UBI: Work, Purpose, and the Worth of Human Life

A big thing that I think can get lost in discussions of Universal Basic Income (UBI) is the way that UBI allows for a re-definition of how we think about work, purpose, and the worth of human life. Especially UBI combined with a universal healthcare system uncoupled from full-time work.

  • UBI allows the homemaker that raises children to be valued for their contributions for more than the money you save on daycare. It lets the caretaker parent be more involved in their children’s lives.
  • UBI allows the twenty-year-old that has to drop out of college or trade school to take care of an elderly or sick family member or other loved one and can’t work regular hours to be able to get by and do that critical labor.
  • UBI allows the aspirant creator to dedicate themselves to improving their craft without needing a menial job to make ends meet. How much faster could a new musician become experienced and skilled enough to play professionally if they don’t have to work 40 hours a week in an office job to get buy?
  • UBI means that if you’re a writer, you wouldn’t necessarily need to have a “real” job to get by. You could be a writer that also teaches storytelling to kids. Or a writer that helps out at their church or local school. Or a writer that provides for their family by cooking wonderful home-cooked meals? Those are all ways of contributing, and in a functional UBI system, they can all be supported and valued.

UBI means that we can continue the trend of letting people spend more of their time on hobbies, civic engagement, caretaking, enjoying life, and being fulfilled. There’s a strong cultural dictate that says that life has worth because of work and “contribution to society.” Thanks, Protestant Work Ethic and/or Capitalism. In the US/Developed nations, we were trending toward people having more and more leisure time, because productivity was increasing due to improved tools, better systems, etc. But wages didn’t keep pace with productivity.

In a UBI system, everyone benefits from increased productivity and efficiency. The office administrator can work 20 hours a week and still keep everything flowing. They can use the other 20 hours a week to spend more time with their family and friends and to develop their passion for painting or volunteer at a local community center. And so on.

I think it’s very important to consider and get excited about the ways self-fulfillment and ideation are a contribution to society. Why do we value work at a job you don’t care about as being more important to societal well-being than taking care of family and/or playing music at a faith center or teaching kids how to draw with crayons or running an after-school program and on and on? Capitalism is the thing that values selling your labor for the good of people that own systems of production. Capitalism is not inevitable. It is not intrinsic to humanity.

What is intrinsic is our community orientation. We’re social animals. We need physical touch and shelter and the chance to continually discover who we are as people more than we need to labor for someone else’s profit. We need sunlight and physical activity and love far more than we need a job title and quarterly reports.

If you’re a happier, more whole, more fulfilled person, you’ll be a better friend, neighbor, partner, etc. A better citizen.

This, for me, is one of the biggest, most important things about UBI. It allows us to move humanity forward past a scarcity mindset into an abundance mindset. It can strengthen civic society. Family ties. Political engagement. And on and on.

This is the future I am fighting for. A future where living a fulfilling life is the priority more than selling your time to survive. We don’t have to live in a subsistence, scraping-by paradigm anymore. We can all live better.

Disclaimers and answers to expected questions:

  • Of course no system is perfect. UBI would have to be very carefully implemented to not just re-create or enhance various systems of inequality.
  • Yes, I am a hippie utopianist. That’s my whole deal. That’s what being a speculative fiction writer means to me: imagining better possibilities.
  • No, this won’t lead to a huge % of the population just being leeches on society. See the resources below.

Further reading on UBI, including a variety of perspectives:

Studies on UBI
UBI pilot program in Kenya
UBI in Ontario, Canada
The Alaska Permanent Fund
The Conservative Case for UBI”
UBI in Finland
“The Wrong Kind of UBI”
Universal Basic Assets
“UBI: The Answer to Automation?”

Writers, Artists, and the ACA

There’s a call to action further down. If you’re already convinced that the ACA is important to keep, skip down for action steps.

A lot of people are talking about the GOP and the new Senate, Congress, and President-Elect’s likely actions on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), commonly known as the ACA or Obamacare.

