we meet each others’ parents *shudder* … Africa!
Lastly, novel published. 

Turtle Burn the Video (Regional Burning Man in Taiwan)

In April I went to the Spark Decompression. It was great, but in fact was was a practice run in leading up to last month’s amazing Turtle Burn!

This is the official regional Burning Man event for Taiwan, located on a campsite in the mountains of Yilan and featuring an array of activities including drag shows and fire-dancing. And a muppet serving waffles.

Please enjoy this video I made about my experiences, and for more information please check out: turtleburn.com

2013: My epic clusterfuck drama year

Previous: 2011 to 2012: Turning thirty, weddings, and the end of the world

Read all at Webtoons.com

2013 – My epic clusterfuck drama year: It should have been nice, I joined a writing group ad even got a newspaper job. But endless relationship drama kinda’ ruined everything, such as when I got a stalker and also some of that all-encompassing despair of heartache…

Book Review: The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller makes for a somewhat different kind of book review.

Well, I did it. I slugged through the entire report. It’s all free online, don’t even have to steal it.

As eBooks go, this is not the most entertaining page-turner. There are a lot of footnotes, for example, which tend to interrupt the flow.

Moreover, as a narrative this is one of the all-time most anticlimactic stories ever told.

Rather than a book to be judged on its own merits, it’s really more about the news cycle context than anything else.

All this makes it rather difficult to review.

But let us try. Firstly, the context of Volume I: This section heavily details Russian interference in that infamous 2016 election via social media spamming as well the DNC hack. Is this still a controversial fact in some circles? If you are interested in learning about the IRA—the Internet Research Agency—this report is as good a source as any. If you dismiss it as a left-wing conspiracy theory fake news or something, then apparently nothing will truly convince especially some legalistic government report.

The schizophrenia of the U.S. government at this time is quite fascinating, how the highest level of the executive branch can have such a different spin than the entire intelligence apparatus (although recent tweets may have finally admitted that he had help, if tweets are something we are going to get into then).

Which perhaps is the whole point. In these post-truth times, can anyone be convinced of anything anymore?

Then we have endless detail on collusion. Yes, outright collusion. There’s a colorful cast of characters, such as foreign policy “expert” George Papadopoulos and the ever-present diplomat Sergey Kislyak. There’s Richard Gates, Roger Stone, and of course Don Jr. and the big tower meeting. What a stream of reports and reports and reports about how much they welcomed Russian help and even tried and failed to further collude but couldn’t get as far as they’d have liked due to incompetence.

It does not make for a very satisfying read. To learn all this, and then find out that the legal definition for conspiracy is so narrow that they ultimately find it inconclusive and ultimately don’t charge the big guy. Cue the insipid right-wing exoneration talking points.

One particularly close example of what may be illegal, as far as specifically trading campaign work for favors, is the question of the Republican party changing their stance on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine at the RNC convention. This highlights the entire problem with the report right there–we have a question that is unanswered. Did or didn’t officials in the campaign trade influence? This subject even part of the written answers with the president, which were dismissed and sadly not followed up on. More on that failure of a Q & A below.

These near-misses continue; again and again it’s a running theme. Was it illegal for Don Jr. to have a meeting with Russians, whether or not it was really about adoptions? The answer is yes, due to campaign finance law, that’s clearly against the law. But then… they say let’s go ahead and not charge him because he probably didn’t know it was illegal and it would be hard to prove intent in court and whatever in this case ignorance of the law is apparently a valid excuse.

So much painstaking research, and so much giving up. These impossible standards keep making it frustrating for the reader.

Not that there aren’t plenty of convictions and crimes uncovered. Paul Manafort was a pretty large get, let’s acknowledge that. But when it comes to the most powerful of the powerful, there is a sense of exasperation. That in the end, America is about protecting those who are too big to lose and the system will always find a way to make sure those on top will never face the consequences they deserve.

And at least we reach Volume II: Obstruction. Here is where it may or may not get good. There are the ten examples of the president unambiguously obstructing justice to the best of his ability. Public witness-tampering, changing the story on firing Comey, live on TV no less, demands of loyalty, et al. There’s quite a lot of that whole thing.

[And please don’t give me that line about how there can’t be obstruction if there’s no underlying crime. 1: That’s not true, period. If it was true, wouldn’t it be an incentive to obstruct because if it works criminals would get away with the crime? 2: More importantly, there were so many crimes! The president’s own personal lawyer Cohen lied about the Moscow tower, is in jail now, and let’s not even get into the campaign finance violation with the porn star affair hush money. If nothing else simply firing Comey in order to protect his friend Michael Flynn, a convicted criminal, then that is clearly obstructing justice. It’s not only about evidence of collusion/conspiracy at the top. There’s still plenty of obstructing investigations if only to protect his dirty circle. If that’s not corrupt, what is?]

So, then it all ends in a pathetically lame copout in which DOJ guidelines say they can’t indict so they don’t bother indicting. Yes, Mueller went on television trying to explain his logic puzzle of how you can’t charge a crime against someone who can’t go to trial, even though at the same time it’s not an exoneration, punting to Congress as he hints that only they can hold the office to account. Yeah, like oversight is going to go well.

This is the core frustration of this document, and of this entire era we live in. It is postmodern enough that everybody gets their own talking point. You get to interpret the entire investigation however you want. Witch hunt or a valid call for impeachment, pick and chose your own interpretation. Attorney General Barr certainly wants you to interpret it in a political way that benefits his side, based on his initial coverup-y behavior. Mueller simply wants you to be smart enough to read 400 pages and decide for yourself (one of the most naïve positions possible in this age).

In the end, everyone is unsatisfied and the waters couldn’t be muddier. So if you want a sense of closure after reading this, you will still have a long while to wait as we see how history unfolds. So far, to put it lightly, I’m not sensing anything close to a national consensus in the near future.

Isn’t it amazing? This was supposed to be it, and the polls show that right-wingers still believe what they believe, they even have a few quotes to highlight to defend their extreme rationalizations. While the rest of the country vaguely listen to mainstream news summations and have ever so slightly leaned towards kinda’ maybe let’s-investigate-more-and-maybe-impeach-even-though-it’s-for-naught-cause-of-the-Senate.

Sadly, it seems that perhaps obstruction totally works and the people will never know. The appendix in which the president submits his written answers are certainly more of the same. Mueller even says more or less outright that the questionnaire isn’t enough, but he must give up because a subpoena would take too long and he wants to get this damn thing over with. Over thirty answers of “I don’t remember” with no chance to follow up. Once again, the system let’s the powerful get away with anything.

Hell, perhaps all the good stuff is redacted. There are a lot of redactions. So if this is a coverup, then one can only conclude that coverups work.

The story is still continuing. The television drama won’t be over any time soon. In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans will not read this free report. They won’t even read the summaries.

I suppose all that’s left is to depend on the Democrats, and that is a sad notion indeed.

The country is in trouble.

For these reasons above, for this humble reader at this particular time in history, one can only judge this book however full of facts to be a terrible disappointment.