Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Why I'm Down on Moffat

I love Doctor Who, but I've soured on Steven Moffat.

I really didn't want to write this, because I've really enjoyed Moffat's Doctor Who. But I've long had deep reservations about it. I've kept these thoughts to myself, although I kept feeling them bubble up, wanting to get out. I resisted and resisted, and now I can't anymore.

Moffat's an incredibly clever and entertaining writer. I have a great deal of admiration for much of what he's done. So the last thing I wanted to do was demolish everything he's done on Doctor Who. Yet once the floodgates opened, the river came crashing out.

The length of what follows is a testament to how much I've thought about this, as well as to how disappointed I am. And that disappointment is a testament to how much good there is in Moffat's work, despite everything I'm going to say.

I'll explain, but first a warning: as River Song would put it, "Spoilers!"

Season Five

When Russell T. Davies stepped down as showrunner of the revived Doctor Who, after four seasons (or series, though I'll stick with "seasons" here) and several specials, he had no doubt as to who should replace him: Steven Moffat, who'd written one or two episodes during each of the four seasons. These episodes include "Blink," which introduced the Weeping Angels, and "Silence in the Library," which introduced River Song -- both classics of the Davies era.

In fact, Moffat's association with Doctor Who goes back to 1999's wonderful 20-minute parody, "Doctor Who and the Curse of the Fatal Death." It's wonderfully fun, undeniably smart, and delights in paradox -- all traits Moffat brought to his work on the serious show, once it was revived under Davies.

Moffat's reign on the series, beginning with the 2010 fifth season, was marked by the introduction of a new Doctor -- the 11th, played by Matt Smith. Moffat's first episode, "The Eleventh Hour," also introduced Amy Pond, the so-called "girl who waited" for the Doctor from childhood. The episode has a pretty convenient conclusion, but Amy Pond's story is so unique and emotionally resonant that she saves the episode. Her story is a perfect example of how time travel can be used cleverly, in ways that embrace rather than avoid its implications, in order to produce moving entertainment. And her story rooted the new Doctor in childhood imagination and wish-fulfillment in a way that ought to resonate in even the most bitter heart.

For my money, Matt Smith took some time to adjust to the role. He looks awkward in his early episodes, like he's still feeling the character out -- especially after David Tennant's Doctor. Moffat's quick humor feels a bit off, as if Smith's struggling to adjust to it. The real standout is Karen Gillan as Amy Pond, who not only grounds the new Doctor's stories emotionally but who instantly takes her place as one of the most memorable companions. Davies had focused much more on the companions' perspective than the old Doctor Who show ever had, but Moffat's Amy Pond did Davies one better -- and seemed to do so effortlessly. This was special stuff.

Moffat's first season had high notes -- here, I'd mention his own two-parter, "The Time of Angels" / "Flesh and Stone." It also had low notes -- for example, "The Vampires of Venice." Like Davies, Moffat chose to unite the season with a loose storyline, culminating in the season finale. (For me, "Vincent and the Doctor" was a mixed bag: nothing short of terrific for Vincent's arc, but really silly for its monster-based plot and for the way everyone seems to agree he was the best artist of all time.) This season's time rift, tied to the phrase "Silence will fall," was adequate, and Moffat had this plot actually develop during the season (with Rory's erasure from history and foreshadowing of the TARDIS's destruction) in a way Davies hadn't.

And then came Moffat's two-part season finale -- indisputably packed with drama. Almost all of time and space were destroyed, after all. It featured almost all of the Doctor's enemies, united against him. And an appearance by the still-ambiguous River Song. And a really cool idea, in the Pandorica, a cube-shaped super-prison constructed for the Doctor. Here, too, were time paradoxes and surprises, producing a great deal of fun.

It was clever. It was dramatic. And it was ultimately a mess.

Personally, I'm always annoyed by stories that seem to make Earth the center of the universe -- a more egregious violation of the pathetic fallacy, it's hard to imagine. I think this has real psychological implications for viewers, all of which are very bad indeed. Season 5's conclusion unmakes the entire universe, outside of Earth, and you can guess how that rubs me. But let's ignore that, assuming it's just my own personal bugbear.

But how was Rory, after being erased from time, displaced into the Roman era with evil cyborg modifications? Because he loved Amy so much? When did he get those cyborg modifications removed? Were we supposed not to care about any of this, or supposed to be satisfied that these major plot elements were "explained" by a silly line or two?

Rory protecting Amy for two thousand years was a cool twist. But wouldn't living two thousand years this way affect his personality? Nope. Later episodes would establish that he barely remembers it all. Cyborg modifications, living two thousand years -- it was all erased, or wasn't (because it happened and everyone remembers it, at least vaguely). Either way, don't pay too much attention to it.

And how is the exploding TARDIS and the recreation of the universe accomplished? None of it makes any sense. Officially, the energy of the TARDIS explosion is harnessed to use the Pandorica to recreate the universe, causing a new Big Bang. Everything's back to how it was before, although maybe with differences. Maybe this explains why Earth no longer seems to know about extraterrestrials, which Davies had established. But when did that effect start again? At the beginning of the season, or now? Does this mean the TARDIS never exploded, creating a Paradox in which all of this never happened? What the hell does any of this mean? We're not supposed to care about any of this -- the plot's resolved; move on.

To be sure, the season's final episode has a great ending, tying into the emotion of Amy's debut. The way Amy remembers the Doctor and summons him back into existence is very clever and cool, even if it doesn't really make sense.

At the end, the Doctor acknowledges that questions remain about the destruction of the TARDIS. And that the phrase "Silence will fall" has never been explained. These suggest that Moffat's loose, season-long storylines won't be like those of Davies: they'll continue, Lost-style, over multiple seasons, perhaps uniting Moffat's entire era in a kind of meta-storyline.

Of course, this requires a great deal of faith in Moffat. One has to believe that he knows the truth about the destruction of the TARDIS, or what "Silence will fall" actually means and why it was tied to the unraveling of time in this season. It's hard to believe that's the case, given the sloppiness of this season's resolution. But perhaps Moffat's still learning on the job, and it's all so clever and so fun that we're inclined to continue.

The Lost Dynamic

Anyone has to acknowledge that a series written in this fashion hangs on a careful dance with the audience. The audience is asked to have faith that everything will be resolved satisfactorily. All of the cleverness in the writing, and in the elements that are satisfactorily resolved, argue for this faith. On the other hand, each time a paradox is set up (such as the destruction of the TARDIS or the entire universe) that isn't adequately resolved argues that the audience is really being hoodwinked.

A show such is a kind of tight-rope walk. It's a risky bet, with huge payoffs and huge downsides. And it tends to fall one way or another. Even if the show wants viewers to just go along for the ride, its structure implicitly tells viewers, "Don't worry; we know what we're doing; it'll all be resolved and work out." If it becomes clear that this isn't the case, that the show doesn't know where it's going or can't adequately resolve everything on the fly, the entire structure falls apart.

After all, anyone can destroy the universe for dramatic effect. It could happen on the next episode of any given show, even ones that aren't sci-fi, and it'll be dramatic. Do this on a cop show, and you've hooked people for the entire episode. But there's a reason shows don't do this, despite it being a phenomenally easy way of generating drama. How the hell are you going to explain it? And if you don't explain it adequately, you've alienated your viewers in a pretty remarkable way.

If it's all a dream, or if it's the result of some wizard who appears near the ending to reverse everything, the viewer feels cheated. And this means that every single later dramatic development has less weight. Once you've told viewers that major dramatic plot points can be undone, without satisfactory explanation (or even an adequate attempt at this), you've told viewers not to care about any plot development, no matter how dramatic.

This is why writers don't kill off the main character in the pre-credits teaser, or reveal that he's got two penises, or reveal that he's an alien, or anything else that might pop into their creative minds. Those are cool ideas, and they'll get attention. But the rest of the show has to explain and resolve that in a way that makes sense. The piper must be paid. And this isn't anything new; it's how narrative works, and every writer knows it.

If the universe can be destroyed, only to be recreated in the most convenient of ways, almost as if an explanation doesn't matter, what does anything mean anymore? Isn't such a show really communicating contempt for its audience? Such a show tells viewers, "Look, all you want is drama, so here's some great drama. We both know you don't really care about the resolution or the explanation, so much as the drama itself. So let's cut the pretense."

Other shows have gone down this road. Lost is the prime example, with its meandering plots being made up on the fly, several of which were never resolved. While a commercial success, Lost is a contemptuous mess. It's also a great litmus test, in that critics who praise its drama despite its obvious lack of any plan invalidate themselves as critics in a stroke. Once you've established that drama's all that matters, explanations and logic be damned, you're pretty much asking for shows with nothing but entertaining deaths and explosions and "clever" developments, without any of them requiring explanation or even internal consistency. That's not narrative. It's Faces of Death with a title track and a little less blood.

The other great example is the revived Battlestar Galactica. To be sure, it's got some great heights ("Pegasus" being my personal favorite). But here we have a show consciously conceived to take outer space drama seriously, including an in-fighting cast (consciously in contrast to the happy crews of Star Trek) and real concerns over resources (again, consciously in contrast to the convenient endless fuel, shuttlecrafts, and the like of Star Trek: Voyager, where the drama of a ship lost in space was reduced of all meaning). Yet this same, hard-bitten, realistic show gets mired in fantasy metaphysics about God, which are somehow used to justify characters jumping through space without coordinates and winding up "where they were meant to go." To call this silly is an insult to Porky Pig.

Here too, we have the problem that the show asks us to have faith in its management of its mythology, especially of the Cylons and the "Final Five," only to switch courses and resolve these plots, without any foreshadowing, in ways that tell viewers as loudly as possible that their faith was misplaced.