I personally used the PPACA exchanges to find a cheaper and higher-quality health insurance package for my 2015 health insurance, and I personally know dozens of writers and other freelancers who use the PPACA exchanges for health insurance. I’ve seen over a dozen direct accounts from writers/artists/freelancers that they’d be dead or back in terrible day jobs without the PPACA, due to the protections it offers against being denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or for other reasons.

The PPACA is crucial in making it possible for many writers, artists, web designers, graphic designers, and many other freelancer able to work in their desired field full-time. We know that 20 million more people have health insurance because of the PPACA. That’s over 6%. 20 million people is greater than the population of the entire state of New York. That’s huge.

Gutting or repealing the ACA would have a massive impact on my field – SF/F prose, as well as comics, visual art, etc. The ACA has let more creatives and freelancers go full-time. If the ACA goes away, the best opportunity for full-time creatives to obtain healthcare for themselves and their families goes out the window.

Even if you don’t use ACA plans, please consider calling in support of the ACA to make sure that your favorite writer, your favorite artist or graphic designer, your favorite freelance pop culture writer, etc. will still have access to affordable health care. The ACA is not perfect, but so far, the GOP has done little more than spread lies about what the ACA does and promise to remove it and somehow give us something better. But without any details.


I’m not saying that the PPACA is perfect. It was the result of a lot of legislative fighting and compromise. But it’s done a lot of good, and we can build on it instead of throwing it all out and starting over or, possibly worse, trying to keep only part of it and throwing out the rest. The PPACA was designed to function because of the inter-dependent parts – the individual mandate brings people into pools so that the price of insuring high-risk people becomes more manageable for the companies and keeps costs down, etc. I’d prefer single-payer or other systems more like Canada or one of the other ally nations we have with very strong health care programs. But right now, we apparently have to fight tooth and nail to keep the imperfect but life-saving system we have.

Additionally, if you are a writer, artist, graphic designer, web designer, or other freelancer that uses the ACA plans, or someone who the ACA has personally assisted, I’d love to hear your story in the comments so other people can see just how much good it’s done.

ACTION STEPS – Copied over from material shared on FB/Twitter

If are a US person and you support the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, please consider calling or writing your elected representatives in the Senate and the House. Here’s a contact sheet with info as well as suggested scripts.

What We Can Do

I just shared some thoughts on Twitter about what straight white people and other variously-privileged folks can do in terms of trying to help make our future better in the face of Trump’s election, Brexit, etc. I’m mostly talking from my own cultural frame of reference, but maybe this will apply beyond that as well.

EDIT: There’s a specific call for suggestions at the bottom, below the thread.

If you know of advocacy groups that you think people should look into, please add them in the comments.
Aggregating here:
Southern Poverty Law Center
Holocaust Museum engage.ushmm.org/support.html
Council on American Islamic Relations cair.com/donations/gene…
Society of Professional Journalists Legal Defense Fund spj.org/ldf.asp
Immigrant Defense Project immdefense.org
The Trevor Project http://www.thetrevorproject.org/
Tras Lifeline http://www.translifeline.org/

Indiana Boy

My home state of Indiana has been in the news a lot this last week for some of the worst possible reasons. SB 101 aka the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was signed into law last week despite some very vocal opposition. Personally, I think SB 101 is terrible.

Many folks will note that other states have similar laws, and that there is a federal law dating to the Clinton Era. This is not that law. There appear to be a couple of very important distinctions between IN’s SB 101 and for those other laws, and for those distinctions, I’ll point you to this article from The Atlantic.

As a result of the bill, there has been a campaign to call for a boycott of the state, including by George Takei.

