A Viable Alternative

The Orthodox Church needs to do a better job of positioning itself as a home for disillusioned Christians who feel betrayed and abandoned by their churches.

Unfortunately, we don’t seem to be all that good at evangelization, anywhere.

(Mind you, Orthodoxy comprises several autocephalous churches, including Greek, Russian, Albanian, and Ethiopian.)

Every time I read stories about church closing and declining attendance, I play a game before reading the story: “Does this church fly the rainbow flag or allow female priests?” I am right 99 percent of the time.

I am sure women can be good priests. I also do not care if two consenting men engage in sodomy on their own time. But these things are not parts of Christian tradition. And if a church is willing to break these rules, who knows what other rules they’re violating?

Heresy is bad for business, especially if you’re a church. Continue reading “A Viable Alternative”

Who Was Steve Ditko?

Add comic books to the growing pantheon of Things That Have Been Ruined.

Along with rock music, movies, and sci-fi/fantasy, comic books are thoroughly politicized to the point where creators actively hate and attack their own fans who might not like the direction politics is taking their work.

But this brings us to today’s question: Who was Steve Ditko?

Who Was Steve Ditko?

If you’re not a fan of comic books, you probably don’t know or care, although it blows my mind that comics book characters have become so mainstream and, dare I say it, cool, that his death is a big deal.

It used to be that being a fan of comic books was like a secret club. It was us dorks, us outcasts, us misfits, us weirdos who were fans despite the social stigma attached to the hobby . . . and we were fine with that. Yes, there actually was a time where wearing a shirt with Spider-Man on it to school would get you picked on by the jocks.

That’s right: I’m old enough to remember a world where “jocks versus nerds” was actually a thing.

I haven’t written too much about comic books, mainly because I stopped being a fan around 2002 because of, you guessed it, politics creeping into stories about giant men and beautiful women shooting lightning and lasers at evil aliens and robots hellbent on world domination. There were financial decisions as well–the increasing price per book, ridiculous crossover storylines that forced you to buy books you normally didn’t want, and an overdone emphasis on gore, shocking “mature” and “adult” themes, and a general lack of heart.

Which, once again, dovetails with the point of this post: Who was Steve Ditko?

Ditko also created Dr. Strange and a raft of other characters for other comic companies, but I was a Marvel guy and a Spider-Man fan, at first due to Todd McFarlane’s run, but later my brother and I went back and bought up collections of the old stories and discovered those magical first few years of Spider-Man’s life.

Ditko was, apparently, an enigmatic man, a recluse, a Randian Objectivist, and stubborn. But he also had an unerring inner sense of justice and rightness, not based on his own personal fancies, but on objective standards. A man after my own heart . . .

He may or may not have been a difficult man to work with. I don’t care. Just look at his art:

Evocative. Colorful. Kinetic. And it had a, dare I say it, creepy or otherworldy vibe that befitted the wall-crawler. The poses he’d draw Spider-Man in, the organic, free-flowing action, and the bold choice to make Peter Parker not a musclebound hulk but more sinewy and lithe really gave Spider-Man a visual pop that differentiated him from other characters.

I also really enjoyed his replacement John Romita, Sr.’s run on Spider-Man, but Romita’s style was more traditional. There was a magic to Ditko that very few later artists approached. You could tell that Ditko loved this character with every ounce of his being. And so did I.

Lastly, let’s look at the characters Ditko created in addition to the titular hero himself:

  • The Vulture
  • Doctor Octopus
  • The Green Goblin
  • Msyterio
  • The Scorpion
  • The Sandman
  • Electro
  • Kraven the Hunter
  • The Chameleon
  • The Enforcers

I’m sure there are others I’ve missed. It seemed like every issue Ditko came out with another villain that would soon be a permanent part of Spider-Man’s rogue gallery to this day.

In short, the man was an artistic genius in a uniquely American artform and now he’s dead. But at least he outlived the artform he helped to create. Continue reading “Who Was Steve Ditko?”

Book Review: Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter by Scott Adams

Scott Adams, aka “the Dilbert guy,” has realized that the reality you experience is not really the reality that exists, and he thinks you should know. That’s why in 2013 he wrote one of the best self-help books ever written, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

In How to Fail . . ., Adams focused on ways you can trick yourself into behaving smarter, failing in ways that will move you ahead, and developing a “talent stack” where each skill you learn creates a combination greater than the sum of its parts. And a huge focus on this was the concept of persuasion.