So by the time Moffat started down this road, everyone knew perfectly well how this dynamic worked, what the stakes involved were, what the risks were, and what to avoid at any cost. In deciding to do this kind of show, Moffat had to know, as any writer would, that his negotiation of this particular dynamic would be the criterion by which his work would be judged.

One has to presume Moffat, like any intelligent writer, sought to improve upon his predecessors. The only alternative is that he looked at Lost and Battlestar Galactica and wanted only to repeat their commercial success. Fuck it, right? Emphasizing the mythology works, and the viewers will buy the DVDs whether it all ultimately makes sense or not. It's the mystery that matters, and by the time you have to solve it, no one will care if you blame it on the butler with no whiff of foreshadowing. And if they do, fuck them; you've sold the DVDs already, right? Of course, such a cynical calculation might work, but it isn't forgivable. It ought to demolish reputations.

It's important to understand that this isn't me imposing my own standard of judgement on Moffat's work. This is how shows of sprawling mythology work. The pay-off is that those mysteries and dramatic developments create immense viewer interest. They work. But they're like borrowing money, from a narrative standpoint. The bill for all that easily-generated mystery and drama has to be paid, and you have to pay it by tying everything together so that point A meets point B, in a way that feels like it makes sense and creates a coherent narrative whole. That's hard to do, which is why it's traditionally been avoided as a model. But it's a model Moffat chose, and it's his responsibility to understand how it works.

By the end of his first season, it was clear that Moffat had chosen this model, and this was how his tenure on Doctor Who would be judged. So let's see how this plays out, over the course of his next season and a half.

Season Six

"The Impossible Astronaut," Moffat's sixth-season debut, begins with the Doctor's death.

It's a huge gamble and one that's a perfect illustration of the dynamic described above. Killing off your show's protagonist is an easy way to generate excitement. And Moffat does it brilliantly, with TARDIS-colored envelopes and time paradoxes and River Song. Again, he uses Amy Pond brilliantly to generate emotion. There's even some unknown person in a space suit, walking out of a lake, which is a cool visual. From the Doctor referencing his age to his Viking funeral, all the elements are here. If he's going to use this kind of easy device to generate excitement, Moffat could hardly do it better.

But now he's got to pay the piper. He's got to kill the Doctor. Or get out of it in a way that feels like it's been carefully set up along, so we don't feel cheated.

Ironically, this situation perfectly mirrors the Doctor's own. The Doctor's death is fixed, so that it's supposed to operate within a time loop that can't be undone. Here, time can't be changed -- although the show changes time all the time, if you'll forgive the expression. Thus, we know that this future day is coming because we've already seen it. All that happens now must lead up to this future point, in what's got to feel like a single coherent line.

What Moffat's done is materialize drama from the future. But that comes with a price, and the price is that all season, he's got to work carefully to lead up to that future point and resolve it in a way that feels satisfactory. He's borrowed energy from the future, and it must be repaid. There's no getting out of it for Moffat, any more than there is for the Doctor.

"The Impossible Astronaut" also introduced the Silence -- an alien species that you forget as soon as you look away. They're brilliant, and Moffat plays them for all they're worth. Some truly horrifying moments result. There's also the brilliant idea that they're not trying to conquer Earth, like typical Doctor Who aliens. They already have; we just don't remember them.

Yes, the concept is a little close to Moffat's Weeping Angels, who freeze in statue form when looked at. And no, neither species really makes much sense. The Weeping Angels freeze, we're told, as a defensive tactic. But while this does seem to make them invulnerable (Or does it? Can't something break these statues?), it doesn't hide the Angels' presence, despite their preference for subterfuge. Seeing a scowling, teeth-baring statue next to you would be scary, but how does that help the Angels again? Also, why do the Angels, even when encountered on other planets, look like humans' conception of angels from its late second millennium? Never mind, both are indisputably highly entertaining, and Moffat will explain these things later... probably. If it even matters...

Similarly, despite all the brilliance and horror of the Silence, they too have big problems. How does their power work again, on the brains of different species which might have profoundly different structures of memory? And if the Silence have conquered Earth, does that mean that they were operating behind the scenes, through the entire history of Doctor Who? What actions did they take, as Earth was threatened with invasion after invasion? How will they affect all subsequent appearances of Earth in the series?

The Silence are intended to begin resolving what was meant by "Silence will fall" in the previous season, which ended up not being tied to that season's conclusion at all. So what's meant by their "fall" and how does this tie to the time rift of the previous season? No answer has been forthcoming, nor have there been any real hints.

"The Impossible Astronaut" ends with Amy Pond shooting at someone in an astronaut's suit, believing that she's saving the Doctor's life, since whoever's in the suit will go on to kill the Doctor, as seen in the episode's opening. The person in the suit ends up being the little girl, seen throughout the episode. It's a dramatic ending, less because of the little girl than because it shows what Amy's willing to do to save the Doctor, for whom she cares so much.

This episode continues into the next one, "Day of the Moon." Or rather, the plot elements continue, but the episode doesn't. The cliffhanger ending of "The Impossible Astronaut" is simply dropped, and "Day of the Moon" begins three months later, during which the cast has been running around, supposedly trying to track the Silence. How were they trying to do this? It's never discussed. We're just supposed to imagine that our beloved characters spent three months running around America, encountering the Silence with no real consequences. But never mind that, the episode's about to begin.

Like the previous episode, it's fun, horrific stuff. But it doesn't resolve anything. The Silence are left ruling Earth, although humans who watched the moon landing now have negative feelings towards the Silence imprinted in their unconscious. The identity of the young girl isn't resolved -- although she's shown regenerating like a Time Lord, at the end of the episode. And instead of resolving anything, the episode adds a new wrinkle: Amy Pond, who thought she was pregnant, now seems not to be, and the Doctor sees on a TARDIS screen that she's alternating between pregnant and not pregnant, as if that's some kind of quantum fluctuation.

It's a clever little idea, given the way people say someone can't be "a little bit pregnant"; pregnancy is supposed to be a binary proposition, so it's especially funny to see this turned into something that, like Schrödinger's cat, both is and isn't.

But instead of resolving anything, Moffat's Who was adding mysteries. If there was any doubt that it was fully committed to the Lost model, "Day of the Moon" made things clear enough.

A few episodes later, "The Rebel Flesh" and "The Almost People" introduced the concept of a Ganger, a doppelganger used to replace someone to enable them to do deadly tasks. At the end of the episode, Doctor Who apologizes and turns his sonic screwdriver on Amy Pond, who disintegrates just like the Gangers in the episode.

It's a wonderfully dramatic conclusion, and it's cool that this seemingly inconsequential two-parter suddenly has major importance. But it certainly feels convenient. If Amy Pond is a Ganger, wouldn't a writer want to foreshadow the Ganger concept earlier in the series? (We're later told that the Doctor's suspicions that Amy was a Ganger caused him to land where we see him in "The Rebel Flesh," but it's still hard not to feel like there's no master plan at work.)

Season 6 was the first to be split into two halves, and the following episode, "A Good Man Goes to War," acts as the conclusion to the first half. It reveals that a cabal, led by previously unseen villains, sought to kill the Doctor, who they see as a warrior -- echoing the idea, which goes back to Davies's tenure, that the Doctor's villains see him as a far less positive character than he does (and we do). This cabal, which receives remarkably little motivation or screen time, kidnapped a pregnant Amy (which is never seen or explained) and replaced her with a Ganger (between this season and last). The child, conceived on the TARDIS, somehow has the TARDIS's "time energy" in it, essentially making it a Time Lord. (Talk about hazardous work environments! You'd think the Doctor would have warned them...) The evil cabal wants to use the child to kill the Doctor, and it brainwashes the child to this effect. The child is the little girl, seen in the two-part season opener. At the end of the episode, we learn that it will grow up to be none of than River Song -- finally revealing her ambiguous identity.

That's a particularly clever twist, and like most in Moffat's tenure, it's done remarkably well. Most of the episode is focused on how awesome the Doctor and crew are, as they storm the base (called "Demon's Run") on which Amy is being held. The episode has plenty of good and exciting moments. What's most telling, however, is that River Song's identity has been properly foreshadowed. One of the major clues is Amy Pond's name, given that both "pond" and "river" are bodies of water. This is certainly a nice change, for a show that doesn't seem to foreshadow anything, or that asks you to believe that the Silence whose fall is tied to a season-long time rift wasn't tied to that time rift at all but is actually a new alien species already in control of Earth, though no one remembers it and it doesn't seem to have any consequence and no one knows what its "fall" represents or why this would be mentioned in conjunction with a time rift that ended the universe.

But hey, maybe Moffat will figure this all out. If he could resolve Amy's quantum pregnancy and River Song's long-mysterious identity, maybe he could also resolve the Doctor's death, the Silence plot, and what "Silence will fall" actually meant. Maybe he hadn't simply painted himself into a corner, due to lack of planning. Maybe he had some idea of the answers all along.

Any hope of this was pretty much dashed with the next episode. "Let's Kill Hitler" is incredibly fun. It's got lots of action and tons of cleverness. Unfortunately, it makes all of Moffat's Doctor Who collapse upon the slightest bit of examination.

The episode begins by retroactively introducing Mels, a childhood friend of Amy and Rory, whose childhood has already been seen without Mels. Guess what? Mels is a wild girl, who immediately commandeers the TARDIS. She's also, we soon find out, Amy's daughter. Yes, Amy grew up as friends with her own daughter, who all along knew the Doctor of Amy's stories was real. Mels soon regenerates, becoming River Song -- and trying to kill the Doctor, in a series of very fun and clever scenes. She actually succeeds but repents and -- conveniently -- uses "the last" of her time energy to save the Doctor she poisoned, thereby making her human and no longer a demi-Time Lord.