I can’t make anyone’s decisions for them. But I disagree with the call for a blanket boycott of the State of Indiana. I’m also particularly upset by people dismissing and insulting the entire state due to the harmful actions of its legislators and officials. There are many in Indiana who oppose SB101, as is seen by GenCon’s letter of opposition, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard’s executive order reaffirming that businesses operating within the city must abide by its human rights ordnance, and this front-page editorial in the Indianapolis Star.

Rather than a blanket boycott of Indiana, I’d suggest a strategic and vocal boycott of businesses seen to use this law to discriminate against marginalized persons. Instead why not vocally patronize inclusive businesses?

Open For Service

And on top of that, fight to make sexual orientation a protected class for the entire state, and to get SB 101 overturned so a more reasonable protection for religious expression can be crafted and implemented.

Boycotts punish everyone, and tend to disproportionately hurt smaller business of those already marginalized.

Everyone has to do what’s best for them, especially folks who are likely to be at-risk because of this law.

Some have condemned GenCon for failing to make a more extreme move. I’ll remind folks that GenCon has a contract with the city and the convention center until 2020 – pulling out before that would likely be a disastrous cost. Possibly a ‘bankrupt the entire organization and ensure that there will never be another GenCon cost. Now if SB101 is still in place by 2021, I fully support GenCon moving to another state in order to ensure it is the welcoming, inclusive event that it strives to be.

And while I have your attention, other horrible stuff is going down in Indiana, too.

Disengaging isn’t really very likely to achieve positive change. Bringing more scrutiny to these laws, being very vocal in *not* patronizing businesses that choose to discriminate and instead patronizing their competitors who are inclusive? That strikes me as far more effective. The really big businesses are already making their statements. For individuals, the one or two orders placed with an inclusive business instead of a bigoted business can mean a lot. If you’re in a position where you would be patronizing an IN business, perhaps take the extra 1-3 minutes to find an inclusive business. And if you feel like it, the extra 1-3 minutes on top of that to let a bigoted business know that you’ve taken your money elsewhere in the state because of their discrimination.

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter.

This simple statement shouldn’t be controversial, but the events of the past weeks have made it painfully clear to me that a disturbing number of people, people in law enforcement positions, the legal profession, and around the country simply do not believe in that statement.

In just one of many irregularities in the Grand Jury hearing to decide whether to indict Darren Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, the prosecutor *failed to ask for an indictment.* IANAL, but my lawyer friends tell me this is kind of a big deal. Also, Darren Wilson was allowed to testify, and for hours, without being cross-examined, which is also highly irregular for a grand jury hearing. 

One of the best decisions I’ve made in the last few months was to take a suggestion (I believe from Daniel Jose Older) to follow reporter Shaun King, who writes for the Daily Kos.

King has written the following reports (among many others) about three of the most recent police killings of black people in the USA.

On the killing of Eric Garner.

On the killing of Tamir Rice.

On the killing of Michael Brown.

If you think these killings are isolated incidents, Reddit user biopterin has created an extensive list of other killing incidents by officers. If you doubt that there is a pattern of police violence against unarmed people, I’d invite you to investigate this.

Or maybe watch this Daily Show segment:


The Civil Rights movement is not over. It was never over. But it is back with a strained, but powerful voice, with protests in 137 cities last week, and more coming.

Many of you are as incensed as I am, or more, probably more. I can only be outraged and ashamed on behalf of my country and the people who are supposed to protect its citizenry. I don’t know what it’s like to be black in America. I haven’t lived it, and even reading about the lived experiences of black people in the country, I don’t really know what it was like. But I see the pain on people’s faces, read what people write about what it is like, and I want to do something.

I need to do something.

Black Lives Matter.


Here are some sites of groups that are organizing protests and direct actions:




If the USA wants to prove that it believes that black lives matter, we need to stand up and do something. I’ve been RTing like it’s my job throughout this, and trying spend more time listening and using my platform megaphone to magnify the voices of black people rather than drowning them out with my own voice.


So what am I doing about it?