Adams is a trained hypnotist and well-versed in the art of persuasion. This is why when Donald Trump announced his campaign to run for President of the United States in the summer of 2015, Adams took notice and started blogging about politics.

Sort of.

What got Adams’ attention was Trump’s powers of persuasion. Far from seeing Trump as a buffoon randomly stumbling from gaffe to gaffe and succeeding by accident, Adams saw a deliberate set of moves designed to win the presidency. And Adams makes a compelling case.

Weathering the storm of being called a Nazi and a racist, the loss of friends, and his blacklisting from the lucrative speaking-tour circuit, Adams was one of the few pundits to predict that Trump would win. Mind you, Adams’ excellent blog was focused solely on Trump’s powers of persuasion.

And then a funny thing happened: Adams, a politically homeless man who generally leans pretty left on social issues, kind of started to like the guy.

In Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World where Facts Don’t Matter, Adams talks about Trump and his persuasion skills (he refers to Trump as a “Master Persuader”), walking you step-by-step through what Adams saw during the presidential campaign, how Trump out-persuaded his Republican rivals and the eventual Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton . . . until Clinton got her own persuasion game in full swing.

Yes, Adams comes off as a Trump fanboy, despite his best efforts to appear as impartial as possible (he claims he does not vote in order to remain unbiased . . . he also has a chapter devoted to Trump’s mistakes). If even the thought of Donald Trump makes you want to puke, this book is not for you. Which is a shame, since Win Bigly is the mirror image of How to Fail . . . The latter book focuses on persuading yourself; Win BIgly focuses on persuading others. In fact, Part 4 of Win Bigly is called “How to Use Persuasion in Business and Politics.” Sounds useful, right?

Win Bigly is as much a persuasion-focused chronicle of the 2016 presidential election as it is a primer–albeit a brisk one–about how to use persuasion techniques, including those deployed by Trump, to make your own communications as persuasive as possible.

So “a world where facts don’t matter” . . . provocative, isn’t it? And I suppose that’s persuasion, too. But Adams has a point that’s pretty easily proven just by observing the world around you, watching cable news, or picking up a newspaper (if you’re one of the six people left in America who does that).

Human beings think that we operate and make decisions on 90% reason and logic and 10% emotion. But this ratio is really the other way around. As the Dunning-Kruger effect posits, we all think we’re smarter than we really are. And so we live in a world of illusion. Continue reading “Book Review: Win Bigly: Persuasion in a World Where Facts Don’t Matter by Scott Adams”

Appreciating Excellence

I have been watching–and enjoying–the World Cup this summer. Before you demand I turn in my American card, let me explain.

First, I live with my father-in-law, who is from the Old Country. So he likes soccer. And second, although I’ve said I’m done with sports, I can’t help but watch for the same reason I’ll still catch a baseball or football or basketball game: I enjoy watching people do the things they are best at.

Even if I don’t obsessively follow sports like I did when I was a kid, or get worked up about the outcomes, it’s great to watch excellence–especially in a world that unnaturally tries to convince us that we’re all the same and of equal ability.

I couldn’t tell you any players beyond Ronaldo and Messi and Harry Kane. I know little about the rules save for “no hands.” Strategy to me boils down to “get the ball in the goal.” But these teams play like well-oiled machines (many of them, anyway).

Of course, this is not confined to sports. Why do we go to museums? Why do we watch movies? Read stories? Listen to music?

Maybe it’s just me, but even if there’s some music on I don’t personally like, if it’s well-written and well-played, I’ll stop and listen, especially if it’s being played live.

I feel the same about writing. Even though I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with authors like John Irving and Michael Chabon–and “literary fiction” in general–those guys can write.

Witnessing excellence in all its forms can help you appreciate the effort that goes in to what seems effortless. Continue reading “Appreciating Excellence”

Elevate and Inspire—It Will Set You Apart from the Crowd

Art reflects the time and the times influence our art. It is a feedback loop of Biblical proportions, and anyone denying the effect one has on the other is delusional.

Rock bands that, admittedly, were more popular after their heyday than during, we’re more responsible for driving most of the cultural change of the 1960s than the radical academics and politicians themselves.