Again, the episode's an incredible amount of fun. It's ridiculously clever. It's brilliantly acted. And it's logically a disaster.

First, there's the retroactive insert of Mels. Why wasn't this set up as early as "The Eleventh Hour?" Hell, why wasn't she even mentioned in the first half of this season? Instead, she's retroactively inserted into continuity, only to be revealed as River Song mere minutes later. It's hard to imagine any clearer indication that Steven Moffat simply had no idea where anything was going, and thus what he was doing as a writer.

It's so strange, to have an episode like this that completely jumps the shark, yet is simultaneously so entertaining.

Then there's the problem of Doctor Who's selective cosmology. Sometimes, time can be altered. Other times, it can't, and characters have to deal with the consequences and the paradoxes. This is typical of most TV science-fiction, including Star Trek, though it's a sign of very bad writing in science-fiction prose. Within Doctor Who, going back to Davies, this is justified by the idea of "fixed points in time." Conveniently, famous points in Earth's history just happen to be the most common "fixed points," and this lets the series explain why the Doctor can't keep Pompeii from being destroyed (for example). Moffat's Doctor Who has used this concept even more arbitrarily, to tag certain events of his own invention (frequently of even lesser cosmic consequence, nor even known to the wider world) as "fixed points," signalling to viewers that they can't be magically erased through time travel. The Doctor's death is one of them. Why? No reason, except that otherwise it wouldn't be a problem -- to make this mean anything, you've got to tell viewers that it can't simply be erased through the Doctor's magic blue box.

Okay, so far so good. Typically, episodic shows like Star Trek and Doctor Who may make time malleable and unchangeable from episode to episode. A convenient conceit or line of dialogue might explain why one model of time is being evoked and not the other. But at least each episode is consistent within itself. Yeah, this still sucks. It's still stupid. But at least it's limited to a given episode.

It's worth mentioning that the regular episode right before the Doctor was killed in a "fixed point in time" (not counting that year's Christmas special) was one that used altering time to literally destroy and remake the entire universe. So we've seen how radically alterable time is. Now, we're being told time isn't alterable -- at least when it comes to something the writers need to be fixed.

But then we have River Song. She and the Doctor meet, often in reverse order relative to one another. So now we don't have one time traveler; we have two, their histories interlocking in a complex web. It's a very cool idea. But here's the thing: all those points need to be, essentially, fixed. Because if you unravel one point, the whole web starts to collapse.

So now we've seen the birth of River Song. What this means is that, if this moment in history is altered, all those stories with River Song never happened. Moffat's Doctor Who collapses. So the birth of River Song has to be fixed too. And so does everything that happened to her, from her birth in this episode until the adult River Song we know. In a series full of radical alterations of time, none of this can be altered, or the entire series comes crashing down.

This means that the Doctor has to fail to save Amy's baby. To his credit, Moffat realizes this, and "Let's Kill Hitler" has the Doctor, early on, explaining this to Amy and Rory. Shame he didn't do so, at the end of "A Good Man Goes to War." Months have passed for Amy and Rory, between the two episodes, during which the Doctor's left them under the illusion that he's out trying to rescue their baby. That's shockingly cruel, but it's waved away with a line of dialogue -- and on to the show!

It's important to keep in mind that the Doctor's found ways around plenty of impossible spots. Yet when it comes to the child of his companions, he just gives up. After all, if he somehow found some way around this, Moffat's Doctor Who would be unravel. So we have to go along with this terrible course of events, and the sudden retroactive insert of Mel into Amy and Rory's childhood, and suddenly thinking of Amy and Rory as parents, and with the idea that the Doctor's death can't be altered any more than this baby can be saved -- in a series that frequently and cavalierly alters time, including in Moffat's own scripts.

"Let's Kill Hitler" also introduces the Teselecta -- an android operated by a miniaturized crew. It can take the form of anyone. It's great fun in the episode. But it's strange, you might think, that the show introduces yet another concept involving assuming someone else's form so soon after the Gangers.

In the season finale, "The Wedding of River Song," the series finally has to resolve the Doctor's death. Although she's fated to dress in an astronaut suit and emerge from a lake and kill the Doctor, River Song refuses to go through with it. So much for her brainwashing. Time then collapses under the weight of the paradox, and the bulk of the episode is spent in a bizarre mishmash of timelines. As a depiction of what might happen, were time to collapse, it's all incredibly silly and illogical. In this bizarre world, the Doctor convinces River to go ahead and kill him, in order to restore the timeline. But first, they get married.

River's long hinted that she's had a relationship with the Doctor in the future, and she's often been seen in prison for killing the best man she knew, someone very famous. Both of these get fulfilled here, which is well and good.

But if you can avoid a fixed point, even at the cost of time collapsing, is it really a fixed point? None of this makes any sense, really, and it only highlights the absurdity of how many times time itself has collapsed, only to preserve the characters of the story. That's a very silly trope, in time travel tales, and it's stretched incredibly thin here.

At the end of the episode, River Song visits Amy and Rory, revealing that the Doctor she killed wasn't the Doctor at all. It was the Teselecta, which had assumed the Doctor's form.

Yep, that's all it took to get out of the foretold death of the Doctor: have someone replace him. Hell, Moffat could have used a Ganger -- yet again.

Except the Doctor's death is recorded in records across the universe. That's part of why it's a "fixed point." River Song's sent to prison for it -- which means that the Doctor, in addition to not trying to rescue Amy's baby, let his wife serve an extended prison sentence for a crime she didn't commit.

So how does Moffat get around the fact that these records exist? He says that the Doctor's going underground. He's made too many enemies, as we've seen this season, and it's better if they think he's dead.

Now, keep in mind that the Doctor is a Time Lord who pops around all of space and time, often affecting the course of events dramatically. What Moffat's committing to, as part of getting out of killing the Doctor, is that the Doctor will never, for the remainder of his life, pop up on anyone's radar. The Doctor could live, from his point of view, a thousand more years, but none of his adventures will ever be noticed by anyone important, nor will word of him get around in any significant way.

This is a radical change to the show's format, necessitating a different kind of story. In the original series, the Doctor was once stationed on Earth (to save the BBC money), and the show changed the type of stories it told as a result. Now, if anything Moffat had done meant anything, Doctor Who was shifting radically again. Whether Moffat could pull this off remained to be seen.

"The Wedding of River Song" also teased at the show's continuing mysteries. In the opening, Moffat has a character say that "Silence must fall when the question is asked." This will happen "at the fall of the eleventh" -- a reference, perhaps, to how Matt Smith plays the Eleventh Doctor. Moffat's changing the "Silence will fall" formulation, and it's still unclear how this prophecy about the Silence (who have since been revealed to be a religious order headed by the memory-erasing species, not that species itself) had anything to Moffat's first season. As to which question the prophecy refers to, it's not hard for viewers to guess. The revived show has played frequently with its title, "Doctor Who," in dialogue. And at the end of the episode, we learn that's the mysterious question.

It's a let-down. More importantly, it's a wrong turn.

The original series once deliberately tried to make the Doctor more mysterious again, because it felt that too much had been revealed about him. Now, Moffat was promising to reveal the Doctor's identity, in some way that hadn't been revealed previously. That doesn't seem like a very good idea, because the answers are likely only to disappoint.

And it really ought to be said that Moffat is the last person, at this point, that one would trust to reveal the Doctor's identity. He's indisputably a very, very clever writer. But he's consistently shown an inability to steer the series properly, beyond these clever. On the level of elements within stories, he's brilliant. On the level of long-term planning, his Doctor Who has been a disaster. He repeatedly sets up interesting challenges for himself, then fails to deliver. Now, this man was announcing his intentions to set his sights on revealing the Doctor's origins or identity, in some meaningful way.

Sure, Moffat could dodge this too -- as he had so much already. But if he did go forward, the odds of success are not good.

The First Half of Season Seven

Moffat's next season was similarly split into two halves. To date, only the first half (and not the Christmas special, set between the two halves) have aired.

The first half begins with "Asylum of the Daleks," for which some time has passed again for our characters, and now Amy and Rory are divorcing. This recalls the inexplicably poorly-judged gaps between "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon," or between "A Good Man Goes to War" and "Let's Kill Hitler." It's very hard to imagine Amy and Rory's relationship deteriorating so badly, and one gets the feeling of a movie sequel, in which the writers make things happen between movies that don't really make sense, in terms of character, but which provide fuel for the sequel's plot. It's even harder to imagine Amy and Rory divorcing once the episode, in its climax, reveals why: Amy can't have another child, due to her imprisonment as shown in "A Good Man goes to War," and she knows Rory wanted them. So she apparently tossed aside the man who stood guard over her for two millennia, without so much as telling him the reason why, let alone talking it out.

This isn't to say that the episode isn't clever or fun. It is. But it doesn't make sense, and at some point, the contrivances build up in the viewer's mind, so that the clever resolution -- such as Amy and Rory reconciling -- feels hollow and loses its emotional weight.

Then there's the conclusion, after the climax, in which we realize that the Daleks no longer know who the Doctor is. That's a result of a girl who'd been transformed into a Dalek deleting this information. It's a clever way of the Doctor escaping in this episode.