My main answer to these issues of systemic injustice is to work it into my writing. One more white body and white voice at a protest may not tip the scale as much as one more white writer writing diversely and supporting diverse works and creators.

The way I see it, there are two main approaches in terms of writing to support diversity.

1) Write the world as it is, to show people who do not know or who refuse to see. Show how life actually is for people in marginalized and threatened positions. This is harder to do from the outside. I can’t know what it’s like to be a black man living in America, but neither can I know what it’s like to be a wizard, and I’ve written plenty of wizards. These are not the same, but it’s important, I think, to remember that fiction writers, especially writes in the literature of the fantastic, that we are constantly writing outside our own experience. But getting it wrong when it comes to writing diversely can have pronounced, real-world effects, can hurt people, can propagate dangerous stereotypes.

2) Write the world you’d like to see. Write worlds where black lives do matter, where the systems work, where systemic racism has been ended, or is being overthrown, or slices within a world where things already are better, worlds untouched by these problems, to give breathing room, space for safe escape and adventure. A world that says “Don’t worry about that for a moment, let’s have some fun and take a break.”

I spend more time on strategy #2 than #1, but I hope to do better at both, do better all the time, as I become a better writer and a more whole and compasionate human being. I try t write diversely because representation isn’t just about the pleasure of seeing yourself in narrative. It’s about narrative acknowledging that you exist, that you are a valid person, that you deserve existence. That there is space for you in this world. When generations worth of abuse and violence looms over your head, it is my hope that having more stories where black lives matter can help change the conversation. That stories can fight stereotypes, can provide more models for readers of a world that does better, of black people as people, instead of the Big Black Buck or Thug stereotypes propagated by a white supremacist system.

We can also support diverse writers, promote diverse voices in publishing – not just writers but editors, designers, artists.

This is a good time to remind folks about We Need Diverse Books, which is working on supporting NYC publishing internships for people from diverse backgrounds.

All of this is connected. The killing of Michael Brown is connected to Daniel Handler’s racist comments overshadowing Jackie Woodson’s National Book Award Win. These are all manifestations of a racist, anti-black culture.

So this is me, lifting my voice in an attempt to follow suit with existing actions, to write in a way that moves the conversation and our cultures towards sympathy, empathy, and justice. And along the way, I’m trying to spread the news as written largely by people who this systemic injustice threatens most directly, using my privilege to help propagate their message, so that they may be heard by more people, that their voices build momentum, as do their actions.

Black Lives Matter.


UPDATE: In the 8ish hours since I posted this, I’ve learned of another shooting death of an unarmed black person by a police officer: The note about the officer’s immediate verbal response makes me thing that it was a mistake based on an in-the-moment judgement call by the officer, but Rumain Brisbon, the victim, is still dead, mistake or not.

“I Remember When SF Was All About Straight Men Doing Stuff.”

At least, that’s my paraphrase of this essay from “The Spearhead”


Have you read that?  No?  Go back and check it out.  Take a walk or go sparring to work out your righteous fury, then come back to read.

Done?  Ok.

The essay in question is both 1) infuriating and 2) about genre fiction and society.  Which makes it a great topic for a blog post!  The essay is one of the writings from The Spearhead, a group blog designed to focus on men’s issues and men’s voices (as response to a perceived ‘cultural gap’ that has ignored men’s voices).  While I agree that part of the ‘let’s all be equal’ agenda must include an analysis of how cultural forces shape men’s perception of the world and define masculinity in a way that is exploitative of men and teaches exploitation of women — I don’t think the Spearhead writers and I agree on the nature of the problem with men’s status in society or how to address it.

The essay starts out with a bang:

“Science fiction is a very male form of fiction.  Considerably more men than women are interested in reading and watching science fiction.  This is no surprise.  Science fiction traditionally is about men doing things, inventing new technologies, exploring new worlds, making new scientific discoveries, terraforming planets, etc.  Many men working in the fields of science, engineering, and technology have cited science fiction (such as the original Star Trek) for inspiring them when they were boys to establish careers in these fields.”