Who is more palatable and influential to the everyday American: literal bomb-throwing terrorists like Bill Ayers or groups like The Beatles?

In times like the bizarre cultural epoch we currently find ourselves in, it’s impossible to ignore that things seem to be spiraling out of control. Open calls for violence, emotionally charged altercations over differences of opinion, and overblown rhetoric are going to get someone killed. It is a lot like the 1960s and 1970s.

Art used to be a unifying force, a salve on these wounds. Speaking of the 60s, remember when James Brown single-handedly prevented a race riot in Boston the night after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated?

Now, creators openly wish death upon their fans, merely over voting preferences and a purported ability to read the minds of people they disagree with. And while a positive of this division is that you know unequivocally where people stand, it’s still pretty dangerous, and often-times makes for bad art and expensive ugliness.

Of course, objectively good art can be enjoyed despite the creator’s politics, but I can’t blame anyone if they don’t want to support the person based on it. It’s your choice.

What is the artist to do? Continue reading “Elevate and Inspire—It Will Set You Apart from the Crowd”

Why Write?

You can get into anything for any reason. That reason needs to sustain you.

Take writing.

Why do I even write? Why to I, an attorney and musician with a penchant for Jesus Christ and a doom-and-gloom philosophy about the general state of America care about writing fiction? Isn’t that weird?

No, not really. I enjoy entertaining people. I enjoy making people laugh. And yes, it’s borderline narcissistic, but I do enjoy being the center of attention from time to time.

But most of all, I enjoy telling stories.

Whether they’re true or fantastical, instructive or silly, pointed or just designed to make my son crack up or help him get to sleep, telling stories is something I’ve always done.

Music was like that, too. You can tell a story with sound. You can affect the listener’s thoughts and emotions and mood with nothing but vibrating air molecules.

The same is true with words. They can take to you places that might exceed even the worlds crated on film, because words have no budgetary constraints.

In short, telling stories is magic. And I enjoy being a magician.

Or wizard, depending on my wardrobe choices (and whether or not I’ve shaved).

Stories can dazzle and entertain, and they can also have a message. I’m bored with the debate surrounding message fiction, mainly because as far as I’m concerned, it’s all message fiction.

Every single story has a point. Maybe the point is just to make you laugh or to give you a thrill. Maybe the point is to convey a deeper truth (good triumphing over evil, the joys or romantic love, why dogs are far superior to cats), explore a tension (the individual versus the community, the need to choose between two bad choices, joy versus nihilism) or even to be an aspirational example of what humanity could be.

But other times, people graft contemporary politics or their personal predilections and pet peeves–sometimes both–and try to ram these down your throat, often while insulting some 50 to 70% of their audience.

It’s a free country, and you’re free to tell whatever story you want. But remember this: if you want to make a living at any kind of artistic endeavor, you need a paying audience.

(Or some kind of government grant. But let’s not get into that now.) Continue reading “Why Write?”

Conflicting Impulses

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Not too long ago, I was working on a case where my client was being sued. Although technically in the wrong, the offense in question caused, at most, a negligible amount of damage. It looked bad, more than anything. But the plaintiff didn’t care–the relief they sought was ridiculously disproportionate compared to the harm, or lack thereof, actually caused.

This, of course, got my competitive juices flowing.

“So what do you think?” asked my boss.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” I said. “I want to fight it.”

“Think about a little more,” said my boss.

So I did. And he was right. But my first instinct was to fight it. That’s how it goes.

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Usually.

See, I have a conflicting impulse, which is to try to come to some sort of agreement.

It’s not that I’m conflict-averse per se. I just find it more pleasant to get what you want sans conflict.

That’s right! Despite what I have soberingly come to conclude is the only realistic way to beat back the darkness, I have a contradictory desire to make friends and build bridges.

Some might call this weak. Someone might call this unrealistic. I get that. But I can’t help it.

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When I see or hear someone write or say something that is grossly unfair, realistic, or just a post something that I think is true and right, I would much rather talk about it then start throwing punches, metaphorical or otherwise.

But when I do, I come to the equally sobering conclusion that it’s pointless. It bears repeating, even though I’ve been beating this drum for a while, that if somebody comes at you in bad faith, there is no point in engaging the debate.

Even though I want to.  Continue reading “Conflicting Impulses”