But it only applies to the Daleks present there. It certainly doesn't apply to all Daleks throughout history. After all, if it did, the history of Doctor Who would unravel completely. All those episodes, in which the Daleks sought revenge on the Doctor or cowered when he mentioned his name? Yeah, none of would have happened. So Moffat can't intend some kind of universal, cross-time forgetting contrivance?

Yes, he can. In the finale of the season's first half, "The Angels Take Manhattan," River tells the Doctor that there's no record of him anywhere. In fact, she's been paroled from prison for killing him, because there's no record of whom she killed.

To be fair, the implication is that, between "Asylum of the Daleks" and "The Angels Take Manhattan," the Doctor's been going around and erasing himself from data banks -- and perhaps memories as well. Still, it's hard to describe exactly how idiotic this is. The Doctor travels through time, after all. He's even encountered his own previous incarnations on multiple occasions. He encounters River Song out of sequence. So when has the Doctor erased memory of himself? It can't be of everyone, throughout history, or many previous Doctor Who episodes simply couldn't have happened anymore. Those include episodes featuring River Song, whose stories must remain "fixed" or Doctor Who unravels. If all records of the Doctor have been erased, how did the previous season, in which the time of the Doctor's death is well-known, happen at all? Never mind that River would have been released -- how would River have been imprisoned at all?

And if the Doctor could get River -- his wife, remember -- released simply by erasing his own record, why didn't he do so earlier?

This also invalidates the entire previous season. If the Doctor can erase himself from history, why would he have to go underground? That was premised upon the idea that no records exist of the Doctor, following his "death" -- thus, he couldn't create any. If all records of him could be wiped out, why bother with this?

Also, so much for that promise to alter the kinds of stories Doctor Who could tell, based around the fact that he couldn't be noticed after this point in his own lifetime. Why, in "Asylum of the Daleks," before any memories of him have been erased, the Daleks track him down and he interacts with their leaders. In the next episode, "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship," the Doctor's freely interacting with the future Indian Space Agency (of Earth). And two episodes later, "The Power of Three," he's interacting with UNIT in the near future. Do these events not get recorded or remembered by anyone, so that they're not known to the time travelers in the previous season, who can't find any record of the Doctor after his death date? Or has the Doctor erased all records of himself, in which case, why do these Earth-bound characters know him?

None of this makes any sense at all. It simply feels like Moffat wanted to keep telling the kinds of stories Doctor Who always did, so there's a couple gestures to memories of the Doctor being erased, and we're not supposed to want more than that, nor to think about it at all. Because hey, dinosaurs on a spaceship!

To make matters worse, "The Angels Take Manhattan" is the swan song for Amy and Rory's characters. It's set in Manhattan, and it introduces baby Weeping Angels, or cherubs. It also opens with the revelation that the Statue of Liberty itself is actually a Weeping Angel, and she returns -- with ominous sound, then in cold stony flesh -- at the climax. This is a cool visual and a cool idea, which is presumably why Moffat included it. But it doesn't make any sense at all. The Angels freeze when someone looks at them. Are we supposed to believe that no one noticed, in New York City at night, a giant statue walking through the streets? It makes a lot of sound as it moves -- which is ominous to the characters, who are inside. Doesn't anyone in the city hear this and look out their window? And when exactly did the Weeping Angels replace the freaking Statue of Liberty? Are there Weeping Angels this big? What does any of this mean?

We're not supposed to think about it.

This kind of thing wouldn't get past an intro-level creative writing course. How in the world it got on television, on one of the world's most successful TV programs, is utterly beyond me.

Typical of Moffat's Doctor Who, we're supposed to be distracted by thinking about any of this because of clever and emotionally gripping elements. In this case, the send-off for Amy and Rory.

Which doesn't make any sense either.

In the episode, we see the death of an aged Rory, after being sent back in time by the Angels. We're familiar with this plot element from previous episodes, and we're told that it's "fixed" -- it can't be changed.

Then Amy and Rory jump off a roof, committing suicide, in order to create a time paradox. Somehow, this makes the building they were in, occupied by the Angels, never exist.

That's right: another story in which suicide is used to solve someone's problems.

Now, if it's this easy to get around a "fixed" point in time, why did we spend an entire season trying to do so? The Doctor's death was predestined, and everyone struggles to find a way around it. How silly of them. All they had to do was kill the Doctor themselves, at any given point, and the world would magically go back to how it was.

At the end of the story, Amy and Rory then get sent back in time anyway. This seems a shame, since the story just depicted suicide as a positive, in order to get around this.

So why can't the Doctor just go back in time and save them? New York City is supposed to be hard to land the TARDIS in anyway, for reasons passing serious understanding. But the real reason is because of the time paradox Amy and Rory created. Yet that undid things, so there's no "time paradox" sitting out there, shielding some portion of time from the TARDIS. It's just a stupid line of dialogue. And that's why Amy and Rory are stuck in the past, cut off from the Doctor. The stakes of their departure rest upon a line of dialogue that doesn't make sense.

How are we supposed to care again? At this major emotional point in the series? Oh, that's right: by not thinking too hard, and focusing on the sad farewell -- never mind why it has to happen at all.

At least when Davies ditched Rose Tyler, it was to an alternate universe, the pathways to which were deteriorating. That's a bit of sci-fi mumbo jumbo, to be sure, but it makes more sense than this.

What a mess.


What's so infuriating about Moffat's Doctor Who is that it's so very, very good -- so frequently clever and entertaining -- yet so very, very bad in ways that invalidate everything.

It's like a beautiful castle intricately constructed out colored sand. But the moment you touch it, it collapses.

What makes this even more infuriating is that Moffat's Doctor Who encourages speculation. All those mysteries, such as River Song's identity or how the Doctor's going to avoid his death, inevitably get the audience thinking. There are puzzles with mysterious phrases that encourage speculation. Hell, even all those clever elements and plot devices get you thinking.

Only once you start thinking, it doesn't take long for everything to unravel.

This is a show that invites you to chart the Doctor's meetings with River Song, in order to see how they occur, relative to both characters' perspectives. That's awesome. It's so intricate. Except that once you do, you start noticing ambiguities. Worse, you realize these all of these meetings have to be fixed points, yet time's been undone and recreated with differences, or memories erased, over and over again, between these meetings.

Moffat's Who feels wonderful for how it encourages you to use your brain. But all its cleverness in just brain candy. It's momentarily delightful. But if you actually engage the organ, you see this candy for the junk food it is.

That's probably true of a lot of TV, especially aimed even in part at kids. But usually, such shows don't delight in paradoxes and cleverness that get the brain humming. With Moffat's Who, the brain's only supposed to get a quick buzz. If it's a brain that's too smart, or if it doesn't shut down after that buzz and instead keeps going, the whole show unravels with phenomenal speed.

One has to wonder, if one knows this to be the case, whether it's wise to get people's brains engaged at all.

If Moffat's adopted the Lost model to his own writing, it's by using it to infuse his stories with clever and entertaining paradoxes. We've seen Moffat's ability to do this since "The Curse of the Fatal Death." And there's no denying that Moffat's incredibly clever. As showrunner, he's displayed this since his first episode and Amy Pond's introduction. Steven Moffat is a clever, clever man.

But cleverness isn't anything. And it's not the same thing as being smart.

Clever twists or story elements are just that. They're clever and entertaining. Smartness is displayed over time. It's a higher bar. A smart story isn't merely clever. It's a careful whole, constructed in such a way that, if the butler's revealed as the killer, the revelation crashes down on you, and you say, "Of course!" A smart plot holds together with a feeling of unity and inevitability.

You can be smart without being clever, or vice versa. Lots of stories are smart and come together perfectly but aren't particularly clever. And lots of stories have clever ideas but collapse underneath their own weight.

To use an analogy, a story's structure is like a physical structure. Plot points have to connect, if the structure is to hold together. When you realize that something was foreshadowed all along, you're realizing that the structure was well-built, so that the beautiful top of a column extends all the way to the floor. There's plenty of room for flourishes and filigree, but it's got to be placed onto a proper structure -- and ideally, it's got to work with all the other designs, to that there's a unified aesthetic at least to that portion of the building, whether you see that as a part of the larger story or as all of a certain character's appearances. When we realize that a development wasn't inevitable, or that someone is acting out of character, we're noticing flaws in the structure. If those flaws are severe enough, the story may superficially resemble a cathedral, but its construction is so fundamentally unsound that it collapses -- especially if you examine or touch it.

A cool and clever twist is like a stained-glass window. You look at it and say that it's awesome. It may even be beautiful and move you to tears. But if you put it in a ramshackle structure, and who gives a shit? A beautiful stained-glass window is remarkable by itself. But if the building in which it's embedded is a mess of wooden boards at odd angles and majestic columns that are warped and don't actually support the structure, that building's still a self-destructive failure, stained-glass window and all.

Moffat's work is fun and clever. There's no denying that. Those traits define his work. I admire those traits immensely, and his Doctor Who work can be incredibly fun to watch.

But that work isn't necessarily smart. It doesn't necessarily work. It's filled with beautiful stained-glass windows, but they don't necessarily do anything. They can be awe-inspiring, but then you notice there's a wall behind it so no light can ever get in, invalidating all that now-useless beauty.

Moffat seems to have adopted the high-mythology model of Lost as a way to insert any number of clever elements, all of which can be cool or even stunning in themselves. Instead of looking at the abject creative failure of Lost and making sure he improved upon it, he seems to have realized that the Lost model means nothing ultimately has to be explained. Audiences will go with it anyway. And if this is the case, Moffat could turn his creative energies loose, infusing his stories will all his clever ideas, explanations be damned.