This particular essay focuses on a limited definition of what ‘science fiction’ means, in a Golden Age Asimov kind of fashion, where characters were as flat as the paper they were printed on, little more than mouthpieces for expositing and resolving scientific issues.  Now don’t get me wrong — there’s some great idea work in Golden Age SF — it’s that era that helped develop SF as the Literature of Ideas.  But the genre has developed since then, it has become larger and (to me, more relevant and sophisticated.  We’ve gotten Alfred Bester and Thomas Disch, Ursula LeGuin and Octavia Butler, Samuel Delaney and Connie Willis.

To begin with, the essay relies upon versions of masculinity that are unsurprisingly as old and outmoded as the SF they rely on.  For “Pro-Male/Anti-Feminist Tech” — masculinity, like SF is about “men doing things, inventing new technologies, exploring new worlds, making new scientific discoveries, terraforming planets, etc.” The author references scientists who speak about being inspired by SF to move into their disciplines.  Of course I agree that  science fiction is instrumental in inspiring and encouraging scientific development.

On the other hand, it’s as if there have never been any female engineers or scientists who have never been inspired by science fiction.  And in other news, all men smoke cigars and drink scotch at work with expertly coiffed hair while wearing fedoras and the only power women have is influencing men through their sexuality while working as secretaries.  No wait, that’s Mad Men.

The author talks about the name change of SciFi as part of a feminizing trend, following the 1998 changeover when Bonnie Hammer assumed control of the channel and began courting female readers.   The 2000s era Battlestar Galactica is positioned as one of the culprits of a feminizing Sci-Fi channel, since the character of Starbuck was changed into a woman.  Strangely, it’s Starbuck the woman who is also Starbuck the cigar-smoking, hard drinking, sleeps with anything that moves.   That part is not mentioned in the essay — instead the author points to an essay by original Starbuck Dirk Benedict, bemoaning the “un-imagining” of Battlestar Galactica.

Pro-Male/Anti-Feminist Tech also talks about the shift in programming towards fantasy and away from science fiction, because “women are more interested in the supernatural and the paranormal than men are.”  Is this supposed to be a biological pre-disposition?  The author then complains about the increasing presence of gay characters on the channel (as a death knell post-name change) — and how that means that it well be less about men doing things.  Does the set of ‘men’ exclude homosexual men in this case?

The author then cites Marvin Minsky, an AI researcher at MIT.  Minsky gives his distinction between general fiction and science fiction as such: “General fiction is pretty much about ways that people get into problems and screw their lives up. Science fiction is about everything else.”  This is a notably reductive definition to be sure, specious at best.  Where does 1984 fit in there?  Winston Smith ‘gets into problems and screws his life up,’ among many others. This depiction of science fiction as the only fiction with ‘real importance’ is an insular isolationist stance that fails to acknowledge that powerful, historically-relevant literature can occur without spaceships or advanced physics.  I like my SF and think it’s had important effects, but it’s not the only game in town, for sure.

“The War on Science Fiction and Marvin Minsky” is representative of the perspective of someone within the world of SF fandom, a part that exists and continues to proceed despite the fact that the mainstream has moved away from them.  Analog Science Fiction and Fact is often noted as the home of this mode of SF, and the magazine continues as it has for decades, admirable for its continuity.  I think we need the scientifically rigorous aspect of speculative fiction, the part that refuses to use handwavium to solve its problems just to get to the point and instead interrogates the ways that the possible could become reality.  Hard SF may not be for me, but it’s an important part of the genre.

A lack of hard science doesn’t automatically make a science fiction story into melodrama.  And I certainly don’t think that either scientific rigor or the science fiction genre is or should be part-and-parcel with outdated gender norms, homophobia and misogyny.