After all, this is Doctor Who. It's a sci-fi show, in which anything can be explained by altering time, or with the deus ex machina wave of a sonic screwdriver. It's a show that's traditionally been for kids, or adults who like kid-friendly entertainment, and this audience doesn't give a shit if anything really, ultimately makes sense. It's all about the coolness of the Daleks, or the Cybermen, and narrative logic be damned.

Maybe that's a wise calculation. Maybe Moffat's figured out how to use the limits of Doctor Who to play to his own strengths. Rather than improve the Doctor Who model, fixing these limitations, or improve the Lost model, making it actually pay off, he's fused the two. And he's found that the two model's limitations are remarkably compatible. If you never have to make anything pay off or make sense, except in the most superficial of ways, you can make every minute of Doctor Who as cool and fun as those Dalek designs.

Moffat's done that to a remarkable extent. It's commendable, really. It's just that it's cynical, is all. And Moffat's Who is so good at what it does, so clever and so tantalizing with its long-term teases, that it's hard not to wish it actually knew what it was doing.

But really, I'm part of the problem. Because I'll keep watching, even knowing this. Maybe I won't see the episodes when their first air, but I'll stay relatively caught up. It's too well-done, too clever, too emotionally entertaining, not to.

It's just that I know I shouldn't.

And I wish the show lived up to its promise. Because it's so ridiculously promising.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Last Hour of Tatiana Rambova

My dog Tatiana died about 12 hours ago.

Dealing with her illness was incredibly difficult. All I'll say is that you think there's nothing worse than explosive diarrhea without warning. Until it's six sessions a day, occasionally mixed with mucous and blood.

Discussing the decision and preparing for her death has been difficult too.

I have many happy memories of her at the park, in the sun, sniffing the different smells of the lake and the children there. So my Mom and I took her to the park, on the way to the vet.

She panted and didn't walk, but we carried her to different spots.

Down by the water, I realized that this was more for me than for her. There was a moment there, while I petted her in the sun, when I saw a small spider on the bright grass in front of her, and there was that buzzing of gnats and tiny things, arcing against the grass, and I thought about how full of life this earth is, and I stared at that spider, isolating it in my eyes, and I felt so terribly fucking sad, knowing this was the last time Tatiana would be in the park, knowing this animal I love so fucking much was dying with all this sun and life around her. It was all so overwhelming, so full of light and life and love in the middle of her death, that I could barely bear it. And still barely can.

Up by the road, before we left, she started to circle, like she had to poop, and the motion seemed to wake her from her stupor a little. She stared for the first time like she was actually looking at something, and I saw her nose sniff when the breeze blew across her body. That body, which had to be in discomfort if not pain, patches of fur shaved with little red dots where the vet had inserted IVs. And I loved her so much, and when she stopped engaging again, I knew it was time to take her to the car.

And while Mom and I talked there, watching Tatiana, I saw a woman sitting alone, facing away from us on a park bench nearby, and I knew she must know what we were talking about, must be able to piece it together, but she didn't say anything to us -- how could she -- and we didn't say anything to her.

I didn't cry there, but I felt myself nearing it so many times. If there's a Heaven, I picture it like that park, nothing fancy, just that beautiful day with green grass and the dog you love, illuminated and sniffing the breeze that blows her whiskers. Each time, I fought back the emotion and warned myself that her actual death would be so much worse. I didn't know how I would bear it.

She used to love when I took her on late-night excursions to fast-food places. She'd perk up, knowing what was going on, and as we were in the drive-thru, she'd sniff the air outside, full of wonderful food aromas. She'd sometimes point her nose at the door to the garage, hoping to get me to go, or she'd check on me at night, even though she was tired, like "I'm ready for sleep, but if you are going out, I will totally stay up for that."

I wanted to take her somewhere, and I settled on McDonald's. Mom and I each got a cheeseburger for after, knowing we might not have the strength to get food. Mom used to share ice cream cones with Tatiana, so she got one. I got a small french fries, because I'd often give her some on the drive home, if I wanted to wait to eat something bigger.

The girl who handed us the food told us she hoped our dog felt better. Apparently, she could tell Tatiana was sick. I thought about saying what we were on the way to do, but I didn't.

Tatiana rode on Mom's lap, and she'd been unsettled, as she often was in the car, before the park. Afterwards, she had a calm, even serene quality. As she stared at me with her big black eyes, I held a french fry to her mouth, and she liked the smell but wouldn't take it. We weren't surprised, but I wanted her to have those smells one more time, even if she didn't have the appetite to eat.

We were about twenty minutes early for our 4:40pm appointment at the vet, so I had a cigarette before we went inside, while Mom held her with the air conditioner on. Tatiana loved the air conditioner. When it was time, I came to the passenger's side and took Tatiana, wrapped in a towel, from Mom. I was hesitant and scared to take her, and I told myself it was because she'd shit herself so often, but it was really fear of what I'd feel, embracing her. But it felt so good to do so, and she felt weightless in my arms as I carried her inside.

They weighed her inside -- it was protocol -- and she didn't stand or resist. She'd lost a pound since we'd taken her there, a week before. The nurse took us to a room, where we sat Tatiana on the metal examining table, and the nurse asked if we were there to talk with the doctor about putting Tatiana to sleep, and we told the nurse we were there to actually do it, and Mom signed some paperwork on a board, and as she left the nurse told us she was sorry and it was for the best for Tatiana, and it was awkward but I was so thankful to hear this from someone else, to my surprise, and I felt the emotion welling up again, and the nurse put a box of tissues on the table and told us they were there and then left.

"We are gonna cry," I said to Mom. And we held Tatiana, and she didn't resist, and then the doctor came in, and we turned Tatiana with her head away from the door and her stomach to the doctor, and right away the doctor started tying off a leg while I watched, and he readied the injection.

"Do you want to get on this side of her?" Mom asked, gesturing towards Tatiana's head, and I moved right away. I'd told Mom that I wanted to be here, that I wanted to look in Tatiana's eyes, that I didn't want to ignore the reality of this, in all its fullness, even if it was impossibly hard.

I immediately went to Tatiana's face, and I crouched down and looked right into her eyes, and they weren't confused or darting around like I'd worried they would be. She usually hated vets and struggled, but now she seemed totally resigned, not like she understood but like she didn't have the desire or the energy to resist. I smiled for her, and I put my right hand on her back and left hand on her chest, where she loved to be scratched, and I stared at her, and I told her it was okay, and I rubbed my nose on hers, and I breathed on her nose to let her know I was there and this is my smell and your Julian is here and he loves you. And even though she didn't have any resistance to give, she stared right at me, and the doctor put the needle in.

She didn't react, but her eyes stopped moving right away, and her breathing slowed, and it was such a change that I said, "Oh, she's gone," even though she wasn't yet. Her chest lifted up and down, with a normal rhythm, and I could see her nostril flaring slightly and the fur on the edge of her nose contracting, an inch from my face. And I wasn't upset, but I pointed out that she was breathing, and then Mom, who was holding her too, also saw it, and Mom said that our last dog, Charlemagne, who I hadn't been there to see die, hadn't taken this long, and the doctor said that with Tatiana's congestive heart failure, her heart probably wasn't pumping enough to get it through her body. Her eyes weren't moving anymore, and I said I didn't think she was cognitively all there anymore, even if her body was. And the vet talked about dosages, and how he'd given her the right dosage but he might give her a little more. And he left and I asked Mom to shut the door because of the sound outside, and she did. "Oh, baby," I told Tatiana, and I breathed on her some more, in case she was still cognizant.  And the vet came back, and I kept staring at my girl and breathing on her nose, and seeing her nostril move in my peripheral vision I was so close, and I thought about botched death row executions but didn't say anything, and I kept staring as the vet readied another needle and put it into her chest where I couldn't see. And Mom asked if he put it into her heart, and he said, "Into her chest cavity, yes." And Mom said, "You must have done a million of these," and the vet said, "Probably too many," and he left again, and I asked Mom to close the door again, while I held Tatiana, and she did.

I hadn't been upset, but I started to feel uncomfortable, holding that squatting position, and it was time for this to be over and for the vet to do his job. And then the vet came back, and he gave her a third shot, and while I stared into Tatiana's eyes, just three inches in front of mine, suddenly something happened to them, and they didn't move exactly, but it seemed like they pulled back, inside the eye, like the life left them in a split second, and I said, "Oh, she's gone" again, and I knew I was right this time.

And then those eyes, like they'd come unglued inside her, rolled up over the course of about two seconds, so I could see the white and veiny red lines on the side of them, the black iris just a crescent moon at the top of these two strips of wet bulging flesh, and all the details were crystal clear, like my own eyes were focused with all their might at hers, and neither of ours ever shut.

"Take as long as you need," said the vet, and he left the room and closed the door, and I stared at my dog, so lifeless now, and I petted her ear, but she was gone, and we let go of her.

I blew my nose, and Mom had tears on her cheeks, and she was wiping them with the tissues, and she said, "It was the right thing to do," and I told her "Absolutely," without hesitation, and I cried a little, but I was really okay.

I had been so prepared for this moment, and those I love had warned me of it, but it hadn't been hard at all. I felt so glad to have seen it and to be there, right there, the person she loved most, holding her at the end. And I hated that it had taken so long, for her sake and for ours, but it was done, it was done, and her suffering was over, and the caretaking was over, and I knew then as I never had before that we'd made the right decision, and I had no doubt that she was gone, and the worrying had been so much worse -- so much worse -- than the thing itself, and it was what it was, what it had to be, and it was done.

I knew there was no point to it, but I petted her some more and adjusted her head and lifted her legs, to make sure I didn't regret doing so later. But this was a dead thing, a puppet, no more my Tatiana than a tumor on her body that I wouldn't cry to remove. There is no such thing as blacker than black, but there is limper than limp, and a corpse has it. And it was time to go.