Review: District 9

District 9 was advertised widely on SF sites such as i09.com. I’ve been excited about this film since the first previews, promising an apartheid metaphor SF film with a distinct setting. Good sociological SF is hard to find, and to be commended when it shows up.

I expected a Sociological SF film in a fictional documentary style and got something else.

There will be spoilers needed to actually talk about the meaty bits of this movie.

The film I was expecting to see lasted about 20 minutes into the actual film, and then it turned into something else. Those 20 minutes, it was a fictional documentary about the history of the aliens’ arrival and the current forced relocation to the concentration camp/refugee camp far from Johannesburg. This first 20-ish minute film was a slow burn, captivating and disgusting, showing prejudice and exploitation.

The film takes a turn that to me was unexpected, with Wikus Van De Merwe infected by the black liquid and beginning to transform into one of the aliens. The second 20 minutes, I was expecting a contagion/virus storyline, with the aliens creating a bio-weapon to strike at humanity.

But District 9 was not that movie, either. It became an action-ish film with Wikus fighting his way out and into MNU, learning to empathize with the aliens after having been casually and cruelly bigoted. It turned out to be a redemption story with tons of exploding people rather than a subtle sociological study of bigotry and xenophobia, with a constant apartheid metaphor. The apartheid metaphor in District 9 was really just centered on that first 20 minutes, and once the infection/transformation got going, the metaphor went away.

The film left a lot of questions unanswered. These are things that you could interpolate or extrapolate on, and I will do so below.

Things like — why did Christopher Johnson (the lead alien) only have one helper/ally within the alien population? Are all the other aliens too addicted to cat food? They show the rampant addiction, akin to depictions of “Firewater” for American Indians, where the aliens trade priceless military technology for 100 cans of cat food after asking for 10,000. The documentary has Wikus (I believe) talking about the aliens being members of the worker caste, lacking independence, but that’s just a human perspective.

Christopher said it took 20 years go gather enough liquid/fuel to power the command ship — did he only have a handful of helpers the whole time? Did the rest of his cell get evicted without incident/off-screen? If Christopher was a member of a leader/overcaste, why didn’t he have more followers/subordinates? We see precious little interaction between Christopher and any other aliens save his son (and his green helper who is killed), which makes these questions impossible to answer in-narrative.

Why did the aliens get stuck here in the first place? The command module fell out shortly after arrival, but if it’s what was buried and what Christopher and son used at the end, where are the rest of the command staff/caste? The aliens were depicted as almost completely without agency barring our protagonist aliens, save for the ‘feral pack’ attack at the end and the aliens’ various desperate grabs for cat food.

It was hard to like Wikus during the film. I was able to empathize, but Wikus was too unlikable in the beginning, too callous and bigoted. Yes, he was just a person with a loving wife and dedication to his job, but still. I think it was the gleeful description of the popping of the alien eggs, the ordering of a flamethrower to incinerate an entire hatchery that did it for me. After that, I could root for him, but really only in context of helping the aliens. The ending with Alien!Wikus making the metal flower was touching, however. And they’re clearly set up to do a District 10 film, with Christopher’s return, the healing of Wikus, etc.

Let’s talk for a moment about the action and effects. The alien mecha was super-cool looking, and I think this film wins for most humans exploded on screen during 2009. We’re supposed to accept that Wikus’s modified DNA allows him to intuitively control the mecha, which allows the cool action sequence.

My main beef with the film comes down to this: Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden says that in a story, you get one ‘Gimmie,’ one thing where you can say ‘In this setting, Something Works Differently’. If you tell your story well, and parcel new information out properly, you can earn the audience’s trust and get more ‘gimmie’s.

I think that for me, District 9 asked for more gimmies than it earned. It left far more things unsaid and unexplained that I would have liked, and not even in a way that is okay to leave unsaid (like Cloverfield‘s lingering questions about the monster).

I’m very glad to have seen the film, I enjoyed it once I got on board with the story it was actually trying to tell, but I think it may have missed the chance to be a better film when it turned into an action film. This may also come from the same impulse that will have me write my Anthropologists! In! Space! novel.

Final verdict — go see it, but know that it’s a SF action film with a slow burn start and a strong sociological undercurrent. It’s more akin to Children of Men than I had originally imagined. Hopefully, if you go into the film armed with a firmer sense of what to expect, or with no expectations whatsoever, you can enjoy it for its merits.

Movie Mini-Reviews

I’ve been both ill and snowed-in this week.  Therefore, I’ve seen a few movies of late.  Here are some short thoughts.

Blue State ( 2007 ) Breckin Meyer is Bleeding Heart Liberal John, who promises on TV that he’ll move to Canada if Kerry loses the 2004 election.  He is joined by Anna Paquin as the cute but guarded Chloe.  John is more than a bit preachy, but luckily Meyer carries it off well — he’s annoying about his views, but in the disbelieving desperate way, that gets explained well throughout the film, and it captures the disbelief and despair of the time.  Anna Paquin plays cute but world-weary rather than falling into a Garden State-esque Manic Pixie Dream Girl role which is so common for romantic comedies.

100 Girls ( 2000 ) — Tries to examine the conflicting cultural factors surrounding gender in a feminist age, dating, and love.  College freshman Matthew (Jonathan Tucker) is trapped in a dark elevator of a girl’s dormitory and meets/sleeps with the ‘love of his life.’  In the morning, he is left with only a piece of her underwear.  Matthew spends the year trying to re-connect with the girl, learning and discussing with the camera topics like feminism, masculinity, gender, dating and love.   The discussions of gender and love make this more of a meta-romantic comedy, examining the process and the biases as the story plays out.  The end product is laudable for its effort if not the execution.

Kung Fu Panda ( 2008 ) Jack Black is the voice of Po, a panda who has grown up on legends of kung fu, but is stuck working at the family soup restaurant.  Meanwhile, Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) eagerly awaits the appointing of the Dragon Warrior, a prophesied hero who will be entrusted with the ultimate kung fu secret.  His students, the Furious Five (Tigress, Monkey, Viper, Mantis, Crane–the five animals of five animal kung-fu) vie for the honor and the burden of the role.  When Po is revealed as the Dragon Warrior, Po learns the difficult truth of Kung Fu and the other martial artists re-think their preconceptions as Tai Lung (former disciple of Shifu) escapes his prison and returns for vengence and the Dragon Scroll.  Kung Fu Panda is a rare film that succeeds as both an Anthropomorphic Animal Comedy and a Kung Fu Movie.  Black is more lovable than annoying, and the moral lessons throughout are clear but not annoying.  An unexpected gem of a film.

The Dark Knight ( 2008 ) Christopher Nolan’s vision of Batman returns as Batman (Christopher Bale) is trapped in an escalating conflict between the Joker (Heath Ledger) and White Knight District Attourney, Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckart)–who is dating Bruce’s former beau Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal).  Dark and tense, emotional and psychological, Ledger and Nolan give us one of the all-time most compelling versions of The Joker.  The Joker, Dent, and Batman pull and push one another, vying for the fate and soul of Gotham.  One of the best films of the year, and one of the best if not the best superhero film of the decade.

Smart People ( 2008 ) Dennis Quaid is Professor Lawrence Wetherhold, curmudgeonly widower English professor at CMU.  Ellen Page (of Juno fame) is his too-perfect teenage daughter Vanessa.  Balancing out these two is Thomas Haden Church as Lawrence’s adopted brother Chuck.  Chuck tries to lighten his family up, while Dr. Janet Hartigan (Sarah Jessica Parker), a former student of Wetherhold’s, tentatively makes advances.  Lawrence and Janet stumble through the early stages of romance while Chuck’s efforts to get Vanessa to loosen up escalate beyond his intent.  A contemplative study of people smart enough to be idiotic around other people and the more ‘normal’ people who love them.