And I was okay with it, like I never thought I would be. The nurse, in her condolences as we left, was more upset than I was.

At home, Mom and I kept talking, and then we got a couple beers, and we put our other dog, Daria, in the yard. And it wasn't until I saw Daria, playing with her frisbee in the sun, that I felt the sadness I'd felt at the park, and I told Mom that it wasn't death that saddens me but the memory of those happy moments, when she'd run to me on the driveway, or get wide-eyed in wonder at a treat, or sniffing the grass in awe at its smells, or how happy she was when a child petted her when she was dressed as Batdog in the Holloween parade, and those are the memories that haunt me, those memories of love and of life and of engagement, and the rest is just the time you fill between.

I've uploaded some photos my mother and I took, at the park and in the car afterwards, on Google+. In retrospect, Tatiana looks very weary, her back arched in pain. That's me, petting her in the landing by the water.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Rethinking "Welfare Moms"

When you hear about U.S. parents on welfare getting more benefits for having more kids, it's important to keep in mind that this is nothing compared to the massive government subsidy given to all parents.

When people refer to "welfare," they often mean one program out of the several programs classified as welfare: Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF. TANF averages about $300 / month to a single person and about $900 / month to a family of four -- obviously not nearly enough to live on. The extra amount one receives per child is in the neighborhood of $200 / month.

That's $2400 / year. Hardly enough to care for a child.

It's not really free money either: most parents are expected to work, or at least search for it. There's also a lot of time and work -- and transportation costs -- involved in applying and maintaining one's welfare status.

These payments are typically limited to five years.

So again, that's $2400 a year, for a maximum of five years.

Well, the amount state and federal governments pay per child, mostly for education, is just under $9000 / year. Some spend a bit less, but others spend a whole lot more.

That's right: if you've got a kid in public school, the cost of what you're getting in free services dwarfs the extra amount someone on welfare is getting for his or her kid.

You might be getting $9000. The welfare parent might be getting $11400. That's analogous to the difference between an average school district and a slightly wealthier one, or between a fairly rural district and a more urban one.

But don't forget, both parents get that $9000 throughout a child's education, rarely less than 12 years. That $2400 difference is capped at five years and often used for less. Project that out, and everyone's getting $108,000, while the parent on welfare's getting a maximum of $12,000 additional.

Sure, you can still be angry if you want. But if you've got a kid in public school, you're getting a "handout" too -- you're just complaining that an incredibly poor parent is getting slightly more.

Of course, there are other forms of welfare too. It's possible the same family on welfare could be getting food stamps, for example -- a program that gives you a bump of around $100 per child per month. But that's still about $1200 per year, which still pales in comparison with that $9000.

I'm not arguing welfare should be more. I'm just saying that it ought to be put into perspective, and demonizing "welfare moms" doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're also willing to demonize the much more massive amount the state pays for education.

Of course, it feels different, to hear someone's getting food stamps or "welfare," whereas we take public school for granted. One feels free in a way that the other doesn't. But that public school, to which you probably feel entitled and don't think has enough resources, costs a lot more in taxes than any welfare allotments. If you went to public school, you're not a "self-made" pioneer; you actually benefited from a massive social program that dwarfs welfare, so perhaps you shouldn't be the first to point fingers.

And let's not forget that you have to be suffering to qualify for these programs. You don't want to be in that situation, and it's not fun. And when you're poor, a much higher percentage of your income goes to sales taxes and fixed expenses, like food and rent and transportation.

It also might be worth considering that, if welfare isn't given, a lot more children would suffer from things like malnutrition, which has life-long effects... that would end up costing the state a whole lot of money. Also, a little extra money in welfare services is often what helps a family get back on its feet, after a layoff or a medical emergency. The sooner that happens, the sooner the government can stop welfare services and start collecting tax revenue instead -- potentially over decades.

And while we're on the subject of welfare, don't forget that one of the other welfare programs is social security. So when people criticize all welfare, rather than some specific program, they're criticizing social security too.

Finally, while some parents on welfare get more than the above figures, the government also pays out a lot more per child than the $9000 listed above. It's virtually impossible to calculate how many police department hours, fire department hours, and reimbursements to hospitals the average child incurs. How much is the average child's portion of road maintenance or public lighting or agriculture subsidies? Then there are the various tax credits for children, which cost the government dollars. Nothing surpasses educational expenses, but the ways in which we subsidize children are massive and arguably incalculable.

The bottom line is that the state spends a huge amount per child per year, in lots and lots of ways. Welfare programs are only one of those ways and nowhere near the largest.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Two Free Books This Weekend

To celebrate the release of my novel Nira/Sussa, its publisher, Martian Lit, has decided to make two Kindle singles by me free this weekend.

The Slave Factory, by Julian Darius

The first, entitled The Slave Factory, is a story of the slave trade told in 12 brief chapters, with interwoven narratives that come together to tell a devastating story about how we oppress ourselves and each other. It's about 15,000 words and on Kindle here.

Shedding Skin: Two Tales of Horror and Identity

The second is its just-released follow-up, Shedding Skin: Two Tales of Horror and Identity. This contains two stories. The longer one, "Shedding Skin," is a story about a Midwestern man whose girlfriend gives birth many miles away, leading him to slowly uncover some buried truths. It's really creepy. The shorter story, "Inherited Things," is a vampire story that's pretty damn dark and probably unlike any vampire story you've ever read. Together, the two stories are about 14,000 words, and you can get them on Kindle here.

Both will be absolutely free this weekend, 9-10 June 2012. If you like them, please tell a friend or write a review.

Nira/Sussa, by Julian Darius

Better yet, download the free, 12,000-word sample of Nira/Sussa from its Kindle page here. If you're not mesmerized, don't buy the full book. Simple as that.

Many thanks, and please spread the word!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Nira/Sussa Published

Nira/Sussa, by Julian Darius
My transgressive, literary novel Nira/Sussa is currently available in paperback and on Kindle.

In fact, you can get the first 12000 words sent to your Kindle reader instantly for free. If you've set up your Amazon account with a Kindle reader (available for Android, tablets, and PCs), just click on the "Send sample now" button.

And if you're an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow the novel for free.

Nira/Sussa was 10 years in the writing and two more just in editing. Despite its violent and sexual content, it was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, just over a year ago. That was one of the most nervous days of my life. Now, awaiting the response to the novel in its final form, I'm just as nervous...

Seriously, this is a book that's either going to be taught as part of the Western literary canon or that's going to get me burned in effigy. There's no middle ground. It goes there. It's all on the page.

Please, please, please, if you stand for bold, smart literature, do something to let people know about this book. It obviously represents a huge portion of my life and my work. But it's also a test case for whether these new digital media can be used for works like this. It means so much...

Many, many thanks.

Watching People Burn Trailer

Martian Lit has released a trailer for my book Watching People Burn. It's short (just over a minute), was a lot of work, and is really good. Please watch it and, if you like it, share it on your preferred social network!

This is the first video from Martian Lit, so if you like this sort of stuff, it would really help to see those YouTube views count upward. Many, many thanks!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Announcing Shedding Skin: Two Tales of Horror and Identity

For those of you who don't know, The Slave Factory is a short book by me, published at the beginning of this year by Martian Lit. It's 60 pages in print and 99 cents on Kindle.

Response to it, both critically and commercially, has been strong. And I just love the format. It's a quick read on Kindle, but enough to really feel substantial. And I absolutely love it as a floppy little book.

So we're doing it again. Its successor is titled Shedding Skin: Two Tales of Horror and Identity. It's in the same format. Only it has two stories, instead of one. And they're in the horror genre, instead of being historical fiction. (And like everything I've been publishing lately, the work's been written for literally years, and I'm just editing them for publication.)

Here's the cover:

Shedding Skin is set for publication later this month. Yes, that means I should have two books published in April -- including the full-length novel Nira/Sussa, some 12 years in the making.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Nira/Sussa on Its Way!

As of yesterday, I'm completed my final full edit of Nira/Sussa, the transgressive literary novel that everyone either seems to love or hate with vitriolic passion. And that was awarded a Ph.D., despite being condemned as pornographic.

It should be available for purchase by the end of the month.

I've been working on this novel, as far as I can tell, since fall of 1999. Editing a page of it -- which I've done, over and over, with every page -- is usually harder for me than writing a new page. This has been grueling, soul-wrenching process, beyond anything I could hope to describe.

I hope you like it. But I really, really hope you talk about it. Everywhere. Because the novel is a challenging story with vital things to say. I passionately believe this is an important, even historic novel -- or I wouldn't have thrown such a vast portion of my life into it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Free Kindle Books, Today and Tomorrow Only

My historical screenplay Watching People Burn is a fictional portrayal of the worst school massacre in U.S. history, which happened -- shockingly -- in rural Michigan in 1927.

My short story The Slave Factory examines a rarely discussed element of the Atlantic slave trade -- the slave factory -- and how slavery warps the psychology of both slave and master alike.

Both are available for free on Kindle this weekend (24-25 March). Go download!

Watching People Burn

The Slave Factory

Monday, March 12, 2012

More Yelena, More Miracleman

Even though I've been lax in updating this blog, I've been plenty busy.

Today, chapter 8 of The Many Lives of Yelena Moulin, my aggressive, sexy, existential sci-fi novella, is up on Martian Lit. As usual, it's accompanied by stunning original art of the great Doug Smock, and I particularly love his illustration for this chapter.

Also today, the 11th installment in my analysis of Alan Moore's Miracleman is up on Sequart. This concludes my look at the future interlude "The Yesterday Gambit" and brings me through Warrior #4.

In other news, Sequart's Teenagers from the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes is now on Kindle. And Sequart's newest documentary film, Comics in Focus: The Image Revolution, is on Kickstarter.

I've been working way too hard on the final edits of my literary-transgressive novel, Nira/Sussa. It's grueling, and it continues to be so. But it's wrapping up, I assure you.

Many thanks for your support.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Why Obama Will Win

No one expects Obama, in November, to achieve the blow-out 365-to-173 electoral college victory he achieved in '08. But demographics are on his side.

Everyone knows Republicans have held the presidency far more than Democrats since 1968. Even Democrats have an ingrained idea that winning the White House is an uphill battle. But if Obama were a Republican, no one would be worrying.

Democrats have won three of the last five presidential elections. In the last 20 years, the Democratic presidential candidate has won 60% of the time.

Those haven't been small victories either. Clinton won in '92 with 370 votes in the electoral college, and in '96 with 379. Obama won in '08 with 365. (A candidate needs 270 to win.)

Even more importantly, the two Republican wins in this period were by incredibly slim majorities. Bush won in 2000 with just 271 electoral votes, but lost the popular vote and probably lost the electoral vote too, had Florida's votes been counted more precisely. Even as an incumbent, Bush won in 2004 with 286 electoral votes, an incredibly slim victory.

Average the last five presidential elections together, and you get Democrats with 326.6 electoral votes -- a decisive victory.

And there's a reason for that: the nation's become more liberal. The old social wedge issues that used to deliver moderates for the Republicans now swing slightly in Democrats' favor, and that's a trend that's only growing more pronounced. The nation's also becoming more diverse, which helps too.

Republicans ought to be moderating themselves to keep up with the times. Instead, the faultlines between the Reagan coalition have splintered open, and we're watching an all-out war between the insiders and the know-nothings, the fiscal conservatives and the social conservatives, the statesmen and the Tea Party. Republicans now have to take extreme views on abortion and contraception and gay rights and religion simply to compete for the candidacy. These positions have only become more and more extreme, even as the nation's moved the other way.

Of course, looking at only the last 20 years of presidential elections conveniently avoids the Republican blow-out victories of 1980, '84, and '88, when Reagan and Bush won with 489, 525, and 426 electoral votes, respectively. Each of those elections were won with majorities eclipsing any Democratic ones of the last 20 years.

That's part of why Republicans so lionize Ronald Reagan, even as their party has drifted -- incredibly -- to Reagan's right. 1980-1992 was the Republican Golden Age. But it's gone, and it has been for 20 years.

Trying to duplicate it, to go back to "bold Reagan conservatives," ignores the fact that the nation has changed.

In fact, the Republican presidential victories of the 1980s were the tail end of the Republican "Southern Strategy," which used Democratic support for the Civil Rights Act to transform the South into a Republican voting block. It was a strategy based on dividing the nation on social issues, exactly as Republicans now falsely claim that Obama is doing on economic issues.

And it worked. It delivered the presidency to the Republican party every year from 1968 onwards -- with the exception of Jimmy Carter in '76. And Carter needed Watergate to win. Saddled with a horrible economy and runaway inflation, Carter was doomed to be a one-termer from the start. Especially when Reagan was able to galvanize the nation with a smiling, optimistic campaign premised on returning America to what was then seen as its conservative Golden Age: the 1950s.

So from 1968 to 1992, presidential elections show almost absolute Republican dominance, based upon using social wedge issues. This 24-year period is divided into two stages. The first, 1968-1980, includes two Nixon terms, including the disaster of Vietnam and culminating in Watergate, which delivers Carter to the White House for a single term. But that's a blip, and it sets up stage two: 1980-1992, when Reagan went hard right, both socially and fiscally, but hid it behind a smiling face. Under him, the religious right rose to dominance of American Christianity, and Republicans thought the White House would be theirs forever.

But they'd gone too far, and the nation was shifting. Clinton in 1992 needed Ross Perot as a third candidate, siphoning off Republican votes. After he won reelection in '96, Republicans actually impeached him and spoke openly of how he didn't deserve the presidency -- the White House being a Republican position. But in fact, the nation was already transitioning.

The effective presidential tie in 2000 was probably the point at which this transition began tipping in the Democratic direction. Sure, Bush eked out a 2004 win, as an incumbent in a time of war, but with historically weak electoral results. And by the end of his second term, the global economy lay in ruins and the U.S. had never been weaker militarily.

Obama's victory wasn't only a repudiation of Bush. It was an indication of America's changing demographics, without which a black president could never have been elected.

Barring some sort of catastrophic misstep or nuclear-level disaster, Obama's going to coast to reelection. Republicans know it, and that's why so many potentially strong candidates have stayed out of the 2012 race.

But that's part of a bigger picture, in which we're likely to enter a period of Democratic dominance of the presidency. A period in which the Republican party pays the price for the same racial and social stances that allowed it to achieve dominance from 1968-1992.

What used to win elections is now an albatross around the party's neck, and that party's not moving to remove it. Quite the opposite, in fact.

In retrospect, we'll probably see Obama as the moderate he is -- on the tail end of a transition from Republican social values to Democratic ones. After all, Obama's record is distinctly moderate: outflanking the right on foreign policy (killing bin Laden, anyone?) and with domestic successes all defined by their political moderation (such as insurance reform in lieu of universal health care). If he's liberal or somehow overly Democratic, it's solely by virtue of his competence. His only liability is the slow economic turnaround -- but all the trend lines are up, after Bush left the economy in a Great Depression-level pit.

The real question isn't whether Obama will win reelection, barring an unpredictable catastrophe.

It's what the increasingly liberal Democratic presidents of the next 20 years are going to look like, once we're past this transitory period and Republicans start paying the price in earnest for the regressive policies that no longer win elections -- but which the party is now screaming with even greater anger, like any religious or racial majority drifting forever into the minority.

Monday, January 30, 2012

"She could feel it, like she’d never died."

Over at Martian Lit, the fifth chapter of my serialized sci-fi fiction The Many Years of Yelena Moulin is up.

If you want to start at the beginning, here's the link to chapter one.

Each chapter is accompanied by original art by Doug Smock.

Monday, January 23, 2012

More Miracleman and New Martian Lit Material

The fourth installment of my analysis of Alan Moore's Miracleman is out on Sequart. In it, I look at the powerful depiction of super-hero sexuality in the opening of chapter three ("When Johnny Comes Marching Home").

Over at Martian Lit, the first piece of fiction by someone other than me is up. It's called "Life, Limb, and the Devil's Dissent," by Mark Rapacz, with original artwork by Chris Coffey. It's simply beautiful and well worth reading.

Martian Lit is the publisher of my own free serialized fiction, The Many Lives of Yelena Moulin, as well as two books by me that are currently available on Kindle for 99 cents, and free to borrow for Amazon Prime members: Watching People Burn and The Slave Factory. Martian Lit will also shortly be publishing my transgressive novel Nira/Sussa. These are excellent works that are just begging for your attention.

That is all.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Flat Taxes, Reaganomics, Progressivism, and What Capitalism Means

There's a reason people are sympathetic with flat tax proposals. They're simple, and they seem fair.

Economically, this simplicity comes with a big advantage. Everyone knows the U.S. tax code is vast and unwieldy. Each citizen spends far too many hours, which might otherwise be used in productive endeavors, handling their taxes each year. Multiplied across the entire population, that adds up to a tremendous loss -- one both substantial and very real.

And all these deductions and loopholes are disproportionately manipulated by the wealthy, who have the resources and the financial interest to devote to ferreting them out. As a result, many feel that the tax code is a labyrinth that can be navigated only by the rich, who typically pay an effective tax rate that's far less than their stated marginal rate. We've created a vast, opaque, and bureaucratic system that requires huge amounts of time and money to navigate, none of which goes to investing in new businesses or anything else productive. Simplifying the tax code would free up these resources, stop people from gaming the system, and also have unpredictable benefits like lowered stress for the population.

Of course, flat taxes also have a huge disadvantage. The U.S. tax code has always been progressive, meaning that the rich pay far higher percentages of their income -- at least, before all those deductions. In fact, it's far less progressive today than at any other point in modern history. In 2012, the highest marginal rate is 35%, applied to incomes over $388,351 -- not including capital gains, gifts, estates, deductions, etc. During World War I, the top rate was a whopping 79%, on incomes over $5,000,000 ($80.7 million in 2011 dollars). The lowest bracket at that time was only 4% -- far lower than today. The top rate peaked in 1944 at 94%, applied to incomes over $200,000 ($2.54 million in 2011 dollars).

If you think these rates were only due to war efforts, you'd be wrong: in 1954, the top rate was still 91% (still applied to incomes over $200,000, though that had dropped to $1.67 million in 2011 dollars). During the Reagan administration, the top rate dropped, over a series of tax cuts, from 70% to 28%, and by the last cut, this rate applied to everyone making over $29,750 ($56 thousand in 2011 dollars) -- the lowest, most anti-progressive top bracket in U.S. history.

The top U.S. tax bracket (marginal rate) by year.
A few things are worth noting immediately about these statistics, besides the obvious fact that the U.S. tax code has always been progressive -- and historically, far more progressive than it is today. The first is that the top bracket, until Reagan, was set at far greater levels than it is today. This is important, because it essentially means that there's a flat tax above this level, beyond which everyone's treated the same. The highest bracket peaked in 1936 at $80.7 million in 2011 dollars. This compares to today's highest bracket of $379,150. In other words, the more filthy rich you were in the past, the more likely you were getting hit with a higher rate. Today, someone making $1,000,000 or even $100,000,000 is treated just like someone making $379,151. There's no additional tax penalty above that top bracket, and that has a lot to do with how the very top American earners have grown disproportionately with the rest of us.