Wristcutters: A Love Story ( 2006 ) Surprisingly uplifting for a story about the limbo-world where suicides go to live out some kind of purgatorial life.  Patrick Fugit is Zia, who kills himself after being dumped by his beloved Desiree (Leslie Bibb).  Zia is joined by his fellow suicide Eugene on a cross-country quest for Desiree, who Zia learns has ‘offed’ as well.  They are joined by Mikal (Shannyn Sossamon), who would be a Manic Pixie Dream Girl if the suicide-world weren’t one completely bereft of smiles.  A stealth/slipstream speculative fiction story about depression, suicide, and finding hope in the depth of darkness.

Gray Matters ( 2006 ) A Coming-Out story wrapped in a Romantic Comedy.  Sam and Gray Baldwin (Tom Cavanagh and Heather Graham) are a joined-at the hip duo, actually brother and sister.  When they make efforts to find love and distinct lives, Sam meets Charlie and the two have a whirlwind romance that goes from meeting to betrothal in one date.  Gray and Charlie get on swimmingly as well–too well in fact, as Gray realizes she’s fallen in love with Charlie as well.  The Romantic Comedy between Sam and Charlie is really just the inciting incident for Gray’s own story of self-discovery, as she comes out to herself and then her family, learning to find the balance between maintaining her close relationship with her brother but also searching for love on her own.   More than a little cheesy, and mostly un-nuanced in its depiction of lesbianism, but it is one of many small steps towards normalizing GLBTQ culture in the US — Gray’s homosexuality is never condemned, but accepted by her family, work, and therapist — the conflict for Gray is with her own doubt, and in the confusion and hurt feeling between her and her brother.

In the hopefully-not-too-distant future, I want to do a Ethnographic/Cultural Studies project on romantic comedies and how members of Gen X/Gen Y use/are effected by Romantic Comedies in how they approach/consider love, gender, and romance.  This intention makes watching only-passable romantic comedies much easier/justifyable.

Battlestar Galactica — The End is Near

After another long hiatus, Battlestar Galactica will be returning to TV for its last half-season on January 16th.  10 episodes (of varying length) remain, as well as a TV-movie called The Plan, which is set immediately following the Cylon attacks on the 12 colonies.

In this remaining narrative space, there are a lot of loose ends to tie up.  The first section of Season 4 had already adopted an elegiac tone, trying together threads, ‘resolving’ character arcs (of course, resolution in Battlestar often comes at the end of a barrel or at the opening of a airlock).

We’ve still got one last Cylon to reveal, a Cylon civil war to finish up, and in my viewing, the most important task is to create an ending which will cause the series to resonate with one of its catch-phrases — All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again.  The show’s coda needs to suggest a teleology that will either lead to a re-playing of its story, or prove itself as the repetition that breaks the cycle.

Just as at the end of Season Three we got to see Earth, at the end of Season 4.0 we got to see the home of the 13th tribe from the ground level, ruins and all.  The Season 4.0 finale seems to make the Flying Motorcycle ending less likely, but we shall see.  The truce between Humans and Cylons is an uneasy one, and I’m sure things will get much worse before they get better, if they do.  I’d feel cheated if the show didn’t end with some kind of equilibrium for the humans, whose entire arc has been about finding Earth and completing their Exodus.  New Caprica was an interruption,

The progress of Ron Moore’s prequel project Caprica means that the Battlestarverse may continue on past the series proper, but I’ll be much happier with the series if it has its own proper ending.

I feel comfortable in calling Battlestar Galactica the iconic Bush Era Science Fiction series (at least, of those produced during his presidency).  It’s fitting that Battlestar will be ending before we get too far into Obama’s tenure as president, as the show is very distinctly a response to the 9/11 political landscape and the Bush administration.  Obama will still of course be dealing with a post-9/11 world, but it makes me wonder what the great Science Fiction epic of his presidency will be.