Also, there used to be a lot more tax brackets than there are today. That's another feature of progressive tax codes, because it allows for more gradations based on income. The first permanent income tax, in 1913, had seven brackets. In 1917, there were 21 brackets. This increased to 55 brackets in 1932. From 1942-1981, including the entire post-war period until Reagan, there were 24-26 tax brackets. That's was cut down all the way to two brackets in 1988, and it's since increased back to six. Still, that's an incredibly low number, and multiple tax brackets allow for a nice progressive gradation, rather than suddenly hitting people with far greater taxes when they hit certain thresholds.

For some, this progressive quality to the U.S. tax code, present all along and mostly far greater than today, is unfair. It certainly seems so, superficially, when one hears that someone making $379,150 will pay 35%, compared to the lowest tax bracket of 10%. Many right-wingers have called this "redistribution of wealth." Which, of course, it is: that high rate of 35% allows for the low rate of 10%, which helps the poor.

What everyone seems to miss, while complaining about "redistribution of wealth," is that the alternative is basically unthinkable. It's been this way since the first permanent income tax in 1913. The progressive tax code helps with income inequality, by not taxing the poor at the same rate as the rich. The poor save a little on taxes, and that means that they'll have a better quality of life. The little the poor are taxed means a lot more to them, since they're trying to make ends meet, than the high rates do to the rich, who have far more money to spare.

Progressive tax policy also allows for upward mobility. America's proud of the American Dream, in which people can rise from poverty into great wealth. That happens far more rarely today in the U.S. than almost ever before, and the U.S. is now lagging behind perhaps 10 other nations in upward mobility. (The exact number of other nations depends on the study and the method of its calculations.) The bottom line is that America's now lagging behind other nations in, of all things, the American Dream.

That's not merely an emotional argument. It's also an economic one.

Reaganomics, then a fringe idea dismissed by the Republican establishment, centrally believed that the economy was stimulated best by giving more money to the rich, because the rich are the ones who do the hiring. Give more money to the rich, and they'll use that money to hire more people.

Or so the theory went. But it hasn't worked, no matter what Republicans claim. In fact, the economy has grown at a slower rate, since Reagan began radically diminishing the progressive features of the tax code. True, the economy took off under Reagan, especially at the end of his first term. But that came as part of a recovery from a recession, in which the economy was undergoing a natural upswing as part of normal business cycles. By the end of Reagan's anti-progressive reforms, the stage had been set for the recession under Bush, which included a massive bailout of the Savings and Loans.

That natural recovery after recession, under Reagan, has confused matters ever since. But Reaganomics got a second go -- albeit a less extreme one -- under George W. Bush, and the result was a period of slow growth that should have been much faster, followed by the disastrous collapse of 2007 and 2008.

This gets us into why Reaganomics doesn't work. It presumes that the rich, given more money, will invest that money in ways that "trickle down" to the rest of the population. And certainly, this happens to some degree. But most of the rich already have more than enough money and ability to borrow to fund their plans to finance business expansion. And if the rich put that money under the mattress, or into overseas operations, it doesn't produce any American jobs. Most of that added money to the rich ends up getting put into financial investments, as the rich try to earn a return on all this money. This could be stocks, which supplies extra money to companies, which in turn might get invested. But supplying the rich with giant pools of money that crave somewhere to go is also a dangerous thing, because it creates demand for investments beyond the traditional stocks and bonds. Thus, the growth in hedge funds and bizarre financial instruments that ended up packaging mortgages into bundles that could be traded and insured -- which helped contribute to the 2007-2008 crisis.

In short, creating giant pools of money seeking investment opportunities can produce all kinds of unexpected and destructive side effects, which we've painfully and recently seen can wreck the global economy. And very little of this goes into creating jobs, much less manufacturing or anything beyond moving money around.

Now, consider the alternative: making the tax code more progressive. Instead of using tax reforms to give huge amounts of money to the already privileged few, we give far smaller amounts to a far greater number of people. We don't know that the rich will use their windfalls to employ more people. But we do know that those struggling to make ends meet will spend the dollars they get. This doesn't directly employ anyone, but it's spread throughout the economy. It goes to pay for delayed home improvements, for dinner at local restaurants, for extra Christmas gifts, and for making payments on credit cards.

So if what we want is to create incentives for increasingly bizarre financial investments, Reaganomics is a great idea. If what we want to do is to increase sales to U.S. businesses across the board, trusting consumers to make the best decisions about which products and services are worth their dollars, progressivism is where it's at. It's actually far more likely to unleash the magic of capitalism than lining the silk pockets of the super-rich.

That's not to say that tax relief for the rich and for businesses has no positive effect, merely that helping the poor and middle-class is a lot more direct way of stimulating the economy. And it has the added benefit of being more humane, because those small amounts can make big differences in the lives of struggling people.

This is actually an entirely intuitive result. The #1 reason why people aren't buying more isn't that the stores need more money to employ more people and get new products out. It's that the consumers don't have enough money to spend.

If you trust capitalism, you trust consumers, over time, to choose the stores and the products that deserve to succeed or fail. Giving consumers more money gives them more ability to pick these winners and losers. Giving more money to the game's current winners -- the rich -- isn't remotely as good at encouraging future winners. If you've got a new product, you should want customers empowered with the money to buy it, not a governmental stimulus based on the success of your last product.

It's here that income disparity becomes far more than a theoretical or moral argument. As income disparity becomes more extreme, the poor and increasingly the middle class can lose their ability to purchase goods and services. That means that businesses increasingly don't have customers -- the one thing a business absolutely needs. Sure, businesses catering to the rich might continue to thrive -- as they have, in the current economy. But all the other businesses feel the pinch, as their customer base feels the pinch.

There's one other thing to consider, when it comes to the argument that "redistribution of wealth" is somehow anti-capitalistic. Capitalism works best when people have equality of opportunity. That's why we break up monopolies: the capitalistic game breaks down, when someone has a monopoly that's powerful enough to prohibit competition, because it's competitive forces that make capitalism work. If someone can't get an innovative product to market, we all suffer. Equally, we want innovative Americans to have the economic freedom to create new products and new businesses. We don't want our young innovators trapped in a cycle of poverty, because they'll spend all their time trying to survive, rather than having the time and the financial freedom to experiment with a new product or service or business model.

Nothing represents a worse loss to a capitalistic economy than a kid who might build the next Apple or the next Google instead trapped in a cycle of minimum-wage jobs, toiling for 60 hours a week to support himself and exhausting his mental and physical energy simply to pay the bills. I'm not saying that he shouldn't have to work while putting together his potentially economy-changing innovation, but he shouldn't have to work so hard, and in such a hopeless cycle of debt, that he never ends up innovating in the first place.

A progressive tax structure isn't punishing success. No one's going to fail to implement a great business idea because he might, if successful, have to pay an extra five percent in taxes. This extra revenue should go to pay for the costs of capitalism's playing field, such as the roads and police and schools and trash pick-up that allow businesses to transport goods, their employees to be literate, and their customers to get to stores. This extra revenue should also go to leveling the playing field of capitalism, so that customers have a little more money to spend, and thus vote with their dollars for the businesses that deserve to win or to lose. And this extra revenue should also go to creating the circumstances by which the next guy with a great business idea has a shot at implementing it, so he too can become successful.

So a progressive tax structure is indeed "redistribution of income." But it's not really a Robin Hood-like, quasi-socialist scheme. It's actually thoroughly capitalistic. It's part of the cost of maintaining capitalism. And without it, just like without the breaking up of monopolies, capitalism itself can grind to a halt, descending into a system of haves and have-nots that not only slows the economy (because customers have less money to spend) but also deprives that economy of the wonderful free-market innovative power lying unharnessed in those have-nots.

Of course, anything can go too far. I don't think anyone credible wants a return to a 94% tax bracket. We certainly don't want a tax code that's so progressive that it paralyzes businesses that become successful. Or removes the incentive for successful people to try new things and grow more successful. No one sane would wants that.

But we also can't afford, as believers in capitalism, to have anything other than a progressive tax structure.

And if you look at the rise of income inequality in the United States, it's clearly tied to the current economic downturn. True, there's instability and fear in the marketplace, which can cause businesses to play it safe. That's all the more reason not to infuse businesses with cash, because this uncertainty about the future will prevent them from hiring as much as they otherwise might. The key is to get consumer spending up, as fast as possible. Only this will reassure businesses: if business picks up, hiring will follow. The reason consumer spending has been so sluggish isn't because the average American is hoarding his money, the way the banks are, in response to this uncertainty. Most consumers don't have this luxury. The reason is because they don't have enough disposable income, and that's intimately related to income inequality. The most direct way to help the economy is to get cash into consumers' hands.

This need for a progressive tax structure is the reason why a flat tax would be a disaster. It might seem fair. It might seem like a pure, capitalist approach -- a level playing field. But it's not. It's profoundly anti-capitalist.

Yet there's no denying, as previously explained, that simplification of the tax code would also be good for a capitalist economy. A streamlined tax code would eliminate the loopholes that pervert capitalist decisions, encouraging behavior that wouldn't make sense normally. It would also cut down on the time and money spent navigating the tax code, energies which should be available for proper capitalist endeavor.

What's needed, then, is a radically simplified tax code -- but one that's at least as progressive, if not more so, than what we have now.